Author Archive - jason

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The Gumball Challenge is Underway!

Friday, November 9th, 2007

I mentioned a few weeks ago about the Gumball Challenge – a one-week competition that creatively engages students with microfinance. Student-teams are given a loan of $27 and one week to do something creative and entrepreneurial. At the end of the week, the loan is returned and any extra revenue does to the Gumball Fund – which loans to entrepreneurs in the developing world through Kiva. The whole thing is a project of Gumball Capital – a nonprofit started by Stanford students earlier this year. The Challenge is also being run at 5 other schools this month.
The Stanford Challenge is now heading into its 5th day, and the 9 competing teams have been doing some pretty awesome stuff! One team has being holding a Penny War in White Plaza and has raised over $60 (including some from our own Vice Provost ). Another team did In-n-Out runs on Thursday night and made $75. Others are hosting a Wii tournaments in the dorms or making 5ft towers out of quarters.
What excites me most about the Gumball Challenge is the creativity on speed. This idea is epitomized by the success of National Novel Writing Month, which is all of November. In 2006, 13k people wrote a 50,000 word novel, many who have never done anything like it before. The excitement of throwing things together, pushing through obstacles and achieving success in a creative way is addictive and awesome.
Now for that video I promised of Vice Provost John Bravman supporting the Penny War by smacking down the senior class. Ouch!

BoredatGreen now is BoredatStanford

Thursday, October 25th, 2007

Do people remember I saw little fliers for it around Meyer Library and other places last year, especially around finals weeks. It featured very crass inane comments – the kind of stuff you see in bathroom stalls. I thought it was a the pet project of a entrepreneurial Stanford student. Well it’s back – now as with the tagline “anonymity liberates”.
Turns out, according to IvyGate, the site the brainchild of a guy named Johnathon Pappas ’06 from Columbia. He started BoredAtButler in 2005, presumably for a library at Columbia. It was a hit and over the past 2 years he’s expanded his project to a network of schools – BoredAt. The BoredAt network reminds of Facebook back when it was exclusive – the Ivies + UC’s + Stanford and a few others. The site wants to be “it’s a place to post your thoughts anonymously, share, and discuss anything and everything ”
But as Professor emeritus Philip Zimbardo and others have shown us, anonymity can also lead people to be more aggressive, and I might add, more obscene as well.
Still there is an kind of perverse pleasure gain from reading the threads on girls who accept random propositions for sex (“back row at FlicKs”), the best way to break up with someone (“I need some independence peeeeaaace”) or getting what you want (“academic success, not to be alone, and for the red sox to win”)
Check it out – BoredAtStanford. What do you think about it?

Why Homework Does not Promote Learning

Monday, October 22nd, 2007

While procrastinating on a Biochem problemset, I ran across this interesting article published in Education Week that I think sums up what many of us think about homework: It’s just not that useful. The article explains how most studies barely have any correlation between homework and test scores in high school, and in fact a negative correlation for students in elementary school. In the 1994 and 1999 Trends in Mathematics and Science Study featuring data from 50 countries, researches stated:

“Not only did we fail to find any positive relationships,” but “the overall correlations between national average student achievement and national averages in [amount of homework assigned] are all negative.”

Yet we keep assigning it in our schools and the amount has been steadily increasing in the past number of years. The article tries to explain this phenomenon with the idea that “homework = practice = learning”. But we’ve all experienced those moments when doing stupid worksheets and extra problems where we think “this is not teaching me ANYTHING”.

“Supporters of homework rarely look at things from the student’s point of view, though; instead, kids are regarded as inert objects to be acted on: Make them practice and they’ll get better. My argument isn’t just that this viewpoint is disrespectful, or that it’s a residue of an outdated stimulus-response psychology. I’m also suggesting it’s counterproductive. Children cannot be made to acquire skills. They aren’t vending machines such that we put in more homework and get out more learning.”

What do you think – is homework valuable?
The Truth about Homework

Al Gore and UN Panel Win Nobel Prize

Friday, October 12th, 2007

US Senator. Vice President. Best-selling Author. Academy Award Winner. Now Al Gore can add Nobel Peace Prize winner to his list of accomplishments. Whatever you think of Al Gore, his movie “An Inconvenient Truth” or Global Warming, you can’t scoff at what Al Gore has accomplished in his life.
I’ve often felt that huge failures result in great success in the future. Steve Jobs got fired from Apple, and then he returned it’s savior years later. Al Gore narrowly lost the election that was supposed to be his. So he turned to business – becoming an adviser for both Google and Apple, a VP for , and founder/CEO of Current TV and a “asset-management firm”. (Fast Company)
Lots of people have been speculating as to whether or not Al Gore was/is going to jump into the Democratic election, but I think it’s pretty clear now that he will not. He’s got great things going on, and a lot of authority to talk about in issue he cares about. Global warming is one of the greatest challenges humanity faces and Al Gore is now poised to lead the solutions to that challenge. Why get back into that messy battleground of politics?
Still, nobody’s perfect. People grumble about how much money he makes per speech ($175,000) and that he ought to lose some weight (at least he cut off that awful beard), and that he’s contributing more to global warming than stopping it (you try spreading a message without flying around a lot).
Al Gore still has street cred for me. What about you?

