I'm collecting them here, so my addled brain will have a place to look back and remember what I read - as the digital book world means my books no longer keep me company.
Mary Roach's "Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void" is the perfect book for anyone who is curious about the ins and outs (literally) of space travel. We learn:• How astronauts urinate and defecate in space, and how this process has changed from the early Apollo missions to the space shuttle to the space station.
• How sex in space would work, and if anyone has ever given it a shot.
• How space food is produced and consumed, and why we would not want to have NASA take over our campus dining services.
• What an astronaut really does in the 99% of the time she is not in space, and what NASA (and the Russian and Japanese space agencies) look for in a potential recruit.
• How astronauts train, getting used to the rigors of zero gravity (think Vomit Comet http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vomit_Comet), the boredom, and the need to spend 24 hours a day with your co-workers without ever being able to leave.
• Why Mary Roach thinks manned space exploration should continue, and why spending the $500 billion or so to get to Mars is a good investment.
I'm a big fan of Mary Roach's books. She has covered sex (Bonk), death (Stiff), and ghosts (Spook). The only problem with "Packing for Mars" is that the title is too long. And in the category of, "oh what a small world we live in", it turns out that Mary Roach grew up in the small town in which I now reside. Mary, you are welcome to stay at the house if you ever want to come and visit.
Grade: A-I decided to read Sheena Iyengar's new book, The Art of Choosing, after watching her TED Talk.
The opportunity to give a TED Talk must rank just below inclusion in the Oprah book club. Does anyone know just how big the book selling boost is for authors appearing on TED?
Sheena Iyengar is best known for her jam experiment. This is the experiment that Barry Schwartz made famous in his 2004 book, The Paradox of Choice. In the experiment, Iyengar found that shoppers were much less likely to purchase a jar of jam when presented with many choices (at a tasting booth), in comparison with shoppers who were invited to sample only a few varieties. The conventional wisdom that more choice is always beneficial does not always seem to hold true.Iyenagar's choice research has been influential in my world of course design and learning technology. We understand that it is often preferable to limit the number of tools available to faculty in a learning management system, as installing every extension or building block may cause instructors to choose to entirely forgo the use of any tool (such as discussion boards or wikis). As the learning management system has ballooned into a central campus portal, the need to constantly "edit down" non-core learning functions continues to grow. An increasing number of campus stakeholders may request links in the LMS (everything from events to athletics), requests that we need to weigh against the costs of diminishing the utilization of tools that promote active learning.
The Art of Choosing fits nicely into a growing body of behavior economics, brain research, and cognitive psychology that explores the limits of our own decision making abilities. Dan Ariely and Jonah Lehrer have written some of the best books in this tradition. One of my big take-aways from The Art of Choosing is that we may be poor decision makers, but our difficulties in choosing are often culturally influenced. Iyengar is much better at conducting cross-cultural studies on choice and behavior than other researchers in this field, perhaps a result of her growing up as a child of immigrants.What factors would convince you to choose to take the time to watch Iyengar's TED Talk? Have any of you made the choice to read The Art of Choosing?
Grade: B+Q. Why don't Yugo's sustain much damage in a front-end collision?
A. The tow truck takes the impact.
Q. Why does a Yugo have rear a window defroster?
A. To keep your hands warm as you push it.--from "The Yugo: The Rise and Fall of the Worst Car in History" by Jason Vuic.
What can this great book about the sad and untimely demise of Yugo teach us about higher education?
Linking the Yugo to Higher Ed Economics:• Cars are one of those categories where over the past five decades costs have come down significantly, while quality has gone consistently up. We can buy a much more reliable, safer, better performing, roomier, and longer lasting car for the same (real) dollars today than at any time in the past. Higher ed has clearly gone in the other direction. The Yugo story is perhaps the exception to this rule. Is the Yugo a cautionary tale about the wisdom of going for the "cheapest" educational structure?
• Even though the Yugo was a terrible car, we also learn from Vuic's delightful book that (at least initially) the Yugo was a popular car. People were lined up at the dealerships with cash in hand, ready to plunk down deposits. At $4,000, the Yugo created its own category of cheap transportation. Is there a similar latent demand for really affordable higher education? Or does the Yugo prove that "cheap" and "quality" are not compatible?
• The Yugo was so cheap because it was built on a very old (Fiat) design, and put together (badly) by very low-paid workers. Can I send my girls to an Eastern European country to go to college? The University of Ljubljana, the largest university in Slovenia with 64,000 students, might be a reasonable option for my kids when they leave home in 2015 and 2017.
• The Yugo did not have to be so bad. One of the take home messages of Vuic's book is how incompetent the American Yugo ownership and management was. Rather than investing dollars in the car's quality, the Yugo America founders paid themselves big salaries, plowed the money into other businesses, and rode around in helicopters. Would things have been different if those dollars were spent on the car? They also spent tons of money on advertising, money today that could be saved with smart use of the web. So maybe an educational provider that does not spend money on advertising or marketing, and keeps management costs down, could provide a quality educational start-up for a reasonable cost.
Any Yugo owners out there?Grade: B+