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Costa Rica Travel and Google 3D

We are thinking of planning a trip to Costa Rica. Part of the trip is to get from Tabacon to Monteverde, which I gather is a very popular tourist route, being between two of the most scenic parts of the country.

We are trying to gather information about that drive. Is it realistically 3 hours? Or is it more like 6 hours?

Part of my research uses Google maps, right? Have you seen the Google maps 3D driving simulation thing? It's amazing!

Follow this link to the Google Maps page, and then locate the 3D button in the white margin on the left next to the directions. Click the button and BE AMAZED!!

“Gods of Carnage” – Huntington Theatre

I Just came back from seeing "Gods Of Carnage" at the Huntington Theatre (in Boston) tonight. Couldn't wait to post my recommendation.

It's short (about 80 minutes - no intermission), fast paced, well acted and funny. It's a story about two couples who are thrown together to discuss a playground altercation between their two sons. That's the set up.

The story takes up an evening when they get together to discuss it. Huntington has been embracing the web and social media in excellent fashion of late. I just noticed the ingenious new bit, which is doing a "trailer" for a theatre performance. I had not seen that before:


By the way, this has been a great season for the Huntington. We've been going there for years and enjoy it although each season there are some better and some worse.

Between Gods of Carnage (this play) and Captors from earlier this season we already have two outstanding - two thumbs up - plays and the season isn't even half over yet.

I am excited to see what comes next!

Netflix in Curaçao: “The Hour”, the BBC, and content licensing

I was recently visiting Curaçao and remembered that I had read that Netflix was now available in South America so I thought I would check it out. (Curaçao is not technically in South America but close enough!) Well, it worked.

For one reason or another, I found a british program called "The Hour" which I also remembered having been positioned as the BBC's answer to Madmen. Which it is not.

What it is, is a compelling drama about the creation of an hour long news program on the BBC in the years following WWII.

So compelling in fact, that we watched the whole mini-series (6 or 7 episodes) while we were there. Which you will see, was a good thing.

__ The story itself is really interesting, but it is also beautifully shot. In fact the look of it is the one thing that is reminiscent of Madmen. The acting is also great an the actors and characters are wonderful to watch. So glad we discovered "The Hour"

Being able to get to Netflix streaming in Curaçao is really cool because TV there can be uneven, depending on what cable package in available. I am in Curaçao a lot so this is a nice new option for you world travelers to be aware of.

Here's a final twist. When I got back to the US, I went onto Netflix to find The Hour NOT available on Netflix!

Words borrowed from horse racing

I just finished reading the book Seabiscuit. I previously had no interest (and no respect) for Horse Racing. The book changed that. It was quite interesting in human and racing terms.

Now that I think about it I am also a big fan of the Dick Francis mystery series. Unfortunately he's no longer with us, and I think I've read all of them. They are more about British steeplechase, but still, about horses. So I guess there was a latent interest there 🙂

Anyway, one take away was how many every day English words and expressions in daily use come from the Racing World. See how many surprise you!

Digital Humanities: A fancy word for blogging?

Here's an interesting article in "The Opinionator" of the New York Times about blogging, scholarly writing and the tension between the two. He says:

"… The digital humanities, it is claimed, can help alter that “monstrous terrain” in at least two ways. The first is to open up the conversation to the public whose support the traditional humanities has lost. If anyone and everyone can join in, if the invitation of open access is widely accepted, appreciation of what humanists do will grow beyond the confines of the university. Familiarity will breed not contempt, but fellowship. “Only in this way,” Fitzpatrick declares, “can we ensure the continued support for the university not simply as a credentialing center, but rather as a center of thought." (from The Digital Humanities and the Transcending of Mortality)

Interesting article, although itself a bit of a scholarly blog. After all he uses the word "teleological" in a sentence, which I admit having to look up 🙂

"There are two things I want to say about this vision: first, that it is theological, a description its adherents would most likely resist, and, second, that it is political, a description its adherents would most likely embrace." (from The Digital Humanities and the Transcending of Mortality)

On the importance of learning to work in teams

David Colletta shared this link in comments to my recent post about team work. David's link was good enough that I thought I should excerpt it to increase the chances that my colleagues and students at Brandeis see it.

Here's an excerpt from it:

"However, the most rewarding experiences I had were when I was actively collaborating with others on the H-Store and Relational Cloud projects. We achieved more than I could have by myself, I learned more than I would have by myself, and most importantly: it is more fun to work with others. You have people to commiserate with when papers get rejected, celebrate with when you submit them, and to help you with tough problems. […]

"[…] To make this happen, you need to be willing to make compromises, build relationships and find mutual interests. You either need to work on someone else's idea, or convince someone to work on your idea. Ideally, when you find a really great collaborator, you will discuss and revise a concept until you find a version that you both like. I think making these sacrifices is worth it, and in retrospect, I should have done more of it." (from Farewell to MIT)

I am a passionate believer that a solid undergraduate education must include such experiences. To belittle them as "vocational" or "you can just learn that on the job" is short sighted and short changes everyone.

