Saturday, May 06, 2006

No future for you?

What the long now forces us to consider.


Originally published in Details, January 2006

The Omega Glory

by Michael Chabon (note from behind the curtain, the author of Wonder Boys and the Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, link to his marvelous site here.)

I was reading, in a recent issue of Discover, about the Clock of the Long Now. Have you heard of this thing? It is going to be a kind of gigantic mechanical computer, slow, simple and ingenious, marking the hour, the day, the year, the century, the millennium, and the precession of the equinoxes, with a huge orrery to keep track of the immense ticking of the six naked-eye planets on their great orbital mainspring. The Clock of the Long Now will stand sixty feet tall, cost tens of millions of dollars, and when completed its designers and supporters, among them visionary engineer Danny Hillis, a pioneer in the concept of massively parallel processing; Whole Earth mahatma Stewart Brand; and British composer Brian Eno (one of my household gods), plan to hide it in a cave in the Great Basin National Park in Nevada, a day’s hard walking from anywhere. Oh, and it’s going to run for ten thousand years. That is about as long a span as separates us from the first makers of pottery, which is among the oldest technologies we have. Ten thousand years is twice as old as the pyramid of Cheops, twice as old as that mummified body found preserved in the Swiss Alps, which is one of the oldest mummies ever discovered. The Clock of the Long Now is being designed to thrive under regular human maintenance along the whole of that long span, though during periods when no one is around to tune it, the giant clock will contrive to adjust itself. But even if the Clock of the Long Now fails to last ten thousand years, even if it breaks down after half or a quarter or a tenth that span, this mad contraption will already have long since fulfilled its purpose. Indeed the Clock may have accomplished its greatest task before it is ever finished, perhaps without ever being built at all. The point of the Clock of the Long Now is not to measure out the passage, into their unknown future, of the race of creatures that built it. The point of the Clock is to revive and restore the whole idea of the Future, to get us thinking about the Future again, to the degree if not in quite the way same way that we used to do, and to reintroduce the notion that we don’t just bequeath the future—though we do, whether we think about it or not. We also, in the very broadest sense of the first person plural pronoun, inherit it.

The Sex Pistols, strictly speaking, were right: there is no future, for you or for me. The future, by definition, does not exist. “The Future,” whether you capitalize it or not, is always just an idea, a proposal, a scenario, a sketch for a mad contraption that may or may not work. “The Future” is a story we tell, a narrative of hope, dread or wonder. And it’s a story that, for a while now, we’ve been pretty much living without.

Ten thousand years from now: can you imagine that day? Okay, but do you? Do you believe “the Future” is going to happen? If the Clock works the way that it’s supposed to do—if it lasts—do you believe there will be a human being around to witness, let alone mourn its passing, to appreciate its accomplishment, its faithfulness, its immense antiquity? What about five thousand years from now, or even five hundred? Can you extend the horizon of your expectations for our world, for our complex of civilizations and cultures, beyond the lifetime of your own children, of the next two or three generations? Can you even imagine the survival of the world beyond the present presidential administration?

I was surprised, when I read about the Clock of the Long Now, at just how long it had been since I had given any thought to the state of the world ten thousand years hence. At one time I was a frequent visitor to that imaginary mental locale. And I don’t mean merely that I regularly encountered “the Future” in the pages of science fiction novels or comic books, or when watching a TV show like The Jetsons (1962) or a movie like Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970). The story of the Future was told to me, when I was growing up, not just by popular art and media but by public and domestic architecture, industrial design, school textbooks, theme parks, and by public institutions from museums to government agencies. I heard the story of the Future when I looked at the space-ranger profile of the Studebaker Avanti, at Tomorrowland through the portholes of the Disneyland monorail, in the tumbling plastic counters of my father’s Seth Thomas Speed Read clock. I can remember writing a report in sixth grade on hydroponics; if you had tried to tell me then that by 2005 we would still be growing our vegetables in dirt, you would have broken my heart.

Even thirty years after its purest expression on the covers of pulp magazines like Amazing Stories and, supremely, at the New York World’s Fair of 1939, the collective cultural narrative of the Future remained largely an optimistic one of the impending blessings of technology and the benevolent, computer-assisted meritocracy of Donald Fagen’s “fellows with compassion and vision.” But by the early seventies—indeed from early in the history of the Future—it was not all farms under the sea and family vacations on Titan. Sometimes the Future could be a total downer. If nuclear holocaust didn’t wipe everything out, then humanity would be enslaved to computers, by the ineluctable syllogisms of “the Machine.” My childhood dished up a series of grim cinematic prognostications best exemplified by the Hestonian trilogy that began with the first Planet of the Apes (1968) and continued through The Omega Man (1971) and Soylent Green (1973). Images of future dystopia were rife in rock albums of the day, as on David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs (1974) and Rush’s 2112 (1976), and the futures presented by seventies writers of science fiction such as John Brunner tended to be unremittingly or wryly bleak.

In the aggregate, then, stories of the Future presented an enchanting ambiguity. The other side of the marvelous Jetsons future might be a story of worldwide corporate-authoritarian technotyranny, but the other side of a post-apocalyptic mutational nightmare landscape like that depicted in The Omega Man was a landscape of semi-barbaric splendor and unfettered (if dangerous) freedom to roam, such as I found in the pages of Jack Kirby’s classic adventure comic book Kamandi, The Last Boy on Earth (1972-76). That ambiguity and its enchantment, the shifting tension between the bright promise and the bleak menace of the Future, was in itself a kind of story about the ways, however freakish or tragic, in which humanity (and by implication American culture and its values however freakish and tragic) would, in spite of it all, continue. Eed plebnista, intoned the devolved Yankees, in the Star Trek episode “The Omega Glory,” who had somehow managed to hold on to and venerate as sacred gobbledygook the Preamble to the Constitution, norkon forden perfectunun. All they needed was a Captain Kirk to come and add a little interpretive water to the freeze-dried document, and the American way of life would flourish again.

I don’t know what happened to the Future. It’s as if we lost our ability, or our will, to envision anything beyond the next hundred years or so, as if we lacked the fundamental faith that there will in fact be any future at all beyond that not-too-distant date. Or maybe we stopped talking about the Future around the time that, with its microchips and its twenty-four-hour news cycles, it arrived. Some days when you pick up the newspaper it seems to have been co-written by J. G. Ballard, Isaac Asimov, and Philip K. Dick. Human sexual reproduction without male genetic material, digital viruses, identity theft, robot firefighters and minesweepers, weather control, pharmaceutical mood engineering, rapid species extinction, US Presidents controlled by little boxes mounted between their shoulder blades, air-conditioned empires in the Arabian desert, transnational corporatocracy, reality television—some days it feels as if the imagined future of the mid-twentieth century was a kind of checklist, one from which we have been too busy ticking off items to bother with extending it. Meanwhile, the dwindling number of items remaining on that list—interplanetary colonization, sentient computers, quasi-immortality of consciousness through brain-download or transplant, a global government (fascist or enlightened)—have been represented and re-represented so many hundreds of times in films, novels and on television that they have come to seem, paradoxically, already attained, already known, lived with, and left behind. Past, in other words.

This is the paradox that lies at the heart of our loss of belief or interest in the Future, which has in turn produced a collective cultural failure to imagine that future, any Future, beyond the rim of a couple of centuries. The Future was represented so often and for so long, in the terms and characteristic styles of so many historical periods from, say, Jules Verne forward, that at some point the idea of the Future—along with the cultural appetite for it—came itself to feel like something historical, outmoded, no longer viable or attainable.

