Filed under “Education”

February 11, 2013

Idea: The Movie Poster Alphabet

[This post is part of an idea dump.]

I never posted this idea because I wasn’t able to come up with enough material to finish it. Maybe you can help? Scroll down to the bottom for more about what I’m looking for.

Do you know of any good posters to fill in the gaps? Or better options for the ones I already have? Ideally, I want posters where the letter is featured large and centered. So, for example, “G” above isn’t great because the letter is so small and low. “W” could be better for a similar reason.

Also, it’s okay if there are other letters and words, but I’d like the alphabet letter to be the most prominent thing. That’s why I didn’t use the poster for Blankman, which features a prominent letter “B”, but it’s minor compared to all the distracting words on the poster. And similarly, I struggled with whether to use Malcolm X, seen above, or X-Men: First Class which has a similarly prominent “X” with fewer distractions. I chose Malcolm X for undefinable reasons.

If you have any good suggestions, let me know, and I’ll update the poster.

April 18, 2012

Idea: Toddler TARDIS Console

About a month ago my son learned to pull himself up to stand on his own. Now that he can stand, he really enjoys his LeapFrog Learning Table. It’s about waist high and has all sorts of knobs and dials and levers and switches that trigger sound effects, lights and music. As he makes his away around the table fiddling with knobs and switches I noticed that he looks a lot like Doctor Who doing the same thing in the TARDIS.

Then it hit me: someone should really make a TARDIS console for babies.

Toddler TARDIS Console

Kids will love the bright flashing lights, the numerous knobs to turn and levers to flip, the central piston, the signature TARDIS groan, and other sound effects and clips featuring characters from the show. One button would play the theme song, and another button would trigger a Dalek voice reciting the alphabet. That’s sure to be a favorite feature of parents and kids alike.

There’s no better way to teach your baby Time Lord about wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff.

April 18, 2007

“The Week” in review

The WeekLately I’ve been reading a news magazine called The Week. In a recent national survey (PDF), The Week was the only magazine to rank in the Top Ten for being most credible, most objective, and most enjoyable. It’s one of the fastest-growing magazines, but with a circulation that’s only around 10% of Time magazine, you’ve likely still never heard of it. Here’s why I like it:

I don’t have time to read every blog I enjoy. So I use an RSS aggregator to bring all the headlines from my favorite blogs into one place where I can read the highlights and get an idea of what’s happening in the blogosphere. The Week is like an RSS aggregator for magazines and newspapers. This one magazine condenses all the best articles from various sources into one easy-to-digest magazine. Sure, it tells me about Britney Spears’ hairstyle and Don Imus’ career woes, but it also tells me about suicide bombers in Morocco, a kidnapping in Pakistan, and a mysterious cancer afflicting the Tazmanian Devil in Australia — the kinds of stories that fall through the cracks in the mainstream media obsessed with the celebrity of the week and kittens stuck in trees.

Even more importantly, I get perspectives from publications I wouldn’t otherwise read. I may not like the political leanings of National Review, for example, but when their perspective is included in a round-up of editorials on a particular topic, I get a broader view of that topic. And a feature called “How They See Us” lets me know what editorialists in other countries are saying about the United States.

The WeekOne nice feature is “The World at a Glance,” which summarizes major events around the world, along with a map to help put a story into geographical context. The “Briefing” section gives me all the sides of a current issue, including perspectives from several sources — not just a condensed version of a single article. Sections called “The Main Stories and How They Were Covered” and “Best Columns” are valuable (and self-explanatory) features, as well.

There’s light-hearted content, too, including “Good Week For / Bad Week For.” Last week was a good week for manatees, who are no longer facing extinction, but a bad week for Australian rugby star David Kidwell, who tripped over his 2-year-old at a barbecue, injuring himself so badly that he can’t finish the season.

Movie and book reviews are done Zagat-survey-style, using quotes from various reviews to boil down to one rating. It’s like RottenTomatoes, but with a less confusing rating system.

Each 40-page issue is packed with information that gives a broad view of the world in the past 7 days, but none of it is very deep. If I want more information on a particular topic, I still need to look elsewhere. But at least now I know what’s happening in the world as covered by different outlets with different perspectives, including foreign points of view, without the mountain of magazines to wade through.

I’ve been reading The Week for a while, but I decided that now is a good time to mention it because they’re publishing one free issue this week, and it’s going to be on-line only, starting this Friday. Go to their website and check it out.

February 27, 2007

50 States in 10 Minutes

50 States in 10 MinutesOccasionally during downtime on a particularly slow photo shoot, I’ve played this game with my assistants. Everyone takes out a piece of paper, and numbers it from 1 to 50. Then you get 10 minutes to write down every state you can remember. Finally, you compare it to the master list and see who got the most answers. 10 minutes seems like more than enough time to remember a list of 50 items, right? And yet somehow I’ve never managed to get more than 48 of them.

