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Thursday, September 29, 2005

Judging Professors By Their Online Q-Rating When the web site, RateMyProfessors.com, was launched six years ago, most academic insitutions viewed it as an occasionally hurtful but harmless outlet for student opinion. But the site, on which students at colleges and universities around the world can evaluate their teachers' performance with impunity, has grown to the point that it is now affecting class enrollment at some schools. Professors and administrators hate the site, and lawsuits are regularly threatened against its owner. But the site is far from a vitriolic free-for-all, with positive comments outnumbering negative ones, and a group of volunteer "student administrators" assigned to keep an eye on verifiable claims. Wired 09/29/05

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Brain Scan: The Ultimate Lie Detector Researchers have discovered that MRI scans can detect when people are lying. "The MRI images show that more blood flows to parts of the brain associated with anxiety and impulse control when people lie. More blood also flows to the part of the brain handling multitasking because it is hard for people to keep track of lies they have told." Wired 09/28/05

Leonardo Inspires New Heart Surgery A heart surgeon has devised a new heart procedure after studying drawings of the heart made by Leonardo da Vinci. "The drawings allowed him to work out how to restore normal opening and closing function of the mitral valve, one of the four valves in the heart. Until now, surgeons have repaired a floppy valve by narrowing its diameter. However, this can restrict the blood flow further when the individual is exercising and working their heart to the maximum. It's a complete rethink of the way we do the mitral valve operation." BBC 09/28/05

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Why Are America's Schools Segregated? "One of the most disheartening experiences for those who grew up in the years when Martin Luther King Jr. and Thurgood Marshall were alive is to visit public schools today that bear their names, or names of other honored leaders of the integration struggles that produced the temporary progress that took place in the three decades after Brown v. Board of Education, and to find out how many of these schools are bastions of contemporary segregation. It is even more disheartening when schools like these are not in deeply segregated inner-city neighborhoods but in racially mixed areas where the integration of a public school would seem to be most natural, and where, indeed, it takes a conscious effort on the part of parents or school officials in these districts to avoid the integration option that is often right at their front door." Harper's 09/05

Monday, September 26, 2005

Cursing Before We Walk "Cursing, they say, is a human universal. Every language, dialect or patois ever studied, living or dead, spoken by millions or by a small tribe, turns out to have its share of forbidden speech. Some researchers are so impressed by the depth and power of strong language that they are using it as a peephole into the architecture of the brain, as a means of probing the tangled, cryptic bonds between the newer, "higher" regions of the brain in charge of intellect, reason and planning, and the older, more 'bestial' neural neighborhoods that give birth to our emotions." The New York Times 09/20/05

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Using Biology To Crack Ancient Languages Traditionally, linguists have tried to decipher ancient languages by matching vocabulary. But "findings published in the journal Science indicate that a linguistic technique that borrows some features from evolutionary biology tools can unlock secrets of languages more than 10,000 years old." Scientific American 09/23/05

When Technology Outstrips Human Intelligence (It's Coming) Ray Kurzweil believs that "today's human beings, mere quintessences of dust, will be as outmoded as Homo Erectus. All this, Kurzweil believes, will come about through something called The Singularity." What is the Singularity? "It refers to the future point at which technological change, propelled by the explosive growth of artificial intelligence, will accelerate past the point of current human comprehension. In Vinge's prevision, once artificial intelligence surpasses human intelligence there will be no turning back, as ever more intelligent computers create ever more superintelligent offspring." Boston Globe 09/25/05

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Time Change - Get Rid Of The "Leap Second"? "An international argument has developed between British astronomers and scientists working for American telecommunications firms who have called for the abolition of the "leap second" - the additional time unit used to keep modern atomic time-measuring systems in line with the earth's movement round the sun. Removing that extra second would make some communication systems run more smoothly, but very slowly the clock would start to fall out of sync with the sun, eventually leading to 12 noon falling in the middle of the night." The Scotsman 09/22/05

