Blog

China's Ghost Cities

“Go West Young Man” (but it’s not the “west” you’re thinking of…)
 
When I first saw images of high-rise buildings with thousands of miles of roads in the middle of what looked like an arid desert in nowheresville China, it felt like eerie – even creepy – as I wondered why China would build huge cities that have no residents.  No people lived there.  That was in 2012 when urban planners of China’s Communist party decided to expand urbanization far in the western part of their nation. They called the Lanzhou New Area.
 
To build this metropolis, they leveled hundreds of mountains (the greatest mountain-moving project on earth) in an area infamous for contaminated air, water, and soil – hmm, what could possibly go wrong?  
 
The plan was to bring one million people to live, work, and prosper in a free-trade zone.  They built replicas of the Great Sphinx, the Parthenon, and even the Great Wall to lure tourists and would-be residents. They even put in an artificial lake.  This kind of reminds me of Las Vegas (building high-energy consumption resorts in the middle of the desert).  The Chinese government claims that the Lanzhou New Area will be able  to house 3.4 billion people.  Unfortunately, people aren’t flocking there, and these cities are now called “Ghost Cities.” A few people – mostly those who were forced to leave the villages that were wiped out when they developed the area – have moved into some of the buildings, but they complain that they don’t have jobs.  
 
My guess is that the Lanzhou New Area will become a bustling economic center in the future because of the rising population and choking pollution in the major cities in China (including the Lanzhou "Old Area" 40 miles south).  I wonder when people will make the move, and will they need to rebuild the infrastructure after buildings have been vacant for long periods of time? Check out this article for pictures of this "ghost city".

Applying to a UC in Fall 2017? Check Out the New Essay Prompts!

The University of California has just released their 8 essay prompts for their applications.  They’ve modified 2 questions but the other 6 remain the same.  Like last year, you’ll choose just 4 of the 8 essay questionsEach essay is limited to just 350 words.

Freshman Prompts:

1. Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes or contributed to group efforts over time.  

2. Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistically, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side.  

3. What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?  

4. Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced.

5. Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to overcome this challenge. How has this challenge affected your academic achievement?

6.  Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom. 

7. What have you done to make your school or your community a better place? 

8. Beyond what has already been shared in your application, what do you believe makes you stand out as a strong candidate for admissions to the University of California?

Transfer Prompts:

Required question for transfer students:             

1. Please describe how you have prepared for your intended major, including your readiness to succeed in your upper-division courses once you enroll at the university.

Choose any three of the following seven prompts:

1. Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes, or contributed to group efforts over time.  

2. Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistically, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side.  

3. What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?  

4. Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced.

5. Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to overcome this challenge. How has this challenge affected your academic achievement?

6. What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?  

7. Beyond what has already been shared in your application, what do you believe makes you stand out as a strong candidate for admissions to the University of California?

Get started on these essays now so you can rework them over the summer.  First, make a list of possible topics.  Second, make an outline for each topic that includes interesting information that you want to share with UC.  And, third, write a rough draft.  Save your drafts and revisit them in a few weeks.  When you feel that the essays highlight your strengths and feature your stories, ask others to critique and edit them. 

Make sure that you write these essays yourself and only get help with editingCollege admissions officers recognize essays written by tutors or parents, and you may be denied admission as a result.  So, get started now!

New Hack: Don't Open Word Docs

There's a new, unpatched vulnerability in all versions of Microsoft Word on all versions of Windows. This vulnerability is essentially an open door to your computer for a hacker who knows how to find the door.

There is currently no fix available for this, although Microsoft is promising that a patch will be available on Tuesday, 4/11. Until your system is patched either manually or via automatic update, do NOT open any Word document directly on any Windows machine. This includes any version of Microsoft Word on any Windows operating system.

Here are some temporary workarounds:

1) Upload and open the file in Google Docs

2) Ask whoever sent you the Word doc to send you a PDF instead

3) Update your computer's registry via these instructions (please do not do this unless you've updated your registry before)

This vulnerability works like this: A hacker sends an email that contains a Word document as an attachment.  The victim opens the Word document.  As soon as the document is opened, an embedded program in the Word document immediately does 2 things: 1) Downloads specific malware packages and installs them on your computer 2) opens up a fake word document to hide the first one.  Your computer is now compromised and the downloaded malware can do whatever the hacker wants it do to.  

Be careful!

[Source]

Chocolate: The Gateway Drug to Coffee and Tea

Did you know that chocolate was the first stimulant beverage used in Europe?  According to Marcy Norton, it predates coffee and tea.  Norton wrote Sacred Gifts, Profane Pleasures: A History of Tobacco and Chocolate in the Atlantic World. I don’t drink coffee, but I LOVE my chocolate – in drinks or candy bars.  Unlike coffee or tea, it gives me a little energy boost without the jitters!