Well, you don’t need to get out a piece of paper or a timer. I’ve put together an on-line version of this game. It’s a bit low-tech [see update below for high-tech version], but it works.

Have a go at it and then post your score in the comments.

Update: Thanks to reader Erik Wannebo, we now have a nifty interactive version which keeps track of your progress as you go and tallies your score for you. Check it out!

January 29, 2007

“Dear Sophina” — An amazing follow-up to “The Astoria Notes”

A couple weeks ago, I posted an entry I called The Astoria Notes. It included scans of several notes slipped under my door by my downstairs neighbor in my first apartment in Astoria, Queens, complaining about noise and leaks from my apartment. Her name was Sophina, and if you haven’t read her notes yet you should really check them out.

Among the responses I received was an e-mail from Ryan Meehan, an English teacher at Santa Fe High School in Gainesville, Florida. He wrote, “I teach High School English to kids who really struggle with reading. I am always trying to create reading assignments they might actually enjoy. I think your post, and the notes, would be a delightful assignment. Would you mind if I used it for two of my classes?”

I gladly gave him permission, and a week or so later I received this response:

So your blog went over great with my kids. They are all, for the most part, kids who really struggle academically (especially with reading), so to see them tear through your story with a sense of urgency was extremely rewarding.

In addition to the active reading exercises and comprehension questions I had them complete, their final assignment was to write a letter to Sophina. They were to imagine what they would have done were they in your shoes.

I brought in my microphone today, and we recorded the responses in Garageband and mixed in a music track as well…

Thanks again for granting me permission to use your story. This is my first year teaching high school, and though I’m 6 months in, I felt like this was the first week I really connected with the kids.

It’s equal parts touching and surreal. Somewhere out there, a group of high school kids I don’t know wrote letters to my old neighbor, sticking up for me. And they set it to music. Ryan set up a wiki for the class project where he posted the classes’ spoken word performances. Here they are:

Period 2 Period 5
Emotional Emotional

5 mins 33 secs

6 mins 37 secs

I was a bit taken aback by these, I must confess. The students were much angrier with Sophina than I ever was. But then Ryan followed up by having the students write more respectful letters to Sophina:

Period 2 Period 5
Respectful Respectful

6 mins 3 secs

4 mins 45 secs

I have to imagine that, in the entire history of neighborly feuds, I’m the first person to get letters to my neighbor recorded by two high school English classes and set to music. It’s too bizarre. I love it. Thanks, Santa Fe High School English periods two and five!

October 10, 2006

Idea: College Admissions reality show

I think there could be a very interesting reality show based around college admissions. I don’t mean a reality show where people are voted off or put in contrived situations. I mean a show like “The Hill” or “Tabloid Wars” on Bravo, which were each just a few episodes long, and shot like a documentary. This program would ideally be aired during the time of year when kids are applying to college.

It would follow half a dozen high school students all applying to the same high-end (Ivy League perhaps) college. Maybe theres a kid with Straight As who seems like a sure thing to be accepted, but may not be able to afford it if she gets in. Then there’s the really smart kid who seems like he could be a straight A student, but he was so bored by high school that he didn’t get very good grades, which puts him in danger of not being accepted to college. Maybe there’s the kid who really wants to go to this school specifically, and the kid for whom this is his third choice. A good cross section of kinds of students, and kinds of people, would be best.

The series would also show the admissions board. We’d follow them as they consider each student. What do they consider? Do they weigh certain issues more than others when it comes to certain students? Do they have disagreements about any of the students? How much do those low SAT scores matter for a kid who got good grades? Just how much do those extra-curricular activities come into play? What exactly do they consider most?

Seeing inside the process would be fascinating, and learning about these kids would give viewers a more vested interest in finding out who gets in and who doesn’t.

I think I would find the show really interesting. But when I mentioned it to someone who actually works in the Reality TV industry, he said that without putting people in contrived situations, the college admission process might end up just being really boring.

Perhaps I need to re-tool the idea, then. Maybe it should be a reality show about admission to clown college. Hmm…

August 17, 2006

Norbert Wiener slept here

I’m spending this week in New Hampshire, getting some much needed R&R. The house I’m staying in is fairly remote but it’s quite nice. And it was once owned by Norbert Wiener, the brilliant mathematician who coined the term “cybernetics.”

