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Readers' Paradise - June 2015

Readers' Paradise - June 2015

TestFunda ,  03-Jun-15

About Readers' Paradise


Learning Design from Ants

Individually ants don't make much of a difference but a colony of ants can accomplish complex tasks through simple manoeuvres. Studying these systems provides ideas/algorithms for creating complex computer networks. For example, rather than working with one expensive fire-fighting robot, a well-programmed group of cheap fire-fighting robots can get the job done well - this lesson too comes from ant colonies which can afford to lose a few individual ants and yet accomplish the larger goal. Here's more:


Crisis in Non-fiction?

There was a time when I would read only fiction - thrillers, suspense or just great stories were my constant companions. Then I got interested in non-fiction - the Malcolm gladwell kind of books - which would present a great argument and analysis. However, non-fiction isn't limited to these kind of books; biographies, or books on natural sciences or art also fall in this category. The latter kinds are supposedly preferred less. This author wonders if there is some crisis in non-fiction.


Heroes of Commerce Enriched Humanity More

Children of army-men have beautiful childhoods. They live in green environments, get exposure to sports, and adapt faster because frequent transfers of their parents take them to new places and people. So, when my father, who served in the Indian Army, decided to take a premature retirement, we begged him to stay back. My father reasoned that he would join his family business and that's a better occupation because it is more productive and contributes to nation-building. Commerce brings prosperity and growth. Yet, we glorify war and its heroes. War leads to loss of life and property for both warring sides and yet if we were to talk about heroes, we rarely talk about those great men who started a risky business venture, toiled through bad and good economic times and subsequently made it big. Here's an article that talks about why such people deserve to be called heroes.


Electrifying the Brain

If one wants help for anxiety or depression, to improve his motor skills or attention span, to get rid of his migraine or get smarter, to learn a new language quickly, or to increase confidence, he can choose to zap his brain with some electric current using a device called transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS). Users of the device/method claim that it helps them with their troubles such as relieving anxiety or assisting them to concentrate better. The author of the article sets out to investigate this "neuroscientific" trend:


Who shapes us the most - genes, parents, or peers?

This one is an old article that I bounced on after trying to find more about The Nurture Assumption - a book by Judith Rich Harris who challenges the assumption by her contemporary and earlier psychologists that parents play the most important role in shaping a child. In other words, if a child turns out wayward and deals with bad things as drugs and theft, earlier psychologists believed that it was a result of poor parenting. On the other hand, earlier psychologists believed that good children are a result of responsible parenting. Ms. Harris gives an example of a parent who encourages a timid child to try a courageous act and discourages her other bold child to not try a similar act. Harris says that these differing responses from the same parent were shaped by the temperament of the respective child. Not vice versa - that is, the child shaped the parent's response. The write-up is on Harris' child development theory. Even if you are not a parent, the article is going to tell you a lot of bitter-sweet things.


Paying for Willful Ignorance

Around two decades ago, this city where I live was heaven. Every few metres you would find green cover. The temperatures were many degrees lower. For many months of the year, you would need some warm clothing. Now, the temperatures have gone up. An explosion in population has lead to a lot of green cover being replaced by concrete buildings. Hills have been cut after repeated burning of trees and declaring the land barren so that more lucrative building constructions can happen. For around three to four months of the year, air conditioners can bring much needed relief from the heat. It is not only this city but most of the country that is reeling under a terrible heat wave. And yet, there are people who deny that climate change is a reality or that irresponsible human activity and global warming are ruining the planet. This, as today's article will tell us, is willful ignorance - simple ignorance coupled with the decision to remain ignorant. There are many other dangerous cases of willful ignorance. How heavily are we paying for such ignorance?


The quest for perfect penmanship

My american cousins do not use the cursive style of writing. Their writing is clear but entirely composed of disconnected letters. As kids, we would compete and emulate other kids' cursive writing styles. We wanted our writing to look beautiful and to be called beautiful. Apparently some countries do not use this form of writing any more. The author reminisces the joy of learning cursive.


