Friday, December 3, 2010

First Annual Registration Party


Late the night of the 28th, students gathered in the Honors Forum to register for their spring classes. They were all going to be up late anyway, waiting for 12:01 exactly, hoping the powers that be didn't decide to apply an update to Banner at the exact wrong time. So why not have a party?


HSAC hosted the event and had treats for sale. And even though the steely resolve was obvious in everyone, so was the late hour after a Thanksgiving break. I had imagined that as midnight neared, the crowd would become loud and agitated, sort of like New Years Eve at Times Square. But the mood was calm, and as 12:01 struck, I hardly noticed. Everyone was simply at work.


For most, those were a few good minutes that set them up for the spring semester. Overall the mood was jubilant.


Okay, maybe that one was a little posed. Not my idea though, I promise.

Unfortunately, for some 12:01 was the time when they found out they had a hold of one sort or another on their account, and they would be unable to register for classes that evening. Since most of UNM isn't open when registration begins, there's no one to remove that hold until the morning.

For many classes, this isn't such a big deal since the next group of students isn't eligible until the following week, but for those popular Honors classes, those first five (if not two) minutes are key. Even among those without problems that night, a frequently heard piece of advice was to sign up for the Honors class first because the few seconds elapsing between successive page refreshes would mean the difference between a seat and the waiting list.


All in all, I'd say the night was a success. Look for the registration party again next semester!



Thursday, November 11, 2010

Wireless in Honors

For those of you trying to find the inter-tron through one of our X-women at the back of Honors (think rooms 8,9, 12), things may have just gotten a little better. We've moved the routers to some better ports, and no you should be able to find Jubilee from those locations.

Happy Surfing

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Post-Election Thoughts

The Election is over, and it looks like the GOP has taken back the House of Representatives, but not the Senate. I know that many Republican supporters are very excited about this, but I would just like to add in a few thoughts about the next few years. First off, given that the Democrats still control (an albeit tiny) majority in the Senate, this means that Republicans will need to attempt at least a little bipartisanship if they wish to pass any real legislation. This means compromise. And as for those big pieces of legislation they've been talking about, namely repealing the Health Care Bill, I have just one word: veto. Basically, in order for the Republicans to get rid of the Health Care Bill, they would have to pass another Bill essentially canceling the first one out. And in order to do this, they would need not only cooperation from the Democrats, but the signature of the President.

I'm sure we can all imagine what Obama's reaction would be to an attempt to get rid of his prize piece of legislation.

On the flip side, the Democrats won't be able to get anything through that the Republicans don't like either. So what this means is that for at least the next two years, we're likely to see a whole lot of nothing coming out of Congress. Just food for thought.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

China's Rising Star

Folks who follow international news are likely aware that China is becoming more and more prosperous, and by extension more powerful year by year. Since the death of Mao in the 1970s, economic reorientation has brought the Chinese economy to almost unimaginable heights. They have maintained 10% GDP growth ever year since the early 90s, and now have the second largest economy in the world, surpassed only by the United States. With the US economy on the downturn, it is not uncommon for me to hear people say that China is set to become the new dominant world power. However, as I've pointed out before, media hyperbole, and actual fact are much different things, so I'm here to briefly address China's social and economic stability.

Here's the deal: China is arguably the most powerful country, economically, in the world now. They have experienced unprecedented growth, and are still in the possession of enormous economic surplussed, while most of the rest of the world is in debt. Nearly every powerful country in the world, including ours, would like to see China become a democracy, mostly because it would allow us to influence their economic policies in a way that would be more favorable to us. Bodies like the UN want China to adopt humanitarian measures that would open up their society to greater social freedoms. The very simple fact is that none of this is going to work, because not a single one of us can back it up. China owns most of the US debt through various governments bonds, meaning there is not one bit of leverage we can bring to bear against them. As a member of the Security Council, China is practically immune to international pressure of almost any kind. It is reasonable to label them as a great power, because in many senses, they cannot be touched by anyone else.

