End Of The Road

After 59 years, the iconic Route 66 enters the realm of history in this week in 1985, when the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials decertifies the road and votes to remove all its highway signs.
Measuring some 2,200 miles in its heyday, Route 66 stretched from Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California, passing through eight states. According to a New York Times article about its decertification, most of Route 66 followed a path through the wilderness forged in 1857 by U.S. Navy Lieutenant Edward Beale at the head of a caravan of camels. Over the years, wagon trains and cattlemen eventually made way for trucks and passenger automobiles.

route 66

Route 66 was the scene of a mass westward migration during the 1930s, when more than 200,000 people traveled from the poverty-stricken Dust Bowl to California. John Steinbeck immortalized the highway, which he called the “Mother Road,” in his classic 1939 novel “The Grapes of Wrath.”

Often called the “Main Street of America,” Route 66 became a pop culture mainstay over the years, inspiring its own song (written in 1947 by Bobby Troup, “Route 66″ was later recorded by artists as varied as Nat “King” Cole, Chuck Berry and the Rolling Stones) as well as a 1960s television series. More recently, the historic highway was featured prominently in the hit animated film “Cars” (2006).

route 66 cars 2006

Well if you ever plan to motor west
Just take my way that’s the highway that’s the best
Get your kicks on Route 66
Well it winds from Chicago to L.A.
More than 2000 miles all the way
Get your kicks on Route 66
Well it goes from St. Louis down to Missouri
Oklahoma city looks oh so pretty
You’ll see Amarillo and Gallup, New Mexico
Flagstaff, Arizona don’t forget Winona
Kingman, Barstow, San Bernadino
Would you get hip to this kindly tip
And go take that California trip
Get your kicks on Route 66

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Me And My Arrow*

*Harry Nilsson’s Song About A Boy And His Dog.

Children get more satisfaction from relationships with their pets than with their brothers or sisters, according to new research from the University of Cambridge. Children also appear to get on even better with their animal companions than with siblings.

The research adds to increasing evidence that household pets may have a major influence on child development, and could have a positive impact on children’s social skills and emotional well-being.

Pets are almost as common as siblings in western households, although there are relatively few studies on the importance of child-pet relationships.

”Anyone who has loved a childhood pet knows that we turn to them for companionship and disclosure, just like relationships between people,” says Matt Cassells, a Gates Cambridge Scholar at the Department of Psychiatry, who led the study. “We wanted to know how strong these relationships are with pets relative to other close family ties. Ultimately this may enable us to understand how animals contribute to healthy child development”

This study, published in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, was conducted in collaboration with the WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition, part of Mars Petcare and co-funded by the Economic and Social Research Council as part of a larger study, led by Prof Claire Hughes at the University of Cambridge Centre for Family Research. Researchers surveyed 12 year old children from 77 families with one or more pets of any type and more than one child at home. Children reported strong relationships with their pets relative to their siblings, with lower levels of conflict and greater satisfaction in owners of dogs than other kinds of pets.

”Even though pets may not fully understand or respond verbally, the level of disclosure to pets was no less than to siblings,” says Cassels. “The fact that pets cannot understand or talk back may even be a benefit as it means they are completely non-judgmental.

“While previous research has often found that boys report stronger relationships with their pets than girls do, we actually found the opposite. While boys and girls were equally satisfied with their pets, girls reported more disclosure, companionship, and conflict with their pet than did boys, perhaps indicating that girls may interact with their pets in more nuanced ways.”

“Evidence continues to grow showing that pets have positive benefits on human health and community cohesion,” says Dr Nancy Gee, Human-Animal Interaction Research Manager at WALTHAM and a co-author of the study. “The social support that adolescents receive from pets may well support psychological well-being later in life but there is still more to learn about the long term impact of pets on children’s development.”

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Innovation

It Takes A Village.

What innovation is and how it can be cultivated are two of the compelling questions raised in a paper exploring the potential for fostering innovation in students published in Technology and Innovation, Journal of the National Academy of Inventors®.

“Relatively little is known about how we can cultivate innovative thinking,” said paper lead author Victor Poirier of the Institute for Advanced Discovery & Innovation at the University of South Florida (USF), “and even less is known about how we can help individuals use and improve their innovative powers.”

According to the authors, innovation can be defined as “the introduction of something new and different” that is created by inspiration and creativity. Innovation, they said, is “critical to improvements in how we live” and provides “social value.” The beginning of the innovative process is usually associated with “a fragmented inspiration” that is further developed by “joining with other fragmented thoughts to finally arrive at a creative inspiration.”