The Painful Pause

When she went through that phase, my mother would talk about her menopause often - putting all blame of ill-health or anger tantrums on what we simply knew as menopause. After a while (she had been complaining for years) it got boring and we stopped paying attention - we thought mom just got into a habit of making menopause an excuse. We did see mom break into a sweat all of a sudden - but I think we had seen it many times and after some time we understood them as hot flashes. I know it would sound like an excuse but I will attempt to explain our lack of empathy or sympathy towards our mom during this painful phase of hers. Things don't seem so serious if either - one doesn't go through that painful period- or - the victim/sufferer does not talk about it. Here are things I never knew about menopause:

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What's in a Shoe?

I am still crazy about shoes. But earlier, I was crazier - my favourite shopping destinations would be shoe stores. Once I realized my weakness for shoes, I stopped going to shoe stores no matter how tempted I was. I know people whose craziness factor for shoes is above mine. The fetish for nice shoes goes beyond our generation into the past when having good comfortable shoes was a sign of better life in an age when poverty and hunger were rampant. This author tries to unravel the importance of shoes in stories such as Cinderella or in the Chinese practice of foot-binding:


Invasion of Italy

And what happens to those who attempt to migrate illegally? Some make it, many do not. In an attempt to help illegal immigrants, the Italian government has opened its doors an decriminalized illegal immigration. Now, there is a surge of such migrants and this European nation is finding it hard to keep it going. It is facing a rising anti-immigration wave and angry neighbours.


Lessons from the Hell Hole

Talking about great teachers, one of my students spoke about a strict English teacher. The teacher was a strict perfectionist and expected the same from her students; she wouldn't take an ungrammatical sentence, a spelling mistake, or incorrect methods. So that student concluded that her language skills were great because of that strictness and discipline. The students hated all the hard word and rewriting they often had to do but they reaped the rewards. Sometimes the lessons don't come the way you would want them to. You learn from them but you hate the teachers and you hate those memories. In the article today, a son talks about the nasty surprise his father gave him when he was ten years old. For years, the memory agonized him but now he know why his father did what he did.


The Beautiful Ultramarine Blue

The shades and hues of Blue colour are omnipresent - it is the colour of the sky and the reflected sky in water; it could be the colour of someone's eyes; and it is the colour of a part of the flame. In the times of famous painters as Michelangelo, Rafael, and Vermeer, the shade of blue called ultramarine was a prized colour. It was so expensive that Michelangelo could not afford it and Vermeer went into debt using the colour generously in his paintings. The synthetic variety of ultramarine is available now but it is no replacement for the multi-hued original ultramarine.


The Confounded Economics of Austerity

Amartya Sen, a Nobel Prize winner in economics, says that harsh sanctions by allied forces on Germany after Germany's defeat in World War were uncalled for and austerity measures in Greece almost killed the country. The financial woes of United States and many countries in Europe, Mr. Sen argues, are a result of poor decisions on the part of the governments. Usually economists are blamed for not keeping up with the realities of the state. However, in this case, the democratic governments are having discussions after public decisions in place of having discussions before deciding on policy decisions on the economy. Mr. Sen further says that there is a real need for institutional reforms in Europe rather than the imagined need for indiscriminate austerity.


A Nazi judge did the right things for wrong reasons

The Nazis in charge of concentration camps did a lot of immoral things. Third Reich, however, was a different and difficult time; discussing morality of this period is not a simple classification of acts into moral and immoral. A Nazi judge - Konrad Morgen - was the first person to prosecute commandants of the Nazi concentration camps. He himself was a German officer and prosecuted his fellow officers not for mass murders but for being involved in corruption. The judge reasoned that he couldn't prosecute officers for what was legal - exterminating Jews; however, he could prosecute them for what Hitler also considered illegal: using the prisoners' belongings or rations and selling these to fill the officials' own pockets. So the officials did get prosecuted not for the greater and more heinous crimes they committed but often for petty ones.


Education-only strategy doesn't work

My housemaid is barely educated - she says she has studied till the fourth grade/standard. But she wants her two children to have a good education. So she got them admitted to an English medium school. Her elder son is weak and even after putting money together for the best school that she could afford, the child is struggling to get his basics right. Would schooling give her child the right education to succeed as an individual and contribute better as a citizen at least in the economic sense? Not if schooling is not equivalent to education that employers look for. Moreover, leaders or governments that believe that education is the only way for economic growth forget that the current generation cannot start schooling again. What then, could be a value-addition for the current crop of citizens who are already "educated" as much as their times allowed them?

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