Tag Archives: sociology

Enroll in free online in courses from top institutions – Princeton, Stanford, Michigan

Online educational marketplaces are on the rise, with tools like Udemy and Khan Academy allowing people of all ages to become an expert in any topic.

New company Coursera is targeting higher education by offering university-level courses from top institutions to students all over the world, all for free.

The company launched with $16 million in Series A funding and is announcing partnerships with four schools:

  • Princeton University
  • Stanford University
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • University of Michigan.

Coursera will offer over 30 courses from its partner schools across a variety of disciplines, including computer science, sociology, medicine, and math.

 

A selection of the classes:

 

Classes typically last for five to ten weeks, and during that time students commit to watching the lectures, and completing interactive quizzes and assignments, which are auto-graded or graded by peers. Upon completion, the student receives a statement of accomplishment, a letter from the professor, and a score, but the course doesn’t count for any actual credit with that specific institution. The site also features a Q&A forum where students can ask questions about the course material and get answers from fellow students.

via Betakit

 

Screenshot of Coursera offerings

Post CES Take-away: In Vegas, women are discarded like unwanted Garbage Pail Kid cards

Or at least that’s the image that’s stuck in my mind after leaving Las Vegas for the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show. Not the cool 3-D displays I saw or the latest breed of electronic vehicles and tablets and it’s not the image of topless women I saw during my first Vegas strip club visit (yes, you read that correctly, I patronized a Vegas strip club – and was surprised at how enlightening an experience it was). No, it’s the image of those guys and gals (almost exclusively Latino) on the Vegas strip handing out cards with naked girls on them for sexual encounters. Or more accurately, the image of those cards scattered all over the ground like party confetti wherever I walked.

Most people who know me would not consider me a prude. I’m pretty open and open-minded about sex. But the image of naked women carelessly strewn all over the ground bothers me. The image of anything so exposed and discarded bothers me. I don’t care how people spend their time in Vegas. I’m not passing moral judgments on individual life choices. You want to gamble, gamble. You want to pay for sex, go for it. You want to cover your balls in peanut butter and let your dog lick it off – those are your balls and your dog, not mine. I don’t take offense to prostitution, stripping or gambling (*although, thanks to Adam’s comment below, I’m not saying I’m a proponent of them – it’s just they invoke larger thoughts that exceed the limits of this individual post). What I do take issue with, or at least question, is the impact of people mindlessly stepping on images of naked women during their visit to a major epicenter of business in the United States. It makes me think of the Broken Windows Theory, where the norm-setting and signaling effects of urban disorder and vandalism promotes additional crime and anti-social behavior. Except instead of broken windows devaluing neighborhoods, the seemingly trivial “babes on a card” being passed out and tossed aside on the Las Vegas strip are devaluing women.

I can only wonder what impact it has on visitors from foreign countries whose only experience of the United States is Las Vegas and the strip. CES had over 140,000 attendees, up 11% from last year’s 126, 000 (even though visitor numbers to Vegas has been on the decline since the recession). The increase is attributed to attendees from foreign countries, most of whom were men. The irony is a lot of the gadgets at CES were geared towards women. But I’d say less than 10% of CES’ attendees were female (maybe 20% tops). It seems like a big mistake on the part of any seller to ostracize and neglect women – they’re a big fucking consumer demographic. Women account for 85% of all consumer purchases, including everything from automobiles to health care. If consumption is part of the virtuous cycle of production, I want women to be included in that cycle.

So what to do? Am I the only one who’d like to see the sex cards disappear from the strip? Am I the only one who thinks it could have a positive net impact for Las Vegas and its visitors – like when bars started banning smoking. Bar owners were terrified they’d lose patrons and money. But it turns out, most bar go-ers didn’t like the smoke, and smoke-free establishments actually saw a 20+% increase in sales. Maybe a sex-card free strip would actually draw more folks in. Besides, isn’t this 2011? There’s this thing called the internet. Hard copy is, in a word, archaic. Seriously, just bing it.

