понедельник, 6 апреля 2009 г.

Girls are becoming as good as boys at math

TRADITION has it that boys are good at counting and girls are good at reading. So much so that Mattel once produced a talking Barbie doll whose stock of phrases included “Math class is tough!”

Although much is made of differences between the brains of adult males and females, the sources of these differences are a matter of controversy. Some people put forward cultural explanations and note, for example, that when girls are taught separately from boys they often do better in subjects such as maths than if classes are mixed. Others claim that the differences are rooted in biology, are there from birth, and exist because girls' and boys' brains have evolved to handle information in different ways.

Luigi Guiso of the European University Institute in Florence and his colleagues have just published the results of a study which suggests that culture explains most of the difference in maths, at least. In this week's Science, they show that the gap in mathematics scores between boys and girls virtually disappears in countries with high levels of sexual equality, though the reading gap remains.

Dr Guiso took data from the 2003 OECD Programme for International Student Assessment. Some 276,000 15-year-olds from 40 countries sat the same maths and reading tests. The researchers compared the results, by country, with each other and with a number of different measures of social sexual equality. One measure was the World Economic Forum's gender-gap index, which reflects economic and political opportunities, education and well-being for women. Another was based on an index of cultural attitudes towards women. A third was the rate of female economic activity in a country, and the fourth measure looked at women's political participation.

On average, girls' maths scores were, as expected, lower than those of boys. However, the gap was largest in countries with the least equality between the sexes (by any score), such as Turkey. It vanished in countries such as Norway and Sweden, where the sexes are more or less on a par with one another. The researchers also did some additional statistical checks to ensure the correlation was material, and not generated by another, third variable that is correlated with sexual equality, such as GDP per person. They say their data therefore show that improvements in maths scores are related not to economic development, but directly to improvements in the social position of women.

The one mathematical gap that did not disappear was the differences between girls and boys in geometry. This seems to have no relation to sexual equality, and may allow men to cling on to their famed claim to be better at navigating than women are. However, the gap in reading scores not only remained, but got bigger as the sexes became more equal. Average reading scores were higher for girls than for boys in all countries. But in more equal societies, not only were the girls as good at maths as the boys, their advantage in reading had increased.

This suggests an interesting paradox. At first sight, girls' rise to mathematical equality suggests they should be invading maths-heavy professions such as engineering—and that if they are not, the implication might be that prejudice is keeping them out. However, as David Ricardo observed almost 200 years ago, economic optimisation is about comparative advantage. The rise in female reading scores alongside their maths scores suggests that female comparative advantage in this area has not changed. According to Paola Sapienza, a professor of finance at the Kellogg School of Management in Illinois who is one of the paper's authors, that is just what has happened. Other studies of gifted girls, she says, show that even though the girls had the ability, fewer than expected ended up reading maths and sciences at university. Instead, they went on to be become successful in areas such as law.

In other words, girls may acquire an absolute advantage over boys as a result of equal treatment. This is something that society, more broadly, has not yet taken on board. Mattel may wish to take note that among Teen Talk Barbie's 270 phrases concerning shopping, parties and clothes, at least one might usefully have been, “Dostoevsky rocks!”


How To Turn A Hot Chick Into A Geek

Getting a hot chick to go out with you is a difficult thing and countless books, websites and TV shows have covered the topic. So let's say you follow the advice to the letter and, shockingly, it works. Now you're a geek going out with a super hot chick and the two of you have absolutely zero in common. Let's change that; let's turn a Hot Chick Into a Geek.

Hot Geek
Bridge Theory

The key to flipping any hot "square" into an uberhot geek is the Bridge Theory. When two land masses are separated (by water, by a canyon, whatever), the easiest way to bring them together is a bridge. Bridge Theory for flipping a hot square works the same way; most hot chicks CAN be turned geek if you know the proper "bridge."

For each geeky category, there are several bridges. Use the bridges and you will be able to increase the geek factor notch by notch. Forget the bridges and your hot chick will never, ever be interested in that subgenre of geekdom again. So don't have her sit through an all day marathon of "Red Dwarf" unprepared or she will never want to watch anything remotely Britcom or sci fi again.