If you ask my eight-year-old about the Future, he pretty much thinks the world is going to end, and that’s it. Most likely global warming, he says—floods, storms, desertification—but the possibility of viral pandemic, meteor impact, or some kind of nuclear exchange is not alien to his view of the days to come. Maybe not tomorrow, or a year from now. The kid is more than capable of generating a full head of optimistic steam about next week, next vacation, his tenth birthday. It’s only the world a hundred years on that leaves his hopes a blank. My son seems to take the end of everything, of all human endeavor and creation, for granted. He sees himself as living on the last page, if not in the last paragraph, of a long, strange and bewildering book. If you had told me, when I was eight, that a little kid of the future would feel that way—and that what’s more, he would see a certain justice in our eventual extinction, would think the world was better off without human beings in it—that would have been even worse than hearing that in 2006 there are no hydroponic megafarms, no human colonies on Mars, no personal jetpacks for everyone. That would truly have broken my heart.

When I told my son about the Clock of the Long Now, he listened very carefully, and we looked at the pictures on the Long Now Foundation’s website. “Will there really be people then, Dad?” he said. “Yes,” I told him without hesitation, “there will.” I don’t know if that’s true, any more than do Danny Hillis and his colleagues, with the beating clocks of their hopefulness and the orreries of their imaginations. But in having children—in engendering them, in loving them, in teaching them to love and care about the world—parents are betting, whether they know it or not, on the Clock of the Long Now. They are betting on their children, and their children after them, and theirs beyond them, all the way down the line from now to 12,006. If you don’t believe in the Future, unreservedly and dreamingly, if you aren’t willing to bet that somebody will be there to cry when the Clock finally, ten thousand years from now, runs down, then I don’t see how you can have children. If you have children, I don’t see how you can fail to do everything in your power to ensure that you win your bet, and that they, and their grandchildren, and their grandchildren’s grandchildren, will inherit a world whose perfection can never be accomplished by creatures whose imagination for perfecting it is limitless and free. And I don’t see how anybody can force me to pay up on my bet if I turn out, in the end, to be wrong.

In case you missed it as a featured link before.

The notion of zillionics is particularly compelling.

link to Kevin Kelly's new book, The Technium, in progress.

"The Next 100 Years of Science: Long-term Trends in the Scientific Method."

The co-founding editor of "Wired" magazine and author of OUT OF CONTROL is working on a new book on "what technology wants." His research led to the first-ever history of scientific methodology. Starting from this long-term view of science's past transformation, he speculates on how the practice of science will change in the future.

Science, says Kevin Kelly, is the process of changing how we know things. It is the foundation our culture and society. While civilizations come and go, science grows steadily onward. It does this by watching itself.

Recursion is the essence of science. For example, science papers cite other science papers, and that process of research pointing at itself invokes a whole higher level, the emergent shape of citation space. Recursion always does that. It is the engine of scientific progress and thus of the progress of society.

A particularly fruitful way to look at the history of science is to study how science itself has changed over time, with an eye to what that trajectory might suggest about the future. Kelly chronicled a sequence of new recursive devices in science...

2000 BC - First text indexes
200 BC - Cataloged library (at Alexandria)
1000 AD - Collaborative encyclopedia
1590 - Controlled experiment (Roger Bacon)
1600 - Laboratory
1609 - Telescopes and microscopes
1650 - Society of experts
1665 - Repeatability (Robert Boyle)
1665 - Scholarly journals
1675 - Peer review
1687 - Hypothesis/prediction (Isaac Newton)
1920 - Falsifiability (Karl Popper)
1926 - Randomized design (Ronald Fisher)
1937 - Controlled placebo
1946 - Computer simulation
1950 - Double blind experiment
1962 - Study of scientific method (Thomas Kuhn)

Projecting forward, Kelly had five things to say about the next 100 years in science...

1) There will be more change in the next 50 years of science than in the last 400 years.

2) This will be a century of biology. It is the domain with the most scientists, the most new results, the most economic value, the most ethical importance, and the most to learn.

3) Computers will keep leading to new ways of science. Information is growing by 66% per year while physical production grows by only 7% per year. The data volume is growing to such levels of "zillionics" that we can expect science to compile vast combinatorial libraries, to run combinatorial sweeps through possibility space (as Stephen Wolfram has done with cellular automata), and to run multiple competing hypotheses in a matrix. Deep realtime simulations and hypothesis search will drive data collection in the real world.

4) New ways of knowing will emerge. "Wikiscience" is leading to perpetually refined papers with a thousand authors. Distributed instrumentation and experiment, thanks to miniscule transaction cost, will yield smart-mob, hive-mind science operating "fast, cheap, & out of control." Negative results will have positive value (there is already a "Journal of Negative Results in Biomedicine"). Triple-blind experiments will emerge through massive non-invasive statistical data collection--- no one, not the subjects or the experimenters, will realize an experiment was going on until later. (In the Q&A, one questioner predicted the coming of the zero-author paper, generated wholly by computers.)

5) Science will create new levels of meaning. The Internet already is made of one quintillion transistors, a trillion links, a million emails per second, 20 exabytes of memory. It is approaching the level of the human brain and is doubling every year, while the brain is not. It is all becoming effectively one machine. And we are the machine.

"Science is the way we surprise God," said Kelly. "That's what we're here for." Our moral obligation is to generate possibilities, to discover the infinite ways, however complex and high-dimension, to play the infinite game. It will take all possible species of intelligence in order for the universe to understand itself. Science, in this way, is holy. It is a divine trip.

--Stewart Brand

link to The Technium blog on the future of science.

MP3 file of Kelly discussing these issues at a recent Long Now seminar.

in case you missed it, link to his seminal work, Out of Control.

Passion makes practice.

A Star Is Made

The Birth-Month Soccer Anomaly

If you were to examine the birth certificates of every soccer player in next month's World Cup tournament, you would most likely find a noteworthy quirk: elite soccer players are more likely to have been born in the earlier months of the year than in the later months. If you then examined the European national youth teams that feed the World Cup and professional ranks, you would find this quirk to be even more pronounced. On recent English teams, for instance, half of the elite teenage soccer players were born in January, February or March, with the other half spread out over the remaining 9 months. In Germany, 52 elite youth players were born in the first three months of the year, with just 4 players born in the last three.

What might account for this anomaly? Here are a few guesses: a) certain astrological signs confer superior soccer skills; b) winter-born babies tend to have higher oxygen capacity, which increases soccer stamina; c) soccer-mad parents are more likely to conceive children in springtime, at the annual peak of soccer mania; d) none of the above.

Anders Ericsson, a 58-year-old psychology professor at Florida State University, says he believes strongly in "none of the above." He is the ringleader of what might be called the Expert Performance Movement, a loose coalition of scholars trying to answer an important and seemingly primordial question: When someone is very good at a given thing, what is it that actually makes him good?

Ericsson, who grew up in Sweden, studied nuclear engineering until he realized he would have more opportunity to conduct his own research if he switched to psychology. His first experiment, nearly 30 years ago, involved memory: training a person to hear and then repeat a random series of numbers. "With the first subject, after about 20 hours of training, his digit span had risen from 7 to 20," Ericsson recalls. "He kept improving, and after about 200 hours of training he had risen to over 80 numbers."

This success, coupled with later research showing that memory itself is not genetically determined, led Ericsson to conclude that the act of memorizing is more of a cognitive exercise than an intuitive one. In other words, whatever innate differences two people may exhibit in their abilities to memorize, those differences are swamped by how well each person "encodes" the information. And the best way to learn how to encode information meaningfully, Ericsson determined, was a process known as deliberate practice.