It is for many of these reasons that China is predicted to replace the US at the top of the international totem pole. It is for others, however, that I would argue that China cannot maintain its current society as is. Political scientists have noted a tendency within various countries that as they become more wealthy, they also tend to become more democratic. This principle, called post-materialist values, while unproven statistically is nevertheless compelling. The idea is that as people become less concerned about providing themselves and their families with the basic necessities of life, they become more interested in freedom of expression, and influence in political discourse. This poses a particular danger to China as it brings in even more wealth.

There is also the simple fact that dictator-like countries are not stable. The particular characteristics of what we call authoritarian regimes prevent long term stability. So while China may survive and continue to grow in the next several decades, there are a vast number difficulties they would have to overcome in order to survive in their current state while continuing to grow and maintain their influence. Just something to keep in mind. If you're interested in more on this subject, click on the title to view an article on China in the coming years.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

From the Security of a Computer

If you've ever taken the time to stop by the Daily Lobo's website and read some of the comments posted there, you'll have noticed that people can be rather vicious in their remarks. When it comes to the Opinion pieces especially I have seen some truly ignorant things thrown back and forth between people. It made me think some more about the continued effects of the internet on modern communication. It seems to me that not having to look another person in the eye when you're speaking to them has strongly reduced the tactfulness of society. Can you imagine two people throwing around the kinds of insults you see on internet forums if they were having a conversation in person? Maybe it's a good thing that people aren't mincing words online the way they do in person, but to me that seems hypocritical. If you're not willing to say something to a person's face, I don't think you should be saying it to their forum avatar.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Who's Your Oil Daddy?

As a political add on to Kate's last post, I thought it would be interesting to address the political side of things like the oil crisis. The recent oil spill in the Gulf Coast points to a rising trend in off shore oil drilling all over the world as an alternative to land based oil drilling. Why is this? Because the vast majority of oil resources to be found on land are almost totally depleted. Which is why drilling in Alaska, and off the coasts has become such a big thing.

However, offshore drilling has a number of dangers, the most prevelant of which we witnessed with this recent oil spill. Far from being the norm, such spills are much more common occurrences in offshore oil operations, than land based ones. Meaning that while few are likely to have the magnitude of the one in the spring, such spills are only likely to continue.

Of course, the biggest question (aside from complete destruction of oceanic environments) is what happens once the oil in the seas is gone too? The answer, as some might guess, is buy from Saudi Arabia. The large desert country, long the world's largest producer of oil, might soon be the world's only producer of oil. According to some estimates Saudi Arabia has only used 10% of their total oil resources. In however many decades, when all other oil resources have been exhausted, Saudi Arabia will still be going strong with production.

So who's your oil daddy? That would be Saudi Arabia.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Who cares about the environment, Part II

Last week I wrote a post about why humans may be "hardwired" not to care about environmental change. This week I would like to talk about what evolutionary theory has to say about how we can get people to care, as we discussed in one of my classes.

Most environmental education programs cater to our propensity to reason about economics. They present our relationship with nature as a business exchange, meaning that we tend to focus on the depletion of valuable resources. They target our "business sense" by suggesting that the resources that we need, like coal for example, may not be as readily available to us in fifteen years as they are now if we keep using it at the rate we are. These environmental education programs then suggest that we can each make small cutbacks to offset the predicted deficiency, such as riding our bikes to school and work or purchasing locally grown produce that doesn't need to be shipped in. It is then implied that if we each make these changes, then in the future we won't face as severe of an oil shortage. This reasoning is sound. However, the truth is that environmental education programs are essentially asking individuals to make substantial sacrifices for relatively small, long term rewards. I say that they are relatively small rewards because you know that MOST people are not willing to make these sacrifices, so the payback to you will be minimal if there is any at all. (We know this inherently, see Hardin's Tragedy of the Commons for further info). To put it in more concrete terms, you may spend an extra hour each day commuting on your bike (time that could be spent studying, earning money, going on dates, etc.) but in fifty years we may be totally out of oil anyway. See for yourself, are the business-style arguments depicted in the following images convincing?

I mean, having seen these images, are you now going to make a significant change to your lifestyle to be more green? Probably not.