Be careful, take your time and you'll have a model quoting "They Live" in no time.

Genre Films

Hot chicks normally like mainstream, multiplex flicks. This should be obvious; they contain good looking stars, which are people they can relate to. I'm not suggesting all hot chicks are shallow. Not at all. But just like how you enjoyed "Superbad" so much because you related to the fat and nerdy protagonists, hot chicks enjoy movies like "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" because they contain people like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.

The key, then, to a cinematic bridge is to find a middle ground between geekiness and hot. The perfect "bridge" filmmaker, when it comes to genre flicks, is Quentin Tarantino. Every one of his flicks from "Pulp Fiction" onward have had the perfect balance of hot chicks and celebrities on one side and geeky genre film worship on the other. It's an added bonus that he writes so well for women, making his two part "Kill Bill" flick and his half of "Grindhouse" ("Death Proof") the perfect bridges between your hot chick and genres of cinema as diverse as martial arts flicks, slasher flicks and road movies.

Once your hot chick has seen good looking, intelligent female characters having fun in films that not only hint at other, older genre flicks but also out and out reference them, you're set. After checking out "Kill Bill," for example, you might as well show her "Shogun Assassins;" that 1980 film was the one the Bride's daughter as watching, after all. You could throw in some "Enter The Dragon," "Drunken Master" and any anime of your choosing for good measure. If you use the "bridge" and time it well, you'll have a super sexy Asian cinema fanatic in no time.

"Death Proof" is a shorter film than "Kill Bill" but it's possibly more potent with its genre film connections. If your lady digs Tarantino's "car slasher" flick starring Kurt Russell, she'll probably take a liking to flicks like "Escape from New York" and "Big Trouble in Little China." If she was able to handle the "thrills and chills," she might enjoy some legitimate slasher flicks, like "Halloween," "Last House on the Left" and "Friday the 13th." And in the probable scenario that your lady is turned on by the car's in the film, you're fuckin' in. You can not only parlay that into her interest in speed flicks (like "Vanishing Point," the original "Gone in 60 Seconds" and "The French Connection,") but you might be able to get her into racing video games too.

Don't push your luck TOO hard with this bridge, however. Just because she's starting to enjoy Asian movies doesn't mean she won't run away in terror if you put on the hentai porn (though if she sticks around, you and your tentacle monster are safe). Same goes for slasher flicks; she might enjoy "Halloween" but that doesn't mean she's ready for "Cannibal Holocaust." If you had the patience it takes to cultivate a hot chick, though, you should be fine.

Video Games

Die Hard gaming girls do exist. Thanks to G4TV and Morgan Webb, we know this is true. Now, hot die hard gaming girls? Ones who ACTUALLY play video games (we're looking at YOU Olivia Munn)? That is a rare breed.

And while you might not be able to convert your hottie into a "true" die hard gamer, you should be able to get her pretty interested in video games. And for that, you can thank Nintendo and their its flagship title: the Wii.

Now, I am not suggesting it's time for you to ditch your PS3 and XBox 360 (and their superior graphics and, in many cases, gameplay) and dedicate your life to the Wii. That'd be pretty retarded. But the Wii is a perfect bridge system for hot chicks.

Now, the reason why hot chicks have been excluding themselves from the gamer demographic for so long is because of the public perception that video games are anti social. While us dudes might find that concept one of the more appealing aspects of video games, the same does not fly for hot chicks. Hot chicks, by their very nature, are social. The fastest way for a hot chick to gain validation is to appear in a social situation and appear insanely hot. This is why girls wear hot dresses (it has nothing to do with us, fellas).

Wii Sports and Wii Fit, then, are perfect games to lure in the girls because they're both social and they have the added dubious benefit of being exercise (which hot chicks enjoy). Once they've either mastered or grown tired of both games, it's time for step two: get her Guitar Hero. Yes, I know Guitar Hero for Wii is shitty. Far shittier than its counterparts on other systems. But it will serve as the perfect buffer between your hottie and the purchase of an XBox 360 and/or PS3.

