RSS

An NASA observatory, a Nobel Prize, and an asteroid named after him. Quite a guy!

Looking into Google’s celebration of the birthday of astrophysicist Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, I was fascinated by the man’s career that spanned from home schooling in Madras, to Cambridge, to Chicago.

Carl Sagan was his student! His uncle also had won a Nobel!

Chandrasekhar’s propensity for research was unstoppable – he apparently investigated a fresh field of study each decade!  His Nobel Prize for Physics came in 1983.

As for the observatory, the Chandra X-Ray Observatory is the third of NASA’s ‘great observatories’ –after Hubble and the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory.

 

Advertisements
 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 19, 2017 in STEM

 

Tags: , , , ,

How indispensable could Alexa be?

I have been curious about Google Home and Amazon’s Echo, purely from a tech perspective. Also it’s interesting to keep an eye on where AI is going. It’s easy to be cynical, because a piece of always-on hardware that ‘listens’ to everything going on in your home all day is well, a bit creepy.

Not that it worries millions of iPhone users who also have an AI agent, Siri, just waiting to be asked something.  But these devices are prone to being hacked, besides invading one’s privacy. (I know of several people who have a sticker over the camera on their laptop lid, for good reason. Hey, Facebook’s Zuckerberg does!)

So a few days ago I tested Alexa in a friend’s home. He’s been using it a lot –he asks Alexa what’s the best route to work, and to play music off his playlist etc. I asked Alexa a simple question, “Alexa, How long will it take to get to the Moon?” Without missing a beat Alexa responded with an answer (3 days) qualifying it with something about development of rocketry. The next few questions a bit predictable, such as asking for the bio of a country singer, and to play some of Keith Urban’s music. When Alexa got stumped, it was probably my accent, or it did not get the context right.

But my friend says he asks Alexa to add items he will need in the store to his shopping cart, and picks up the list on his phone when he is in the store. He recently installed a smart thermostat so it is feasible that one day he could ask Alexa to change the temperature (and his wife could ask Alexa to change it back!) But as we brainstormed how it might change our lives I wondered, once the fascination (of talking to a piece of hardware) wears off, if we might find Artificial Intelligence too useful to ignore.

For instance, I would love to be able to ask Alexa or Google Home to:

  • Forward my article to LMD magazine, but please change the last sentence to (and I could dictate it). It would save me from logging back onto the computer, and opening my email etc.
  • Send a Text alert to my friend in Worcester (whose phone number I have forgotten) about an upcoming event
  • Buy a copy of a (name title of book) from Amazon, use Prime, and pay for it with my gift card, not a credit card.
  • Print a copy of my recent Lesson Plan on a black-and-white printer, double-sided, on Monday morning by the time I get to school

Will that day come soon? Are we there now? Is this too much information to be put out there in the cloud? Will Keith Urban send my daughter an autographed T-shirt? Just kidding!

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 15, 2017 in Social Media, Technology

 

Tags: , , ,

When a speech gets waterlogged.

Pity the speechwriter on the White House payroll. I envision the person banging his or head on the keyboard, every time the boss speaks. The most recent being Trump’s description of relief efforts in Puerto Rico.

“The response and recovery effort probably has never been seen for something like this. This is an island surrounded by water. Big water. Ocean water.”

Trump’s speechwriter must be probably wondering:

  • Why state the obvious in a tragedy caused mostly by water?
  • Why heap on adjectives such as ‘big’ and ‘ocean’?

“This is an island sitting in the middle of an ocean. It’s a big ocean, it’s a very big ocean.”

Perhaps he believed that things might have been different had it taken place in a small ocean? Leaves us scratching our heads if it’s possible the real estate mogul knows of some islands surrounded by something other than water? (Blue Gatorade, perhaps?)

Whatever it is, my sympathies go out to Stephen Miller, Trump’s senior speechwriter, who’s probably right now trying to tell the boss to stick to the teleprompter. Or at least run a phrase through a cliché-extracting machine.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 5, 2017 in Media, Social Media

 

Tags: , ,

Algorithms do make mistakes! A teaching moment after Vegas

It’s so easy to assume that ‘algorithms‘ can do no wrong. Did you even use the fancy word prior to ‘Search Engine Optimization’ ?

So Google’s statement that, after the Las Vegas tragedy (and the inaccurate news that ensued via social media) they had to go in and over-ride the algorithm, says volumes.

“Unfortunately, early this morning we were briefly surfacing an inaccurate 4chan website in our Search results for a small number of queries. Within hours, the 4chan story was algorithmically replaced by relevant results. This should not have appeared for any queries, and we’ll continue to make algorithmic improvements to prevent this from happening in the future.”

Here’s what is worth teaching.

  • A search result that pops up may not be accurate. In fact it can be deliberately misleading. (The Tom Petty headline, being the latest in ‘inadvertent’ mistakes.)
  • Cross-reference your ‘facts’. Read the whole article before drawing a conclusion.
  • The headline in a tweet or a trending FB post is an incomplete picture. Or often carries a bias. Former Facebook ‘news curators’ have admitted they were instructed to artificially inject selected stories into the trending news module.

An algorithm is just “a process or set of rules” that are set up in advance for sifting through data, and making calculations with complex variables. Algorithms are not writ in stone. Especially when there is some Artificial Intelligence involved, they are supposed to ‘learn’ from the complexity and adjust. Sometimes they aren’t good learners, and are easily misled, or tricked.

And so are we!

 
 

Tags: , , , ,

Plans afoot for Space Day 2017

Just announced plans for Space Day at Salt River Elementary – our 6th year!

  • This year’s focus is on the Moon, rockery and spacesuits.
  • The student competition is to design a future spacesuit 
  • Each class in every grade level will experience one facet of space science
  • When: Oct. 26th, 2017    Time: 8:30 am – 3:00 pm

As the event grows bigger each year, my thanks to those who will be supporting it:

  • Orbital ATK, Arizona
  • Jet Propulsion Lab, California
  • Autonomous Collective Systems Lab, at ASU
  • SpaceTRex, University of Arizona
  • Challenger Space Center, Arizona

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 


 

 

Space science is a fascinating field, and gives us who focus on STEM an ability to widen the lens. Consider some of the recent developments

 

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 3, 2017 in Ed-Tech, Education, Events, STEM

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

News we’d love to hear

Remember that Anne Murray song with the line, “Sure could use a little good news, today“? Imagine if the headlines went like this:

“Twitter bans Donald Trump’s Twitter handle, citing cyber-bullying clause.”

“Uber discontinues plans for self-driving cars.”

“CNN to replace words like ‘optics’ and ‘weaponized’  with words in plain English.”

 

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 2, 2017 in Media, Social Media, Twitter

 

Tags: ,

Sneaking in VR to the class

This year I’m using VR both as a project, and as a motivation tool – to create a brochure. My 6th graders understand some editing and formatting skills. So to raise the bar, I got them to research and put together a brochure on Virtual Reality.

Granted it’s a lot of work. Understanding VR itself takes some time. They must create content for the 6-panel document, look up content, find pictures etc. As work progresses, there is a parallel discussion of what VR looks like, using a few cardboard headsets I acquired. One student even brought in two headsets. (One had cost him just five bucks!)

The incentive was that any student who showed me they had three panels formatted, and with required content, would get to experience a VR roller-coaster ride. Didn’t think a 40-minute class could move so fast!

Funny how sneaking in a piece of tech into a lesson can accomplish much more than a hand-out!

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on September 29, 2017 in Ed-Tech, Education, Technology

 

Tags: , , , ,