But there is another option, another way to convince people to change their behaviors. Instead, perhaps we can appeal to peoples' softer side. Throughout human history, the genes that have been successful in getting passed down (i.e. the genes that you and I carry) have belonged to people who favored the well-being of themselves and their family members over others (Hamilton's rule for you biologists). Said another way, we have psychological adaptations, built in by evolution, that cause us to share benefits with the people with whom we have common genes, that is, our family. Additionally, we are also inclined to form social alliances with non-kin who can provide us with benefits. (This is probably where division of labor comes from - maybe I know the best way to shape an arrowhead and you know the best way to build a stable hut so we team up and form a social alliance, since neither of us has both talents.) The professor of this class suggested that if perhaps we were to encourage people to view nature as a family member or even as a social partner rather than just a collection of resources, then people might be more inclined to treat nature with more care. We have all experienced the joys of helping out a friend or family member, and the pangs of disappointment when one of them may be in trouble. How about the following images? Observe what goes on internally for you as you view them.
These are more convincing, right? Did you notice yourself thinking or feeling something along the lines of, "Oh no!" And did you have that reaction with the first set of images? Maybe the family fleeing from their home that is being destroyed by flooding really got to you. Or the hungry child in the desert is displaying the same mannerism that your favorite nephew does. The family of worried-looking polar bears that is stranded on the few remaining icebergs might remind you of how you feel trying to support your own children in these tough economic times. Or the frogs dying in droves might bring home what we are doing to the earth we live on. Maybe these are the types of arguments that environmental education programs should be making in order to actually convince people to change their ways.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

HSAC UHP Town Hall: Preview Night Improvement

Town Hall Test Run

HSAC's new committee, the Honors Student Action Group a.k.a. HSAG, is all about making changes on campus that benefit UHP students and the UNM community. HSAG is in the process of organizing a 'Town Hall' for honors students. This town hall would offer honors students the opportunity to voice their opinions and influence change within the honors program. The first thing that HSAG would like to tackle is UHP's Preview Night, so they centered the 'Town Hall Test Run' around that topic. We all know that honors students have long complained about preview night and it's inconveniences, so HSAG is going to try and improve the format of Preview Night and remind honors students that it really is an awesome event and privilege that is unique to the honors program. At this test run town hall meeting HSAC members discussed what preview night is, the goals of preview night, whether or not preview night is currently reaching those goals, possible improvements to preview night, and ways to implement these improvements. HSAG will be announcing the first UHP wide town hall meeting in the next few weeks. If you think that this is something you think you'd like to participate in look out for the meeting announcement on the UHP list-serve and flyers in the forum.

Quite Interesting

Click on the title to check out an article about religious knowledge. Turns out the most knowledgeable people in America about religion are the ones who are least religious. The survey shows that, on average, Atheists and Agnostics know more about religion than their Christian and Jewish counterparts. I won't spoil the whole article for you, I just wanted to highlight the very interesting contrast in religious knowledge.

Friday, September 24, 2010

ARTS Lab Stretches Boundaries of Digital Media

Just when I think I have a good grasp of the potential uses of digital media, an article like this comes along to blow my mind away and show me that I haven't even grasped the beginnings of what such media might be capable of. Any other new uses of digital media that blow your mind?

ARTS Lab Stretches Boundaries of Digital Media

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

GOP To Retake Congress...

...Not likely. I know the media outlets have been buzzing about how the country is dissatisfied with the Democratic White House and Congress at the moment, and also how the Tea Party is picking up a lot of popularity, but it would take a lot for the Democrats to lose the House, let alone the entire Congress. The Republicans are currently up against a large number of incumbents in Congress, and a little fact that the media doesn't often mention is that incumbents win.

For anyone who hasn't taken much PoliSci, an incumbent is a politician who is running for reelection. At least in American politics, incumbents tend to have a sizable advantage over challengers, especially in Congressional elections. For one thing, members of Congress don't have to pay postage. This may not seem like a big deal, but think about the millions of pamphlets and other campaign items that Congressmen send out to their districts, and the cost of stamps start to add up.

