KLowrance Wants You To… Run A Marathon!

October 14, 2008
Eric Liddell, The Flying Scot (image from www.virginmedia.com)

Eric Liddell, The Flying Scot (image from http://www.virginmedia.com)

Running

I recently stumbled onto classmate Katie Lowrance’s blog which is all about marathons, their history both in Greece and in the modern Olympics, why people run them, and how they can benefit organizations like the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

Add what Kirk Hathaway said in his recent comment about “the hurdles of the assignment” being “thrown onto my track” — a clear running metaphor — and I knew I had to review Katie’s site.

Running is one of the oldest endeavors known to man. Whether it be for military purposes, or competitive sports and games, or simply for fun and exercise, people have literally been running for millenia.

In her page, Learn About 26.2, Katie mentions the story of Pheidippides. In legend, Pheidippides was an Athenian messenger who ran about 150 miles over the course of two days, initially to solicit the neighboring Spartans’ help in fighting off the invading Persians. After the Athenian victory at the Battle of Marathon, Pheidippides ran his final 26.2 miles just to announce triumphantly:

Νενικήκαμεν!” (“We have conquered!”)

After he uttered this one word, Pheidippides fell down and died. The verb he used is based on the noun νική, Nike, victory. With one long run and one word, Pheidippides became the inspiration for both the Modern Olympic event of the marathon and the very shoes that runners and athletes everywhere wear to this day!

One question we have not yet addressed in JOMC 713 is this one: With the ease and ubiquity of new communications technologies in the home, on the cell phone, in the car, and everywhere, will people in the future simply become less physically active?

My Dad has a running joke (no pun intended) about how the people of the future will evolve huge eyes, larger brains, and tiny, shrivelled legs because they will sit at their computers all day long being homebodies and keyboard warriors.

Katie’s Blog

Katie’s blog suggests otherwise. She says running a marathon on June 1 of this year was “my biggest accomplishment thus far in my lifetime.” She gives a clue as to her own motivations for running:

I have come to realize that the endorphins of running contribute to a “runner’s high” that is so unique and worthy of the challenge. The more I have pushed myself to work harder and longer, the more gratifying the experience is to cross the finish line.

Katie says there is a joy released when we strive to run, and the harder we strive, the greater it becomes.

Katie seems interested in making her site a kind of depot for information about and for runners. She tells us about the Team in Training program, which trains people to run marathons, half-marathons, and other events to raise money for Leukemia awareness and treatment. A program like this seems easy enough for any of us to sign up for, runners or not.

Kirk Hathaway suggests that by narrowing her focus to regional events, Katie could provide ongoing information about runs in her local area. I second that. I would like to see Katie writing about runs that she attends in the future, telling us the stories of who she meets, why they were there, and maybe even giving us some pictures!

Katie’s design motif is a light tone of pastel colors that is easy on the eyes, warm and friendly. I like the design. Her “About” pages are well-written and are personable. In her “Weblog/Blogroll Questions Answered” article she speaks in an honest, open, first-person voice that tells us about the struggles and successes she has had in adapting to a new technology. She even gives us pictures of herself as a runner and with her boyfriend, a U.S. Marine.

I would only recommend that Katie find a way to list her favorite links higher on her blogroll, as currently her Bottom 5 comes out on top because of WordPress’s bad habit of organizing blogroll categories alphabetically.

About the Picture

Eric Liddell was the 1924 Paris Olympics runner who famously refused to run the 100 meters because of the qualifying heat on a Sunday, which conflicted with his belief in the Sabbath as a day of rest.

Instead, he ran the 400 meters, winning the gold medal. He went on to become a lifelong missionary in China. In the movie “Chariots of Fire,” Liddell says to his sister Jenny, in my favorite quote about running:

“Jenny, I know God made me for a purpose, for China. But he also made me fast! And when I run, I feel his pleasure.”


The Autodidact and the Web

October 13, 2008
Jackson Pollock painting in his studio, Springs, New York, 1949 © Time Inc

Jackson Pollock painting in his studio, Springs, New York, 1949 © Time Inc

Kirk Hathaway, Jackson Pollock

Many thanks to classmate Kirk Hathaway for his substantial comment on “Checkered Trousers,” my review of Randy Burton’s guitar blog.

It is illuminating and, most of all, educating, to be seen through the eyes of another; and this is what Kirk sees in my blog approach:

… here Ramsey goes into dissecting routine and examining inspiration.

