Sunday 04.21.2013 New York Times Digest

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1. Two Cheers for Web U!

“The professor is, in most cases, out of students’ reach, only slightly more accessible than the pope or Thomas Pynchon. Several of my Coursera courses begin by warning students not to e-mail the professor. We are told not to ‘friend’ the professor on Facebook. If you happen to see the professor on the street, avoid all eye contact (well, that last one is more implied than stated). There are, after all, often tens of thousands of students and just one top instructor.”

2. Big Data, Trying to Build Better Workers

“Work-force science is what happens when Big Data meets H.R.”

3. Need Motivation? Declare a Deadline

“Publicly committing to meeting a deadline is a powerful motivator because it puts your reputation on the line.”

4. Questioning the Mission of College

“Do we want our marquee state universities to behave more like job-training centers, judged by the number of students they speed toward degrees, the percentage of those students who quickly land good-paying jobs and the thrift with which all of this is accomplished?”

5. Hispanics, the New Italians

“Whatever Washington does in coming months, a wealth of data suggests that Latinos, who make up fully half of the immigration wave of the past century, are already following the classic pattern for American immigrants.”

6. What Do the Birders Know?

“The ancient wisdom of fretting obsessively over bird behavior has obtained the vindication of modern science. Hawks and eagles do not appear by accident. When, where and whether they appear is, absolutely, a portent. The spotted owl is a bioindicator, a species that can be used to monitor the condition of an ecosystem. In other words, bioindicator is just modern parlance for omen.”

7. In Memory of a Friend, Teacher and Mentor

“I believe we fell in love with each other.”

8. The First Race to the Top

“Members of the Boston School Committee fired the first shots in the testing wars in the summer of 1845.”

9. The Tangle of the Sexes

“Men and women are far more similar than different. Yet to many others, the idea that men and women are fundamentally different beings persists. The Mars/Venus binary aside, it is all too easy to reify observed behavioral differences by associating them with the categories of the people doing the behaving, be it their sex, race or occupation.”

10. Sprinting Toward the End

“Has it become obligatory for people with terminal illnesses to work like dogs during their final months or years? Is this how we define a “good death” now? Is one a slacker to perform otherwise? Is this kind of determination healthy for sick people? Is it healthy for anyone?”

11. Worlds Away From Here

“If Earth-like planets are relatively common, as scientists increasingly believe, then where are all the Earth-like civilizations?”

12. Amy Schumer, Funny Girl

“The head writer, Jessi Klein, said she liked the idea of a ‘hipster suicide,’ leading to a splatter of thoughts: With a revolver? Arrow to the face? Jumping off the Williamsburg Bridge? Then Kurt Metzger said, matter-of-factly, ‘My dad tried to kill himself with a lawn mower in a garage.’ Everyone chuckled at first until it became clear he was serious. Then awkward silence. Trying to get the discussion back on track, Ms. Schumer turned to Mr. Metzger and said in the voice of a whiny girl sick with envy: ‘You had a lawn? We never had one of those.’”

13. Happiness Inc.

“Science and happiness are not a perfect fit. The American philosopher William James is also considered the father of American psychology, and, as Dr. Lyubomirsky herself is well aware, once you leave philosophy aside, conclusions that psychological research lets us draw about how to be happy tend to sound a bit flat.”

14. Fitness Playgrounds Grow as Machines Go

“People spend all day sitting with machines, he said. ‘When they come into a gym, they don’t want to be sat down at another one doing three sets of 12.’”

15. Eight Writers and the Walks That Inspired Them

“Thomas de Quincy, a fellow poet, estimated that Wordsworth walked ‘170,000 to 180,00 English miles’ over his lifetime.”

16. Chicago Manuals

“Saul Bellow complained about the lack of cafes. ‘There were greasy-spoon cafeterias, one-arm joints, taverns. I never yet heard of a writer who brought his manuscripts into a tavern.’”

17. Vindication

“Mediocrity is obscurity.”

18. A Common Struggle

“This is so hopeful a book, and so authoritative in its coverage of history, that a reader wants to believe its thesis. I do, but only in part.”

19. A Man for All Seasons

“For the past decade, Richard Primack, a professor of biology at Boston University, has collaborated with colleagues at Harvard to use the observations in Thoreau’s journals as the basis for groundbreaking studies in climate change.”

20. Writing the End

“Today, perhaps for the first time in history, our scientists’ predictions have outpaced the creative powers of our novelists. Even as a form, the dystopian novel seems quaint — our worst fears are already upon us.”

21. Raiding Grandma’s Medicine Cabinet

“Broad-spectrum antibiotics are powerful fighters with one flaw: unable to smite every bacterium, those immune to their wrath thrive. With every ear infection we treat, and every healthy cow prophylactically dosed with antibiotics (which also helps fatten the animals), we make these drugs less useful for future generations.”

22. John le Carré Has Not Mellowed With Age

“Le Carré paused for a moment, then smiled at me, then paused again. ‘Let me,’ he said, ‘try and organize my anger.’”

23. Learning to (Re)Love Tom Cruise

“Who has ever worked so hard for our pleasure?

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