Deliberate practice entails more than simply repeating a task — playing a C-minor scale 100 times, for instance, or hitting tennis serves until your shoulder pops out of its socket. Rather, it involves setting specific goals, obtaining immediate feedback and concentrating as much on technique as on outcome.

Ericsson and his colleagues have thus taken to studying expert performers in a wide range of pursuits, including soccer, golf, surgery, piano playing, Scrabble, writing, chess, software design, stock picking and darts. They gather all the data they can, not just performance statistics and biographical details but also the results of their own laboratory experiments with high achievers.

Their work, compiled in the "Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance," a 900-page academic book that will be published next month, makes a rather startling assertion: the trait we commonly call talent is highly overrated. Or, put another way, expert performers — whether in memory or surgery, ballet or computer programming — are nearly always made, not born. And yes, practice does make perfect. These may be the sort of clichés that parents are fond of whispering to their children. But these particular clichés just happen to be true.

Ericsson's research suggests a third cliché as well: when it comes to choosing a life path, you should do what you love — because if you don't love it, you are unlikely to work hard enough to get very good. Most people naturally don't like to do things they aren't "good" at. So they often give up, telling themselves they simply don't possess the talent for math or skiing or the violin. But what they really lack is the desire to be good and to undertake the deliberate practice that would make them better.

"I think the most general claim here," Ericsson says of his work, "is that a lot of people believe there are some inherent limits they were born with. But there is surprisingly little hard evidence that anyone could attain any kind of exceptional performance without spending a lot of time perfecting it." This is not to say that all people have equal potential. Michael Jordan, even if he hadn't spent countless hours in the gym, would still have been a better basketball player than most of us. But without those hours in the gym, he would never have become the player he was.

Ericsson's conclusions, if accurate, would seem to have broad applications. Students should be taught to follow their interests earlier in their schooling, the better to build up their skills and acquire meaningful feedback. Senior citizens should be encouraged to acquire new skills, especially those thought to require "talents" they previously believed they didn't possess.

And it would probably pay to rethink a great deal of medical training. Ericsson has noted that most doctors actually perform worse the longer they are out of medical school. Surgeons, however, are an exception. That's because they are constantly exposed to two key elements of deliberate practice: immediate feedback and specific goal-setting.

The same is not true for, say, a mammographer. When a doctor reads a mammogram, she doesn't know for certain if there is breast cancer or not. She will be able to know only weeks later, from a biopsy, or years later, when no cancer develops. Without meaningful feedback, a doctor's ability actually deteriorates over time. Ericsson suggests a new mode of training. "Imagine a situation where a doctor could diagnose mammograms from old cases and immediately get feedback of the correct diagnosis for each case," he says. "Working in such a learning environment, a doctor might see more different cancers in one day than in a couple of years of normal practice."

If nothing else, the insights of Ericsson and his Expert Performance compatriots can explain the riddle of why so many elite soccer players are born early in the year.

Since youth sports are organized by age bracket, teams inevitably have a cutoff birth date. In the European youth soccer leagues, the cutoff date is Dec. 31. So when a coach is assessing two players in the same age bracket, one who happened to have been born in January and the other in December, the player born in January is likely to be bigger, stronger, more mature. Guess which player the coach is more likely to pick? He may be mistaking maturity for ability, but he is making his selection nonetheless. And once chosen, those January-born players are the ones who, year after year, receive the training, the deliberate practice and the feedback — to say nothing of the accompanying self-esteem — that will turn them into elites.

This may be bad news if you are a rabid soccer mom or dad whose child was born in the wrong month. But keep practicing: a child conceived on this Sunday in early May would probably be born by next February, giving you a considerably better chance of watching the 2030 World Cup from the family section.

The transaction of the self.

Will it change you, or have you already been changed?

The true test of character.


May 7, 2006

Money Changes Everything


GRETA GILBERTSON was caught off guard recently when her 9-year-old daughter, who attends a private school on the Upper West Side, requested a cellphone.

"I sort of snapped at her," recalled Ms. Gilbertson, an assistant professor at Fordham University in the Bronx. "I said, 'Don't think that you're one of the rich kids, because you're not.' " Though her daughter rarely expresses envy of her more affluent friends, Ms. Gilbertson said, it was an "unedited moment" revealing her anxiety over being in a world where other parents have more money than she does.

Carol Paik, a former lawyer who is married to a partner at a prominent New York law firm, found herself on the other side of that money equation. When she returned to school in 2002 to get her M.F.A. in creative writing at Columbia, her diamond engagement ring attracted particular attention from her new group of friends. "When I was working," she said, "I never thought about the ring, it seemed unremarkable."

But at school, she said, "People said things like, 'That's a really big diamond,' and not necessarily in a complimentary way." So she began taking off the ring before class.

If, as Samuel Butler said, friendships are like money, easier made than kept, economic differences can add yet another obstacle to maintaining them. More friends and acquaintances are now finding themselves at different points on the financial spectrum, scholars and sociologists say, thanks to broad social changes like meritocracy-based higher education, diversity in the workplace and a disparity of incomes among professions.

As people with various-sized bank accounts brush up against each other, there is ample cause for social awkwardness, which can strain relationships, sometimes to a breaking point. Many find themselves wrestling with complicated feelings about money and self-worth and improvising coping strategies.

"The real issue is not money itself, but the power money gives you," said Dalton Conley, a professor of sociology and the director of the Center for Advanced Social Science Research at New York University, who studies issues of wealth and class. "Money makes explicit the inequalities in a relationship, so we work hard to minimize it as a form of tact."

For Ms. Gilbertson, that means not having her daughters' friends over to play because, she said, her apartment in Washington Heights is small and in what some parents might consider a marginal neighborhood. For the same reason, she had a pizza party for her daughter's birthday at the local Y.M.C.A.

For Ms. Paik, that meant avoiding inviting her classmates to her prewar, three-bedroom co-op on the Upper West Side, because many of them lived in student housing and she feared they would think she was showing off. "I didn't want to introduce that barrier," she said.

Money's discomfiting effects are explored in the recent film "Friends with Money," in which three of four female friends are well off while one is barely getting by. In an early scene the friends are gathered for dinner when Olivia, a former schoolteacher played by Jennifer Aniston, announces that she has started working as a maid. A few moments later Franny, played by Joan Cusack, says she and her husband will be making a $2 million donation to their child's elementary school. When another friend asks why Franny doesn't just give the money to Olivia, everyone laughs uncomfortably and the subject is changed.

"Money is talked about with such discomfort; it's so taboo," said Nicole Holofcener, the writer and director of "Friends With Money." "With close friends it takes work; I have to make a conscious effort to talk about issues of money that come up between us."

Economic barriers to friendship have come about in part because other barriers have been broken down, sociologists say. College, where people form some of the most intense friendships of their lives, is a melting pot of economic differences. Students from country-club families and those on scholarships are thrown together as roommates, on athletic teams and in classes.

"There has been an incredible expansion of higher education," Professor Conley said. "More people from more varied backgrounds are going to college. There are also more meritocratic admissions among elite institutions."

According to data compiled by Thomas Mortenson, a senior scholar at the Pell Institute in Washington, 42 percent of young adults (age 18 to 24) from the bottom quarter of family income were enrolled in college in 2003, compared with 28 percent in 1970. Enrollment for students from the two middle income quarters also increased. Participation of students from the highest-income families changed the least, with 80 percent attending college in 2003, compared with 74 percent in 1970.