In Math Wars, I examined the routine of how mathematics is taught in the elementary school classroom, searching for the substance of what was being taught. In Faith and Science, I proposed writing about famous scientists and their spiritual beliefs, what made them tick. In ADHD, I looked at swimmer Michael Phelps’ ability to use ADHD to his competitive advantage. Now Kirk is treating me by my own standard, dissecting what I’ve been doing to trace the pattern of my inspiration.

A classroom assignment, such as the one I have been given in JOMC 713 — to read and review at least three of my classmates’ blogs, is a kind of routine, which leads Kirk to ask next:

… and so when the hurdles of the assignment [are] thrown on his track, and he must, for class, produce posts that review other blogs, does he hold true to his artist’s inspirations?

Kirk likened my blogging to artistry, specifically to the painting style of Jackson Pollock.

I like the reference, for two reasons: Pollock’s apparent disdain for tradition and his love for his underlying medium. These qualities allowed him to step back and create something that was wholly his own.

With his “drip method of painting,” Pollock created a kind of beautiful pattern out of randomness. I would aspire to do that with writing about things on the Web, especially on my topic of education, where we find a chaos of information that, with a little artistry, can become a supply of raw material for our own Socratic canvas.

Filtering the Web

So let’s approach the following assignment with a painter’s eye. My assignment for “Filtering the Web” is to write about one or more of these questions:

  • How does technology ease or make difficult the dissemination of information?
  • What problems or issues have you encountered in reading blogrolls on various weblogs?
  • What issues have you encountered in incorporating a blogroll and web filtering into your own weblog?

Technology plays right into the hands of the autodidact, the self-taught person. No one can teach you how to filter the Web; you have to dive in and experience it for yourself. Sure, someone can teach you the nomenclature of blogs, what each thing is called, such as the blogroll.

But the experience has to be wholly your own; and experience is so much more than information. Information can be the raw material – the paint. Through experience, the artist shapes it into an expression of who he or she is, an outgrowth of his or her soul.

In examining other websites and blogs, I have tried to pick and choose which threads may be useful for weaving together the tapestry I have wanted to create, according to my interests.

Technology obviously increases the overall amount and variety of information I can dive into. I have had no trouble finding a plethora of relevant sites and blogs, even by simply Googling the keywords I listed in my Research Plan. At first the sites came pouring in in waves like a Tsunami.

But I am learning to hone my searches by starting with better keywords, using search sites other than Google — such as internal searches on bookmarked blog depots. Finally, I let some of my favorite blogs do the work for me by thoroughly investigating their links and blogrolls. I found a number of good so-called “edublogs” (blogs on education) simply by learning that new piece of vocabulary — edublog — and then searching for it.

My style is eccentric and, at its best, serendipitous. The idea for “Math Wars” actually started several weeks ago when I was on YouTube enjoying some videos about fractals and happened to stumble on the video “Math Education: An Inconvenient Truth.” The video was talking about some of the novel approaches to multiplication and division that I had been exposed to as a student teacher, so I was intrigued; I immediately followed up the video with the responses by James Blackburn-Lynch.

Googling “Blackburn-Lynch” led me to that professor’s personal website at Berea College, where I happened to find a whole mini-site devoted to Faith and Science, which played beautifully into the idea I had already written down for my next blog entry!

This is my own, eccentric, approach, and I cannot prescribe it as a model for anyone else to follow. I have tried to show that by seeking to educate myself on topics of personal interest– autodidacticism — I have gotten surprising results that have influenced the direction and enriched the content of my blog posts.

I would add that even though I have chosen what some may call a “serious” topic, I have not shunned “popular” websites such as YouTube, in favor of only rarefied academic journals. Similarly, when Jackson Pollock embarked on painting with his “drip” method, he tended to prefer cheap household paints because he could drip them better! If I may squeeze out a comparison, I likewise found a popular YouTube video that just seemed to flow!


Checkered Trousers and Guitar Solos: Randy Burton’s “Players and Pickers”

October 8, 2008

My JOMC 713 classmate Randy Burton has written a rockin’ blog on guitar-playing styles called “Players and Pickers.”

Randy’s Blog

On his About page, Randy lists his credentials: he is a self-taught guitar player and picker, with over 30 years of experience in diverse genres: “rock, blues, folk, and jazz styles.” He has played in a number of bands over the years, including playing lead guitar for a blues-rock band called “The Trousers,” who released a self-titled CD in 1997.