The authors pointed to six key characteristics of innovation:

* The timing of an innovative idea;

* The environment in which the idea is formulated and developed;

* The time to develop an idea or inspiration;

* The time and organisational environment that allows for idea cross-fertilization;

* Learning from errors; and

* The development of an idea in one field that can be adapted in another.

While education may not be able to create innovative traits in individuals, education may be able to improve the ability of individuals to better utilise the traits of creativity and innovation they already possess. However, how do we cultivate innovative thinking processes and unleash the creative powers of the individual? And, by what processes can educators help individuals to better utilise their innovative traits?

“It takes a village,” explained Poirier, pointing out that Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park was an environment in which a variety of minds and skills came together to achieve innovative processes. Innovative industries such as Bell Labs, Xerox, Apple, and Google, as well as many of the federal government’s laboratory systems, such as NIH and NASA, are examples of creative environments that foster innovation collaboratively.

Innovative processes do not always create something new, said the authors. Sometimes they greatly improve something already in existence or help to solve a problem. Motivation, persistence, and goal setting may also be keys to this process.

“Contrary to the view that inspiration is purely mystic or divine, it is best viewed as an interaction between one’s current knowledge and the information one receives from the world,” suggested the authors. “We do not need to try to create innovative characteristics; rather, we simply need to show individuals how to cultivate innovative thought.”

The first step in encouraging and nurturing inspiration and innovation, said Poirier, is to identify the characteristics and traits that can be fostered and developed through education. These include: abstract thinking and problem solving; a desire to ‘fill gaps’; motivation; creativity; curiosity; taking risks with no fear of failure; a positive attitude; persistence and passion; dissatisfaction with what exists; open-mindedness; and vision.

These characteristics can be foundational to an educational process aimed at unleashing the creative and innovative potential that students possess. Therefore, as Poirier explains, our goal is “to develop an educational process whereby we could show individuals how to fully utilise the innovative traits they have, and awaken traits that are dormant.”

The authors acknowledged that there may be roadblocks or resistance to this process from both students and faculty, as there are many who think that innovative thinking is something inborn in the individual and cannot be learned. However, the potential rewards, including an increase in innovative production, are substantial and warrant meeting and overcoming these challenges.

To that end, Poirier and his co-authors are part of a team at the University of South Florida involved in an experimental training program in innovation. They anticipate future publications in which they will report on the results of those efforts.

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A Pedantry Thing

This week, the financial press reported the downfall of a high-profile grammar pedant, Professor Paul Romer, the World Bank’s chief economist, who was hoist(ed) on his own pedantic petard.
He is being replaced as head of the bank’s research arm after he demanded that his colleagues write succinct, clear, direct emails, presentations and reports in the active voice with a low proportion of “and’s”.
Professor Romer will remain the bank’s chief economist.
In fact, he had threatened not to publish the bank’s central publication, World Development Report, “if the frequency of ‘and’ exceeded 2.6 per cent”.
He had also cancelled a regular publication that he believed had no clear purpose.
Why, you may ask, did the economists who work in the World Bank’s research department take exception to these strictures? Who wouldn’t want the corporate report that was a flagship publication of the bank to be narrow and “penetrate deeply like a knife”?
Professor Romer’s 600 colleagues, that’s who. But why?
It seems that, while he was encouraging his staff to avoid their customary convoluted “bankspeak” and consider their readers, he failed to follow his own advice.
He was apparently curt, abrasive and combative. The troops refused to fall into line and he was ousted.
Such a shame, Professor Romer, because we need more pruning of the muddy prose that is endemic in so many institutions, particularly banks.

