Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Sir Richard Branson -- school, business, family, philanthropy

Today we had a video visit with Richard Branson, interviewed by Chris Anderson. In case you can't wait until next year to see the second half, here's the full video:

We'll talk about these questions and themes:
  1. Richard Branson is known for starting several companies. Name two of them.
  2. Why did people think buying a secondhand plane and starting a new airline was crazy?
  3. To help his fledgling airline financially survive combat with British Airways, what was Branson forced to do?
  4. Total employees in Branson's group of companies: choose... (a) 10-25,000; (b) 25,001 to 50,000; (c) 50,001 to 75,000; (d) 75,001 to 100,000.
  5. Philippe Starcke designed several aspects of Branson's space program, but why would he not have been the ideal person to design the engine? What was the basis of his design of the launching and landing facility?
  6. When Anderson asks, «What was the closest you got to--when did you think this is it, I might be on my way out?»--what kind of situation is he referring to?
  7. According to the interviewer, Branson's companies benefited from his balloon adventures in what way?
  8. What were some of Branson's characteristics as a pupil in school?
  9. What image or metaphor finally helped Branson understand the difference between gross and net?
  10. Anderson raises the question of whether the current generation of children is being coddled (spoiled). Does Branson agree that children are in danger of being spoiled? What is his recommendation? Do you agree?
  11. Anderson says that Branson has been accused of being a ruthless businessman. How does Branson respond?
  12. What is the problem with capitalism that «capitalist philanthropy» is intended to address?
  13. What are two major problems that Branson's capitalist philanthropy is trying to help solve?
  14. What Russian-born software engineer did Branson mention as a personal friend?

Monday, December 7, 2015

Group 401: Linguistics and "The Mind's Big Bang"

For this week's class, we hope to use two segments from the U.S. Public Broadcasting documentary program Nova and its series Evolution. From episode 6, "The Mind's Big Bang," we'll look at the birth of a new language among deaf children in Nicaragua. Then we'll look at how memes operate in intellectual evolution in ways that are similar to (and competing with??) genes operating in biological evolution.

If we don't finish everything this week, we'll return to this program after our midyear exam next week.

The whole program:

Our first segment, "Birth of a Language," begins at 35 minutes 43 seconds. The second part, "The Evolutionary Role of Memes," begins at 44 minutes.

Our discussion questions:
  1. Who are Maria Noname and Judy Kegel?
  2. What information about herself was Maria unable to give?
  3. The “window” for acquiring language stays open until about what age?
  4. Why did the Nicaraguan deaf children in this documentary never encounter the window for language?
  5. Instead of learning the standard sign language, what did the Nicaraguan children do?
  6. What does every language depend upon? A set of strict ... what?
  7. Richard Dawkins believes that language provided an advantage in what grand process?
  8. What does Robin Dunbar do when he is out in the field--for example in a restaurant or on a train?
  9. Dunbar and his colleagues thought that the exchange of technical information made up the major part of communication. To their surprise, 2/3 of normal human communication is actually made up of what?
  10. What will monkeys and apes never know?
  11. What does Stephen Pinker suggest might be the advantage of being the first to get a nice bit of gossip?
  12. The narrator says, "Language: the force that created modern human culture, and that today tells us...." What three things does language tell us? “Who …, how …, and where ....”
  13. Memes include, among other things, such intellectual and behavioral patterns as: (name as many as possible)
  14. As an example of “memes fighting against genes,” Blackmore mentions that, in general, the more education you have, the fewer children you have.” What might the implications be?
The Public Broadcasting Service Web site maintains a subsite dedicated to the Evolution series.