Once college friends leave campus, their economic status can diverge widely depending on their careers. While 20 years ago a young lawyer and a new college instructor might have commiserated about their jobs over coffee and doughnuts, today the lawyer would be able to invite the assistant professor out for a meal at a restaurant with two sommeliers and a cheese expert.

At New York University, for instance, instructors make $35,300 for the current academic year, up from $24,500 for the 1985-86 academic year, according to the American Association of University Professors. A first-year associate at a large New York law firm, however, can earn as much as $170,000 with a year-end bonus, compared with about $53,000, including bonus, in 1985.

"In New York City we're on the front lines of the rise in inequality in income because it's happening at the top half of the income distribution ladder," Professor Conley said. "The difference between the middle and the top has grown incredibly."

Although the wealthy can wall themselves off in buildings with doormen or in high-tax suburbs, other trends in society lead the affluent to brush up against the not-so-affluent. Gentrification, an urban movement from Prospect Heights, Brooklyn to downtown Los Angeles, moves the professional class into the neighborhoods of the working class. They mix when their children attend the same school or participate in athletic leagues.

Feeling awkward about the differences in net worth is not just an issue for those on the bottom of the equation. Some wealthy people — especially the young — have trouble admitting that they are different.

"We are allegedly a classless society, and that's obviously completely untrue, but people don't want to acknowledge that those differences exist," said Jamie Johnson, a 26-year-old heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune. He explored attitudes about money among his peers in his 2003 documentary, "Born Rich." His new documentary, "The One Percent," which debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 29, looks at the political influence of wealthy Americans.

Mr. Johnson said that some of his moneyed friends act like they have fewer resources than they do, making a show of taking the subway and saying they can't afford a cab. "It's to avoid that awkwardness of seeing the distinction of social class," he said.

The pressure to fit in economically can be especially intense for teenagers and young adults. Marisa Gordon, a 27-year-old account executive at a midsize Manhattan advertising agency, recalled that as a student at Syracuse University, her roommate resented that Ms. Gordon had more spending money than she did. The roommate made comments when Ms. Gordon brought home a pair of Diesel sweatpants and cried because she couldn't afford the same Issey Miyake perfume.

Though she and the roommate are still friendly, Ms. Gordon said money issues contributed to the fact they aren't as close as they once were. Now it is her younger sister, a freshman at Syracuse, who is feeling the sort of competitive pressure Ms. Gordon's roommate felt. The sister recently asked their parents for a Louis Vuitton bag, Ms. Gordon said, because, "Everyone at school has a Louis bag."

Suze Orman, a financial writer and speaker whose latest book is "The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous and Broke" (Riverhead Hardcover), said young adults can go into debt trying to keep up with their friends.

"I call them 'money pods,' " she said. "Look at a group of female friends walking down the street. They're often all dressed identically: the same shoes, the same belts, the same handbag."

But what is not easily apparent, Ms. Orman said, is that one of the women may have saved for months to buy her one expensive handbag, or more likely, put it on her credit card. Her identically dressed friends, meanwhile, may have the salary or the family money to afford a closet full of designer purses.

"That is how we get in trouble," Ms. Orman said. "We think our friends are just like us, and if our friend can afford something, we fool ourselves into thinking we can afford it, too."

Mary Ochsner, a stay-at-home mother of three in San Clemente, Calif., ended a friendship after money issues came to the fore. She had befriended a woman after college when they were both, as she put it, in "very affluent periods." But their paths diverged when Ms. Ochsner married a Marine and her friend married a man whom Ms. Ochsner described as an ambitious executive. She said her friend became increasingly status-conscious and would brag about home improvements.

The final insult came, Ms. Ochsner said, when she invited the woman to a birthday party for her daughter. The woman barely socialized but tried to poach her babysitter by offering $5 more an hour than what Ms. Ochsner was paying. Ms. Ochsner decided the friendship wasn't worth it.

"It wasn't about the money," she said. "The money made me realize she had different social ambitions."

Perhaps the most fraught social ritual of all when it comes to money and friendship is the settling of a restaurant bill. "I know wealthy people who are extremely troubled by the whole idea of who's going to pay the bill," Mr. Johnson said. "They're terrified for hours before it happens."

He said he has found himself arguing over the check with a dining companion who was not as wealthy. "Sometimes people feel obligated to buy me dinner because they don't want me to think I'm expected to pay for the meal," he said. "I don't really appreciate it. If anything, I think it's unfortunate that people feel that uncertainty."

The uneasiness is also acute on the other side of the income divide. A 30-year-old book editor in Manhattan who earns less than $40,000 a year recently went to Miami for the weekend with two friends from high school who both work for hedge funds.

"We're staying at the Shore Club, in a suite they've booked; I'm sleeping on the pullout couch and they're paying for it, which is hugely generous of them," the editor wrote in an e-mail message. He has not been identified to avoid offending his friends. "However, tonight they've booked a table at Nobu, with Mansion" — an expensive night club — "to follow. I'll end up spending about a week's pay in the next two nights, probably more. It'll feel worth it while I'm hanging out with them without any of the unpleasant reminders that our lives have seriously diverged since high school, but it's going to sting when I get back."

Mike Seely, a 31-year-old journalist in Seattle, recently arranged a lunch date with a wealthier friend who works in politics. He said he suggested a diner "where nothing's over $10, right in my price range." She countered by suggesting the Dahlia Lounge, an upscale restaurant where a spinach salad costs $14.

"I said, 'Sure, as long as this is on your dime,' " he said.

It was one of the few times he has felt comfortable addressing the issue so directly, he said, because his friend was the one to press for the more expensive place.

Even those who study the topic for a living have a hard time when it comes to divvying up the check. "I have friends who are economists who are comfortable getting down to the last decimal point of who owes what when we go out," Professor Conley said. Yet he feels compelled to keep quiet when he finds himself across the table from a friend who orders three glasses of wine to his tap water, then suggests they split the tab.

"It's probably because I don't want to appear petty," he explained. "I'd be battling pretty strong social norms."

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

Friday, May 05, 2006

More on Myhrvold

Mind Games

Intellectual Ventures happily invests in invention, while the tech world trembles in fear. An inside look at Nathan Myhrvold's $400 million IP experiment.

By Lisa Lerer
IP Law & Business/May 2006

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Last January a dozen of the world's most respected scientists gathered in a nondescript conference room at an office building outside of Seattle. They sat around a table cluttered with laptops and papers, snacked on bowls of beef jerky and Chex Mix, and plotted the next technological revolution.

The brainstorming session, practically unintelligible to those with a less-than-Mensa-level IQ, took place at the offices of Intellectual Ventures, a start-up founded in 2000 by former Microsoft Corporation chief technologist Nathan Myhrvold. No intellectual slouch himself, Myhrvold not only led the discussion, but was an eager contributor, sketching out flow charts on a large whiteboard at the front of the room. A handful of patent prosecutors, charged with translating "aha moments" into patent applications, desperately tried to follow along, noting every reference, pulling up obscure theorems on their computers, and snapping photos of Myhrvold's scribblings. Finally, after two days of discussion--over the merits of using new technologies in medical treatments--the group had a breakthrough. Jumping out of his seat, Myhrvold exclaimed, "This is Star Trek-level medicine!"

This is the friendly face of Intellectual Ventures. At the Bellevue, Washington-based company, the science hails from Star Trek but the business plays out like Star Wars. For the past six years, Myhrvold and his Jedi inventors have been brainstorming, developing, and patenting their best ideas. The company doesn't plan on manufacturing, or commercializing, a product. "We are a pure play about invention," says Myhrvold with prototypical passion. "Really big ideas have to come from somewhere."

