Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Ideas, Actions, and Inspiration for a Better Tomorrow - September 26 Edition

 Black Lives, Women, Inspiration, Role Models

"Katherine G. Johnson, the human computer behind some of NASA’s biggest advancements, attended the ribbon cutting of the research facility named in her honor on Friday (9/22).

The 99-year-old mathematician was thrust into the spotlight last year when the Oscar-nominated film “Hidden Figures” told the story of three black women who broke barriers at NASA.  Johnson, along with Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, shattered the segregational norms within the agency in the 1960s to push forward some of the country’s greatest aerospace advancements.

The Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Facility is a state-of-the-art facility run by NASA’s Langley Research Center. The building, which cost $23 million, will consolidate four of the organization’s data centers as a part of Langley’s 20-year revitalization plan."

Crisis and Conflict, Education, Heroes

"IN 2015, YASMIN Al Dabaan fled the war in Syria and settled just across the border in Turkey, in the town of Reyhanli. One day, the single mother and teacher saw a Syrian refugee girl searching through a trashcan for food. That image inspired Dabaan to set up the Active Child Center, a place where street children could come to feel safe. At the center, children get informal lessons every afternoon. Every Friday, Dabaan cooks them a big meal. Her small teaching salary funds most of the center, and the rest comes from private donations.

Ultimately, Dabaan would like to see all the children attend a proper school, but many families are unable to afford the fees. So, she also helps parents find jobs, which means their children no longer have to work on the streets to help support their families."

Education, Technology

"The platform allows students to learn at their own pace, argues Andrew Goldin, Summit’s chief of schools. At conventional schools, “there are many students waiting for others to catch up.” Rather than rely on high-stakes tests, the platform tracks individuals as they go along. It prompts pupils, Goldin says, to reflect on why and how they learn.

Pupils in a senior year English class seem to agree. One 17-year-old girl says that, unlike her friends at other schools, “I actually like my school”, since it offers lots of chances to try out new things. Her deskmate, also 17, adds that, “you really get to know the teachers, and they to know you.” It helps that teachers at Summit spend less time than their peers marking lessons. They can use that time mentoring pupils, coaching them in “habits of success” such as stress management and curiosity and helping with pupils’ projects.

Not everybody is as delighted as these pupils are by the spread of such techniques. Benjamin Riley, executive director of Deans for Impact, a charity, believes that giving children too much control over the pace and content of what they learn can be dangerous. “Effortful thinking is what our minds are built to avoid.” While some may thrive in such a system, many others will take the easy way out and not think too much.

Cognitive scientists such as Daniel Willingham of the University of Virginia worry that autonomy can be taken too far. If children can opt out of learning important facts, he says, they will find it harder to understand more complex ideas at a later stage."

Technology, Future, Cars

"“In 60 seconds you have to consider 70 options,” says my rickshaw driver Raju, leaning over his shoulder as we weave through traffic. We’re navigating the infamous congested streets of Bangalore, and he’s explaining the rules of the road.

Having lived in India for two-and-a-half years, I get what he means. Not an inch of the road is wasted – if there’s a gap, a scooter will fill it. Vehicles travel bumper to bumper. Overtaking is attempted as frequently as possible. Indicators and wing mirrors are optional extras. Most drivers seem to rely on the incessant honking of nearby vehicles – almost a form of echolocation.

But there is method to the madness. Drivers deftly navigate around manoeuvres that would lead to accidents in the UK, and offenders rarely illicit more than a mutter. They’ve adapted to predictable unpredictability.

We expect anything; only then do we make predictions. We are always expecting that the car in front could go left, right, brake suddenly,” Raju says. "Something always happens."

This driving philosophy has complex cultural and historical roots, but it's also a product of rapid growth in both urban populations and vehicle ownership – which government figures show nearly quadrupled between 2000 and 2013. This growth is outstripping the ability to build new infrastructure, leaving citizens to adapt.

India is far from alone – rapid urban overcrowding and car ownership put countries like China, Brazil and the Philippines all in a similar boat.

But for many tech companies and researchers, India’s chaotic roads make it the perfect testing ground. They might help us solve some of the big problems that come with living in crowded cities… ones that are only going to keep getting more crowded."

Travel, Innovations

"In a time when our phones check us into our flights, vacations are photographed by drone, and travelers cheques have been replaced by Apple Pay, it’s hard to imagine that, not too long ago, a suitcase was a cumbersome item with no stand-up handle to drag it by, and, before 1970, no wheels to glide on at all. For a little perspective, we managed to put a man on the moon faster than it took to invent rolling luggage.

In fact, just as the debut issue of Condé Nast Traveler arrived on newsstands in 1987, the now ubiquitous Rollaboard suitcase made its first appearance in airport terminals, after a resourceful Northwest Airlines 747 pilot named Robert Plath had the bright idea to turn his suitcase upright, add on a couple of extra wheels, and insert a pull-up handle. However, the very first use of wheels on a suitcase can be credited to the late Bernard D. Sadow, vice president of a Massachusetts luggage company, who invented rolling luggage 40 years ago. Back then, Sadow’s design rolled flat on its front and was pulled via a strap attached to the top. Though initially met with resistance by stubborn travelers, he told the New York Times in 2010, his innovation caught on like wildfire after a little convincing. Sadow, who patented numerous inventions over his lifetime, called it “one of my best ideas.”"

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