How The Internet Is Changing Scientific Research The internet is changing the way scientific research is being shared and published. "The internet—and pressure from funding agencies, who are questioning why commercial publishers are making money from government-funded research by restricting access to it—is making free access to scientific results a reality. This week, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) issued a report describing the far-reaching consequences of this. The report... makes heavy reading for publishers who have, so far, made handsome profits. But it goes further than that. It signals a change in what has, until now, been a key element of scientific endeavour." The Economist 09/22/05

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Slimming Down The America Culture... (Writer Goes On A AmCult Diet) Mark Ravenhill likes American culture. "The problem, then, isn't that American culture is a bad thing, just that it's a very dominant thing. And sometimes it's the only thing. So, a couple of months ago, I devised The Diet. If Dr Atkins could cut out the carbs, then I figured I could cut out the American culture. I'd set myself a date, do it for a month and see how it felt." The Guardian (UK) 09/21/05

SHHH! Type Quietly (Here's Why) Researchers have found they can tell what someone is typing on a computer by the sound of the keystrokes. "Because the sound generated by each keystroke is slightly different, the researchers were able to generate a computer program to decode what was written. Using statistical learning theory, the computer can categorize the sound of each key as it's struck and develop a good first guess with an accuracy of 60 percent for characters, and 20 percent for words. We then use spelling and grammar check to refine the result, which increased the accuracy to 70 percent and the word accuracy to 50 percent." Scientific American 09/20/05

Does Technology Make Us Smarter? (Or Dumber?) "Today, terabytes of easily accessed data, always-on Internet connectivity, and lightning-fast search engines are profoundly changing the way people gather information. But the age-old question remains: Is technology making us smarter? Or are we lazily reliant on computers, and, well, dumber than we used to be?" CNet 09/20/05

What Good Is Art In Disaster? "Orchestras are starting to program benefit concerts. And at some point, it will seem appropriate for a composer to put perspective to Katrina with a piece that is to this horror in New Orleans what John Adams' On the Transmigration of Souls was to 9/11. In the meantime, a Schubert Mass in G won't save lives, a Brahms German Requiem won't comfort the victim, and no artwork will assuage the guilt many may likely feel as the arts season gets under way and we find ourselves slipping into enjoyment mode, even as misery continues for hundreds of thousands of others. For those of us who chronicle culture, that wondrous residue of civilization that plucks immortality from life's daily flotsam and jetsam, the last few years have shaken our idea of permanence." Philadelphia Inquirer 09/20/05

Monday, September 19, 2005

Darwin, Doubts, And Desires Why are Americans still debating evolution almost 150 years after Darwin posited it? "A scientific-religious issue is being argued in courts and school boards, as if they ever could settle one's faith in God or what hominid line led to homo sapiens. Which is why Americans are still fighting about this while the rest of the scientific world has moved on. In this political struggle, Darwinians have relied on the courts to bar the unconstitutional use of tax money to teach religion. But in doing so, they have fueled widespread (and often Southern, regional) resentments against "elitist experts" and "activist judges." Creationists, meanwhile, tend to appeal to school boards and the public, knowing they can sway a popular vote. Dallas Morning News 09/04/05

The Order We Want To Impose On Randomness Okay, so you love the shuffle music feature on your MP3 player. But, like many people, you've grown to suspect that the shuffle isn't very random at all. Turns out it's difficult "for a PC, which is designed to do things in predictable ways, to generate a string of numbers that are statistically random. Try as they might to compile a list of numbers at random, computers frequently spit out digits that have discernible patterns to them." The problem, it turns out, isn't that the programs aren't randomizing my playlists. They are. But our expectations of randomness are statistically inconsistent. Wired 09/19/05

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Hitting The Right Tone Fancy yourself a composer? Here's a website that creates new unique music based on your mouseability... Wolfram Tones 09/05

Christians In Comedy: A World Apart As a general rule, stand-up comics tend to be fairly liberal sorts. Maybe it's something about the lifestyle - performing late at night in seedy bars with other comics who use the f-word as punctuation - but the right wing, which encompasses a large chunk the U.S. population, has never seen much representation at the local Laugh Factory. But just as the world of American religious conservatism has created and nurtured its own sources for music, news, and education, a new market is emerging for Christian comics, who hit all the usual stand-up targets while simultaneously taking digs at evolution, activist judges, and gays who want to get married. The New York Times 09/17/05