Once your significant(ly hotter) other has realized the limitations of the system, she'll start dropping hints she wants Rock Band and an XBox. Trust me, I'm there now. I actually have to ask my (hot) girlfriend to stop playing video games every so often; when she gets in her zone, there's no stopping that crazy, crazy girl.

Now there are some games that, no matter how hard you try, you will not be able to nor would you want to convincer her she likes. Chief among those games is "World of Warcraft." Hot chicks don't like totally immersive games where you bury yourself into a character; they don't need to escape reality so they choose not to. Also, any game that requires you give it more attention than your girlfriend HAS to be bad for your relationship.

Be careful and game in caution.

Comic Books

Comic Books and graphic novels (especially) have gained much prominence in the last 10 years. What started out as mere colored ink on pulp is now an industry that pumps out awesome stories and new and ever exciting properties by the week.

A suitable bridge for hot chicks to get into comics is the work of James Kochalka. James does these autobiographical anthologies where he documents his somewhat mundane life and, as luck would have it, depicts himself as an elf. For anyone who hasn't seen his work, it sounds pretty, well, gay. And it sort of is, but at the same time it's pretty funny and, more importantly, thanks to the cutesy drawing style, the kind of stuff your hot girlfriend will like (she'd been in good company; Frank Miller likes Kochalka's stuff as well).

After she's checked out Kochalka, you can slowly introduce her to Brian K. Vaughn. The easiest "in" at this point would be "Runaways." Even though it's an awesomely written and drawn comic that's both hilarious and action packed, "Runaways" still remains, in its core, what it was commissioned as: a comic for girls.

From "Runaways," you can quickly and painlessly move on to more Vaughn stuff (especially the girl-friendly "Y: The Last Man"). You can also easily move her onto some manga (if that's your scene).

Go slowly moving into straight super hero stuff, though. Just because she digs the skrull in "Runaways" doesn't mean she'll want to read every back issue of John Byrne's run on "Fantastic 4."

Science Fiction

Here's a toughie. There's no true bridge from a hot chick to science fiction. The work of Richard Kelly and Joss Whedon is probably the closest we've got and "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" and "Donnie Darko" both seem like perfect bridges on the surface level. But both examples are, upon deeper inspection, far too nerdy for a simple dabbler.

There's something off putting about science fiction to hot chicks. I haven't quite put my finger on it, but I think it has something to do with the fact that, in sci fi, any truly hot chick is either an alien or a member of the Borg.

Future filmmakers out there, there's an opening: make the sci fi equivalent to "Kill Bill" and you will be a hero to millions of geeks everywhere. Good luck with that.


How to Sell Your Body Parts For Cash?

Somehow a stimulus check just doesn’t seem stimulating enough to jumpstart my flatlining bank account. I’m thinking I need to make a little extra dough on the side before I can start feeding any to our flagging economy, but I don’t have any skills. I’ve thought about growing vegetables, building furniture, or washing windows to pad my pockets, but I don’t have a garden, I’m useless with a hammer, and … well, I don’t want to work that hard. So instead I’m looking to make the most (money) using what I’ve got at my fingertips. After doing a little research, here are the resources I discovered, some of which I never even knew were valuable:

Hairy Business
Real hair is in huge demand for use as hair extensions, hairpieces, and wigs. So, if (like me) you can’t grow weeds, but you can grow a mean head of hair, then check out the world’s largest independent hair sale site, Hairtrader. Now, you can’t just sell any old head of hair: hair must be naturally beautiful—that means it’s never been bleached, permed, tinted, highlighted, chemically straightened, or otherwise subjected to the demands of modern life. That rules out me and most of the western world too. To date, the record sale was $2,500 for 25” of light brown hair. (Photo source: Shevy wigs)

Pissing Away Poverty
If your urine is drug and alcohol-free, you might be able to strike (liquid) gold.

Thanks to the scads of people addicted to drugs and alcohol, there’s a market for good, clean urine to help people ace their drug test. Granted, you could go to jail for selling your pee, but as someone wise and famous once said (probably someone who never attempted to sell their urine), without risk, there is no reward. Urea Sample sells synthetic urine kits to folks looking to beat drug tests for up to $139.95. If you cut out the middle man and go straight to the source, you can make around $200, according to arrest reports.