So I’m petitioning the city of Las Vegas to ban the sex cards. I think the gain would grossly outweigh any perceived loss. Las Vegas will be getting a new mayor – the man who has been running the city for the past 11 1/2 years is saying his farewell. Now seems like the perfect time to makes some changes and possibly make Sin City a little more seductive, a little more alluring and that much more attractive to visit.

If you agree, you can join the cause with me by petitioning @CityOfLasVegas via Act.ly to “Eliminate Sex Cards from the Strip”: http://act.ly/2yf (RT to sign).

Maybe the new leadership might take notice. Maybe the end consumer can actually influence the source. And maybe it’s better to act on Margaret Mead‘s quotes instead of just quoting her.

It’s the little things in life that count.

One Human's Minutiae is Another's Munificence

For thirty years, Albert Einstein struggled to produce a unified theory that would provide an explanation for everything in the physical universe. This quest for a single blueprint for life would accompany him to his grave and in his last years he admitted, “It is so difficult to employ mathematically that I have not been able to verify it somehow, in spite of all my efforts.” He finally conceded, “Someone else is going to have to it.”

For several decades in the 1500s Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe diligently recorded the positions of the planet Mars. Every day at the same time  he observed its position and noted it, and while this might have seemed like a trivial acquisition, qualifying it as minutia even, he eventually observed that Mars drifted from west to east, “but every two years roughly the planet would take a brief diversion, slowing down, going backward and doing a loop, before regaining its senses and continuing its normal motion.” (The Social Atom)

After Brahe’s death, Johannes Kepler studied Brahe’s notebooks, and eight years later he concluded that Mars and Earth were rotating on elliptical tracks around the sun, with Earth on the inside track. This served as the foundation for Issac Newton’s laws of gravity and motion.

The scientific method for gathering data, identifying patterns and finding a mechanism to explain them is the same one that social scientists today are using to find solutions to problems such as global warming and the spread of infectious diseases.  People, like the physical world, fall into very explainable patterns and these patterns reveal regularities that the seemingly complicated just isn’t so.

There are some patterns that are not so common, not so regular, not so obvious in their occurrence and therefore are more difficult to understand. Acts like the “random” campus shooting that took place at Virginia Tech could be considered one of these anomalies, not easy to predict given the paucity of data about the shooter and lack of similar events to which to compare it. I’m curious what a stream of this shooter’s life would have looked like in Twitter, what it would have revealed and what we could have learned from it. Given a large dynamic system like Twitter, where small variations of a initial condition can be captured, would a butterfly effect emerged? Clive Thompson compared Twitter to “proprioception, your body’s ability to know where your limbs are.” I consider Twitter a tool for social omniscience, in which the identification of natural laws of patterns can lead to the possibility of prediction.

What’s so intriguing and exciting about social patterns is the ability to change them – social behaviors are often dictated by mutable and constructed norms. However, because social patterns are influenced by norms, social etiquette “black holes” can present great barriers to revealing true patterns and ultimately presenting solutions. When I hear how I should conduct myself, what I should and should not say, by entities as imposing as the United States government and as intrusive as the “family order” – I immediately object. These formal and informal gag rules are exactly what will prevent us from solving the most complicated of issues – the ones that keep me from saying I smoked an entire pack of cigarettes this weekend, or I think the industry I work in is inherently doomed for failure and virtually no one understands this, or I do look at porn on occasion, or I like illegal aliens because they work jobs that “Americans” don’t want but I get annoyed when they don’t learn/speak English.

I laugh at the notion that technology alone will ever solve a problem; even if we lived in a world in which every person could contribute to one global database, these invisible barriers would still exist. The fact is I am regularly surprised by what I say has meaning to whom and while I myself don’t want to read every single thing a person does or thinks, I’d be willing to bet the farm that the compilation of this minutiae, coupled with other sources of data, would reveal patterns never obvious to us before and present answers to questions that have eluded humankind for ages. To do this however would require a lot of data, a lot of minutiae, all the minutiae you don’t want to hear. And yet the more information we make available, the greater our ability to understand our world and change it.