The earliest records of cacao used in drinks or food was 5,500 years ago in Ecuador. Cacao beans were used as currency in Mexico until 1737.  A turkey would cost 100 cacao beans.  Delicious chocolate drinks were enjoyed by merchants, warriors, and nobility in the 14th century in Central and South America. After the Spanish colonized Mexico in the 16th century, Cortes took this concoction back to Europe, and the chocolate industry flourished.

Who knew that chocolate was such a huge commodity?  Today, chocolatier Jacques Torres opened The Chocolate Museum and Experience, a museum dedicated to the history of chocolate in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood.  Guess where I’m going next time I visit New York City?

[Source]

What 3 Experts Say About Artificial Intelligence (AI)

If you’re like me, you’re excited to hear more about self-driving cars and hopeful that it will save thousands of lives each year.  But, you’re also worried that if important decisions like launching nuclear weapons are made by machines, catastrophic disasters may happen because a human being isn’t part of the decision-making process.

I just read an interesting article “How worried should we be about artificial intelligence? I asked 17 experts” by Sean Illing.  Here are 3 experts that offer good insight:

1: Early autonomous AI systems will likely make mistakes that most humans would not make. It's therefore important for society to be educated about the limits and implicit hidden biases of AI and machine learning methods. — Bart Selman, Computer Science Professor, Cornell University

2: There are four issues of concern about artificial intelligence. First, there is a concern about the adverse impact of AI on labor. Technology has already has had such impact, and it is expected to grow in the coming years. Second, there is a concern about important decisions delegated to AI systems. We need to have a serious discussion regarding which decisions should be made by humans and which by machines. Third, there is the issue of lethal autonomous weapon systems. Finally, there is the issue of "superintelligence": the risk of humanity losing control of machines.

Unlike the three other issues, which are of immediate concerns, the superintelligence risk, which gets more headlines, is not an immediate risk. We can afford to take our time to assess it in depth. — Moshe Vardi, Computational Engineering Professor, Rice University

3:  AI is no more scary than the human beings behind it, because AI, like domesticated animals, is designed to serve the interests of the creators. AI in North Korean hands is scary in the same way that long-range missiles in North Korean hands are scary. But that’s it. Terminator scenarios where AI turns on mankind are just paranoid. — Bryan Caplan, Economics Professor, George Mason University

Like CRISPR, utilizing technology just because we can doesn’t mean that it is in our best interest.  I believe that we humans need to work with technology to ensure that ethical and moral considerations are part of the decision-making process at every step of the way.

[Source]

New Discovery Might Be Able to Prevent Brain Damage From Strokes

The University of Queensland researcher Glenn King discovered a compound that can protect brain cells even when injected hours after a stroke has occurred.  He was sequencing the DNA of venom from the funnel web spider when he found this connection. 

When a stroke occurs, blood can't reach the brain, which limits the oxygen it receives.  Then, the brain burns glucose, which produces acid that can kill brain cells.  The good news is that this a protein in this venom blocks acid-sensing channels in the brain. Rats that received this protein 2 hours after the stroke had 80% less brain damage.  Even when the rats received the protein 8 hours after the stroke, it still reduce brain damage by 65%.

Naturally more studies need to be conducted, but it sure is reassuring to know that scientists are looking for ways to reduce the devastating stroke damage that affects 15 million people worldwide each year.

[Source]

Liberty Lost; Lessons in Loyalty; Re-enactment of Japanese-American Internment During WWII

15 years ago, Nicole, Jaclyn and I worked with the JACL (Japanese American Citizen’s League) to re-enact the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII. 

Back in 2002, it was the 60th anniversary (now it’s been 75 years) since the American government made our families leave our homes, businesses, belongings, and friends to live behind barbed wire at one of 10 internment camps in the US. 

We worked with Mas and Marcia Hashimoto (presidents of JACL Watsonville-Santa Cruz), Sandy Lydon (local historian), and Don Williams (UCSC theater director) to re-enact an event that would remind the world of one of America’s biggest mistakes.  Mas rented a 1942 bus and Don coached the actors as they walked to the Vet’s Memorial and waited in line to get on the bus to start their 3-year stay in relocation centers.  Sandy was our emcee and shared stories about the evacuation.

Nicole told news reporters about how she was worried about her family’s farm and who would maintain it while they were gone.  Jaclyn held tight to her beloved dog before the MPs took him away from her before she climbed up the steps of the bus.  Dozens of families participated in the re-enactment, and we filled the theater with guest speakers who shared their memories and stories.

I invited over 40 newspapers, magazines and TV stations to cover the story, and our re-enactment was aired across the nation and all the way to Japanese news outlets in Japan.  Watch our video: Liberty Lost; Lessons in Loyalty.

Why Memorizing is NOT Learning

Ever since Google and the internet emerged, it’s created a huge paradigm shift in what is important to memorize. Sure, back when I was a kid in the ‘50s and ‘60s, you needed know who was president during WWII or who invented the telephone.  Memorizing facts was a sign of intelligence and gave you points for cultural literacy.  But today, do we really need to memorize trivial facts that we can look up on Google in 2 seconds?

