Computational Blood Cell Mechanics

Trvalo to skoro dva roky, kým sa toto bejby dostalo od nápadu sem a na Amazon. Práce na nej bolo dosť, ale bola som milo prekvapená hladkou spoluprácou s vydavateľstvom.Aj by som povedala, že teraz bude od písania prestávka, ale nebude, lebo mám podpísanú zmluvu na ďalšiu, tentokrát učebnicu.

Checklist manifesto

checklistAtul Gawande: Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right (moja knižka dokonca s autogramom autora)

Tak takto. To, že som divná sme vedeli. Ale že až natoľko, že budem čítať knihu o kontrolných(?) zoznamoch(!)… to neviem, či sme vedeli. A hmm… celkom sa mi to páčilo(?!).

Ono ale povedzme si rovno: nejako veľa času tejto knihe venovať netreba (jedno nedeľné popoludnie)… predsalen, koľko sa dá napísať o zoznamoch? Ale pointa je, že Gawande vás dokáže presvedčiť, ako veľmi môžu byť zoznamy užitočné. Nie preto, že by na nich boli veci, ktoré nevieme, ale preto, že robíme komplexné veci a zabúdame. Pre pilotov sú napríklad takéto zoznamy užitočné pred odletom, pre chirurgov pred operáciou (na príprave tohto operačného sa Gawande podieľal):

Checklist distilled down to 19 steps, 7 before anesthesia, 7 after anesthesia, and 5 after the procedure/operation… Checklist was then tested using limited WHO budget with baseline collected beforehand at 4 major developing world and 4 developed world hospitals. In implementation, they were careful not to force usage… Major complications for surgical patients fell by 36 percent after introduction, deaths fell by 47 percent.

Zúčastnení sa z checklistu nedozvedeli nové veci, ale menej sa zabúdalo a vyjasnili sa nejasnosti. Veľmi fascinujúce, ako môže mať takáto “nemedicínska” intervencia, taký veľký dopad. Odvtedy tento zoznam prijalo aj niekoľko krajín do svojich zdravotníckych smerníc.

Človeka samozrejme napadne, kde inde by sa dali takéto zoznamy použiť a ja som sa hneď nechala aj inšpirovať a začala vyrábať checklist na niečo, v čom sa opakovane mýlim v práci. Nemám síce zozbierané exaktné “before” dáta, ale aspoň pocitovo vyskúšam, či bude nejaký rozdiel.

Od tohto pána, ktorého som stretla aj osobne, som ešte kedysi dávnejšie čítala aj knihu Better a tá bola tiež celkom zaujímavá.

Víkendové surfovanie

mojej sesternici vyšla knižka

v sobotu večer sme s Mišom pri živej hudbe popíjali vínko u bývalého Mišovho spolužiaka: nie sú lacní, ale bolo to veľmi príjemné

tak a po týchto reklamách očakávané linky:

výzva pre slovenských novinárov

I don’t know how she does it (táto veta aj mňa dosť vytáča)

I don’t know how she does it. I don’t know how you do it. Not surprisingly, the only people who are actually interested in hearing a response to this statement are other mothers, and for them the particulars are practical, not theoretical.

grrrr: beauty tips from Lego

Fínsko: vyučovanie tém namiesto premetov

Hold on to your kids

holdonTáto kniha má podnadpis “Prečo treba, aby na rodičoch záležalo viac ako na rovesníkoch”. Niekedy pred časom som tu písala o knihe Nurture assumption, ktorá mala pre zmenu podnadpis “Na rodičoch záleží menej, než si myslíte a na rovesníkoch viac”. V niečom sú tieto knihy protikladmi, ale v niečom sa dosť dopĺňajú.

Hovorí o tom, že rovesníci naše deti ovplyvňujú rôznymi spôsobmi, aj dobrými aj zlými a že je to normálne. Ale môže to byť deštruktívne vtedy, keď deti nemajú dostatočne silnú väzbu na rodičov a keď rodičia nie sú dostupní (fyzicky, emocionálne, psychicky) a deti to vzniknuté prázdno zaplnia vzťahmi s rovesníkmi – keď rovesníci preberú úlohu rodičov vo vzťahoch. Problém je to preto, že rovesníci dieťatu neposkytnú bezvýhradnú lásku a podporu (“Mám Ťa rada a som tu pre Teba, nech sa deje čokoľvek.”) a deti pre svoj vývoj potrebujú práve takýto silný vzťah, v ktorom sa nemusia báť, že ich niekto zosmiešni, v ktorom majú istotu a nemusia sa s nikým porovnávať. Takýto vzťah s rodičmi má podľa autorov slúžiť ako kompas v živote dieťaťa, obzvlášť v dnešenej dobe, keď sa oveľa menej času trávi v rodinách v porovnaní s časom tráveným s rovesníkmi.

