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Weekend Reading: Necessary Functions Edition

Fall fallIt’s often nice to have a little something to read in the room of requirement (just pay first). In that spirit, let me recommend Randy Alfred’s Mad Science: Einstein’s Fridge, Dewar’s Flask, Mach’s Speed, and 362 Other Inventions and Discoveries That Made Our World.

Mad Science reprints entries from Wired‘s This Day in Tech blog. Alfred has selected an array of entries that should pique the interest of just about anyone. (Full disclosure: I wrote a couple of This Day in Tech entries, and one of them made it into the book. Still had to pay full freight for it!) There’s material on rockets, lasers, manufacturing, medicine, environmental science, pharmaceuticals . . . anything with a connection to technology. It’s enormous fun, and since each entry is a little less than a page, it makes for light reading.

In the abstract, turning this blog into a book doesn’t make a lot sense, as the original entries are usually filled with linky goodness, the better to help readers find out more information. Having said that, the book format is convenient, and it can go places where maybe phones or tablets shouldn’t. Definitely worth checking out!

On to this week’s links:

  • Jonathan Rees is correct–“The professoriate is the worst guild ever”: Professors around the world are so busy being polite to the technologically inclined educators and non-educators alike who are trying to steal our bread and butter that far to few of us are willing to point out that the MOOC emperor has no clothes. We are all members of a centuries-old profession. It’s OK to stick up for ourselves. In fact, as I’ve argued many times in this space before, sticking up for ourselves in this case will also be, to use Tawney’s phrase, “better service of the public” because we’re defending the quality and integrity of our product.
  • Dr. Becca explains that finding a tenure-track job is more like cooking than baking: Tell us the exact ingredients, and we’ll do them, we swear, as long as a well-funded position at an R1 with minimal teaching load comes out of the oven when the timer goes off.
  • Yuka Igarahsi details the occupational hazards of copyediting: every time I descend deep into copy-editing mode – this microscopic, obsessive, question-everything, miss-nothing type of reading – I wonder if I am becoming less and less capable of simply enjoying text (or Batman, or sandwiches). I wonder if it makes me unable to see the bigger picture; I wonder if I am ruining beautiful dashes of prose by fussing over commas and consistency.
  • Bon Stewart has a good post how teaching with Twitter becomes “an experiment in openness”: That’s the thing about working in the open. You can’t simply dim the lights and hush everyone. You’re part of something, and you may be guiding something, but you don’t control that thing. You’re in it with the network you’ve built. If that network includes your students, then they have public voices within it. If they mutiny, the mutiny will be active and loud and confusing unless you understand what’s going on. They’re not being insubordinate (usually). Networks are not hierarchies.
  • For those contemplating gifts this holiday season, Elvis Bego reminds us that short books are often good ones: Big books, big Novels, as Martin Amis diagnosed long ago, seem inherently an American addiction. America, vast in space and in ambition, seems to goad its writers to impose a brazen intentionality onto the marketplace. The American writer’s appetite must be omnivorous, his palette the trunk of a sequoia, his cast not smaller than a minor duchy, a perversion of Dostoevsky. (Also possibly helpful: A Hipster Lit Flowchart.)

In this week’s video, Nate Silver discusses The Signal and the Noise: Why So May Predictions Fail–But Some Don’t at Google:

Have a great weekend!

Photo “Seasons Change” by Flickr user Ian Sane / Creative Commons licensed BY-2.0

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