An intriguing mind

James Burke's Wikipedia page describes him as "a British broadcaster, science historian, author, and television producer, who is known, among other things, for his documentary television series Connections (1978), and for its more philosophically oriented companion series, The Day the Universe Changed (1985), which is about the history of science and technology. The Washington Post called him "one of the most intriguing minds in the Western world".

Open Culture today reminds us of  Burke's programs, and a YouTube channel where you can find all the videos of all the series. "If you never watched any in the first place, you can now catch up on not just the ten episodes of the original Connections, but 1994′s twice-as-long Connections2, and the final series, 1997′s Connections3. I recommend beginning at the beginning, with Connections‘ first episode, “The Trigger Effect,”"

We had already added several of the The Day the Universe Changed episodes to our Ancient History playlist. I strongly urge our Middle School to watch all the episodes of all the series (don't wait to be snowed in to get started!) For students and teachers involved in the  MYP, these videos were made to order (long before the MYP was invented.) Talk about Areas of Interaction! These videos are almost an illustrated guide to the concept!

Uploaded by  on Feb 1, 2009 Interview with James Burke on Canada AM

Listen to an audio file of James Burke in 2012, talking about Admiral Shovel and the Toilet Roll

Here is the first episode of the first series of Connections (from 1978), to whet your appetite. Students today will immediately recognize the program as "old", not by the grainy video and sound quality, but by the "up to the minute" technology shown throughout the series.

Uploaded by  on Jan 28, 2012
"The Trigger Effect" details the world's present dependence on complex technological networks through a detailed narrative of New York City and the power blackout of 1965. Agricultural technology is traced to its origins in ancient Egypt and the invention of the plow. The segment ends in Kuwait where, because of oil, society leapt from traditional patterns to advanced technology in a period of only about 30 years.

Google Voice Search

This is for the ISOCS Middle School, which is busy investigating aspects of searching the Internet.

The new version of Google’s Search app for iOS is available in the App Store

There is an Android app on the Play Store, but it reports as being incomparable with the Samsung Tablets we are using at ISOCS.  If you have an Android phone, you might want to give it a try.

Voice search also works on your computer. All you need is a built-in or attached microphone. Just click the mic in the search bar and start talking.

Note: Voice Actions is only available in US English for now.

Helvetia's Dream

Another in our series of Seeing the Un-seeable blog posts, and one which should be of special interest to our ISOCS community, as we, too, are in Switzerland.

Helvetia’s Dream "takes you on a nighttime journey to some of the most beautiful spots in the Swiss Alps – from Arosa to Zermatt, including the world famous mountains Matterhorn and Eiger."  It's a time-lapse project about Switzerland by night. "Short videos of long nights present you the stunning beauty of the Swiss Alps and show you the magic of a spectacular nighttime sky. Imagine watching a slide-show at fast speed or looking at a flip book. It is photography turning into a movie. Everything in the videos is real and happening out there while most of us are sleeping." (link)

On the Vimeo page there is quite a bit of text (in German and English), with highlights and interesting points in the video explained.  On the video's own web page, you'll find a list of all the locations where the pictures were taken. I recommend you watch this video in the full-screen, HD versions on the Vimeo page - it's stunning!.

On the Making Of page, Alessandro Della Bella explains how he creates his video:
"...Usually my workflow is pretty improvised and can be described like this:Depending on free time, moon phase, weather forecast, availability and personal interest I choose a destination. My equipment weighs about 50kg and cable cars are the preferred option to reach the chosen spot in the mountains. While there is still enough light, I get familiar with the place and the surroundings by doing some classic photography...A moonless night in a freezing and inhospitable environment seems not to be attractive at first glance. But as soon as your eyes get used to the darkness, the beauty of the universe reveals itself to you and you can see the Milky Way and even shooting stars every once in a while. To me, standing on a rock high up in the mountains in absolute silence, below a sea of clouds and above the starry sky feels like being between earth and heaven and is a most majestic experience...". Click through to his page to read the rest of this very interesting story.

You might also enjoy Alessandro Della Bella's 2 other videos Nuclear Power (and Cows) and Frenetic Zurich

Did Someone Say Philosophical?