If risk is your thing and potential jail time isn’t too daunting, you could also consider selling your corneas, worth roughly $7000. Or if your pee isn’t pure, you can always just take it to the next level and opt to sell a kidney.

It’s Written All Over Your Face (and Neck, Biceps, and Back)
The advertising industry is desperate to find clever new ways to reach people. They’ve already placed ads at eye level on the back of the bathroom stall door, in school buses, on your favorite TV show, your laptop, iPod, and in video games. Now they’re eager to score new real estate—you! In 2006, Web-hosting company Globat purchased ad space on the back of a Lancaster, Pennsylvania man’s neck for an undisclosed sum of money. Robert Reames, III, age twenty-seven, had a globat.com ad tattooed on the back of his neck so he could buy a new car. I’ve often said, “I have eyes on the back of my head,” so I’m thinking I should offer the back of my head to Lenscrafters …

Got Milk?
I’ve heard many a lactating mother cry that throwing away expressed breast milk feels like throwing away liquid gold—and they’re right. While there are plenty of banks where you can sell/donate breast milk (once you’ve been screened of course), there’s also a thriving black market of men—or couples—with a breast milk fetish. (Maybe I’m just lactose intolerant, but eew!) Still, I guess if guys can make money selling sperm, why can’t we put the old mammaries to work? Another way to go is to answer this classified ad: “Got Milk? Earn $2000 per photo shoot modeling for BeautifulPregnant.com, the only pregnancy/lactation site that has a touch of class.”

It’s a Bloody Jungle Out There
It’s actually illegal to sell human organs or tissues, but that doesn’t mean they’re entirely worthless. Many companies will “compensate” you for your time, and more specifically for your plasma—the water and protein-packed portion of your blood—which is easily replaced by the body. To find a donation site in your area, visit Blood Banker. Not only do they have a listing of blood banks that pay cash for your plasma, but they also list additional information about how often you can donate. Note: a donor burns about 650 calories by donating one pint of blood!

Let’s Get Clinical
No need to wait until you’re dead to donate your body to science. You can do so now, while you’re still alive and kicking, to the tune of several hundred dollars a day, depending on the study. Healthy as a horse? Great! You’re needed. You’re also needed if you smoke, have diabetes, are post-menopausal, have high blood pressure, suffer from insomnia, or have a history of depression. And if you hate drugs, but love shopping, there are clinical trials just for you. Even though drug studies are the most lucrative, research participants are also constantly needed for consumer product testing and mystery shopping sprees, where you can get paid to go to the movies, eat out, buy products, and even drink beer at pubs!

Womb for Rent
Why get $2500 or more for donating a little old egg (okay, it’s not so old, you need to be thirty-five or under) when you can get more than $25,000 for delivering a fully hatched chick? If you need more than a little extra cash, surrogate pregnancy may be the way to go. On top of the carrying fee, you get all your medical bills, travel expenses, and maternity clothes for free. (And then you can keep that really cute pair of “fat pants” for a future non-pregnant time when you’re feeling extra bloated.) For all those older couples wanting to have children, infertile couples, or two-dad families out there, you won’t be just putting your uterus on the market for some fast cash, you’ll be giving the gift of family. (photo source: sharynmorrow on flickr (CC)

Cry Me a River
If all else fails and you’re left with nothing of your own to sell, you can always look to Hollywood for a little assistance. If you’re especially enterprising, you can follow starlets around paparazzi-style, wait for the inevitable heartbreak, then capture their tears in a vial, and sell them on eBay like one enterprising young man did recently with Paris Hilton’s tears. It’s more of a long-term commitment, but you’d be getting in on the ground floor of something unique.


пятница, 3 апреля 2009 г.

7 Pleasurable Ways to Improve Your Reading Ability

What is most likely to influence your success at school or at a job? The ability to read well. And that goes for your kids too. The declining literacy of our society has been a major concern of educators for a while now, and yet things are not getting better. One reason might be a failure to recognize that reading and literacy are personal skills, best acquired when associated with pleasure.

