A New Way of Ranking Colleges

UC receives only 3 stars from GoogleWith all the hubbub over college rankings each year, wouldn’t it be great if there was a simpler way? Looks like Google has figured it out.  When you search for a business on Google Maps, you can rank it – ostensibly so that you can say, “Wow, great pizza!” or “Don’t use this plumber!”  I am amused that Google Maps lets you rank universities in the same way.  Sorry, UC – looks like you only got 3 stars out of 5. 

Note that you can order the search results by ranking.  I would NOT recommend this as a way of picking a college. 

The Running Animal

To move things in a completely different direction, maybe human beings are the “running animal.”  We’re not used to thinking of human beings as physically superior to other animals – e.g. cheetahs are faster, elephants are stronger – but it turns out that human beings are the best long-distance runners in the world. So says Daniel Lieberman of Harvard and Dennis Bramble of Utah. In another article, Lieberman notes that:

Once humans start running, it only takes a bit more energy for us to run faster, Lieberman said. Other animals, on the other hand, expend a lot more energy as they speed up, particularly when they switch from a trot to a gallop, which most animals cannot maintain over long distances.

They also point out that human beings are the only animals in the world that run long distances – like a marathon – voluntarily.  Which reminds me of the scene from Back to the Future 3 in which some cowboys are laughing at Marty McFly’s “running shoes.”  

Powered by ScribeFire.

That's What Friends Are For

So, last night, our good friends Bryan and Kelley Brandeberry invited us to Pizza Hut, but we couldn’t go because we already had some steaks defrosting and were low on cash in our eating out envelope. We, in turn, invited them to the Erlanger library’s Family Fun Night (clowns + water balloons + popsicles = fun!). We took a long time walking to the library, never saw them, and just assumed we missed them or they decided not to come.

We returned home to find the following message on our answering machine:

Hi guys. We could not make it to the library because of a long and very funny story that happened to us at Pizza Hut. We will tell you all about it later. But as a result, we received a free ham and sausage pizza. Which is now in your fridge. Enjoy!

I opened the refrigerator door. Lo and behold, a free ham and sausage pizza had magically appeared on the middle shelf.

That’s what friends are for: free pizza. God bless America.
http://picasaweb.google.com/s/c/bin/slideshow.swf

Systems of Belief

Over at slate.com, this interesting paragraph showed up:

Systems of belief such as religion and even scientific paradigms can lock their adherents into confirmation biases. And then tidbits of fact or gossip appear over the Internet to shore them up. There’s a point of no return beyond which it’s very hard to change one’s views about an important subject.

The writer, Arthur Allen, is discussing a scientific theory that he believes is patently false (the theory that childhood vaccinations have increased the incidents of autism), but that’s not what I’m most interested in.  Rather, I want to focus on the way he makes it sound as if only “adherents” view evidence through a biased lens. 

Here’s the thing: everyone has a system of belief.  It might be not be systematic, it might not be considered a “belief,” it might not even be consistent or agree with any traditional philosophy or religion.  But everyone has one.  It’s impossible not to.  Otherwise, how would you even begin to make sense of the world?   How would you know what to pay attention to, what to ignore, where to start considering a new idea or newly acquired fact? 

Rather than blaming what you perceive as someone’s mistake simply on the fact that they adhere to system of belief,  it’s better to examine that system of belief itself.  Is it consistent?  Does it align with known evidence?  Do you have trustworthy foundations for your system?  Is there a better system that explains what’s going on?

Then, rather than pretending that Person A is judging things based on a system, while Person B is looking at “just the facts,” we should mutually recognize each others’ biases and presuppositions, as well as our own.  If we are aware of our own assumptions – even if we have good reasons for them – then we can much more easily communicate with people whose assumptions differ from ours.   Futher, the other person might have very good reasons for the assumptions they make, even if their conclusions are ultimately wrong.  By understanding and sympathizing with those reasons, we can love our neighbors as ourselves, even if we disagree completely.

Camping is Not Optional

What a great name for a website and organization.

 I have to say, I like their purpose, too. 

We also believe that human beings were designed to be interdependent with the natural world as well, which is why we’ve chosen an outdoor setting for these events.  While the average modern life doesn’t readily incorporate a daily relationship with the air, trees, soil, land forms and creatures that surround us, spending a period of time in more direct relationship can serve to remind us of the ways in which we might make conscious choices every day to be good stewards of the earth.  In addition, the quiet of a farm or forest or beach provides an important retreat from the noise, an opportunity to breathe deeply, listen closely and love extravagantly.

Elizabeth, the kids, and I are hoping to get in some good camping pretty soon.  If our schedule’s don’t lighten up, though, we might have to make do with our (hardly at all) rustic backyard.   We do have some poison ivy back there, so at least that part will be authentic.