PBS has posted a new video in its Idea YouTube Channel that I'm sharing for the ISOCS Middle School students, who are investigating the concept of Civilization.
As you watch, listen especially for the description of  "home-ness" and "planet-ness" being a "complex interplay between the physical and the metaphysical".  Would you say that the "civilization-ness" could be included in this line of thinking?

Published on Oct 26, 2012 by 
Mike Responds to Michael from VSauce's philosophical question: Are the bacteria and skin cells that live on your body "You"?

Check out VSauce's original question in "A Real No-Brainer" here:

This is an *extreme* distillation of some really complex and interesting stuff. If you're interested in doing more reading, a bunch of very smart people have tackled this topic. Just a couple of my favorites are:

- Immanuel Kant, The Critique of Pure Reason
- Martin Heidegger, Being and Time
- Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness
- Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (less "self" and more "existence")

Alexia sine agraphia

Reading and Writing go together...or not?
Today Open Culture has a story and video from National Public Radio (USA) which I share below:


Uploaded by  on Jun 21, 2010
"Imagine you wake up one morning and can't read. Your eyes work, but the letters on the page have turned into squiggles. They make no sense. Now meet Howard Engel, a writer of detective stories, who has this condition, but amazingly, has found a way to trick his brain to almost read again."

You can read about Alexia (the condition) at Wikipedia, and find out more about Howard Engel (and find a list of his books): "Howard Engel CM (born April 2, 1931) is a Canadian mystery writer and CBC producer who resides in Toronto, Ontario. He is well known to Canadian readers for his series ofBenny Cooperman detective novels, set in the Niagara Region in and around the city of Grantham, Ontario (which strongly resembles the real city of St. Catharines, Ontario, where Engel was born). Engel is a founder of Crime Writers of Canada." (link).

Why am I sharing this (other than that it's interesting?)  Because many of us have personal experience with that lexia word, with it's little add-on, dys.

"Those who suffer from "alexia" and "developmental dyslexia" can have similar difficulties, however, "alexia" refers to an acquired reading disability, where reading ability had previously been developed, usually occurring in adulthood conditions, while "developmental dyslexia" refers to developmental reading disability." (link)

Kevin Kelly on what technology wants

This excellent TEDxAmsterdam talk is for the Middle School students at ISOCS, who were recently looking at Technology in their lives.

TEDxAmsterdam: Kevin Kelly from TEDxAmsterdam on Vimeo.

"What does technology mean in our lives? That’s the question Kevin Kelly explored in his new talk. Kelly presented a new definition of technology: ‘anything useful invented by a mind’ – whether it be a hammer or the rule of law. So technology is more than gadgets; it’s part of a great story that started long ago, an extension of life and it is moving through us."

Here are the slides from this presentation:

Kevin Kelly from TEDxAmsterdam

Click through to the TEDx page for many other interesting links to Kevin Kelly's thoughts and work.

"The best questions are the ones that create the most uncertainty.”

"The best questions are the ones that create the most uncertainty.” (Beau Lotto)

FILMED JUN 2012 • POSTED OCT 2012 • TEDGlobal 2012

"What do science and play have in common? Neuroscientist Beau Lotto thinks all people (kids included) should participate in science and, through the process of discovery, change perceptions. He's seconded by 12-year-old Amy O'Toole, who, along with 25 of her classmates, published the first peer-reviewed article by schoolchildren, about the Blackawton bees project. It starts: "Once upon a time ... ""

Towards the end of the presentation, Lotto says "...What's the point (of the experiment)? The point is what science does for us. Right? We normally walk through life responding, but if we ever want to do anything different, we have to step into uncertainty. When he opened his eyes, he was able to see the world in a new way. That's what science offers us. It offers the possibility to step on uncertainty through the process of play, right?"

After you watch this TEDGlobal talk, the blog post at Big Questions Online, How Might Video Games Be Good for Us?, will probably evoke a shoulder shrug, and "But, of course!" from you. Listed in the Scientific Research results section of the post:"Children who spend more time playing videogames score higher on tests of creativity. (See the research)".