But at Intellectual Ventures, not all the big ideas come from the Jedis. Another arm of the 100-employee company, headed up by former Intel Corporation in-house counsel Peter Detkin--a Darth Vader figure to many--has been buying up thousands of patents through shell corporations. A $400 million investment from some of the biggest technology companies, including Nokia Corporation, Intel, Apple Computer Inc., Sony Corporation, and Microsoft, funds the shopping spree. (None of these companies would comment for this story.) Some in the IP asset management field estimate that Intellectual Ventures has amassed 3,000-5,000 patents.

As the patent stockpile grows, so does the speculation--and the fear. IP lawyers and tech executives worry that Intellectual Ventures is less interested in changing the world with big ideas, and more focused on becoming an Ÿber-troll, wreaking litigation havoc across industries with its patents. So far the tight-lipped company hasn't revealed much about its plan. "We don't proactively tell our story." says Myhrvold, "There's little in telling our story that benefits us." But this winter Myhrvold seemed to change his mind, inviting IP Law & Business up to Bellevue. Intellectual Ventures promised candor, but delivered something a bit more translucent. While company management filled in some blanks in the Intellectual Ventures story, they refused to discuss financials or reveal details about licensing deals, citing confidentiality agreements. Still, these details may not have been enough to end the speculation. After only a few years in business, Intellectual Ventures may simply be too young to know whether it will turn to the dark side.

For now, Myhrvold's happy to strike back at critics who are crying troll. "They can't quite bring themselves to believe we are doing what we are doing," says Myhrvold. "[Critics think], 'They can't be screwing around with a bunch of ideas for that long,' " he adds with a quick laugh. But that, he says, is exactly what Intellectual Ventures is doing. The company focuses on creating new technologies. The rest--product development, commercialization, manufacturing--will be handled by joint ventures, licensing, and spin-off companies.

Intellectual Ventures represents a natural economic evolution, says Myhrvold. As the United States changes from a manufacturing to an ideas-based economy, making patents more valuable to businesses, a company based solely around IP seems almost inevitable. But coming up with marketable ideas might take ten years, he says. Intellectual Ventures plans on keeping the creditors at bay by becoming the Wal-Mart of the licensing world--a one-stop patent shop. To do that, the company needs a whole lot of intellectual property, says Myhrvold: "IP is a game where scale really matters. One patent could be worth nothing or $1 million. It's hard to plan on the economic value of a single patent." While Myhrvold acknowledges that Intellectual Ventures has "a lot of patents," he shies away from an exact number.

Few besides Myhrvold could lead a company with such a grand focus. The 47-year-old millionaire has had an intellectual life that would delight Da Vinci. He holds a Ph.D. in theoretical and mathematical physics, M.S. degrees in mathematical economics, geophysics, and space physics. As a postdoctoral fellow at Cambridge University, Myhrvold researched quantum physics with Stephen Hawking. He's also a published nature photographer and has had his state-of-the-art kitchen--and his recipes--featured in New York Times magazine. Intellectual Ventures' offices reflect his fanatical inquisitiveness: Antique microscopes and typewriters line the halls and a model of a full-scale Tyrannosaurus Rex head greets visitors in the lobby.

But even Da Vinci needed help. Along with cofounder and former Microsoftie Edward Jung, Myhrvold's recruited an all-star staff, including Detkin and Greg Gorder, previously a partner at Perkins Coie, who has more than 100 venture capital financings under his belt. According to a former Intellectual Ventures executive, who agreed to speak anonymously, these four managers get a little under 2 percent of the money they've raised--including the $400 million brought in from the company's investors.

Right now, Intellectual Ventures only has one homegrown patent. In November, the Patent and Trademark Office granted Myhrvold's company a patent for an image sensor that allows greater depth of field in photographs--not exactly a big idea, but as the company is patenting a mix of ideas from "bold and risky," says Myhrvold, "to less ambitious, incremental ones." More are coming: Intellectual Ventures has filed about 400 applications at the PTO, as well as several dozen international applications, says chief patent counsel Casey Tegreene.

Many of the patent applications come out of the company's invention sessions. Intellectual Ventures has held about 60 over the past three years. The majority of participating scientists work for the company as outside consultants, including Leroy Hood, inventor of the DNA sequencer; W. Daniel Hillis, chair of R&D consulting firm Applied Minds, Inc.; and Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Robert Langer.

After each session, a team of in-house patent lawyers comb through all the notes, papers, digital tapes, and photos from the session looking for promising ideas. The review is detailed and confidential: Lawyers and patent agents spend two to eight hours per hour of tape. To prevent the recordings from being used as evidence in future trials, they're automatically erased after six months. Intellectual Ventures then examines the market potential of the flagged ideas. One session can lead to as many as 80 applications. And only about 10 percent of the patent prosecution work gets outsourced--mostly to solo and small practitioners like Washington, D.C.-based Sterne, Kessler, Goldstein & Fox. With 15 in-house patent lawyers, Tegreene says that Intellectual Ventures is one of the biggest patent prosecution firms in the Northwest.

To figure out how to turn patents into profits, Myhrvold hired vice president Brent Frei, founder of Onyx Software Corp. and a former Microsoft programmer analyst. So far, Frei hasn't come up with much that he's willing to discuss. He speaks in generalizations, writing business school-type theories on his office whiteboard. The plan, he says, is to "invent across the spectrum." The hulking 6-foot-7-inch former Dartmouth football player draws a large graph, explaining Intellectual Ventures's business philosophy. At the bottom are emerging markets, like bioinformatics, and at the top, mass markets, areas like wi-fi, software, and cell phones. Presumably, Intellectual Ventures wants to be in all these spaces. "We're trying to get as much technology as possible and then figure out the best way to commercialize," says Frei. "We're not seeking $1 million to hold someone hostage," he says, instinctively answering the troll criticisms. With so much energy devoted to creation, Frei estimates that the first actual Intellectual Ventures-created business won't launch for at least six months to a year. "It's a long-term play," says Myhrvold. "Having patient investors is a key aspect."

Inventors won't have to be too patient. While the creative juices flow, the patent stockpile will pay the bills. "Today it's all about numbers and bulk," says Frei. Intellectual Ventures seeks out key patents in converging areas, like software, semiconductors, wireless, consumer electronics, networking, lasers, biotechnology, and medical devices. For example, says Frei, a company working in online banking also needs security and e-commerce technology. Theoretically, Intellectual Ventures would offer them freedom to operate with a licensing package covering those key areas.

Ideally, says Frei, Intellectual Ventures will collect a huge patent library and, for a fee, license a variety of different technologies. Most licenses will be nonexclusive, an offer made particularly to the investors. Some industries, like biotech, will require more expensive, exclusive licenses. "We reserve the right to be smart," says Myhrvold, describing how Intellectual Ventures will tailor licenses to individual industries.

Of course, a patent licensing strategy only works when backed by the threat of litigation. And the company's critics are only too happy to speculate about that threat. Some have theorized that Intellectual Ventures is just a front for its investors--a shield designed to protect them from patent suits. The tech giants can use Intellectual Ventures to buy small patent portfolios cheaply and pull them off the market, avoiding future litigation. Intellectual Ventures denies that its investors steer its acquisition strategy. "We are not controlled by anyone," says Frei. "We are amassing things that are valuable and going to get a market rate for them."