Kniha hovorí aj o tom, prečo sila a manipulácia (tresty a odmeny) nefungujú:

As our power to parent decreases, our preoccupation with leverage increases. Euphemisms abound: bribes are called variously rewards, incentives, and positive reinforcement; threats and punishments are rechristened warnings, natural consequences, and negative reinforcements; applying psychological force is often referred to as modifying behaviour or teaching a lesson. These euphemisms camouflage attempts to motivate the child by external pressure because his intrinsic motivation is deemed inadequate. Attachment is natural and arises from within; leverage is contrived and imposed from without. In any other realm, we would see use of leverage as manipulation. In parenting, such means of getting a child to follow our will have become embraced by many as normal and appropriate.

A o tom, aký je dôležitý vzťah rodič-dieťa:

No matter what problem or issue we face in parenting, our relationship with our children should be the highest priority. Children do not experience our intentions, no matter how heartfelt. They experience what we manifest in tone and behavior… Many a child for whom the parents feel unconditional love receives the message that this love is very conditional indeed… Unconditional acceptance is the most difficult to convey exactly when it is most needed: when our children have disappointed us, violated our values, or made themselves odious to us.

O tom, aký vplyv to má na učenie:

At least initially, peer-oriented children also tend to be more schoolable… School takes children out of the home, separating parent-oriented children from the adults to whom they are attached. For such children the separation anxiety will be intense and the sense of disorientation at school will be acute…  The elevated anxiety it provokes interferes with learning…  Being alarmed affects our ability to focus and to remember. Anxiety makes it difficult to read the cues and follow directions. A child simply cannot learn well when feeling lost and alarmed.

Children already peer-oriented by the time they enter school do not face such a dilemma. In the first days of school in kindergarten, a peer-oriented child would appear smarter, more confident, and better able to benefit from the school experience. The parent-oriented child, impaired by separation anxiety would, by contrast, appear to be less adept and capable – at least until he can form a good attachment with a teacher… In the short term, peer orientation appears to be a godsend. And it is undoubtedly this dynamic that research taps into when discovering the benefits to early education.

In the long term… the positive effects on learning of reduced anxiety and disorientation will gradually be canceled by the negative effects of peer orientation. Thus follows the research evidence that early advantages of preschool education are not sustainable over time. Peer-oriented kids go to school to be with their friends, not to learn. If these friends are also not into learning, academic performance will slip. When children go to school to be with one another, they are primed only to learn enough not to stand out, to remain with those their own age. Other than that, learning is irrelevant and can even be a liability to peer relationships.

Táto kniha sa mi vpodstate páčila. Píše presne o takom vzťahu s deťmi, aký by som chela mať. Ale zároveň sa mi zdá (čiastočne aj kvôli prečítaniu The Nurture Assumption), že preháňa ten vplyv, ktorý môžu mať rodičia. A napriek tom, že ponúka zopár príkladov, ako zabrániť tom, aby sa deti stali príliš “peer-oriented” alebo čo robiť v prípade, že sa tak už stalo, nie je ich veľa a nie sú veľmi nápomocné.

A potom ešte jedna veľmi zvláštna vec. Píšu o detských priateľstvách v takej rovine, že vpodstate nie sú nutné a nie sú to “ozajstné” (áno, dávajú aj definíciu, aké sú tie ozajstné) priateľstvá. Už len dívajúc sa späť na vlastné detstvo, aj keby neboli ozajstné (čo boli), tak by mi bez nich bolo horšie a niektoré z nich pretrvali až doteraz. Myslím, že v tomto ani zďaleka nebudem jediná. Takže celkovo, kniha stojí za prečítanie, ale treba ju brať s rezervou a skôr sa sústrediť na to posilnenie vzťahu s rodičmi ako no oslabovanie alebo selektovanie vzťahov detí s ich s rovesníkmi.

Useless Arithmetic

By Orrin H. Pilkey & Linda Pilkey-Jarvis, 2006, 221 pages, amazon

Or why environmental scientists can’t predict the future?