I would go into more examples, but I know how boring it would be, so I'll just sum it up this way: It doesn't matter what party you are, if you're a member of Congress, you want to continue being a member of Congress. Regardless your party affiliation you want to be able to get reelected. And it's a handy fact that members of Congress happen to be able to pass the laws regarding election regulations and such.

Now I'm not saying that the Democrats won't suffer losses. They won a lot of seats a few years back that originally belonged to Republicans, and odds are they'll lose a few, if not all of those. But honestly, to gain a majority in Congress, the Republicans would have to win more seats than they did in the 1994 election, to which the current election has been much compared. So again, could the Republicans take Congress back? Sure. Will they? Not likely.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Who cares about the environment?

Last week I posted something about a topic we discussed in one of my classes, Evolution of Religiosity. This week again I was inspired to write about something else from discussion in that class. Climate change - and why we may not be wired to care.

If we go back about 70,000 years ago, there was a supereruption of Mt. Toba (in Sumatra, Indonesia) that was so powerful it ejected 670 cubic miles of volcanic ash (the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens ejected 0.29 cubic miles of ash). Scientists conjecture that a 6 to 10 year volcanic winter followed, and that it caused a huge bottleneck in human evolution, reducing the number of breeding pairs down to somewhere between 1,000 and 10,000. So who survived?

What we know for sure is that Homo sapiens survived, and some scientists speculate that H. sapiens were able to adapt to the new climate and that Neanderthals, for example, couldn't adapt and therefore became extinct. The hominids that did survive must have been doing something right. It may be the case that the survivors of the Mt. Toba supereruption, the ones that got through the bottleneck and are the ancestors of you and me, were of the mindset that natural disasters, climate change, and huge ecological turnovers really aren't that big of a deal. This kind of thinking may or may not have directly influenced their ability to survive the volcanic winter and ensuing ecological changes, but the survivors obviously did not need to be as worried about these things as did their counterparts who perished. You and I both carry the genes of the volcanic eruption survivors, and those genes may very well not be too concerned with environmental change. The bottom line is, we may not be hardwired to care about the current climate change we experience in the world today.

Look for a future post about what evolutionary science says about how we CAN get people to care...

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

What is Mathematics For?

A colleague gave me an interesting article the other day. Titled What is Mathematics For?, it claims that proponents of higher math education (algebra and up) are way out of line when they claim that math is useful for most people out in the world in the jobs they do. It is by Underwood Dudley and published in the May 2010 edition of the Notices of the American Mathematical Society. Maybe you'll find it interesting too.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Nintendo Marks Super Mario's Anniversary With A Commercial

Nintendo Marks Super Mario's Anniversary With A Commercial

Super Mario is now 25. The little clip of the original theme song still brings joy to my heart. Many of my life long friendships were formed through playing this game, and several of those friends now live in Japan, essentially thanks to Mario's role as a cultural ambassador. Domo, Miyamoto-san.

Campus Safety

With the semester in full swing and a lot of new students starting at the university, I just wanted to make a brief note about campus security. While violent crime is not a prevalent issue at UNM, theft is. A recent Daily Lobo article highlighted several recent thefts on campus, most from parked cars. So if you're planning on being on campus late at night, make sure to lock up your vehicle, and not to leave any valuables laying around. And in the interest of being safe, don't spend too much time lingering outside after dark. While the statistics for violent crime at UNM are low, it would be better if they were simply non-existent.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Child v. Chimp

Researchers who are interested in the evolution of human behavior often compare our behaviors to those of chimpanzees, our closest living genetic relatives. Comparative studies such as these help us decide what makes humans so uniquely... well, human.

Click the title of this post ("Child v. Chimp") to access the link to a video of a learning experiment between a child and a chimpanzee. The gist of it is this: given an opaque puzzle box with a reward inside, both chimpanzees and children follow the directions of the demonstrator about how to open the box - even the instructions that have nothing to do with actually accessing the reward. However, when the box is transparent and it is obvious which actions need to be taken to get the reward and which ones don't, chimpanzees go straight for the reward and children continue to include the erroneous actions as well. The kids seem old enough and certainly bright enough to see that sliding the bars and tapping the box have nothing to do with getting a gummy bear - afterall even the chimp sees that - so Why does the chimp skip the BS and the child doesn't?