The former Intellectual Ventures executive claims that his former employer plans to hold entire industries hostage with high licensing fees, and the management team will be rewarded with a cut of the licensing revenue. Any company that refuses to take a license, or invest in Myhrvold's vision, says the executive, will face a lawsuit funded by some seriously deep pockets. Others paint a less nefarious picture, but fear that if Myhrvold's innovation model fails, the company, desperate for cash, will turn into an licensing monster--and no one but those investors will be safe: "If the business model starts to fail, then they're sitting there with a huge portfolio and a relatively straightforward way of getting return by sending letters to a lot of people who aren't investors," says Dewey Ballantine patent litigation partner Anthony Shaw.

"These are the trolls that call other people trolls," says Raymond Niro, name partner at Niro, Scavone, Haller & Niro, who is known for representing clients considered by many to be trolls.

Calling Peter Detkin a troll is like challenging a Grand Master to a quick game of chess. Detkin coined the term in 1999, after Intel was sued for infringing the patents of TechSearch, a small patent-holding company (now a subsidy of Acacia Technologies Group). When Detkin referred to TechSearch as a "patent extortionist," the company sued for libel. So the Intel team swapped in "troll," and an industry swear word was born. In 2001 Detkin told our sibling publication The Recorder "A patent troll is somebody who tries to make a lot of money off a patent that they are not practicing and have no intention of practicing and in most cases never practiced." Intellectual Ventures easily fits the bill.

Over dinner, at a trendy Silicon Valley restaurant a couple of blocks from his home, Detkin makes it clear that he doesn't like the tables being turned. "There's just no clear definition at this point," he says, pausing for a tortilla chip. "A troll has become just a word for 'A plaintiff I don't like.' " Detkin's updated definition: someone who takes a single patent or small portfolio of questionable value and asserts it purely for "nuisance value." That's not Intellectual Ventures, which seeks out quality patents, offering good inventors another avenue to monetize their work, he says. Intellectual Ventures, caring only about patents, has more alternatives to offer inventors than corporations. The company will incorporate royalty sharing, additional payment terms, and clauses that allow inventors to continue to invent into deals.

While not much is known about Detkin's patent shopping, the former Intellectual Ventures executive gives some details. Intellectual Ventures, says the executive, forms a new shell corporation each time it acquires a new patent portfolio. A special computer program names the companies, making them difficult to hunt down. The former executive pointed us to past monikers, including Thalveg Data Flow, Orange Computer, and Maquis Techtrix--all were traceable only to Seattle-area post office boxes [see "Patents Under Cover."].

Using fake companies to conduct real business isn't new to Detkin. "This is a Detkin trademark," says Niro, who represented TechSearch in the Intel litigation. During that case, Detkin created a shell corporation, Maelen Ltd., which offered TechSearch $325,000 for its patent, a price far lower than the millions at stake in the trial. The ploy failed when a judge realized that Maelen was really operating in Intel's interest.

Detkin, who joined Intellectual Ventures in 2002 after spending a week helicopter skiing in backcountry Canada, says that using shell corporations is just good business practice. "When you acquire assets you want to hold them separately," he says. "There's nothing nefarious about it." Companies often buy all kinds of assets under shell corporations to limit potential liability, he says.

Two years ago, Detkin set up a shell corporation called Brissac Electronic Holdings, and, under that name, bid on a portfolio of e-commerce-related patents at an auction in a California bankruptcy court. But Detkin dropped out after bidding crossed the $14.9 million line, and the portfolio went to Novell, Inc. [see "Going Once," October 2005]. "To date, I've found Intellectual Ventures to be professional and not overly aggressive," says James Malackowski, head of IP merchant bank Ocean Tomo, which ran the patent auction. But if Intellectual Ventures starts firing off lawsuits, says Malackowski, it will face a backlash and possibly even legislative regulation.

If that happens, Intellectual Ventures is ready: The company has already set up a lobbying presence in Washington, D.C., and is playing an active role in the legislative debate over patent reform. Myhrvold testified on the issue to the House subcommittee on the courts, the Internet, and intellectual property in April 2005, and last year Detkin submitted a written report on reform to the Antitrust Modernization Committee of the Federal Trade Commission. Both have spoken at industry group meetings and universities across the country. Intellectual Ventures, naturally, argues that patents protect ideas, not just products. Patent holders of all stripes should be able to get a court-ordered injunction, stopping the business operations of an infringing company.

On March 10 Intellectual Ventures, Myhrvold, and 20 inventors filed an amicus brief (written by lawyers from Susman Godfrey) with the U.S. Supreme Court supporting MercExchange, L.L.C. in its patent case against eBay Inc. A lower court ruled that the online auction company's Buy It Now feature infringed patents held by MercExchange, a small holding company. The court awarded damages, but refused to issue an injunction. EBay argues that it shouldn't be subject to an injunction, because MercExchange can't offer a competing service. Intellectual Ventures disagrees: "The right to exclusivity means nothing without injunctive relief," says Intellectual Ventures's filing. Briefs filed by Intellectual Ventures investors Intel, Microsoft, and Nokia took the opposite position, supporting eBay and weaker injunctions. The high court heard the case on March 29, and a decision is expected this month.

For now, patent injunctions are a theoretical matter for Intellectual Ventures, although the company isn't ruling out future patent lawsuits. "In some cases we'll have to sue," says Frei. But a suit is less lucrative, Frei maintains, than a small running royalty on a key patent paid by a lot of companies for ten to 15 years.

Besides, Myhrvold's curiosity (and funds) seem to have limits. "If I sue everyone, I spend all the money on lawyers," says the invention king, exasperated. "I still spend all my money on lawyers because of filing those damn things."

Thursday, May 04, 2006

The Waiting Game.

May 5, 2006

Study Points to a Solution for Dread: Distraction


For those who dread a colonoscopy or a root canal so much that they avoid it altogether, scientists have good news.

The first study ever to look at where sensations of dread arise in the brain finds that contrary to what is widely believed, dread does not involve fear and anxiety in the moment of an unpleasant event. Instead, it derives from the attention that people devote beforehand to what they think will be extremely unpleasant.

So the solution to dread, the researchers say, is self-distraction.

"We sort of knew that things like self-hypnosis help relieve dread, but now we know why," said Dr. Gregory S. Berns, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University, who led the study.

The research, being published today in the journal Science, is "terrific, " said a leading expert on brain imaging, Dr. Read Montague, a professor of neuroscience at Baylor College of Medicine who was not involved in the study. It demonstrates that the brain "assigns a cost to waiting for something bad, so that the bad thing is worse when it's delayed farther in the future," Dr. Montague said.

"Hence," he said, "the 'let's get it over with' bit when we're at the doctor's office waiting to get a shot."

The research also sheds light on economic behavior, said George Loewenstein, a behavioral economist at Carnegie Mellon University. According to standard economic models of human behavior, choosing more pain in the short run is irrational, Dr. Loewenstein said: if you know something bad is going to happen, you should postpone it as long as possible, and if something good is going to happen, you should want it right away.

In real life, people often do the exact opposite, he said. They delay gratification to savor a sweet sense of anticipation, and accelerate punishment just to get it over with. The new study sheds light, he said, on how the act of waiting can be used to describe economic behavior more accurately.

For the study, Dr. Berns put 32 people into a brain scanner and applied brief electric shocks to the tops of their left feet. After their maximum pain threshold was determined, meaning the most pain they could withstand, they were each presented a series of 96 cues. Each cue stated how much voltage they were about to experience and how long they would have to wait for it. For example, one cue might say they were about to receive 60 percent of their maximum pain after 27 seconds. Another might warn of a 30 percent maximum shock after 9 seconds.