The answer given by the authors is simple. Because the scientists are trying to find exact answers to quantitative questions using models in which many parameters and interactions are still unknown. They demonstrate this using various examples from fishing industry, sea-level rising, weather prediction to very interesting one about  nuclear waste depository. They also suggest a remedy – ask qualitative questions and adapt the models on the go.

I heard about this book in one of our regular Friday Applied Math Colloquium talks. The speaker criticised it a lot (that’s what made me read it actually). Now I understand why. The book contains no mathematical models (except for the very brief appendix), but slowly describes them and points out their weaknesses. So far so good, makes reader aware that not everyting can be modelled and even when modelling things that can be, one should be extremely careful about the assumptions and reliability of the answers.

However, the undertone of the book (which was also so offensive to our colloquium speaker) is that you can’t model anything. I doubt this is what the authors had in mind, but it can be felt. Another drawback of the book is that it is extremely “slow” and you have the feeling that you are reading the same argument over and over again.

Would I recommend it? Maybe just skim over it in the library (and read the passage on Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage). The best words you’ll find in the book, don’t even come from the authors, but from C. S. Lewis:

We all want progress, but progress means getting nearer to the place you want to be. And if you have taken the wrong turn, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road. And in that case the man who turns back the soonest is the most progressive man.

The Kite Runner

By Khaled Hosseini, 2003, 371 pages, amazon

I’ve read some good reviews about this book and then (without reading it first) gave it as a Christmas present to one of my friends (of course, with the intention to borrow it one day). Sometime later I asked her how was the book. She told me she had to stop reading it. Later I bought one for myself (she was living too far then to borrow hers) and I think I know where she stopped. And why.

The first part of the book is very hard to read. Not because it shows the life in Afganistan in the 70s – it may have not been easy, but (for the characters) it was a good life. It is hard because this life is shown from the point of view of a boy who did something wrong and is ashamed of it for the rest of his life. The reader would expect that if the boy is sincerely ashamed and sorry, he would either try to make things right or if he cannot do that, at least not to do more harm. That’s not the case though. And that’s why the first part of the book is so hard to read.

And then his long time friend tells him a powerful sentence: “There is a way to be good again.” And our boy – who grew into a man in the meantime – leaves on a journey to set things right. This part of the book is not so good. The violence it shows is no more brutal than before, the style of writing does not dramatically change, but it has an undertone of a happyend coming. No, I’m not saying that stories should not end with happyend, I just do not want to know it in advance. The second part of this book feels as if the author already had a gripping movie in mind.

Would I recommend this book? If you’re looking for a story of a person who is not a typical hero, person who also does bad things, story that will make you cry at some point, story that shows you a country we’re being tought to be afraid of but which is stil beautiful, then definitely yes. Oh, and they did make a movie. I already told you to expect happyend, but it’s still worth watching. Here is the trailer:

The Quest for Consciousness

By Christof Koch, 2004, 429 pages, partial text, amazon

People know Francis Crick as one on the discoverers of the DNA structure. What they usualy do not know is that for the rest of his life he was pondering another, maybe even more exciting, problem: the question of consciousness. Where does it originate? What is that awareness inside our heads? Is it unique to humans? Christof Koch was one of his close collaborators in this endeavour and even though he is listed as a sole author of this book, he writes it in terms of “we, Francis and I”.

Obviously, Crick and Koch are not the only people who have been thinking about this question. For thousands of years, everybody has been to some extent, with no definitive answers (yet). To no surprise, the book does not provide answers either. It raises even more questions, but also offers a lot of suggestions and an extensive commented reference list to publications in this area of neuroscience.

What Koch has been looking for, are the neuronal correlates of consciousness – minimal set of neuronal events jointly sufficient for a specific conscious state. Did he find them? Not yet. But as he says:

We live at a unique point in the history of science. The technology to discover and characterize how subjective mind emerges out of the objective brain is within reach. The next years will prove decisive.

Even though the book does get “technical” at some points, it is still highly readable also for people not trained in neuroscience. Good way to read it might be to start with a fictional interview with the author in the last chapter which summarizes his ideas, then read the rest of the book and then return to the interview once more.

There are some things that I do not like about Koch’s lines of tought, there are some others which I can accept, but are still somewhat disturbing (especially his idea of the nonconscious homunculus in our heads who percieves the world through senses, thinks, plans and carries out voluntary actions while our consciousness is a mere reflection of all this) but despite these (actually, maybe partially because of these) the book is worth reading and thinking about.

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