I named this post “Checkered Trousers” because when I listened to a couple of songs from The Trousers I was struck by the comfortable, laid-back style, and also the diversity of genres: like a well-worn pair of checkered trousers…

Like other students in JOMC 713, Randy wrote about how he evaluates websites. I agreed with his guidelines, in which he mentioned useful content, appealing design elements, and active use. On the last point, I liked this quote:

There should be evidence of use from other viewers; if there is a bulletin board or forum and only a few people have visited, then the value of the site is questionable.

Evidence of use could include comments, an active discussion board, or links or pingbacks from other bloggers.

I also like how Randy lets you know which websites are trying to sell you some kind of instructional program, like many guitar sites are, versus which others are completely free.

Keep up the good work, Randy!

Are Guitar Solos Dead?

In Randy’s post for last’s Friday’s best and worst links, he links as the best site a blog called “Guitar Licks.”

I enjoyed the post in Guitar Licks called “Is the Guitar Solo Dead?” The post says guitar solos seemed to have “skipped a generation,” as they are completely absent from today’s Top 40. I agree that there is a dearth of good guitar solos in today’s music, even in what passes for rock.

However, I disagree when the author blames the death of the guitar solo on the advent of grunge and alternative rock in the 90’s.

Myles Kennedy and Mark Tremonti of Alter Bridge

Myles Kennedy and Mark Tremonti of Alter Bridge

Some not-quite-top-40 bands and guitarists out there –including those influenced by grunge — are producing excellent-quality guitar solos! One example is Mark Tremonti of Alter Bridge (see picture at left).

Since Mark and the other former members of Creed let singer Scott Stapp go and acquired the more versatile Myles Kennedy, Tremonti has introduced a number of hard-hitting guitar solos into his songs. For example, listen to “Open Your Eyes” on YouTube.

An added benefit is that Kennedy is a stronger guitar player than Stapp, which leads to some better support for Tremonti.


Friday’s Links: ADHD and Michael Phelps

October 3, 2008

Variety is the spice of life.” — proverb

I think this proverb should be amended for those with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) to read, “Variety is the meat of life.”

I honestly think that ADHD people have so much trouble in school because they are expected to think linearly about one topic at a time, in isolation from everything else.

I have ADHD myself, and I know that I thrive most when I balance two or three things at one time. And when my learning and actions have a purposeful context, and meaning.

This morning I enjoyed an article on swimmer Michael Phelps from the Edge Foundation. It is titled “Michael Phelps is not an Attention Deficit.” His mother says the following about Michael’s childhood:

“In kindergarten I was told by his teacher, ‘Michael can’t sit still, Michael can’t be quiet, Michael can’t focus.’ I said, maybe he’s bored. The teacher said that was impossible. “He’s not gifted,” came back the reply.”

Not gifted! Let’s look at what really makes Michael Phelps thrive in competition.

First, he listens to music on his Ipod while he’s gearing up for races. This is getting him “in the zone,” actually into a zone of what psychologists call “hyperfocus,” (the real H in ADHD). Hyperfocus is a gift, a special ability to tune out the rest of the world and pour all your energy into one thing that you really care about.

Next, Michael doesn’t just swim one event! He swims relays, sprints, and middle-distance events. I suspect that the variety of those different events keeps him engaged, the energy and enthusiasm from each event feeding into the others.

The other article for today is from WebMD and is called “ADHD Medications and Treatments.”

I’m sure the author of this article, Dr. Richard Sogn, has good intentions and thinks he is helping people. But the article assumes that ADHD is a problem, and goes on to recommend the best medications for how to eliminate the problem.

I was encouraged by the Edge Foundation to look at my ADHD as an opportunity rather than a problem.

The opportunity is to string together interesting combinations that may otherwise go unnoticed. To bounce around from one subject to another, and see familiar patterns wherever you go!

Now I want to do an article on notable scientists who are thought to have had ADHD!


Thursday’s Links: Photoblogs

October 3, 2008

I think a photoblog is a fascinating idea. Rather than let words speak over time, a photoblogger lets photos do the speaking, from one day to the next.

Today I have found two photoblogs that I both like. So I am unable to say that one is bad and the other is good. They both seem good to me.

The first one is called “Beyond Illusion.” I tried to stick the front page image to my blog, but I was unsuccessful. Now that I think about it, I’m not sure how its author would feel about that anyways, so check it out for yourself.

