Thursday, October 31, 2013

Are We Alone?

Philosophy 1050 (?) 1994

This was written in my first semester of college and after re-reading it's actually not the worst freshman writing I've read. It's not great though and I wouldn't pick this topic today with a gun to my head and yet I'm proud of my incredibly skeptical conclusions. Also, the X Files, wow I remember obsessing over that show and man can you tell! The assignment was an end of term paper on something typically contentious of a topic, abortion, capital punishment, etc. Because I was a gigantic dork I picked alien abductions because why the hell not? I still pick weird topics in my writing these days...


 Are We Alone?

"I send greetings on behalf of the people of our planet. We step out of our solar system, into the universe seeking only peaceful contact." In 1977, Kurt Waldheim, past president of the United Nations sent this message out into space. It was sent in 55 languages on the Voyager 1 and 2 probes, and also on Pioneer 10 and 1 -each one on its way out of our solar system. Along with this message was sent over a hundred pictures that would not only show a sort of map to Earth,

but also give a tour along the way. Whether or not this message was ever received is still a mystery. There are a lot of people that believe the mystery has been solved. They range from fanatics to tabloid newspapers, to legitimate scientists. They have been dedicated to proving that extra-terrestrials have been visiting the Earth for a while now. Some of these people aren't just crackpots in the south searching for Elvis in the K-Mart parking lot. There are lawyers, doctors and numerous other professionals. They willingly risk their reputation on these occurrences. But the questions remain. Are there extra-terrestrials here, hidden by a massive government conspiracy. Or is this just another example of mass hysteria fueled by modern day myth?


In 1961, Betty and Barney Hill were driving home through New Hampshire. They saw a rapidly moving light and stopped to investigate. When they pulled out their binoculars, it disappeared. A few miles later, the strange light returned and seemed to follow them. It came closer and they saw that it was a circular object with figures moving behind blue tinted windows. Barney got out to get a better look. Suddenly, wings snapped out abruptly on both sides of the craft. Barney ran back to the car, panicked. Driving away, they looked back and it was gone. When they got home, they discovered that they had been gone an extra two hours instead of about ten minutes.


Betty began to have strange dreams, filled with haunting images of abductions scenes. She finally went to a hypnotist to find out what had really happened in the missing two hours. The therapist decided to use hypnotic regression to get the truth. When Barney stopped the car the second time, it had in fact stalled. The craft landed and aliens got out. They were separated and subjected to many biological tests, and what they called "sampling." Before they were returned to their car, they showed Betty a three dimensional map. It was a star map and she was told to study it carefully. Under her hypnotic state Betty was able to reproduce the map. When the aliens released them, Betty was already in the car and Barney found himself running back to the car panicked.


This could be considered and interesting "story," yet when the two separated accounts were compared, they were internally consistent on detail. The star map, their only tangible proof of the experience, was given to an amateur astronomer for further study. Five years later she concluded that the Hills had encountered aliens from the Zeta Reticuli system. Either they were going to the Zeta Reticuli system, or man would eventually go there. A few years later, this account was published. It was very popular and in 1975, made into a film called The UFO Incident. Millions of people relived the story of an ordinary couple, a postal worker and a social worker. This was only the beginning.


If aliens had visited the Earth, then why isn't it common knowledge? The most publicized accounts today come from tabloids and fanatics. There is not a lot of scientist or even government officials substantiating these claims. One of the reasons the governments around the world would want to hide these facts would be for our safety. Most of the books and movies in our culture portray them negatively. Popular opinion is that if aliens came to Earth, mass hysteria would ensue. The population would run for the hills. Any alien presence that can travel solar systems would surely have the capabilities to destroy the Earth. Or as the latest movies would suggest, kill or enslave the people and rape the planet. Remember "War of the Worlds"? That was only a fictional radio show and there was still a panic. For years the entertainment industry has been playing on our fears of destruction by some outside force. It's not the Soviet Union any more, It's E.T. He's back because we can't take care of the Earth ourselves and have forfeited our stewardship. Those fictional stories may just be for entertainment, but there are some interesting facts.


In the middle of the Nevada desert, possibly an extension of Nellis AFB, is something referred to as Area51. This is a real place. It was also very top secret. There are signs all around it restricting access, even that the security has the right to use deadly force. In 1951 an alien space craft supposedly crash-landed in Roswell, New Mexico. It was then transported to Area 51. The government of course denies this, but they do admit to some things. For example, Area51 was where the U-2 was developed and tested. Also the SR-71 spy plane that flew over Cuba on the 60's was made. Or the Stealth Bomber, the government still denies this project even months after pictures were taken and released to the public. It's not unusual to find strange lights moving in the sky at night. Area 51 has a reputation as testing grounds for experimental air craft. If the government had found a crash landed alien ship, this would be the place to assess it capabilities.