In most cases, how well we learn to read will depend largely on our exposure to language as children. If we hear people around us talking about a wide variety of subjects as children, we naturally pick up the words and phrases they use. If we pick up a lot of words, we will have an advantage when we start reading, and we will learn to read better. This, in turn, helps us to acquire more words, leaving the poor readers, who know few words, further and further behind. The literacy divide usually begins early in life, and can only be overcome by lots of reading later in life.

Much of the traditional advice to struggling readers, these days, seems to involve developing “cognitive strategies”. In this approach, readers are asked to focus more, to think, to be curious and ask questions, to analyze, to predict, to infer, and to monitor their understanding, or worse still to answer questions on their comprehension of what they have read. In other words they are asked to become self-conscious readers.I do not agree with this approach.

Here are seven strategies for reading improvement.

1. Read about things that interest you. If you are interested in what you are reading about, the words will come alive, and you will be motivated to understand. You will feel satisfaction in accomplishing a task that you enjoy, and which you consider meaningful. The more you read, the better you will become at reading. Just get started and it will become a habit, as long as you are interested in what you are reading.

2. Read material that is at your level, or just a little difficult for you. Read material that you find easy to read, or just a little challenging. Looking up many unknown words in a conventional dictionary is tedious, and the results of the dictionary search quickly forgotten. It is better to stay within your comfort zone and keep reading. Soon you will be able to take on more difficult content.

3. Learn to read in depth, stay on the same subject for a while. If you are familiar with the subject you are reading about, you will understand better. Do not just read short articles. Commit to books. Stay with one author for at least one book. If the subject matter is new to you, you should even try to read a few different books or articles about the same subject, before you move on. This way you will meet the same vocabulary and ideas often, helping you to learn. You will also be able to get deeper into the subject and your reading confidence will grow.

4. If you have trouble reading, listen first. Many great works of literature were written to be read out loud. Learn to appreciate the art of the narrator. Listen to audio books or audio files of the material that you are reading. This will help make difficult content seem more familiar. If you can hear the new words and phrases that you are reading, you will have an easier time understanding and remembering them. Hearing the rhythm of someone reading a text will help your own reading.

5. Let your imagination get involved. Good readers get engrossed in their reading and let it trigger their imagination. Learn to enjoy your reading without asking too many questions or analyzing too much. It will just spoil the sensual enjoyment of the reading experience. You do not need to predict or analyze. Just enjoy and look forward to absorbing the information, ideas and thoughts expressed by the writer.

6. Don’t worry about what you don’t understand. Most of your reading should be for pleasure. You can enjoy reading without understanding all of what you read. You may even understand some things in your own personal way. Neither you nor a teacher needs to “monitor” your understanding. Learn to enjoy reading, even while feeling that you do not fully understand or remember what you have read.

7. Recognize that the key is to read a lot. You may develop a system for keeping track of new words that you encounter in your reading, using lists, or Flash Cards, or other memory systems available on the Internet or elsewhere. However, the main growth in your vocabulary and reading skill will come just from reading as much as you can. So learn to enjoy reading and read a lot. Keep reading, and you will become a better reader.

Unfortunately not all reading is just for pleasure. When you are reading a textbook or manual, or report or other material that have to read for school or work, you may need to underline, take notes, and read some parts over again, in order to retain what you are reading. However, if you have developed the habit of reading for pleasure, you will find that the cognitive techniques you need will come naturally, and that you will understand a lot better than before.


Education reform: Let's start by burning all the textbooks

President Obama wants to simultaneously improve education while getting costs under control. School districts are so stressed financially that they're laying off teachers and ending valuable programs. Here's one modest proposal from the tech blogosphere: Get rid of paper textbooks in favor of digital books and materials for high school and college students as a way to both improve education and cut costs.

Paper textbooks are problematic in two ways: First, they're paper. Second, they're textbooks. Let me explain.

What's wrong with paper?

All the standard arguments against paper books are especially true for textbooks. Paper requires the cutting down of trees, transport of trees, paper, then books and the use of toxic inks. Paper books are bad for the environment. But textbooks are constantly being replaced with new editions, with the old ones rendered unusable, and can't be sold used or even stocked in a library. Because teachers require new editions, the old editions are useless and end up in landfills.