Besides, memorizing facts does not mean that you’ve learned the concepts.  I’ve watched students memorize long lists of meaningless information and receive solid A’s on tests.  But when I questioned them about the underlying meaning or asked for their analysis of the material, they couldn’t respond. And worse yet, they couldn’t remember any of it a week later. UGH.

When I ask students how they plan to study for English or history tests, 99% tell me that they’ll reread the texts and review their notes. To them, that’s all they need to do, and they’ll insist that they need to do this the morning of the test or the night before. I’ve heard all kinds of reasons why they vehemently believe that this is the best way for them to prepare for the tests.

But when they report back to me with their test grades and they’re not particularly happy with them, they’ll blame it on the teacher for making the test difficult, for not giving them a study guide, or for covering topics that they didn’t cover in class.

The real problem, however, is that the student didn’t actually understand the concept and couldn’t apply what they had read or learned to answer the questions correctly.  In other words, the student was not prepared and didn’t know the material.  PERIOD. 

So how should students study so they know the concepts and get good grades?  They need to engage with the material.  Don’t just reread something or glance over notes.  By reading to understand the concept – to learn the new idea – well enough that they could teach someone else, they’ll be able to field a wide array of questions the teacher may pose as questions on the test. Yup! Engage in thinking.  Talk about it with others.  Apply it to other classes or in real-world circumstances. Make it their own!

And if they do need to memorize lots of information, they should make emotional connections with the words.  Use mnemonics to help remember.  If you went to Claremont McKenna College and you want to remember your college roommates’ children’s names (Courtney, Miles, and Connor), just think about their first initials are CMC, and this can help you retain trivial info like this for decades.

By wrapping new information with information that you already know, you can establish quick tricks that come naturally to you.  What’s surprising is that you’ll remember these facts quicker and retain them longer.

[Source]

The Truth About Vaccines

Let’s look at REAL science and not “alternative” facts.

I have to admit that I have questioned the validity and necessity of all of the vaccinations that we are supposed to get.  I’ve read about how vaccines can cause autism, and even when the scientific data definitively proved the opposite, it was difficult for me to get on board with the science behind it. 

Probably because I hate needles, it was easier for me to just pass on immunizations by stating that I was still researching the subject. Well, Nicole and her ER doc friends, set me straight.  She sent me this brilliant comic strip that lays down the history of immunizations.  Read it and get immunized to protect yourself and your community. 

If we pro-vax people get immunized, we can save everyone else – including the anti-vaxers – by herd immunity.  Seriously, do your part!

[Source]

Why Facts DO NOT Change Our Minds

If you’re like me, you’re numb from the onslaught of drastic cuts to the protections that we’ve worked so hard to establish over the past half century.  We don’t know who voted for Trump and simply can’t believe that there are that many stupid people out there who would actually vote for someone who will hurt them. How can these same people watch Trump strip them of medical care, environmental protection, and civil liberties and continue to cheer him on? After pondering this for weeks, I just read an interesting article “Why Facts Don’t Change our Minds” in The New Yorker that helps make sense of this phenomenon. I’ve summarized it here:

Once an opinion is formed, these impressions are remarkably perseverant, according to Stanford researchers in 1975.  In other words, even presenting real facts – pure scientific evidence – may not change the person’s opinion.  Since Trump took office, we read about this every day.

According to Harvard cognitive scientists, Mercier and Sperber, “One implication of the naturalness with which we divide cognitive labor,” they write, is that there’s no sharp boundary between “one person’s ideas and knowledge” and “those of other members” of the group.  So when someone is influenced by the people around them, herd mentality kicks in and the entire group becomes strong advocates for their shared belief.  But when you separate the members and individually ask them to explain the impacts of their proposals, many are not able to.  It turns out that they often don’t fully understand the issues and can’t defend their beliefs without their crowd.  When they were asked to rate their opinions about the same issue again, their enthusiasm for it significantly dropped. Hmm.

That said, this type of community knowledge can be very dangerous.  Sloman (Brown University) and Fernbach (University of Colorado) suggest that we spend less time pontificating about the perils of our government, and more time working through the implications of policy proposals.  Then we might realize how clueless we really are, and we’d moderate our views. This may be the only way of thinking that can shatter the illusion of explanatory depth and change people’s attitudes and beliefs.

Naturally, this is easier to assume that the other side should stop pontificating and listen to our arguments and facts, but it’s something that we all need to do. I’m not backing down on fighting the many atrocities that are taking place today; I’m simply going to listen more carefully so I understand what is really going on.  My hope is that if everyone did this, we might join forces to ensure that the majority of Americans benefits from policies being placednot the corporations and special interest groups.

[Source]

Pages