There is a lot of information, accounts, stories, etc. out in the world about the possibility of aliens here on Earth. This certainly warrants further investigation. The scientific community shouldn't be so quick to dismiss these claims. Just by the sheer number of them, they can't all be wrong, can they?


Of course they can! The Hill story was just one of many highly publicized cases. Millions of people watched then just as they do now. How many people saw "Fire in the Sky"? Most people today know what is supposed to happen if aliens from Mars come to "abduct" you, even to the point of knowing what they are supposed to look like. People say that in our time we don't have any myths or legends. I say that we do. They're called Area51, Roswell, and numerous other governmental conspiracies. People have taken their own fears and made them into these elaborate stories.


So then, is the government hiding alien life? Most people would agree that the government does hide things from the public. That's why they call it national security. Some of the things that our government does, we really wouldn't want to know. But more people agree that the government is really too incompetent to balance the budget much less fool millions of people. That would require forces beyond their current means. It's the Nixon era relived. Last year it was discovered that life did exist on Mars. This isn't a civilization either. Scientists found fossilized remains of bacteria millions of years old. It was found in a meteorite in the Antarctic. This is as close as we will ever come to life outside the Earth in our solar system with our current technology. Even this data is under scrutiny.


There is still a possibility of intelligent life nearby. The only problem is a big one for UFO fanatics. Why would they come to the Earth? Or how would they even know that we are out here? Scientists are using the most primitive means to try and contact outside life. We have only radio waves which would be the bottom rung of the ladder. So our scientist are using the radio waves and sending them into space. Even going the speed of light it would still take two hundred years to reach the nearest planetary system, which cannot support life. We may not even be around by the time alien civilizations receive it. It would still take them two hundred years to come here. That is of course going the speed of light. They would need one big generational ship. Faster than light speed is not possible with our current technology. But supposing they could safely go faster than light, they would of course have ways of overcoming one of the most fundamental laws of physics.


But I understand how inconvenient the laws of physics can be. There is another interesting theory. Any civilization that has been around long enough to become a member of the United Federation of Planets would need to have outlived many things. Wars, genocide, nuclear weapons, even its own UFO conspiracy theories. They would have to find a way to live in peace with themselves and others. They would have to realize that the Earth couldn't possibly be redundant elsewhere in the galaxy. If aliens have been coming here since the 1950's (when was "The War of theWorlds" first broadcast?), they have been experimenting on the wrong people. They should be abducting political, scientific, and religious leaders, not Betty and Barney Hill. People would believe Carl Sagan, but question Barney Hill. So then it's really a question of credibility. Alien life exists out beyond our solar system, but have they already come here?


We could just be a cosmic accident. We could also be a civilization searching for answers in the midst of many. Despite all of the evidence to the contrary, people are not entirely dissuaded. Maybe that's because all of the evidence to the contrary is not entirely dissuasive.





Friday, October 25, 2013

Redundancy, Boredom and Learning

Educational Psychology 6560

For some terrible reasons I find myself studying/reading during horror movies, which I love. To be clear though I do re-read the material without distraction later. It's as if each activity, studying or watching a movie, is not engaging enough on its own. Outside of school I still do the same thing. I'll work on a project, watch a movie, stop, get up, clean something, etc. I had to write about this a few years ago and learning why it was not so effective was interesting yet didn't change my study habits. Now I listen to a podcast or audiobook while reading a book or article at the same time. I feel like one portion has become boring and I want to focus on the other. But how would I know unless I were paying close attention?

As I read over articles and case studies on multimedia learning a movie is playing on my television. It’s The Descent, a horror movie from 2005 showing a caving expedition gone horribly wrong when a group of friends is separated and savagely killed by the inhabitant creatures. Back to the article is a paragraph on something called the split attention effect where increases in the cognitive load to the visual channel by sharing attentional resources between various sources of visual information “( Eric Jamet 590). Were I actively learning about caving from this movie it would be severely impeded by my glancing up to my television only during the various screaming attacks and obviously my focus on the article changes constantly: hiding from creatures to “advocates of cognitive load theory often refer to the studies reviewed by Penney (1989) and the working memory model proposed by….”.  And again, someone else has died horribly. This is not an ideal environment for learning and I am experiencing a cognitive overload, something shared by countless students in a formal classroom setting when their multimedia presentations create a redundancy effect.

