Cruising The Dream Cruise

-5This weekend was the Woodward Dream Cruise in Detroit, when thousands of the cars Detroit has produced over the years cruise up and down Woodward Avenue.  It’s a serious dip into the world of chrome and leather, mag wheels and shiny grilles, candy-colored paint and engines with horsepower to spare.  Russell went, had a great time, and sent along the photo above.

Cars are interesting devices.  At bottom, they’re just a transportation mechanism, but they also can become so much more.  Who doesn’t remember the first car that they truly loved?  Mine was a bright red Mustang Ghia, circa 1974, with a fake pebbled leather top that was bright white, and bucket seats.  I thought I was the King of the Road in that car.

Back To The Ice Age

20140807-071831-26311110.jpgOur cottage at Rockywold-Deephaven Family Camp — like every other cottage here — lacks a refrigerator.

Instead of the large, humming, ice-making and food-chilling machine found in all of our kitchens, we have an old-fashioned, noiseless icebox. It’s a green wooden piece of furniture with a snug, metal-lined compartment where blocks of ice are placed. The ice is used strictly for cooling, not consumption. The cold radiating from the ice and metal keeps the other contents of the icebox, like Kish’s bottle of diet root beer, chilled.

The ice is made with lake water and comes from the Deephaven Ice House. Every morning male staffers use huge metal tongs to haul blocks of ice out of the ice house and put it in green wheelbarrows, then they hustle from cottage to cottage to replenish the ice in each icebox. It looks like quite a workout. Our iceman who cometh is named Peter, a pleasant young man from the Czech Republic who has worked at the camp for three summers and is looking forward to a fourth next year.

The dining room at Rockywold-Deephaven provides three meals a day, so you really don’t need a big, bulky refrigerator clogging up your cottage space or making noise that interferes with enjoyment of the morning solitude — and it’s kind of nice to live in an appliance-free zone for a while. It’s one of the distinctive touches of this remarkable and very enjoyable place.

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The Modern Approach To Supporting Artists

Richard has written a lot of really good stories for the Chicago Tribune this summer, and this recent piece is no exception:  it’s a story about how artists, writers, and musicians are using social media sites, like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, that allow them to raise money to complete and publish their works — and also how such sites impose certain burdens on the exercise of the creative spirit that didn’t exist before.

Of course, being parents of an artist, this kind of story is of particular interest to us.

There are many talented artists, authors, and musicians out there, and as a result being noticed, and then appreciated, can be a real challenge.  In the old days, wealthy patrons would “discover” and support artists by funding their creations; many of the masterpieces of days gone by were commissioned by Popes, or nobility, or wealthy guilds.  Alas, there aren’t enough such benefactors to go around these days.  Social media sites allow artists to reach beyond the galleries or record labels to reach popular audiences that may enjoy their pieces and be willing to commit funds to allow artistic projects to be completed.

It may not be as easy as being supported by one of the Medicis, and the websites may take a cut of the proceeds — but if they allow art to be produced that wouldn’t be produced otherwise, they seem like a good thing to me.

Learning, And Remembering

What is a better way to learn from a presentation, and remember its contents:  writing notes by hand on a piece of paper, or taking notes on a laptop?  Taking notes by hand is more cumbersome, whereas adept typists can use laptops to take notes at close to a word-for-word transcription level — but does that make laptops better for comprehension and retention?

Recent research concludes that taking notes by hand enhances learning.  Why?  Researchers think that because writing is much slower than typing, students hoping to capture content must filter, summarize, and focus on the key points as they take notes, and those additional mental steps in the process have the effect of better engraving the content into their memories.  Students taking notes on a laptop, in contrast, try to take down everything the speaker says, as if they are just another cog in a recording device, and therefore the words don’t have as much impact. 

IMG_2446Interestingly, the study showed that the comprehension advantage is reflected not only on tests given immediately after the learning experience, but also on tests taken weeks later.  The theory is that students who review their own handwritten notes are given more effective memory cues than students who simply review the verbatim transcription.

These results don’t surprise me.  Handwritten notetakers must be active listeners who are engaged in the presentation, and active listeners always capture more content.  But there is more to the notetaking advantage than that.  I think the physical act of writing enhances comprehension and recollection because your brain has to be reading and thinking about meaning as it controls the hand that is writing the note.  Multiple senses are involved:  you hear the words being spoken, you move your hand to write them, you see your writing on the page, and you speak the words in your inner voice.  If you take additional steps — like adding stars or underlines to highlight key points — the cognitive impact of the process is that much greater.   

I’ve always been a notetaker; even now, I like to write myself notes to remind myself of tasks rather than typing them into a notes application on my computer.  For me, at least, the physical actions tie directly into the mental process and help me remember.  Plus, I like the tactile sensation of crumpling up notes after I’ve completed a task and throwing them away.

Counting On The Alien Life Discovery Game-Changing Effect

In Gaza, Palestinians and Israelis are lobbing rockets and missiles at each others’ homes.  In Syria and Iraq, Sunnis and Shiites are murdering and beheading each other.  In Africa, Boko Haram continues its campaign of religious-based slaughter and kidnapping.  In central Asia, sectarian and tribal animosities have produced a wave of bombings and violence.  And in central America, conditions apparently are so bad that tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors have traveled hundreds of miles in a bid to cross the border into the U.S.