The various shades of pedantry.
There are two kinds of people in this world: pedants and everybody else.
Pedantry isn’t confined to grammar, of course. Pedantry can be found in architecture, cooking (for example, Julian Barnes’s lovely little book The Pedant in the Kitchen), geometry, music, philosophy, politics and science.
Think Sheldon Cooper in The Big Bang Theory, the most popular show on American television.
Professor Romer’s case, however, highlights the key dilemma of grammar pedants: how do you handle your pedantry so that you don’t lose your job?
It depends on what kind of pedant you are.
Do you practise your pedantry privately by just “thinking” corrections at other people when they write “bunker” instead of “hunker” down?
Or do you practise your pedantry publicly and thereby subject yourself to taunts of “peevish prescriptivist”, “nit-picking, hair-splitting pedant”, or the more arcane and colourful “pettifogging pedant”?
This sort of abuse rained on Bryan Henderson, the American software engineer who had removed 47,000 instances of “comprised of” from Wikipedia by the end of 2015.
BBC journalist Jeremy Paxman was quoted in The Guardian in 2014 as saying:
“People who care about grammar are regularly characterised as pedants. I say those who don’t care about it shouldn’t be surprised if we pay no attention to anything they say, if indeed they are aware of what they’re trying to say.”
Pedants anonymous.
I am a fervent believer that grammar provides writers with analytical tools to choose and combine words felicitously into English sentences to a set of professional standards that serve utilitarian needs and provide intellectual pleasure.
However, aware from long experience that it’s rare to be thanked for pointing out a solecism that has made me wince, I attempt to shield the newly minted graduates of my grammar course at The University of Queensland from the potential consequences of sharing their knowledge with those less grammatically alert.
To this end, I lead a discussion about their stance on grammar in the final class of the semester.
To counter the negative connotations evoked by the term “grammar pedant” and to celebrate their pleasure in language, they invent playful monikers such as “grammartiste”, “grammagician”, “grammardian angel”, “grammar groover”, “grammartuoso”, and “grammasseur”.
Things you were taught at school that are wrong.

What if you were told there are lots of so-called grammar rules that we’ve probably been getting wrong in our English classrooms for years?
Anne Curzan, a grammar maven who contributes to the Lingua Franca blog on The Chronicle of Higher Education, favours “grammando”; but I prefer the much less warlike “grammond” (modelled on gourmand, “one who has a refined palate for grammar and savours it at its best).
That “linguifier” Stephen Fry begs us to abandon our pedantry, but he confines his admonition to non-professional contexts and admits that “it’s hard not to wince when someone aspirates the word ‘aitch’ and uses the genteelism of yourself and myself instead of you and me.”
He says that “context, convention, and circumstance are all”.
And this is what Professor Romer forgot. What we need to abandon is not pedantry. After all, its etymological origins are in teaching.
It is peevish, condescending, and competitive pedantry that is the culprit.
We could take a lesson from the Bristol engineer who has for 13 years used his specially designed long-handled apostrophiser and step-ladder to remove aberrant apostrophes and plant missing ones on buildings in Bristol and managed to remain anonymous.
The wonderful parodist Craig Brown’s solution may be an even better choice:
“It’s always pleasant to go carol-singing, or carols-singing, with the Pedants’ Association, formerly the Pedants Association, originally the Pedant’s Association,” he said.
“I first joined 10 years ago with the long-term aim of attracting the requisite number of votes in order to change its title to The Association of Pedants, thus rendering the apostrophe redundant.”
I’ll leave the uses and abuses of “and” aside for another day.
Dr Roslyn Petelin is an associate professor in writing at The University of Queensland, where she teaches in the post-graduate Writing, Editing, and Publishing program.

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Gender Equality

Despite conventional wisdom that suggests women are better than men at facial recognition, Penn State psychologists found no difference between men and women in their ability to recognise faces and categorise facial expressions.

In the study, the researchers used behavioural tests, as well as neuroimaging, to investigate whether there is an influence of biological sex on facial recognition, according to Suzy Scherf, assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience.

“There has been common lore in the behavioural literature that women do better than men in many types of face-processing tasks, such as face recognition and detecting and categorizing facial expressions, although, when you look in the empirical literature, the findings are not so clear cut,” said Scherf. “I went into this work fully expecting to see an effect of biological sex on the part of the observer in facial recognition and we did not find any. And we looked really hard.”

Scherf said that facial recognition is one of the most important skills people use to navigate social interactions. It is also a key motivation for certain types of behaviour, as well.

“Within 30 milliseconds of looking at a face, you can figure out the age, the sex, whether you know the person or not, whether the person is trustworthy, whether they’re competent, attractive, warm, caring; we can make categorisations on faces that fast,” said Scherf. “And some of that is highly coordinated with our behavioural decisions of what we are going to do following those attributions and decisions. For example; Do I want to vote for this person? Do I want to have a conversation with this person? Where do I fit in the status hierarchy? A lot of what we do is dictated by the information we get from faces.”

Scherf added that the importance of facial recognition for both sexes underlines the logic of why men and women should have equal facial recognition abilities.

“Faces are just as important for men, you can argue, as they are for women,” said Scherf. “Men get all the same cues from faces that women do.”

According to Scherf, the researchers did not find any evidence of another commonly held belief that women could recognise faces of their own biological sex more easily than the other, also referred to as “own gender bias.”