Not much remains from when Wiener lived here, but the bookshelves are filled with his old books. So I’ve gone through some of the shelves and picked out a few of the more interesting titles. Here’s a selection of what Mr. Wiener read:

Lots of dictionaries: Appleton’s New Spanish Dictionary; Cassell’s German Dictionary; Cassell’s French Dictionary; Dutch (A “Teach Yourself Book”); Nuevo Diccionario Enciclopedico Ilustrado de la Lengua Catellana; Graglia’s Italian-English and English-Italian Dictionary;

Various songbooks including: A booklet called “Patriotic Songs of America” with lyrics and music to The Star Spangled Banner, Hail! Columbia, Yankee Doodle, Battle Hymn of the Republic, Dixie Land, America the Beautiful, Tenting on the Old Camp Ground, etc.; “A Book of Songs - Words and Melodies Only - For Unison & Part Singing For Grades IV, V and VI (Student’s Edition)”; “The Golden Treasury of Songs and Lyrics”; and “An Elizabethan Songbook - Lute Songs: Madrigals & Rounds; Sing!”

A German Historical Atlas; The Bartholomew World Pocket Atlas

Lots of math books, obviously. They mainly have titles that suggest they would be far over my head, including: “Mathematical Tables from Handbook of Chemistry & Physics”; “Four Place Tables - Unabridged Edition”; “Plane and Spherical Trigonometry” by Ashton and Marsh; “Wentworth’s Plane and Solid Geometry”; “A Survey of Modern Algebra”; “Geometry in Three Dimensions”

“An Essay on Man” by Ernst Cassirer

“The Science of Health”

“Basic Course in Botany”

“An Outline of General Zoology”

“Comparative Anatomy of Vertebrates”

“Beyond Hypnosis” by Hugh Lacy in 1952, including a chapter called “Dianetics” which criticizes L. Ron Hubbard but only with regards to his thoughts on hypnosis.

“Emily Post’s Etiquette - The Blue Book of Social Usage”

“The Standard Book of British and American Verse”

“Hotel Berlin ‘43” by Vicki Baum

“The Mutineers” by Charles Boardman Hawes with a lovely illustrated cover

“Scaramouche” by Rafael Sabatini

“The City of Open Air and Other Verse” by Charles Poole Cleaves

“This I Believe: The personal philosophies of one hundred thoughtful men and women in all walks of life — twenty of whom are immortals in the history of ideas, eighty of whom are our contemporaries of today — written for Edward R. Murrow.” This is the second volume, and is inscribed “To Professor Norbert Wiener” and I can’t read the signature. It looks like “Ward Wheeler” or something like that. I figured out what the inscription says. It reads, “With great thanks for your outstanding contribution” and is signed “Ward Wheelock.” Mr. Wheelock was a friend of Edward R. Murrow’s and was the one to come up with the idea for a “This I Believe” series. Norbert Weiner is one of the people who contributed an essay for this book.

“Posthistoric Man - An Inquiry” by Roderick Seidenberg

“Les Miserables” by Victor Hugo. In five volumes.

“Departmental Ditties” by Rudyard Kipling.

“Praha Guidebook”

“The Black Arrow” by Robert Louis Stevenson

“The Hunting of the Snark and Other Poems”

“New Arabian Nights” by R.L. Stevenson

The College Entrance Examination Board’s “Comprehensive Examination Questions” for June and September 1918, including sections on Chemistry, English, French, German, Greek, History, Latin, Mathematics, Physics, and Spanish.

A beautiful 1921 leather-bound copy of “The Astronomer-Poet of Persia” that’s sadly falling apart.

“History of European Morals” Third Edition, Revised, in two volumes.

“The France of Today” from 1916

“The Pleasures of an Absentee Landlord and Other Essays”

“The Mechanics of Writing” which has the very long subtitle “A compendium of rules regarding manuscript-arrangement, spelling, the compounding of words, abbreviations, the representation of numbers, syllabication, the use of capitals, the use of italics, punctuation, and paragraphing.”

And many, many more. How many have you read?

July 19, 2006

Idea: A “Critical Thinking” section on the SAT

The College Board, which administers the SAT test, periodically makes changes to the SAT format. Most recently, they eliminated the analogies section and added an essay section. Well, I have an idea for a change that I’m very excited about. It would have profound implications, I think, if the College Board added a “Critical Thinking” section to the SAT.

Critical Thinking skills are among the most important skills a person can have, but they aren’t taught very much in school. I’ve racked my brain trying to think how Critical Thinking could be made more important to students and educators. Making it an SAT category would go a long way.

Every university would want students that score high in that section. And it would fit perfectly in test prep courses, too, because the types of questions on the test would be easy to study for. Just learn the basic forms of valid arguments and common fallacies, and learn to identify them in context. And as an added bonus, if you study well enough to answer the Critical Thinking questions on the test, you can apply Critical Thinking to real life, too.

I’ve come up with a few examples to illustrate how I imagine the section. Different kinds of questions would test a student’s knowledge of basic argument and fallacy forms, and their ability to identify them. I’m not a test writer, and I’ve never taught Critical Thinking, so there may be problems with these examples from either perspective, but this is the basic idea:

1) If Tom is a cat, he is a mammal. Tom is a cat. Therefore, Tom is a mammal.