We talked about this video in one of my classes recently and the students came up with some interesting perspectives. Perhaps the child includes the erroneous gestures because he or she wants the approval of the experimenter, or is signaling that he or she defers to the experimenter's authority as a subordinate. Or perhaps going through the motions is not so much a sign of respect, but it may be an indication of higher level learning geared towards dealing with technology. Often we don't know how technology works, but we know we must go through a ritualized set of steps in order to get the result we want, even though it is not apparent what each of the steps is for. For example, I have no clue how my car works - but I do know that I need to insert a key into the ignition and turn it, and push the gas and break pedals if I want it to move. And I know that if I don't put gas and clean oil in it every once in a while it won't run either. There is nothing intuitive about using and maintaining a car, because you cannot see all of the moving parts and how they work together to produce motion. Using technology requires a type of learning that tacitly accepts not understanding the mechanism behind the action and result. Perhaps the child, who is probably used to using very advanced technologies and certainly doesn't understand them, is simply using the same mechanisms for learning about the puzzle box as he or she does to use the family computer.

This experiment may be evidence of the fact that humans have highly evolved, extremely complex, social interactions, and that children thus learn to navigate this social landscape using techniques such as deferral to authority. Or it may indicate our propensity to go through highly ritualized behaviors, perhaps as a by-product of our ability to use technology and all of its "unobservable" parts. There is something akin to supernatural belief about using technology. I don't know how my car works, but I do know that if I put x in I get y out, and I'm perfectly content with that. This suggests that humans may uniquely have a propensity towards supernatural beliefs as a result of the highly adaptive value of using technology. That's not to say that supernatural belief entirely or necessarily arose from using technology in human history, and it's also not to say that supernatural beliefs are false. (After all, that which cannot be detected by our natural sense, i.e. the supernatural, of course cannot be observed by science, which can rely only on the natural senses.) It merely suggests that humans' unique ability to use highly advanced technology may result in our propensity to utilize rituals that do not appear to have any practical meaning in completing tasks.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Lobo Article

Dr. DeSantis pointed out this article to me last week. It's been pretty common knowledge that the faculty are generally pretty upset with the current administration, but it's interesting to see just how much.
The horrible thing is how much people at the University are affected from the bottom up. First the students have to deal with tuition and fee hikes, then the staff have to worry about being laid off, and now the rumors are that faculty might be the next ones taking pay cuts. Somehow the possibility of cutting an unneeded layer of bureaucracy off the administration is hardly ever addressed.

Very cool art posting sight

This sight has the latest and greatest contemporary art from artists who are pushing the envelope.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Adventures in my White Coat

For all of you who plan to go to medical school someday, check out the new blog
     "Adventures in my White Coat" by recent UHP graduate Sevy Gurule.

It is in its initial stages, but it already has some wonderful firsthand perspectives on what medical school is like.

An Interesting Use of Google Maps

A Google Chrome Project titled "The Wilderness Downtown" has been getting a lot of attention lately. Many of you may have seen it already, but I looked at it recently and found it to be an engaging and quite moving example of interactive digital storytelling. For those like me who have wondered what Google Maps might be used for other than Geography or travel projects, it gave me some new and interesting ideas about ways digital projects can connect to a variety of areas and lives. If you have not seen it, check it out:
     The Wilderness Project

(If you don't remember your childhood address, that's OK. Just put down any address to see how it works. Also, write anything on the postcard to your younger self  to get the full impact of the project's experience. It is meant to be a start-to-finish experience, rather than an explore-and-browse site)

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Real invisibility threads would be fit for an emperor - tech - 28 August 2010 - New Scientist

For those of us who thought The Invisible Man was just a fantastical movie idea, check out the article below on how scientists are working on making invisible threads for clothing a reality. So, what is the first thing you would do if you were wearing a head-to-toe suit of invisible threads?