That’s why the best news of the last week was the announcement by NASA scientists that they believe that, within 20 years, humans will be able to confirm the existence of alien life.  They believe that current telescope technology, and new devices like the Transiting Exoplanet Surveying Satellite that will launch in 2017 and the James Webb Space Telescope that will launch in 2018, will allow us to detect the presence of liquid water and indications of life on other moons and planets in our solar system and elsewhere in the universe.  Could the scientists be wrong?  Certainly . . . but the rapid advancements in planet discoveries and related detection technologies make their prediction plausible.

Science fiction writers have long posited that the discovery of alien life would have a unifying effect on the fractured world of humanity.  Such a discovery, they theorize, would cause humans to realize that the tribal, ethnic, religious, and political differences between them are trivial in comparison to the differences between humans and other intelligent life forms.  The ancient animosities would end and all of humanity would band together and venture out into the galaxy on vehicles like the starship Enterprise.

Is it really possible that a discovery that humans are not alone might have such a game-changing effect?  It seems far-fetched that anything could alter the benighted mindsets of religious fanatics who want to enslave women or restore medieval caliphates, or penetrate the rigid ideologies of people who cling to tribal or sectarian hatreds that are centuries old.  But, after decades of experience, we know that other approaches — like countless peace talks, the toppling of governments, the expenditure of billions of dollars in aid and training and infrastructure improvement, and the issuance of toothless UN Security Council resolutions — don’t get at the core problems.

Sure, counting on the alien discovery game-changing effect may be pinning our hopes on an improbable scenario.  As we read about an angry and bitterly divided world, however, it may be all we’ve got.

The Relentless March Of Cell Phone Progress

If you want to have a good idea of the relentless march of technology — actually, a sprint is probably more accurate than a march — consider the cell phone.

When first introduced in the ’80s, they were heavy and clunky.  Then the miniaturizing wizards got to work, and phones got smaller and smaller as coverage got better and better.  Then the coolness barons entered the game, and the boring cellphones of the past morphed into cool, Star Trek-like communicators that flipped open and made you feel like you were on the cutting edge of a sci-fi life.  Then the app designers brought their skills to bear, and cell phones went from simple communications devices to cameras, games consoles, and repositories of such vast amounts of personal information that the Supreme Court recently deemed a warrantless search of a cell phone legally analogous to a general search of a home.

We tend to move unconsciously with all of these changes, without pausing to think what it used to be like before the apps and the miniaturization and the styling.  That’s why a hilarious piece like this one, about a 2014 cell phone user trying to use 2004’s coolest phone for an entire month, is not only funny but a useful reminder.  Humans are an adaptable species, and nowhere is that more evident than in our immediate willingness to use and learn the latest technology — and then assume it has always been around.

A Response To Those Angry, Ignorant, Anonymous Comments

Our college friend and fellow Lantern alum Jim McKeever writes for an interesting and lively blog called Irish Investigations.  Yesterday he wrote a post about anonymous internet comments that is worth considering.

The context of Jim’s piece is straightforward.  Among his other positive qualities, Jim is a runner and an active participant in charitable causes.  In his community there is an Independence Day 10-mile run.  Two 12-year-old twin boys with muscular dystrophy wanted to participate in the race by being pushed in adapted “running strollers” by willing runners.  Amazingly, the race organizers initially denied the boys permission to participate, but news coverage and a social media firestorm caused them to reconsider.  The event occurred, the boys participated, and they were cheered along the race route.

But the on-line news stories about the incident elicited some of the angry, ignorant comments that any regular reader of on-line content has seen all too often, all made by people using pseudonyms.  It’s hard to imagine that anyone wouldn’t feel good about letting disabled boys participate in a community event, but the anonymous comments showed that, pathetically, some sad, mean-spirited people did.  Jim’s piece reacts to their comments, but also raises the larger issue of whether websites should permit anonymous postings in the first place.  He thinks that people who post anonymous comments are cowards and websites shouldn’t allow them to spew their venom, secure behind the protective veil of their fake on-line names.

I get Jim’s point, but I have a different take on the issue.  I think there is value in allowing pseudonymous comments precisely because it allows people to expose their innermost thoughts.  Usually those thoughts aren’t offensive, and the posters just want to avoid any concern that they might get blowback or provoke a nut to begin stalking them — after all, the internet can be a scary place.  But even if the thoughts are angry or stupid, like the comments Jim describes, I think it’s worth seeing them precisely because it allows them to be exposed as ignorant and idiotic.  Although Jim didn’t mention this in his piece, I hope that good people like Jim responded to every one of those ignorant posts and, maybe, helped to convince the anonymous posters that their views are terribly out of line.

Technology allows so many people to live their lives in a cocoon, without much meaningful interaction with the world.  The haters at their computer keyboards may believe that their hateful views are widely shared.  When they surface from their dens to make ignorant anonymous posts, we all have the opportunity to disabuse them of that notion.