How much of our lives involve this split attention effect? Recent studies suggest that people who send and receive text messages while driving have an increased chance of accidents while the average person will probably over-estimate their ability to multitask. And yet there aren’t similar issues with drivers using their GPS devices in their cars so some adaptability seems to be possible.  I know I cannot watch a movie and read an intellectually dense article at the same time, and yet I see notes in the margins of the papers and highlighted words. My notes for a five page study contain the words “put keywords on slides to improve transfer”. This does summarize fairly accurately but a fragmented sentence does not convey any subtle nuance or personal insight. The movie though not as important is still fresh in my mind perhaps there was a positive life lesson I missed but it will probably haunt my nightmares for a few days more at least.

“The cognitive theory of multimedia learning is based on the idea that there are separate processing systems for pictorial and verbal information and that learning consists of established links between the verbal and pictorial representations.”(Jamet) This has been studied extensively in the area of sign language linguistics. The language may be entirely visual and yet it uses the language portions of the brain. When signers have strokes and are tested in various visual-spatial and linguistic tasks it becomes evident that the language reception (verbal) and ability remains intact while the spatial abilities (pictoral) do not (and vice-versa); depending on the damage.

“Meaningful learning is a deep understanding of the material and presupposes the active processing of the document. It is revealed in the ability to apply what has been learned to new situations, in particular within the framework of knowledge transfer problems. It requires the construction of a mental model of the document on the basis of three processes: selection of important elements in the presented material, the organization of these elements within a coherent structure and their integration into existing knowledge. “(Jamet).

There are several channels available when instructing using multimedia and students vary in their learning. When presenting using spoken words only you give no other option and can only hope that a majority of the class will benefit from this method.  Narrated animation using pictures and spoken words give the learner two paths and can accommodate even more students who now have the ability to choose. Yet some students need additional options and the printed narration would be more beneficial. My younger brother prefers to watch television with the closed captioning on at all times even though he has no hearing loss. For him it seems to be a reinforcement of the spoken words which somehow supports comprehension and a dominance of the remote control. Or at least that is my professional opinion of the situation. This is called the learning preferences hypothesis: students learn in different ways and the more formats available, the more students will learn.

Giving them all available options should increase the amount of information they can process. It would not be possible to tailor instruction to every combination of channel input and so using text, animation and narration in theory could improve all learners. They do better when allowed input into their method of instruction and may have some channel blockage itself due to physical or mental impairment. Yet when instruction is presented covering all possible channels the students actually learn less. Much like watching a horror movie and reading an article, this can increase the cognitive load to the visual channel and decrease the amount of processing possible (book).

According to the information-delivery theory of multimedia learning, learning “occurs when information is presented by the instructor and received by the student”. The reception will be better when more delivery paths are used. But the capacity-limitation hypothesis states that “people have a limited capacity to process visually presented material and limited capacity to process auditorily presented material.” (book). When students view a multimedia presentation that is both narrated and subtitled it impairs their ability to “attend to relevant portions of the incoming visual and auditory information and organize the material into coherent verbal and pictorial representations and integrate the two representations.

This creates a redundancy effect in that overloading the visual channel by having animation, narration and text will decrease the retention and understanding of material. No matter how fastidiously I take notes on caving, I will never learn enough of it to implement anything from watching the movie. The emotional distraction is just too intense to overcome.

There is a capacity limitation on the cognitive theory of multimedia learning which conflicts with the learning preference hypothesis. Students learn better when they have more options and the ability to choose their input channel. But having too many options is an impediment that cannot be overcome. It seems as if at this point in the learning that every student is a small child being asked what flavor of ice cream they want for the last ice cream cone they will ever have and is impossible decide. Even though the theories seem to conflict it is important to remember that the theory of multimedia learning applies to narrated animation and has no opportunity for cognitive overload. With subtitled narration though it would seem to still cause problems with a split attention effect. You can create positive results by adding only keywords to the animation making the information successive rather than merely redundant. The extraneous filler that can come with narration should be reduced to as little as possible and can support the multimedia immensely.

When doing class presentations I find myself unable to read directly from the power point slides. This is due to feeling uncomfortable reading aloud in front of the class when really I am trying to engage them. Instead I prefer to create extensive slides with either pictures or text but rarely both per slide. Then with only a sentence or idea written down beforehand I can discuss the material with the class in more of a conversational format yet being infinitely more knowledgeable about the subject matter thus feeding into my superiority complex.  

I suggest a new study. Place subjects in a life or death situation and the information to survive to will presented via multimedia. Group A will have animation, narration and subtitles and Group B will only have animation and narration. With this newfound motivation we can really see how much of a hindrance redundancy can be. The survivors will be tallied and interviewed as to how much the multimedia they remember and the victims will be buried.


Thursday, October 24, 2013

Did I really turn this in? Yes...