Real invisibility threads would be fit for an emperor - tech - 28 August 2010 - New Scientist

Spanish Students Spend Summer in Nicaraguan Bicycle Venture - UNM Today | The University of New Mexico

If you did not see the article below, this is the fun and rewarding work some of our students got to take part in this summer.

Spanish Students Spend Summer in Nicaraguan Bicycle Venture - UNM Today | The University of New Mexico

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Meeting People

Hey everyone. My name is Alana Hoffman and I transferred here this semester from Florida Gulf Coast University. I am a freshman pre-nursing student in the Honor's Program. I'm all for meeting new people, so if you want to hang out and talk about cool things, blog it!!!! :)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Now Introducing . . .

Now introducing the Math Made Almost Bearable Podcast! As many of you know Frank Kelly, Chris Holden and I have been putting together videos for the MMAB project. Many of those videos are on this site! However, sometimes the best way (as Journey Through Genius students know) to approach math is to just talk about it! And thus was born the MMAB podcast. Two interview with Frank are up now with more to come. To subscribe via iTunes follow this link

If you're not as big a fan of iTunes the episodes can also be viewed here

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Mobile Technology Ready, Set, Go!

I've been talking about the promises of mobile technology for years, but now all of a sudden, everyone else seems to see this too. But to make sure these handheld devices serve our needs and aren't simply used to reproduce the status quo, hard work and good ideas from committed people is necessary to begin rethinking how we relate to information, place, ourselves and each other. Ideas, not only code. Maybe you're one of these people. Maybe you can help.

But first a little context.

The ipad

So I'm sure you all saw the Apple news today. The ipad, anticipated since 2002, is reality. But I'm not writing about that particular device. Rather, it demonstrates how mobile technology has recently really begun to take off and change they way we relate to the world around us. I mean growing up, I never saw this kind of anticipation outside the Super Bowl or a Presidential election. Lots and lots of people have been operating at a fever pitch for months about the possible existence of this slate. And unlike the ipad's predecessors, the iphone and ipod touch, this new handheld is expected by laypeople to be used explicitly in formal educational settings. Most of this thought is from my point of view somewhat unimaginative (for reading textbooks - really? Wow! The future!), but it's important to me that the populace sees this in students' hands. That's new.

Mobile Tech in Education

Consumer electronics companies and myself are not the only ones suddenly bullish on the idea that mobile technology has a capacity to transform education. Last week, the New Media Consortium (an international not-for-profit consortium of learning-focused organizations dedicated to the exploration and use of new media and new technologies) released their 2010 Horizon report. This annual report is intended "to identify and describe emerging technologies likely to have considerable impact on teaching, learning, and creative expression within higher education," and is rather influential in the field. This year, mobile technology was foregrounded, and the message was essentially "Now is the time for mobile. Don't be left behind."

Earlier Work - Augmented Reality Games

For the past several years, along with a few other people who really felt this coming, I've been trying to design content to figure out exactly how education can take advantage of the chief affordances of mobile technology. In particular, I've been focusing on the design and implementation of what have come to be called augmented reality place-based games. In Wisconsin, we designed games for middle schoolers around local lakes and rivers that looked at issues of biological and urban ecology.

Mentira and UNM

Here at UNM, with Spanish and Portuguese professor Julie Sykes, grad students Linda Lemus and Aaron Salinger, and Language Learning Center Supervisor Derek Roff, I've designed a Spanish game, Mentira, that takes place in the Los Griegos neighborhood and is being used in Spanish 202 classes.

The game works on an ipod touch and the best thing is that we could make it without a programmer. Thanks to some open-source software built by some colleagues of mine in Wisconsin, we have at our disposal an authoring tool for place-based augmented reality games that is super easy to use. Last semester in my games class, a small group of students (Shannon Conover, John Tennison, Casey Holland, and Jenny Suen) used this tool to create a Steampunk-themed game for the rest of the class that took place on campus, and without a lot of help from me.

Your Role

So if you want to be a part of the way mobile tech changes the educational landscape, start thinking and talking. Find me. Come up with an idea for a game. Don't leave it all to Apple and Houghton Mifflin.