This statement follows the argument form:

a) modus ponens
b) modus tollens
c) straw man
d) begging the question
e) none of the above

2) In a double-blind study of 2000 men, 60% found Brand X medicine effective in alleviating their headaches.

This statement shows:

a) Brand X is effective because a majority of men’s headaches were alleviated when they used it.
b) Brand X is ineffective because 2000 people are not statistically significant
c) Brand X is effective because double-blind studies are always accurate
d) Brand X is ineffective because only men were tested
e) There is not enough information to know whether Brand X is effective

3) On the planet Syllo, there are Frebats and Lidgemonts. It is well known on Syllo that all Frebats are Twacklers. Betty lives on Syllo. Betty is a Twackler. Therefore, Betty is a Frebat.

The conclusion “Therefore, Betty is a Frebat” is logically sound.

a) True
b) False

4) The “false dilemma” fallacy is sometimes called:

a) the black or white fallacy
b) the bifurcation fallacy
c) the false dichotomy fallacy
d) all of the above
e) none of the above

April 11, 2006

Boris Vallejo’s palette

Vallejo paintingIf you’ve ever walked through the science fiction and fantasy section of a bookstore, you’ve seen the artwork of Boris Vallejo. This weekend, I got to watch him create one of his paintings, a rather detailed picture of a dragon that he completed in only four hours.

I attended an event called Art Out Loud at the Society of Illustrators where Vallejo, Julie Bell, Jon Foster, Dan Dos Santos, Gregory Manchess, and Adam Rex demonstrated their techniques to aspiring illustrators, and answered lots of questions. I think proceeds from the event go to the Society’s student scholarship fund, so it’s great that the artists were all so gracious.

When Vallejo finished his painting, and everyone gathered around to admire the finished product, I noticed his palette sitting there. I realized that while millions are familiar with his work, few have probably seen his palette. So I took a picture of it. Perhaps it will provide insight or inspiration for those who were unable to attend the event this weekend.

Boris Vallejo palette

I’m told that his use of disposable palettes is significant, as the romantic notion of an artist would have him using a permanent wooden palette. Take note, students.

Artist links: Boris Vallejo, Julie Bell, Jon Foster, Dan Dos Santos, Gregory Manchess, and Adam Rex.

Bonus: Here are the palettes of Dan Dos Santos and Julie Bell:

April 10, 2006

How Google Book Search saved the day

In late 2004, Google announced its Google Book Search feature, which allows internet users to “search the full text of books (and discover new ones),” according to the site’s main page. It’s a feature with enormous potential, but it immediately became controversial. As Wikipedia explains:

While many hail the initiative for its potential to offer unprecedented access to what may become the largest online corpus of human knowledge, the publishing industry and writers’ groups decry the project as a wholesale rights-grab. The Authors Guild of America and Association of American Publishers have individually sued Google, citing ‘massive copyright infringement’.

Being a person who creates intellectual property for a living, I clearly don’t support massive copyright infringement. But copyright law is tricky, and there’s a very good argument to be made that Google Book Search is not infringing on copyright because it falls within the “fair use” doctrine of the copyright law. Stanford Law School professor Lawrence Lessig has on his blog an excellent argument for why Google Book Search is fair use.

Which brings me to my story about how Google Book Search saved the day.

My friend Rachel is writing her dissertation. At 150 pages, she estimates she’s almost halfway finished. It’s called “Negotiating the Creative Sector: Understanding the Role and Impact of an Artistic Union in an Industry.” She has used hundreds of books so far as resources, and as you can imagine she will end up with a lengthy bibliography. So imagine her horror when she realized that, for one of the books which she has already cited more than a dozen times, she completely forgot to indicate the page numbers from which she took the citations.

Enter Google Book Search.

Using Google Book Search, Rachel was able to enter the quotes that she took from the book, and the search engine showed her an excerpt from which the quote was lifted, including the all-important page number. Instead of pouring over her notes and searching through the book, she just kept entering the quotes, and Google Books supplied the pages.

The fair use provision of the copyright law says that reproduction for purposes of scholarship or research is not an infringement of copyright. It further says that the amount of the portion used in relation to the work as a whole should be considered in deciding whether or not infringement has taken place. In this instance, the purpose is clearly scholarship and research. And Google Book Search only showed Rachel an excerpt in which her quote is found — a small portion in relation to the work as a whole.

Furthermore, as Rachel told me, “I purchased the book. I own the book. So it’s not like these people have lost my money.”

It’s up to the courts to decide whether or not Google Book Search does in fact infringe on any copyrights. But in the midst of so much controversy, Rachel’s story immediately jumped out at me as a perfect example of how Google Book Search can be used as a valuable tool, apparently well within the scope of fair use.