Meanwhile, the strongest argument most people use in favor of paper books, which is that they enjoy the pleasure of curling up with a "real" book, is hard to swallow with textbooks. They're generally not read for pleasure, but in late-night cram sessions.

Also: Books are heavy. Have you seen students' backpacks these days? They tend to be back-breakingly heavy.

What's wrong with textbooks?

Textbooks can cost a fortune. A typical textbook that might cost $24.99 at Barnes & Noble might be sold to schools or directly to students in college bookstores for $200. Schools and teachers often require the most recent versions, which have been updated with minor changes, thus forcing schools and students to pay for books rather than reusing older ones.

The high cost has little to do with the cost of production, and everything to do with monopoly pricing. Many textbooks are required by someone -- a school board, and state board of education, a teacher, professor or department head. Once it's required, you've got a monopoly pricing opportunity. Students *have* to buy the book regardless of price.

But the worst thing about textbooks is that they've evolved into bland, unreadable products of interest group politics. Schools are trying to teach students to be literate, and to develop an ear for good language, then we force-feed them these hideous textbooks, which tend to be so stripped of blood and guts and heart (one definition of bad writing) that reading and learning become some kind of forced march through the educational-industrial complex, rather than the journey of discovery they're supposed to be.

In a better world, teachers would choose reading materials from the millions of available online titles. If they chose a textbook, fine. But instead of some bland, committee-approved, unreadable textbook about Plato, why not have the students actually read Plato? It's both superior and free.

Of course, electronic books wouldn't stop controversy. But it could push the controversy down to the local level. Rather than tiny minorities of religious people, politically sensitive people or other groups forcing blandness and stupidity on an entire state, only the local school districts should be having these battles in the places where those interest groups exist. Elsewhere, schools could be free to assign real books.

It's worth pointing out, by the way, that pushing decision-making down to the level of the individual is precisely why, say, capitalism works better than centrally planned economies, and why, for example, more people get more value out of the Wikipedia than the Encyclopedia Britanica. Maybe school curricula should also take a cue from Hayek, and push the decision-making down to the individual instructor? Electronic materials would make that extremely workable.

Why electronic is better?

Students are already online and electronic. They're mobile and digital. An electronic book can be read in more places. For example, if a college student works part time on some manual labor job, he or she can listen to their books and get more studying in than would be possible with paper books. They can read on their iPhones on the bus, or read in hundreds of other situations where they wouldn't have their giant, bulky textbook.

The text size can be increased, which helps visually impaired students.

Electronic editions could be updated at nearly zero cost. They could be subscribed to by schools, saving taxpayer money. That way, a college teacher wouldn't have to require the bookstore to stock the new version and dump all the used books. The electronic version would always be updated.

And here's a radical idea. Why not ban books altogether for some courses. Why not place the burden of finding sources on the student. Isn't it better to teach them to fish, rather than giving them one? (The best students do that anyway, supplementing assigned materials with those they find on their own.)

Rather than banning the use of Wikipedia, as some schools do, why not require contribution to it?

Some of the best universities in the world place complete course materials, including video podcasts of lectures, online. What possible reason would some podunk college have to not take advantage of course material from, say, MIT, whenever possible (other than instructor ego)? There's a whole new universe of educational content resources -- most of it free -- that has emerged in the past few years. Why are schools still pretending that the Internet never happened?

So that's my proposal: Ban all paper textbooks and go electronic. Students could choose to read on PCs, phones or Kindle-like readers. If students don't have some kind of reader, libraries and computer labs do.

And once schools go electronic, let's stop torturing students with textbooks, and introduce them to the real world of intellectual content out there.

Embracing real books online can help solve the education crisis, the financial crisis and a large number of other crises.

A global recession and educational funding crisis makes the perfect time to wrench our children's minds away from the textbook industry, the politically correct anti-intellectuals, special interest groups and the bureaucratic mindset that is wrecking education.

Let's burn the textbooks and go electronic.


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