The About section features a quotation from Albert Einstein that begins:

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science…”

This was fantastic to find, especially since I had just written in Wednesday’s post that I wanted to explore the spiritual beliefs of prominent scientists!

I also liked the fact that there was a quotation from former Alice in Chains singer Layne Staley. I enjoyed the music of Alice in Chains in high school, particularly the Unplugged performance they did for MTV. Staley apparently said at some point:

“There’s no huge, deep message in any of the songs. It was just what was going on in my head right then. We had good times, and we had bad times. We recorded a few months of being human.”

“Beyond Illusion” does a lot of contrasting of black-and-white with vibrant color, stillness with motion, old cathedrals with young people. The two most common color patterns in the photos are either black-and-white, or bright, luscious greenery.

The blog also gets a lot of mileage out of the contrast between young people and old religious icons, portraits, and statues. One photo is called “Absence of the Sacred,” and features four young men dressed in black, standing inside an old British cathedral, at a sharp angle.

The second photoblog I enjoyed was “Thinking Picture.” The “About” section isn’t as developed (as Beyond Illusion).

“Thinking Picture” focuses on some of the huge, breath-taking landscapes of South Africa. There are several vivid portraits of nature in motion, such as the stunning “Spotted Eagle Owl in Flight.”

There are also several powerful action shots which are apparently from a Seether concert, such as “Shaun Morgan from Seether.”


Wednesday’s Links: Faith and Science

October 3, 2008

Introduction

My namesake for this blog, Socrates, says in Plato’s dialogue Theaetetus,

Wonder is the special affection of a philosopher; for philosophy has no other starting point than this…” – Theaetetus 155D

Faith and Science. Two ponderous ideas about which much has been said. What is my purpose in lumping these two together?

I think if I look honestly at my own life, I find the seeds of both already implanted in me, and the beginning of them is a mystery.

Science

I want to know the answer to many “how” questions. How do computers work? That’s a big one I’ve picked up lately.

How does my brain work — what happens inside my brain when I have what I call a “thought”?

These, to me, seem to be the domain of what we all generally call science.

Faith

At the same time, I am full of “why” questions. Why am I here, fundamentally? And why is there a universe around me at all — something, rather than nothing?

Why do I think? Why am I, unlike other animals (as far as I know), capable of generating and expressing a series of thoughts about my life?

This seems to be a different category of questions, and the domain of what many people call faith/belief. (Many people approach these questions from a secular standpoint not related to religious faith. I am not saying that religious faith is the only way to deal with these questions.)

Thesis and Antithesis

Can we afford to dismiss either the “why” or the “how”?

Some people say they have all the answers to the “why” questions, so they can ignore the question of “how.” They look down on science, suspicious of it, because they think it undermines their faith.

Others look down on the “why” questions. They say that in time science will have all the answers we need, so “why” questions are extraneous.

Synthesis

Yet others say something remarkable. They say that as they learn more about “how” through science, their sense of wonder and awe is reinforced, their perception of mystery becomes deeper, and the “why” questions are nurtured.

Websites

So I’ve looked up some websites on this topic. I’ll mention two today.

I’ve been thoroughly enjoying a website from Berea College called “Faith and Science: Perspectives on Christianity and Science,” written by professor Robert J. Schneider.

Dr. Schneider says some remarkable and surprising things. Even as I glanced over the Table of Contents, I was intrigued to find an essay called “Evolution for Christians.”

In the first essay, “What the Bible Teaches About Creation,” Dr. Schneider says the following:

I shall take the position, common among most Christian scholars, including many evangelicals, that Genesis 1 is not “a straightforward, historical and scientific account of how God created,” the view espoused by young-earth creationists. Rather, this magnificent hymn-like passage is a theological proclamation, a manifesto, a statement of faith about both the creation and the Creator. [bold text mine]

Elsewhere in the essay we find an interesting quotation from Galileo:

“The intention of the Holy Spirit is to teach us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.” — Cardinal Baronius, quoted by Galileo.

I give this website a hearty thumbs-up — for being knowledgeable, readable, and thoughtfully prepared, and for defining faith and science in contexts that make both meaningful and valuable.

My other website for today is “Intelligent Design vs. Evolution,” which I found doing a Google search for “intelligent design and evolution.”

