October 5, 2016

Nautilus - How I Rewired My Brain to Become Fluent in Math 10min

Learning math and then science as an adult gave me passage into the empowering world of engineering. But these hard-won, adult-age changes in my brain have also given me an insider’s perspective on the neuroplasticity that underlies adult learning. ... In the current educational climate, memorization and repetition in the STEM disciplines (as opposed to in the study of language or music), are often seen as demeaning and a waste of time for students and teachers alike. Many teachers have long been taught that conceptual understanding in STEM trumps everything else. And indeed, it’s easier for teachers to induce students to discuss a mathematical subject (which, if done properly, can do much to help promote understanding) than it is for that teacher to tediously grade math homework. What this all means is that, despite the fact that procedural skills and fluency, along with application, are supposed to be given equal emphasis with conceptual understanding, all too often it doesn’t happen. Imparting a conceptual understanding reigns supreme—especially during precious class time. ... The problem with focusing relentlessly on understanding is that math and science students can often grasp essentials of an important idea, but this understanding can quickly slip away without consolidation through practice and repetition. Worse, students often believe they understand something when, in fact, they don’t. ... Chunking was originally conceptualized in the groundbreaking work of Herbert Simon in his analysis of chess—chunks were envisioned as the varying neural counterparts of different chess patterns. Gradually, neuroscientists came to realize that experts such as chess grand masters are experts because they have stored thousands of chunks of knowledge about their area of expertise in their long-term memory. ... As studies of chess masters, emergency room physicians, and fighter pilots have shown, in times of critical stress, conscious analysis of a situation is replaced by quick, subconscious processing as these experts rapidly draw on their deeply ingrained repertoire of neural subroutines—chunks. ... Understanding doesn’t build fluency; instead, fluency builds understanding.

Financial Times - The return of Mao: a new threat to China’s politics 15min

The dictator is enjoying a surge of popularity. But the rise of this neo-Maoist movement could upend China’s stability ... In the west, Mao is understood chiefly as China’s “Red Emperor” — a vicious dictator who fostered an extreme personality cult, launched the disastrous Cultural Revolution and masterminded a “Great Leap Forward” that resulted in the worst famine in history. Experts estimate that Mao was responsible for between 40 million and 70 million deaths in peacetime — more than Hitler and Stalin combined. However, while Hitler, Stalin and most of the other totalitarian dictators of the 20th century were repudiated after their deaths, Mao remains a central figure in modern China. The Communist party he helped found in 1921 and the authoritarian Leninist political system he established in 1949 still run the country. ... But this whitewashing of Mao’s legacy is a risky strategy. Thanks to the party’s tight control over education, media and all public discourse, most people in China know very little of Mao’s terrible mistakes. Indeed, the dictator is more popular today than at any time since his death. Last year nearly 17 million people made pilgrimages to his home town — Shaoshan — in rural central China. In the mid-1980s, barely 60,000 undertook the journey. ... They see Mao as a symbol of a simpler, fairer society — a time when everyone was poorer but at least they were equally poor. Those who have studied the resurgence in Mao’s popularity in China see it as part of a broader global phenomenon that encompasses the appeal of Donald Trump in the US, Brexit in the UK and populist politicians on the left and right in Europe. At a time of sharp dislocation and intense resentment towards elites, people in many countries are attracted by nostalgia and tradition. For ordinary people in China, that means Mao and the classless society he envisioned. ... This presidential embrace of Mao has surprised many in China, given that the dictator was personally responsible for the awful suffering experienced by Xi’s own family.

The New Yorker - The New Star of Germany's Far Right 21min

Petry, who is forty-one, with a pixie haircut and a trim, athletic build, frequently arrives late. She travels continually, often without any immediate electoral aim—the next federal elections won’t be till the second half of 2017—but simply to publicize the Party and herself. Like most German politicians today, Petry observes the national moratorium on charisma, but her appearances have the feel of a celebrity tour. Her audiences seem awed, unsure whether it is appropriate to take photographs. But, once someone starts, the room fills with the soft clicks of phone cameras. ... For decades, the German far right has been a limited force, with easily recognizable supporters—nicotine-stained ex-Nazis in the sixties and seventies, leather-clad skinheads in the eighties and nineties. Petry is something different, a disarmingly wholesome figure—a former businesswoman with a Ph.D. in chemistry and four children from her marriage to a Lutheran pastor. ... Petry is not a gifted orator. Her speeches tend to be dull, with ornate sentences and technocratic talking points, and she is more comfortable citing economic studies than discussing the lives of ordinary people. ... she often works by insinuation, fanning right-wing conspiracy theories not merely to stir up grievances but to bind members together with a sense of shared beliefs. ... Petry and her colleagues have mastered the art of dominating the news cycle, to the point where a visitor to Germany listening to the radio or reading the newspapers could be forgiven for thinking that the AfD is the party in power.

The Verge - Rise of the RoboMasters 16min

For the teams of students involved in this year’s RoboMasters tournament, the stakes were clear: 350,000 RMB (roughly $53,000) in prize money, more than four times the average salary of a Chinese worker. Winners achieve celebrity status among the 6 million fans who watch the action stream live online, as well as a shot at landing a job at at DJI, the Chinese drone maker that created this competition. Over the last two years the company has hired around 40 engineers out of the tournament. ... For DJI, the stakes are reversed. It is battling to win top talent in some of technology’s hottest fields: computer vision and autonomous navigation. Over the last three years, the company has emerged from obscurity to become the market leader in the booming consumer drone market, setting the pace for innovation in the category. ... The city became the heart of the world’s supply chain for consumer electronics. But while it conquered the business of manufacturing for others, the quality of products designed and engineered in Shenzhen were largely inferior to those with roots in the West. Over time, however, that dynamic began to change. ... DJI epitomizes that evolution. In 2006, Frank Wang, an engineering student obsessed with remote-control helicopters, started Dà-Jiāng — which roughly translates to "without borders" — Innovations Science and Technology Corporation. His target market consisted of professionals who used remote-control aircraft for filming and photography, and hardcore hobbyists who built their own flying machines for fun. At the time, everyone built their units from scratch, there was no casual consumer market, and few people used the word "drone." ... Like many early Shenzhen companies, at first DJI made just a single component: flight controllers. ... PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates that the drone industry will grow from a few billion dollars this year to more than $120 billion by 2020.

Damn Interesting - Ten Minutes in Lituya Bay 11min

If one likens the shape of Alaska to a bearded human face in profile, Lituya Bay is somewhere near the Adam’s apple. It is a long, narrow, T-shaped, glacier-carved notch about eight miles long and two miles wide (13km by 3km), bordered on its west end by the Fairweather mountain range. It is unusually deep, and a small island lies near the very center. From a distance, the bay appears to have a wide mouth, but a narrow strip of land called “La Chaussee Spit” drapes across most of the opening, leaving the actual inlet only 1,600 feet (490 meters) wide. ... Within about a minute, the approaching wave became visible to the boats still at anchor, and the occupants looked on in awe as the wide skyscraper of water traversed the length of the bay towards them. When it reached Cenotaph Island another minute or so later, the proportions of the wave became clear. The center of the wave was almost as high as the highest point on the island, 300 feet in the air. On the two opposite shores, the plowing saltwater reached over 1,700 feet (over 500 meters) onto land, twisting even the most massive trees from their roots and scraping the bedrock nearly clean.