Next the subjects were given options involving various combinations of voltage and how long they had to wait for it . For example, they could choose between getting 90 percent of their maximum voltage after three seconds or 60 percent after 27 seconds. Then they received the chosen shock to the foot.

The scanner detected the brain activity involved in waiting for shocks, providing a road map for understanding the dread response.

Twenty-three of the people, termed "mild dreaders," chose as short a delay as possible for any given voltage but were not willing to accept more pain just to get it over with, Dr. Berns said. The nine others, called "extreme dreaders," always took the highest voltage if it was sooner rather than later. They gladly accepted more pain to reduce their dread time.

In comparing the brain scans of both groups, Dr. Berns found only one difference. During the waiting period, extreme dreaders showed high activity in a part of the brain's so-called pain matrix that involves attention.

The pain matrix is a set of brain regions that become active when people experience pain, Dr. Berns said. Parts of it deal with sensing the body, while other regions are involved in intuition, emotions, fear or attention. Extreme dreaders, he said, deploy more attention to their soon-to-be-shocked foot than do mild dreaders. Above all else, dread involves attention to unpleasant things to come, making it quite different from anxiety or fear.

When it comes to a root canal or a colonoscopy, it is not really the procedures themselves that people dread, but the waiting time, Dr. Berns said. For extreme dreaders, finding distraction is probably the best way to cope.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

Inquiry learning: an alternative paradigm to direct instruction.

Science 28 April 2006:
Vol. 312. no. 5773, pp. 532 - 533
DOI: 10.1126/science.1127750
Prev | Table of Contents | Next
Education Forum


Technological Advances in Inquiry Learning
Ton de Jong*

The promise offered by inquiry learning is tempered by the problems students typically experience when using this approach. Fortunately, integrating supportive cognitive tools with computer simulations may provide a solution.

Learning by Inquiry

Studies of young students' knowledge and skills indicate that many students in large parts of the world are not optimally prepared for the requirements of society and the workplace (1). To meet this challenge, curricula should be designed to help students learn how to regulate their own learning, how to continue to gain new knowledge, and how to update their existing knowledge.

Inquiry learning is defined as "an approach to learning that involves a process of exploring the natural or material world, and that leads to asking questions, making discoveries, and rigorously testing those discoveries in the search for new understanding" (2). This means that students adopt a scientific approach and make their own discoveries; they generate knowledge by activating and restructuring knowledge schemata (3). Inquiry learning environments also ask students to take initiative in the learning process and can be offered in a naturally collaborative setting with realistic material.
The idea of inquiry, or discovery, as a learning approach has a long history (4, 5). Now, technological developments such as computer simulations can implement more effective inquiry learning. Using simulations to model a phenomenon or process, students can perform experiments by changing variables (such as resistances in an electrical circuit) and then observe the effects of their changes (e.g., the current). In this way, students (re-)discover the properties of the underlying model (Ohm's law).

The Inquiry Process

Inquiry learning mimics authentic inquiry. [There are some exceptions, such as the origin of the research question, the number of (known) variables, and the presence of flaws in data (6).] Because they are closely related, they share the following constitutive cognitive processes (7): orientation (identification of variables and relations); hypothesis generation (formulation of a statement or a set of statements, perhaps as a model); experimentation (changing variable values, making predictions, and interpreting outcomes); reaching conclusions (on the validity of the hypothesis); evaluation (reflection on the learning process and the acquired knowledge); planning (outlining a schedule for the inquiry process); and monitoring (maintaining an overview of the inquiry process and the developing knowledge).

However, research indicates that, overall, students have substantial problems with all of the inquiry processes listed above (8). Students have difficulty choosing the right variables to work with, they find it difficult to state testable hypotheses, and they do not necessarily draw the correct conclusions from experiments. They may have difficulty linking experimental data and hypotheses, because their pre-existing ideas tend to persist even when they are confronted with data that contradict those ideas (9). Students also struggle with basic experimental processes. They find it difficult to translate theoretical variables from their hypothesis into manipulable and observable variables in the experiment (10); they design ineffective experiments, for example, by varying too many variables at one time (11); they may use an "engineering approach," where they try to achieve a certain state in the simulation instead of trying to test a hypothesis (12); they fail to make predictions; and they make mistakes when interpreting data (13). Students also tend to do only short-term planning and do not adequately monitor what they have done (14).

Supporting the Inquiry Process

Research in inquiry learning currently focuses on finding scaffolds or cognitive tools that help to alleviate these problems and produce effective and efficient learning situations. Computer environments can integrate these cognitive tools with the simulation. Examples of cognitive tools are assignments (exercises that set the simulation in the appropriate state); explanations and background information; monitoring tools (to help students keep track of their experiments); hypothesis scratchpads (software tools to create hypotheses from predefined variables and relations); predefined hypotheses; experimentation hints (such as "vary one thing at a time " or "try extreme values"); process coordinators (which guide the students through the complete inquiry cycle); and planning tools. Overviews can be found in (7) and (15); examples of integrated inquiry systems are SimQuest applications (16), Co-Lab (17), GenScope (18), and Inquiry Island (19).

One example from a SimQuest application explores the physics of moments (see the first figure) (20). Support is offered in the form of an assignment that asks students to explore the balance of the seesaw by changing variables. Another available aid is a hypothesis scratchpad that lets students build expressions from variables (e.g., force F1, distance a1, and moment M1) and relations (e.g., increases) to create testable hypotheses (e.g., if F1 increases, then M1 increases).

Most experimental evaluations of cognitive tools offer different configurations of learning environments to different experimental groups. Effects measured include the acquisition of conceptual knowledge, procedural knowledge, and/or inquiry skills. Often the learning process can be analyzed from log files that track the behavior of students in the learning environment and/or data from students who are requested to think aloud during learning. The most effective learning results are found with tools that structure the learning process, provide students with predefined hypotheses and background information, help students plan (e.g., by providing a sequence of assignments), or give hints for efficient experimentation (7, 15, 21). For example, students offered simulations and assignments performed better in tests of intuitive knowledge of the physics of oscillation (22). Also, biology students who received prompts on experimental strategies outperformed in tests those who received other prompts or no prompts at all (23).

The Road Ahead

Unguided inquiry is generally found to be an ineffective way of learning (24). Reviewing classical research in three areas of learning--problem-solving rules, conservation strategies, and programming concepts--Mayer (3) concluded that guided discovery learning is effective. These guided inquiry environments are starting to enter educational practice, especially for ages 14 and up, and large-scale evaluations are promising (18). Mostly physical science topics have been tested, but inquiry environments have been used in other areas. In psychology, for instance, simulations have modeled Pavlovian (classical) conditioning, where an organism learns to relate one event to another previously unrelated event (25, 26) (see the figure below).

A number of research issues still lie ahead. First, the introduction of cognitive tools may lead to overly complex learning environments that hinder learning by requiring too much working memory capacity. Ways to reduce this extraneous cognitive load, such as by integrating representations (27), are being investigated. Another challenge lies in adapting the learning environment to respond not only to differences between learners but also to the developing knowledge and skills of an individual learner. Learning environments could use "fading," in which cognitive tools gradually disappear so that the learner can ultimately take over the learning process. Automating this would need an adequate cognitive diagnosis of both a student's learning process and developing knowledge and might be based on the log files of the student's interactions with the system (28). A further challenge is to find ways to combine collaborative learning and inquiry learning (17, 29). Specific tools to structure the collaboration and sharing of (intermediate) models between students are only now being developed. Students may also be offered the opportunity to create informal models (17). Such a facility helps them to articulate intuitive knowledge and at the same time gives them a specific task to complete.