I can’t tell you exactly what the current theory of “intelligent design” is, but I didn’t get a good impression of it from this website. The website itself doesn’t seem intelligently designed; it features loud colors and a huge in-your-face banner announcing “Win $10,000 for Proof of Evolution!!!”

I watched the videos on the site. One of them involves a middle-aged man named Ray Comfort asking college-aged kids probing questions about the scientific theory of evolution. The video makes a big deal out of the fact that the kids respond with words like “maybe,” “probably,” and “I’m not an expert.” I guess we’re meant to notice that they don’t understand the theory of evolution very well even though they believe it is true.

A second video claims to feature a scientist asking British biologist Richard Dawkins, “Can you give an example of a genetic mutation or an evolutionary process which can be seen to increase the information in the genome?” Dawkins looks up at the ceiling for a few seconds deep in thought and says nothing. (It is not clear to me that Dawkins was even in the same room with the questioner, because of the way the camera cuts drastically from one person to the other.)  I think the purpose of the video is to try to show an expert being stumped by a basic question, not an approach I find particularly useful because I have made some effort to understand evolution for myself, so I don’t feel the need to either rely on or disapprove of Dawkins.

I don’t think this website really promotes better understanding of either evolution or faith like the Berea College site does. It might have some marginal value in getting people to think through their positions more clearly.  I have read elsewhere, though, that the Dawkins video is a total hoax, which of course would make the website just plain silly to me.

Further Research

The Berea College website got me thinking I’d like to devote a couple of blogs to researching prominent scientists and what we know of their spiritual or religious beliefs. I might start with some great historical scientists like Newton, Pascal, and Einstein.

I remember hearing once that Newton was an alchemist before he revolutionized physics. Pascal, of course, was a mathematician heavily immersed in probability, number theory, and physics before his mid-life conversion to Catholic Christianity. At the time of his conversion, he gave up on math and sciene altogether and devoted his full attention to religious life.

Then I might move to some modern, working scientists. The Berea College website has a Resources section that lists some prominent current scientists who are also interested in questions of theology. I might begin with this list…


Tuesday’s Links: Math Wars part 2

October 2, 2008

Math Wars Continued: “You Cannot Memorize Meaningless Gibberish!”

I promised I would discuss some of the responses to M.J. McDermott’s traditionalist video “Math Education: An Inconvenient Truth” (see Monday’s Links).

My favorite response is by a professor of mathematics at Berea College, James Blackburn-Lynch. Part One of his video response is about 8 minutes long; please watch it now:

Different assumptions

Ms. McDermott begins her video with an assumption: The purpose of elementary math education is for all children to be able to multiply and divide using the standard algorithms by the end of 5th grade. This is the traditionalist point of view: basic skills are to be mastered, through rote memorization and repetition (practice).

If you read my Research Plan, Ms. McDermott represents the Tabula Rasa philosophy of education: fill ’em (with knowledge) and drill ’em (on skills). Not necessarily a bad approach, but we should note that it is just one approach among many, and just one camp in the Math Wars.

If you watched today’s video, you saw James Lynch question Ms. McDermott’s assumption. “Why? What is the big picture here?” he asks.

He says Ms. McDermott and many parents “want math to be what it was for themmemorization of formulas.” So when their child comes home with a cluster problem or an assignment to use the lattice method of multiplication, they balk.

But what is the purpose of those types of assignments? Mr. Lynch suggests it is to make meaning of math.

Different Diagnoses

Ms. McDermott says the fundamental problem with math education today is that students don’t master the basic skills anymore. The solution? More drill and practice.

Mr. Lynch says spending so much time on drill and practice was itself the problem! Students learned to think of math as “a bunch of arbitary rules,” without making meaning of it for themselves.

See why this is a War? Each camp’s solution is precisely the problem, for the other camp.

I give a thumbs-up to Mr. Lynch’s video, for pointing out the shortcomings of Ms. McDermott’s position.

As my other website for today, I recommend the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) Curriculum Focal Points website.

The NCTM is probably the best, most organized voice in the Constructivist camp of the Math Wars. This camp believes, with Mr. Lynch, that “you cannot memorize meaningless gibberish,” and that, to best make sense of math, you may need to take a round-about route that involves things like cluster problems and strange algorithms.

I give the NCTM a thumbs-up for its easily navigable, grade-by-grade listing of curriculum points.

I give it a thumbs-down for requiring that you become a paid member before you can interact with the website — i.e., leave comments, ask questions, etc.