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Is The Wonderfully Workable Web Under Attack? Legal doctrines "being aggressively pushed by corporations and law enforcement officials" are attempting to lock up content and programs on the internet. "The better world is one in which we don't need to seek permission or risk punishment to do cool stuff that makes the world a better place. In the early days of the internet, a lot of people felt that we'd found that better world. Thanks to the internet's open protocols, many of the most useful innovations, from the web to instant messaging to internet telephony, emerged without developers needing anyone's permission to run their cool new code." Wired 09/14/05

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Profs: Student Quality Lacking A new survey of American college professors reports that the profs are generally unhappy with the quality of students coming in to theikr classes. "Just under half of all instructors — 49.6 percent — said they were. In addition, only 35.5 percent of all professors said they believed that faculty members at their own institution felt that students were well-prepared academically, although that number has actually increased from 28 percent in 1998." InsideHigherEd 09/13/05

Monday, September 12, 2005

Media - Killing The Ideas In Science "Why is science in the media so often pointless, simplistic, boring, or just plain wrong? Like a proper little Darwin, I've been collecting specimens, making careful observations, and now I'm ready to present my theory. It is my hypothesis that in their choice of stories, and the way they cover them, the media create a parody of science, for their own means. They then attack this parody as if they were critiquing science." The Guardian (UK) 09/11/05

Art Out Of Disasters? Forget About It "Down in New Orleans they do not need a symphony; they need bottled water, food, clothing, money, diapers, dry goods. Put down your pen and take up your wallet—there are thousands of musicians who, like me four years ago (but worse), find themselves suddenly without a home. Send them trumpets, not trumpet sonatas, as these are gigging musicians who have no means by which to make a living. Buy their records. Give to help organizations. You cannot help them heal with your music—not yet, maybe not ever—but you still can do something. They need your help, not your attempt at catharsis." NewMusicBox 09/09/05

The Bionic Eye A Scottish scientist has been "using digital camera technology to create the 'bionic eye'. He has developed a microchip that can replicate the role played by the retina, the sensitive lining at the back of the eye that converts light into a signal that is sent to the brain. The implant would allow doctors to restore the sight of more than 800,000 people in the UK." The Scotsman 09/12/05

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Is The Human Brain Still Evolving? Yes, says a team of scientists who have found a mutation in genes found in the brain. "This distinctive mutation is now in the brains of about 70% of humans, and half of this group carry completely identical versions of the gene. The data suggests the mutation arose recently and spread quickly through the human species due to a selection pressure, rather than accumulating random changes through neutral genetic drift." New Scientist 09/09/05

Finding Memory Enhancement In a Cigarette Smoking cigarettes helps you concentrate (or so believe many smokers). But "scientists have found that nicotine really does boost certain transmitters in the brain that can help people think better. Now, the pharmaceutical industry hopes to improve on the effect, minus the lung cancer." Wired 09/09/05

Fighting Terrorism With Movies (Does This Make Any Sense?) Why is it that we let movie plots dictate how we try to protect ourselves from terrorists? "Sometimes it seems like the people in charge of homeland security spend too much time watching action movies. They defend against specific movie plots instead of against the broad threats of terrorism." Wired 09/08/05

Friday, September 9, 2005

Our Links to Arts and Hurricane Katrina We've compiled a page of aggregated links to hurricane arts-related stories and resources... ArtsJournal

Thursday, September 8, 2005

America On Top (In Universities) "Since the second world war Europe has progressively surrendered its lead in higher education to the United States. America boasts 17 of the world's top 20 universities, according to a widely used global ranking by the Shanghai Jiao Tong University. American universities currently employ 70% of the world's Nobel prize-winners, 30% of the world's output of articles on science and engineering, and 44% of the most frequently cited articles. No wonder developing countries now look to America rather than Europe for a model for higher education. Why have European universities declined so precipitously in recent decades?" The Economist 09/08/05