Sound curricula combine different forms of tuition, both inquiry learning and direct instruction. Inquiry learning may be more effective in acquiring intuitive, deep, conceptual knowledge; direct instruction and practice can be used for more factual and procedural knowledge. Ultimately, we want students to gain a well-organized knowledge base that allows them to reason and solve problems in the workplace and in academic settings. Finding the right balance between inquiry learning and direct instruction, therefore, is a major challenge.

References and Notes

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Learning for Tomorrow's World-First Results from PISA 2003 (OECD, Paris, 2004).
National Science Foundation, in Foundations: Inquiry: Thoughts, Views, and Strategies for the K-5 Classroom (NSF, Arlington, VA, 2000), vol. 2, pp. 1-5 (
R. E. Mayer, Am. Psych. 59, 14 (2004).
J. S. Bruner, Harvard Ed. Rev. 31, 21 (1961).
J. Dewey, Logic: The Theory of Inquiry (Holt, New York, 1938).
C. A. Chinn, B. A. Malhotra, Sci. Ed. 86, 175 (2002).
T. de Jong, in Dealing with Complexity in Learning Environments, J. Elen, R. E. Clark, Eds. (Elsevier Science, London, 2006), pp. 107-128.
T. de Jong, W. R. van Joolingen, Rev. Ed. Res. 68, 179 (1998).
C. A. Chinn, W. F. Brewer, Rev. Ed. Res. 63, 1 (1993).
A. E. Lawson, J. Res. Sci. Teach. 39, 237 (2002).
A. Keselman, J. Res. Sci. Teach. 40, 898 (2003).
L. Schauble, R. Glaser, R. A. Duschl, S. Schulze, J. John, J. Learn. Sci. 4, 131 (1995).
E. L. Lewis, J. L. Stern, M. C. Linn, Ed. Technol. 33, 45 (1993).
S. Manlove, A. W. Lazonder, T. de Jong, J. Comput. Assist. Learn. 22, 87 (2006).
C. Quintana et al., J. Learn. Sci. 13, 337 (2004).
W. R. van Joolingen, T. de Jong, in Authoring Tools for Advanced Technology Educational Software: Toward Cost-Effective Production of Adaptive, Interactive, and Intelligent Educational Software, T. Murray, S. Blessing, S. Ainsworth, Eds. (Kluwer Academic, Dordrecht, Netherlands, 2003), pp. 1-31.
W. R. van Joolingen, T. de Jong, A. W. Lazonder, E. Savelsbergh, S. Manlove, Comput. Human. Behav. 21, 671 (2005).
D. T. Hickey, A. C. H. Kindfield, P. Horwitz, M. A. Christie, Am. Ed. Res. J. 40, 495 (2003).
B. White, J. Frederiksen, Ed. Psych. 40, 211 (2005).
The full interactive example, including hypothesis scratchpad, is available online (
M. C. Linn, P. Bell, E. A. Davis, in Internet Environments for Science Education, M. Linn, E. A. Davis, P. Bell, Eds. (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Mahwah, NJ, 2004), pp. 315-341.
J. Swaak, W. R. van Joolingen, T. de Jong, Learn. Instruct. 8, 235 (1998).
X. Lin, J. D. Lehman, J. Res. Sci. Teach. 36, 837 (1999).
D. Klahr, M. Nigam, Psych. Sci. 15, 661 (2004).
C. D. Hulshof, T. H. S. Eysink, S. Loyens, T. de Jong, Interactive Learn. Environ. 13, 39 (2005).
The classical conditioning example is available online (
J. Sweller, J. J. G. van Merriënboer, F. Paas, Ed. Psych. Rev. 10, 251 (1998).
K. H. Veermans, W. R. van Joolingen, T. de Jong, Int. J. Sci. Ed. 28, 341 (2006).
T. Okada, H. A. Simon, Cog. Sci. 21, 109 (1997).
In part sponsored by Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO/PROO), the Information Society Technologies (IST) priority of the European Community (the Kaleidoscope Network of Excellence), and Stichting SURF.

The author is at the Faculty of Behavioral Sciences, University of Twente, Enschede 7500AE, Netherlands. E-mail:

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

new media, old model

funny that they are still trying to sell ads. when content and advertising converges, product placement will be the new business model. and the most valuable product to be placed will be people (fame) and ideas (propaganda). wondering when the first presidential election will be won on product placement.

By Dan Frommer

The Web lets users watch whatever they want, whenever they want to watch it. So what do they want to see? A home-made video of two boys lip-synching along to the Pokémon television theme song. Internet video site YouTube has streamed the video more than 9.5 million times in the last four months, making it the site's most-watched movie.

Startup of the moment YouTube, which garnered 12.9 million unique visitors in March, doesn't care what viewers watch, as long as they keep tuning in. Making money is another matter: The site, which has raised $11.5 million in venture capital in the last year, didn't see a penny in revenue until March, when they cautiously began selling ads.

Meanwhile the site's bandwidth costs, which increase every time a visitor clicks on a video, may be approaching $1 million a month--much of which goes to provider Limelight Networks.

Internet optimists predict that online video, long-rumored to be the next big thing, is finally taking off: IDC estimates that video generated $230 million in revenue in 2005 but will jump to $1.7 billion by 2010. In the meantime, the best play in Internet video may not be the companies that show off the clips, but the ones who deliver them to users' PCs.

The content-delivery business may be a $500 million a year business--twice the value of Internet video advertising and users fees--and is growing 25% per year, IDC estimates. It is dominated by big, publicly traded hosting providers such as Akamai Technologies and AT&T, as well as boutique shops such as Limelight, which also serves News Corp.'s MySpace and Microsoft's Xbox Live videogame service.

Some of the biggest portals, like Yahoo! and Google, have built up their own content-delivery networks and don't need to pay a third party for many services.

The bandwidth companies typically charge video sites up to a penny per minute of video streamed. Big players who buy in bulk get discounted rates: Industry observers estimate that YouTube, which is streaming 40 million videos and 200 terabytes of data per day, may be paying between a tenth of a cent and half a cent per minute. Neither YouTube nor Limelight would comment on their pricing.

And while privately held Limelight doesn't open its books, Akamai this week posted earnings of $11.5 million in on revenue of $91 million for the first quarter of this year; the company's stock has tripled in the last year. IDC analyst Rona Shuchat says Akamai may control half of the content-delivery market.

Some upstarts in the video Web market are betting on a different content-delivery model. Instead of paying for professional hosting, they're hoping people will open their digital subscriber lines and cable modems to transfer data between users instead of sending everything from a central server.

This "peer to peer" setup has been successful for online phone service Skype, purchased last year by eBay, and underground file-sharing networks using software called BitTorrent, which some say is responsible for one-third of all Internet traffic.

Gilles BianRosa, chief executive of BitTorrent-software maker Azureus, says peer-to-peer networking could save his company 95% in hosting costs when it launches a community-based video site in the next few months.

Other companies are already onboard: WurldMedia Chief Executive Gregory Kerber, whose company will start serving movies and television shows for General Electric's 's NBC-Universal this year, says the peer-to-peer model is the next step in Web video evolution. "We can sell to the consumer at the same price point that they're used to, but we'll be giving them a higher-quality product that's more versatile," Kerber says.

As a result, some video-delivery specialists such as Solid State Networks are hedging their bets with a mix of peer-to-peer and traditional content-delivery. Solid State Chief Executive Rick Buonincontri eyeballs cost savings around 50% over standard hosting while maintaining a professional service-quality level.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Virtual Davos.