I believe with enough data, we can discover the truth in everything – and we will unveil an artisan’s masterfully ordered structure and achieve what Einstein simply did not have enough minutiae to achieve.

One Human’s Minutiae is Another’s Munificence

For thirty years, Albert Einstein struggled to produce a unified theory that would provide an explanation for everything in the physical universe. This quest for a single blueprint for life would accompany him to his grave and in his last years he admitted, “It is so difficult to employ mathematically that I have not been able to verify it somehow, in spite of all my efforts.” He finally conceded, “Someone else is going to have to it.”

For several decades in the 1500s Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe diligently recorded the positions of the planet Mars. Every day at the same time  he observed its position and noted it, and while this might have seemed like a trivial acquisition, qualifying it as minutia even, he eventually observed that Mars drifted from west to east, “but every two years roughly the planet would take a brief diversion, slowing down, going backward and doing a loop, before regaining its senses and continuing its normal motion.” (The Social Atom)

After Brahe’s death, Johannes Kepler studied Brahe’s notebooks, and eight years later he concluded that Mars and Earth were rotating on elliptical tracks around the sun, with Earth on the inside track. This served as the foundation for Issac Newton’s laws of gravity and motion.

The scientific method for gathering data, identifying patterns and finding a mechanism to explain them is the same one that social scientists today are using to find solutions to problems such as global warming and the spread of infectious diseases.  People, like the physical world, fall into very explainable patterns and these patterns reveal regularities that the seemingly complicated just isn’t so.

There are some patterns that are not so common, not so regular, not so obvious in their occurrence and therefore are more difficult to understand. Acts like the “random” campus shooting that took place at Virginia Tech could be considered one of these anomalies, not easy to predict given the paucity of data about the shooter and lack of similar events to which to compare it. I’m curious what a stream of this shooter’s life would have looked like in Twitter, what it would have revealed and what we could have learned from it. Given a large dynamic system like Twitter, where small variations of a initial condition can be captured, would a butterfly effect emerged? Clive Thompson compared Twitter to “proprioception, your body’s ability to know where your limbs are.” I consider Twitter a tool for social omniscience, in which the identification of natural laws of patterns can lead to the possibility of prediction.

What’s so intriguing and exciting about social patterns is the ability to change them – social behaviors are often dictated by mutable and constructed norms. However, because social patterns are influenced by norms, social etiquette “black holes” can present great barriers to revealing true patterns and ultimately presenting solutions. When I hear how I should conduct myself, what I should and should not say, by entities as imposing as the United States government and as intrusive as the “family order” – I immediately object. These formal and informal gag rules are exactly what will prevent us from solving the most complicated of issues – the ones that keep me from saying I smoked an entire pack of cigarettes this weekend, or I think the industry I work in is inherently doomed for failure and virtually no one understands this, or I do look at porn on occasion, or I like illegal aliens because they work jobs that “Americans” don’t want but I get annoyed when they don’t learn/speak English.

I laugh at the notion that technology alone will ever solve a problem; even if we lived in a world in which every person could contribute to one global database, these invisible barriers would still exist. The fact is I am regularly surprised by what I say has meaning to whom and while I myself don’t want to read every single thing a person does or thinks, I’d be willing to bet the farm that the compilation of this minutiae, coupled with other sources of data, would reveal patterns never obvious to us before and present answers to questions that have eluded humankind for ages. To do this however would require a lot of data, a lot of minutiae, all the minutiae you don’t want to hear. And yet the more information we make available, the greater our ability to understand our world and change it.

I believe with enough data, we can discover the truth in everything – and we will unveil an artisan’s masterfully ordered structure and achieve what Einstein simply did not have enough minutiae to achieve.