Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Learning in the outer edges of consciousness

Mo Costandi is a neuroscience postgraduate who writes in such a way that even lay people like me can follow most of what he has to say. Being fascinated by the mind and its relation to the brain, I am regular reader of his neurophilosophy blog.

One recent post sparks my interest as a learning geek. Have you ever wondered under what conditions a person would cease to learn? I have. I had a friend who used to teach children labelled 'ineducable'. She regularly shared stories about how her young charges would show signs that they could in fact learn.

Mo's post on 21 September shares findings that patients diagnosed as being minimally conscious or vegetative (not the same thing, read the post) can in fact learn, that there might be an awareness of surroundings even in those who exhibit no signs of such awareness.

This is exciting stuff!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Mehrabian and all that jazz

Thanks to Cheryl Cooper for the pointer (via Facebook) to this video. We do so love to attach values to things, don't we? Did someone say thymotic urge? ;o)

Friday, September 25, 2009

Social media for business

I recently heard a radio documentary about what 'the media' are doing these days. It seems odd to me now to hear that term being applied to magazines and newspapers. I have been up to my neck in my major project which focuses on social media lately, so the term 'media' to me does not conjure up traditional press, or even their web presence!

However one story really stood out for me. This was the story of NME. This used to be a music industry print magazine. Like so many others, they went web some time back, with a website and a radio station.

So far, so normal. But it's what they've done since then that I found interesting.

NME has a radio channel, and they have recently launched an iPhone app. According to Nick Spence of Macworld, it has been breaking records. Using this app, iPhone users can listen to the station on their phones. Not only that, but if they hear a song they like, they can instantly purchase the download. Users can also interact synchronously with the radio station by text via the app.

The app itself isn't actually free, but at 59p, it isn't going to break the bank. And I'm pretty impressed with the way NME has used current technology to stay ahead of the curve.

Pretty cool.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Your reflections, please!

The discussion threads on my major project wiki are now open for contributions. I would love your reflection on the content.

Many of you already feature in it. Do a search on your name and see if you're one of them! I would be particularly interested if I have shared your story and it has since changed or moved on.

I wish I could have created a wiki that could be edited by the whole community, but that was unfortunately not practicable (long story). So the discussion pane at the foot of each page will have to suffice. The wiki itself is still a work in progress, although it is nearing completion.

And I'm sure I don't have to mention it, but please observe the usual rules of discussion forum etiquette ;o)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

On being outed

You could scarcely have spent any time here without knowing that I am busy with a Masters' degree programme. The journey is taking far longer than I had hoped, largely due to a pothole in the road that could have swallowed a Landrover!

I have mentioned that I am busy working on my dissertation. I have even mentioned that it is to be delivered in an online format.

What I haven't mentioned... yet... is that the university withdrew its approval of the online format for dissertations. It's got to be the blue bound A4 thingummy or nothing. However, they offered me the alternative of submitting my online work as a 'major project' instead. The down side is that I now have to write an additional 3000 word paper in support of my project. This is all due to be handed in on 1 October.

What I also have never before done, was share the url for this (ahem) masterpiece. When I suddenly found it being bandied about on Twitter yesterday, I quite literally nearly fainted. I hadn't exactly been keeping it a secret. I just wasn't ready for it to be formally unveiled. I mean, it isn't even finished yet! But someone found it, the way we web 2.0 types do, and tweeted a link to it. Next thing I knew, it was being RT-ed (retweeted) hither and yon.

So, for what it's worth (and it genuinely isn't finished yet), here is the link to Karyn Romeis's Major Project. The discussion pages will be opened once the university has done its thing and graded me one way or t'other. Then you can have your say and tear the thing to shreds if you so desire. I probably won't look at it again for several months after submission while I remember what my family looks like and rediscover the meaning of the term 'leisure time'.

I'm feeling incredibly adventurous here, I hope you know, and my heart is in my mouth!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Caster Semenya: my 2p worth

In the furore following the news that Caster Semenya possesses the external genitalia of a woman but internal testes instead of a uterus or ovaries, I would just like to make my views known. Whether or not they make any difference remains to be seen. But one of the points of social media is that they serve as an aggregation of many views. Mine are as valid as anyone else's.

The South African government is making protests about the whole incident being both racist and sexist. This is a view supported by many South Africans in the various discussion forums on this topic.

I do not see this issue as being racist. Track events at international level are currently dominated by black people (I am told that this can be attributed to a genetic predisposition towards heightened fast twitch something or other). Semenya has not been singled out because of her race. The woman who came second is also black. She is also African. It is true, she is from a different African country (Kenya), but I don't think that would make a difference to anyone who was being racist about this. So if Semenya is stripped of her title, it will not further anyone's racist cause.

With regard to the sexism aspect...

If we want to play the sexist card, then we need to decide where the line is going to be drawn and that takes us into very grey territory. Is it sexist to say that men can't run in women's races? If so, then there needs to be just one 800m race in which men and women compete against each other. That day may come, but for now, there would be no women in that event. If then, we agree that it is right ot separate the two, we need to have a definition of what constitutes each gender. A line needs to be drawn somewhere. I think many people have been taken by surprise to learn that gender is far more of a continuum than they had previously imagined.

It is tragic for Semenya and any others like her that a quirk of nature puts them outside of the definition of woman (if indeed it does - this still has to be decided). As far as I know, no-one is vilifying the poor girl, or accusing her of any wrongdoing.

Let us look for a moment at a parallel situation: in the paralympics, athletes compete based on the extent of their (dis)ability. So an athlete who is missing just one foot would not be allowed to compete on level terms against an athlete who is missing both legs. Through no fault of his own, the former has attributes that provide an unfair advantage over the latter.

I am deeply sorry for Semenya. I think she has conducted herself with dignity throughout what must have been an embarrassing ordeal. To learn about this anomaly in the full glare of the world's press must be harrowing indeed. Not only that, but she now probably faces a future in which there is no event in which she can compete in the sport she loves. She is too much of a woman to be able to achieve anything remarkable against men, but she is too much of a man to be allowed to run against women.

And there's nothing she can do about it. If that doesn't tug at your heart strings, I don't know what would.

The harsh reality of refugees to South Africa

I haven't lost sight of the fact that this is a learning blog. I will get back to that once the pressure of my major project for my Masters' is a thing of the past. I promise.

But in the meantime, please watch these clips from which you might learn something startling about what is going on in the city I called home for 12 years. The city in which my heart still resides even after an absence of 10 years.

Warning: this ripped my gut. It might rip yours, too.

If you feel moved to do something about this, please visit the website of the Adonis Musati Project.