My personal knowledge is of Computer Science but the same I am sure can be said for other disciplines as well.

Serve-the-check instead of Starve-the-beast

Here's an interesting article "Modernizing Conservatism", yes, not my typical subject matter. Written from a Conservative's viewpoint it critiques some of the pillars of American Conservatism that might not be effective or useful anymore.

The part I found the most interesting is the argument against the popular Starve The Beast concept in our current political discourse. As I understand it (a big caveat) the Starve The Beast idea is that the only way to shrink the size of government is by cutting budgets severely. Because, while everyone agrees that government is too big (!) congress does not have the will to shrink it by eliminating parts of it.

So instead, do it indirectly, so that the cause and effect are separated enough and it will get through. You cut budgets in a macro way today, meaning, budget caps, tax cuts , and so on -- don't go into too much detail about the specific stuff you are cutting. And then, tomorrow, the impact of the cuts are noticed but it's too late because the dies are cast and the beast shrinks or dies.

The problem with this is that we (the people and the leadership) like the benefits of big government so much that we revert to deficit spending despite the macro cuts. See for example the unfunded Iraq war that was explicitly kept 'off the books '. And so the beast doesn't starve, the bill is just passed on to future generations.

The Serve The Check concept says, make sure that everything the government does shows up on our tax bills. I think this implies actually raising taxes. Maybe break them out into bits that can be identified: this line goes to the military , this line goes to health care and so on. Now we can see in painful detail on our tax returns what our taxes will be and we, the electorate, will insist on shrinking government.

"Long-term evidence indicates that the starve-the-beast strategy not only fails, but may make the problem of unrestrained spending growth worse, suggesting that a "serve the check" strategy might be a more effective means of curbing the growth of government spending.

The simple explanation for this seeming paradox is that the starve-the-beast strategy currently allows Americans to receive a dollar in government services while only having to pay 60 cents for it.3 Rigorous analyses from centrist economists Christina and David Romer of UC Berkeley4, and from libertarian economist (and Reagan White House alumnus) William Niskanen conclude that the starve-the-beast strategy fails.

Strikingly, Niskanen's analysis found that lower taxes correlated with higher levels of federal spending. As a result, Niskanen argues that raising taxes may be the most effective way to reduce gov-ernment spending." (from Modernizing Conservatism)

Ok I am going on and on. Here's the article: Modernizing Conservatism

Teaching: Group Projects

I've had occasion as you know to teach a few times at Brandeis University. The courses were in Web Development, Mobile Development and Game Development. A major component was a Product Incubator where students worked in teams to develop a product. The organizational and logistical questions as well as the dynamics around team work were significant and challenging.

In my mind the overall benefit of team student projects are:

  • students must show mastery of the material to do well
  • it is more fun and rewarding for the students
  • team work is a fundamental aspect of whatever they will do in the future
  • the teachers are around to help steer and guide each team as appropriate

So far so good. Now, Students reported that working on the projects in team was definitely rewarding and effective. But certain students also found them frustrating in these ways:

  • how students were divided up into teams
  • variety of levels of knowledge or skill
  • variety in commitment or dedication
  • grading is not perceived as fair because everyone on the team gets the same one

Here's an article that writes about How to Fix Group Projects, and suggests ways to make experiential courses like this more effective. It suggests an interesting scheme for forming the teams and also making grading more individualized.

He concludes, somewhat depressingly , saying that he's not going to try this himself because all he would get is complaints from the students and bad student reviews.

What do you think of this approach?

Texting: Left and Right Hand of Government

Do you agree that prohibiting texting while driving is contradictory to texting as a way to deliver of major emergency messages?

"This week I noted a couple of different items that are a good example of the right hand of the Government not knowing what the left hand of the Government is doing, in the headlines this week. The first being that the Government is establishing a system to push Emergency Broadcast Alerts to our Cell Phones and other electronic widgets. The second is the banning of using Cell Phones while in a vehicle, so we could not get them while moving." (from Software Safety Net)

I am all for prohibiting texting while driving. I admit that I rarely text anyway, but I do use my iPhone while behind the wheel, but never while the wheels are moving. I will pull over or do it at a red light. Oh yeah, if the phone rings while I am driving, I do answer it… Hmm. Need to rethink that part.