The researchers, who report their findings in eNeuro (available online), used a common face recognition task called the Cambridge Face Memory Test, which measures whether a person can identify a male face out of a line up of three faces. They also created their own female version of the memory test. Because of previous concerns of an own gender bias in women, the Cambridge Face Memory Test features only male faces.

“We couldn’t test the own gender bias without a female version of this test,” said Scherf, who worked with Daniel B. Elbich and Natalie V. Motta-Mena, both graduate students in psychology.

In a second test, they scanned the brains of participants in an MRI machine while the subjects watched a series of short video clips of unfamiliar faces, famous faces, common objects and navigational scenes, such as a clip of the Earth from outer space; and in a separate task as they recognised specific faces.

After the tests, the scans of neural activity happening in areas known for facial recognition, as well as other types of visual recognition, were statistically identical for both men and women.

Participants were carefully selected for the study because certain conditions can affect facial recognition.

“In order to enroll someone in our study, we went through a careful screening procedure to make sure that people did not have a history of neurological or psychiatric disorders in themselves, or in their first-degree relatives,” said Scherf. “This is important because in nearly all the affective disorders, depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar, face processing is disrupted.”

The researchers also screened out participants with concussions, which can disrupt patterns of brain activation and function, Scherf added.

Scherf, who also studies adolescents and pubertal development, began to investigate biological sex differences to further her own understanding of what sex differences if any, exist in sexually mature men and women, compared to adolescents.

The Social Science Research Institute and the National Science Foundation supported this work.

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Lady Trump

Mrs Trump

Young patients at the Queen Fabiola Children’s University Hospital used a sketch toy to make a sign reading “Welcome Mrs. Trump.” The first lady, wearing a knee-length dusty rose leather jacket and skirt, toured the hospital Thursday and joined a group of children making paper flowers, a Belgian tradition. Two of the children sitting with her were hooked up to IVs.
They shared opinions on favourite flowers. The first lady said she likes peonies, tulips, roses and especially orchids. Mrs. Trump also visited the Vatican’s children’s hospital earlier this week and gave the children Dr. Seuss books.

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Thumb And Plumb

Sun Temple

Planning and constructing a building that involves several complicated geometrical shapes without be able to write down any numbers or notes as you do it, would be impossible for most of us.

Research from Arizona State University has revealed that the ancient Southwestern Pueblo people, who had no written language or written number system, were able to do just that and used these skills to build sophisticated architectural complexes.

Dr. Sherry Towers, a professor with the ASU Simon A. Levin Mathematical, Computational and Modeling Sciences Center, uncovered these findings while spending several years studying the Sun Temple archaeological site in Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado, constructed around A.D. 1200.

“The site is known to have been an important focus of ceremony in the region for the ancestral Pueblo peoples, including solstice observations,” Towers says. “My original interest in the site involved looking at whether it was used for observing stars as well.”

However, as Towers delved deeper into the site’s layout and architecture, interesting patterns began to emerge.

“I noticed in my site survey that the same measurements kept popping up over and over again,” she says. “When I saw that the layout of the site’s key features also involved many geometrical shapes, I decided to take a closer look.”

The geometrical shapes used within this location would be familiar to any high school student: equilateral triangles, squares, 45-degree right triangles, Pythagorean triangles, and the “Golden rectangle,” which was well known to architects in ancient Greece and Egypt and is often used in Western art due to its pleasing proportions.

With some geometrical know-how, a straight-edge, a compass or cord, and a unit of measurement, all of the shapes are fairly easy to construct. But, unlike the ancient Greeks, Egyptians and Maya, the ancestral Pueblo people had no written language or number system to aid them when they built the site. Incredibly, their measurements were still near-perfect, with a relative error of less than one percent.

“This is what I find especially amazing,” Towers says. “The genius of the site’s architects cannot be underestimated. If you asked someone today to try to reconstruct this site and achieve the same precision that they had using just a stick and a piece of cord, it’s highly unlikely they’d be able to do it, especially if they couldn’t write anything down as they were working.”

During her research, Towers discovered that the site was laid out using a common unit of measurement just over 30 centimeters in length, equal to about one modern-day foot. She also found evidence that some of the same geometrical constructs from Sun Temple were used in at least one other ancestral Puebloan ceremonial site, Pueblo Bonito, located in New Mexico’s Chaco Culture National Historic Park.

“Further study is needed to see if that site also has the same common unit of measurement,” she says. “It’s a task that will keep us busy for some years to come.”

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