Yesterday was Dictionary Day, which may be why Jonathan Chambers and 8th Grade Students at the Shanghai American School, Pudong Campus, wrote about a website called Wordnick, and how to use it, in a post on The Articulator, a Journal of Applied English.

I went to the Wordnick page, wrote "civilization" in the search bar, to check out the site.

Wordnick describes itself as "a new way to discover meaning. This page will give you a quick overview of what you can do, learn, and share with Wordnik...We try to show as many real examples as possible for each word. These examples are ranked by how useful we think they are in helping you understand the meaning of a particular word, especially words that may not have traditional dictionary definitions."

Screenshot of http://www.wordnik.com/words/civilization?suggested_from=Civilization

Wordnick generates a page of definitions, examples, related words, current usage, images, and audio pronunciation files,  on a clear, color-coded, easy to read page.

As Mr. Chamers writes:  "So go and bookmark this website NOW: Wordnik!"  You might also want to subscribe to the Word of the Day, and to the Wordnick Blog.

'Journey' Game and Book

This post is for all the game players at ISOCS, and the would-be game designers.  Also, probably, for the book designers.

My attention was caught this morning by this article about a book of art inspired by a PlayStation3 game.  I don't have a PlayStation3, I've never played this game.  But I'm interested in the possibilities of augmented reality and in game playing, and in art.  After looking at the publicity for the book, I went on to thatgamecompany's website, and learned more about the game itself.

In the videos that follow, listen to the game's creators talk about their conception of the game and game play in general, how they wanted to make Journey different; notice the enormous amount of planning that went into the game's production  - storyboards, color pallets  musical conception and performance - it took several years.  Also listen to the talk about emotion, cooperation, collaboration, mood, language, commonality, development, process, exploration.

Published on Mar 2, 2012 by 
Go behind the scenes at developer thatgamecompany as they discuss their third game, Journey, as well as their philosophy behind the creation process and the video game industry in general.

Published on Mar 7, 2012 by 
Go behind the scenes at developer thatgamecompany as they discuss their third game, Journey, including a look at the gameplay, concept and art style, soundtrack and more.

Published on Aug 27, 2012 by 
Take an inside look at the art and inspirations that went into the award-winning Journey from developer thatgamecompany and Santa Monica Studio, and get a sneak peak at the premium hardcover art book hitting stores soon.

The game's creators at thatgamecompany describe the book:
"Seeing how Journey has resonated with players across the world, we wanted to work with the Santa Monica Studio to provide a deeper look into the visual development behind this critically acclaimed hit. So, we’re excited to let everyone know that we will be presenting you with a wonderful first-time look at the extensive artwork that went into bringing Journey to life. It’s the first book directly inspired by one of our games and is titled The Art of Journey and will be available for purchase in September."

This is the debut trailer of the game itself:

and a glimpse into a recording session for the game's sound track:

The '5 Themes of Geography' in motion

In my reading this morning I found this video, which I want to share with ISOCS Middle School.

Uploaded by  on Sep 18, 2012

This is a student sample of how to use Explain Everything in a MS history classroom. More detailed accounts from the project can be found athttp://tfiskeblog.blogspot.com/

It's the work of an 8th Grade class at Hill Country Middle School in Austin, Texas. Mrs. Fiske’s students share their “triumphs and failures” in a class blog that documents their 1:1 iPad journey.

Click through to the TechChef4U post to follow the very interesting background links about the apps used, and the pedagogical background of the project.

What color is the sky?

Why is it dark at night?  A simple question? Well....


Published on Sep 30, 2012 by 
Have you ever wondered why you look up and see a dark sky at night?
Help share science with the world: http://translate.minutephysics.com
Subscribe to MinutePhysics! http://dft.ba/-MPsubscribe

Visit Minute Physics Chanel page on YouTube to find several other interesting videos explaining physics questions.

Of course, the next question is, "Why is the sky blue?"
NASA's JPL has a video explanation on their Ask an Astronomer web page, (which has explanations of other very interesting questions).  Discovery Networks posted this one on their YouTube Chanel:

Uploaded by  on May 13, 2010
http://www.discoverynews.com Why is the sky blue, it sounds so basic, but do you know the answer? Kasey-Dee Gardner finds out.