Backstory: I was hanging out at the parent's house while my younger brother had a small party with friends, I was not living there at the time. Completely bored out of my mind I hid in my little sister's room for a while but eventually had to find food. As I entered the living room I could see my brother on the couch with a girl on his lap. Immediately I went up to her and in the most pissed off way possible said to her "What are you doing with my boyfriend!". The room fell silent and her eyes widened in abject terror. She actually shrunk back. After about 10 seconds I told everyone I was joking and just the older sister. This is probably my favorite act of sibling abuse to date though I look forward to topping it.
 The Threatening Function of Language: ‘What are you doing with my boyfriend?’ Sociolinguistics is the study of the interrelationship of language and social structure. Language has a social and a communicative function and is a kind of social behavior. It can be used to establish or reinforce social relationships or to control the behavior of other people (manipulation). In the context of my question to my brother’s friend who I will call Chlamydia*, my underlying meaning was that of ‘I am going to beat your ass in front of all these people if you don’t get off his lap, bitch.’ I of course knew that this was a threatening way of asking a very innocuous question and did it simply for the reaction. A warning was also implied in an attempt to control her behavior and even more subtly the behavior of everyone in the living room by getting them to watch us. I consider this Skilled Work as it is a respected ability and not many people could perform so well under that kind of pressure.
*not her real name though could possibly be.
Classifier Predicate: A girl sitting on my brother’s lap. A Classifier is a handshape that is combined with location, orientation, movement, handshape and non-manual markers to form a predicate. A predicate is a way of saying things about nouns or noun phrases,. Classifier predicates have two parts, the Movement Roots and the Classifier Handshapes. In this example, the Movement Root is a Contact Root. The hand has a downward movement but this doesn’t mean that the object is moving or that you are describing the shape of the object/person.  The Classifier Handshape is a Whole Entity Morpheme. These are handshapes that refer to an object as a whole: my brother and the girl, Chlamydia. In combination, you can see my description of my brother with Chlamydia sitting on his lap.

Making Up Words with Stephen Colbert

Linguistics 5200: Special Topics -American Sign Language

I would treat umpteenth as a morphologically complex word having four morphemes, ump, teen, th and umpteenth itself as a whole. Adding the meaning of each morpheme does not create the same idea.  Something similar I’ve seen occurs with the word cranberry. You can separate out cran and berry yet cran has no meaning by itself while berry does. Cran would then be treated as a bound morpheme in the same way that ump is as neither means anything but a vague something-like when added to certain free morphemes. I think the main issue is whether you can take ump out and still call it a morpheme even though it’s not in any other word which uses it in this way. Having a ‘vague something-like’ quality may be enough as there are many other words which also do this, due to the efforts of the mass media. I was watching a fake news show (the Daily Show) and there was a segment discussing the Cookie Monster being a bad nutritional role model for children. Stephen Colbert couldn’t get an interview with Mr. Monster and announced that he had recreated his attempt with an ‘imaginactment’ and thus cutting to him chasing down a car containing something blue and fuzzy. The entire word is nothing but bound morphemes which only contain meaning when together. There may be few examples of ump used this way but there are many words which are put together and still understood in an entertaining play on the English language.

I find this type of coinage to be deliciously satisfying.

English Language: A Fluid Definition and a Smartass

Linguistics 5200: Special Topics -American Sign Language

The English language is composed of sounds (phonology), which have no meaning and are then combined into words (morphology) which do. The spoken and written words are arbitrary and iconic in relation to their expressed symbols. These words are combined with others in a structured format consisting of semantics and syntax all with meaning shared by groups of English language users. The users of English then affect the language as they modify it to suit their communicative needs.

The differences between English and other languages can be explained as a family resemblance of languages and lesser dialects. The main distinction between the English language and others is then socially and culturally constructed (with a few phonological variations and vernacular, dude). The context and need for English is defined by the English Speakers themselves who consciously and unconsciously control its use and meaning.

To say that English consists of phonology and morphology is overshadowed by the users who are really the ones that define it. The English language itself then is very fluid and changing based on the social and cultural variables of the moment when being availed. You would need a solid definition of the culture of an individual to then successfully describe their specific English Language System, while it changes to suit their needs. Good luck figuring that out.

Monday, October 21, 2013

What's Up With That?


I work for a University and love learning just about anything. Sometimes I have to write up info for my IT job but really want an outlet for the awesomeness I read about, all the freaking time. I have a SlideShare account but come on, Power Point isn't the all-appropriate format for anything I think about after some brain wandering.

I have a lot of old assignments and writing I'm going to post and comment on but throughout will be the new things I'm reading about.

I have an AAS in Physics (MacGyver), a BS in Communication and a M.Ed in Instructional Design and Educational Technology. I also have a decent amount of credits in ASL Linguistics. Lately I've been interested in critical thinking and technology in the area of phishing. This will be a potential Phd program if I can find a good focus within.