  • Reinventing The Modern (Ancient) University Global competition is forcing some of the world's most venerable and tradition-bound universities to rethink what they do. "These tradition-loving (or -creating) institutions are currently enduring a thunderstorm of changes so fundamental that some say the very idea of the university is being challenged. Universities are experimenting with new ways of funding (most notably through student fees), forging partnerships with private companies and engaging in mergers and acquisitions. Such changes are tugging at the ivy's roots." The Economist 09/08/05

Imagining The New New Orleans Benjamin Forgey says that, given the cost and time sure to be involved, it is not unreasonable for some to be questioning whether New Orleans ought to be rebuilt. But he also says that there are several very clear reasons that it must be. "New Orleans... is a national issue because it is a national treasure. Simple as that. Actually -- because of its history, its unique blending of cultures, especially in architecture and music, and its unending sociability -- the city is an international treasure... The big question, then, is how to do the job. Getting the money and repairing the infrastructure are the easy parts, at least in theory. But who will do the thinking, the conceptualizing of a rebuilt New Orleans? And what, precisely, will be rebuilt? Who will live there, who will visit and what will be its economic engine?" Washington Post 09/08/05

Sunday, September 4, 2005

Have We Lost The Striving For Getting Better? "Simply put, the arts of museum, concert hall, opera house, theater and library have smaller audiences than they once did because growing older no longer means growing up." Once, we had a drive to "imrpove ourselves" and one of the ways we did this was through the arts. "Whatever it was that prompted such aspiration is absent today. "Bettering yourself" is now primarily understood in terms of money and power. People routinely change the work they do when it denies them comfort or fun, so the idea that anything higher could be gained from leisure-as-work is alien. Staying young no longer only means being idealistic and adventurous or looking like you're under 30. It can mean a kind of arrested development." Chicago Tribune 09/04/05

Rebuilding New Orleans (But How?) A thirty-year-old book reported that "of all the cities that had been flooded, burned, sacked, leveled by earthquake, buried in lava, or in some way or another destroyed worldwide between 1100 and 1800, only a few dozen had been permanently abandoned. Cities, in other words, tend to get rebuilt no matter what.We've been assured that New Orleans will, too. But, after what promises to be a Herculean clean-up operation, what will the new New Orleans look like? How much will it resemble its antediluvian self?" Boston Globe 09/04/05

Friday, September 2, 2005

A Way For The Arts To Help Hurricane Relief I am writing from Swine Palace, the professional theatre company affiliated with the Louisiana State University Department of Theatre in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I am hoping you can pass on to your readers information regarding an arts-related unified disaster relief effort. As the reports from New Orleans continue to come in, it is clear that South Louisiana faces a dire situation as a result of Hurricane Katrina. Here in Baton Rouge, we are expecting our population to double in the next few days as more evacuees and displaced citizens are relocated here.

Currently, Swine Palace is working on a number of ways to service the many evacuees in Baton Rouge and further participate in the disaster relief efforts. As such, we would like to appeal to our fellow arts organizations across the country to participate in what we are calling the Arts United for Hurricane Relief program. We are asking that organizations consider ways to solicit hurricane relief donations. Some of the ways that they might participate is by placing a donation jar in the their lobby, including an insert or ad in the program, including a link on their website or possibly donating the proceeds of a special performance. There are a variety of funds to which the proceeds can be donated including the American Red Cross (www.redcross.org), The Hurricane Katrina Displaced Residents Fund or the Hurricane Katrina New Orleans Recovery Fund both of the Baton Rouge Area Foundation (www.braf.org) or the Hurricane Katrina Relief Fund of the LSU Foundation. We are certainly not asking that any organization jeopardize their own funding efforts, but any assistance would be greatly appreciated. We are currently setting-up a link on our website (www.swinepalace.org) which will provide additional information, links and downloads as well as a list of all the organizations that participate. In the meantime, organizations who would like to participate can contact me at 225-578-9274 or ksosno1@lsu.edu

Thank you for your assistance.

Kristin Sosnowsky
Managing Director
Swine Palace Productions
Reilly Theatre
Tower Dr. - LSU
Baton Rouge, LA 70803

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