The Gumball Challenge at Stanford

Wednesday, October 10th, 2007

There is an article today in the Daily about Gumball Capital, and talks about how they are encouraging students across the nation to participate in the Gumball Challenge. The Challenge is going to be run this November at schools like Yale, UCLA and Berkeley. Of course Stanford is running one too – and I’m in charge of making it happen.
Here’s the gist of it – on November 7th, teams of students will get a Starter Kit with gumballs, a $27 loan and a guide book. They’ll have one week to create value by thinking outside the box. They return the loan at the end of the week, and any revenue will to the Gumball Fund – which supports developing-world entrepreneurs through Teams can win prizes for their innovation and the value they create.
I think what’s exciting about the challenge and separates it from other business-y competitions is that you don’t need to write up a business plan. You don’t spend two months doing applications. It’s just one week creativity spree. No business experience necessary. Definitely Posted in Events | 6 Comments »

Do You Know the Soulja Boy Dance?

Sunday, September 30th, 2007

I’ve noticed that in general, rap songs that have dance moves associated with them end up being more popular – Lean Back, Pop, Lock and Drop it, 1,2 Step, and others. One of the newest hip-hop dance songs on the scene is Soulja Boy’s – “Crank That (Soulja Boy)”, which returned to the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100.
“Crank That” (wp) has a dance associated with it, some might call it snap music, and a quick youtube search of “Soulja Boy dance” returns 5,400 video results of people demonstrating their version of the dance. I personally know of two athletic teams who have choreographed and performed dances based on the song as well. I’ll leave with you some dance videos, so you’ll be able to bust out the Soulja Boy dance at the next frat party. Cheers.

A Happiness Gap Between Men and Women

Wednesday, September 26th, 2007

According to the New York Times, men feel happier than women and the gap is growing. According to some surveys, women were slightly happier than men in the 1970’s, but today guys have switched with gals.
Why? Everyone has a different reason. Here’s one I like:

When Ms. Stevenson and I were talking last week about possible explanations, she mentioned her “hottie theory.” It’s based on an April article in this newspaper by Sara Rimer, about a group of incredibly impressive teenage girls in Newton, Mass [incidentally, the high school I went to – Jason]. The girls were getting better grades than the boys, playing varsity sports, helping to run the student government and doing community service. Yet one girl who had gotten a perfect 2,400 on her college entrance exams noted that she and her friends still felt pressure to be “effortlessly hot.”

I feel like that same reasoning might work at Stanford. I know I don’t feel a particular need to keep my room clean, or wear nice clothes (although for the most part I do anyway). Girls at Stanford – trying to achieve academically AND look hot. No wonder they’re feeling down.
Am I totally off on this? Tell me in the comments.

Enhancing Evolution – Book preview and commentary

Tuesday, September 18th, 2007

I was walking around at the Stanford Bookstore and I saw this book:
The book is called Enhancing Evolution – the Ethical Case for Making Better People. by John Harris. (Amazon, Princeton University Press ) and it looks like a very interesting book indeed.
The book covers Harris’s arguments for why we ought to promote technologies that would allow us enhance our bodies – most notably through altering our DNA. A lot of people have a general sense of repulsion to that idea, but Harris asks us to think about the other ways we enhance ourselves – glasses, coffee, drugs, surgeries, chemotherapy. We do so many unnatural things to our bodies in an attempt to make ourselves better. Harris argues it is our nature and sometimes our moral duty, to improve ourselves and help improve others.
I’m personally supportive of genetic enhancement because I think the greatest threat to humanity is 1) our own inability to make short-term sacrifices in pursuit of long-term goals – leading to failed diets and global warming. And 2) our propensity towards xenophobia and violence which divide us and cause so much suffering through wars and other conflicts. These are inclinations that are not caused by society as they are inclinations evolved into humans through the millions of years of living in small groups, facing immediate dangers from the world and from other groups.
I read a couple chapters in the bookstore and I think the writing is accessible and ethically sound. I’m writing an honors thesis on the ethics of patient selection in organ transplantation so I’m familiar with basic ethical theories, but you don’t even need to know that to enjoy and learn from this book. Check it out.

Arctic Tale – A Movie Review

Wednesday, September 5th, 2007

I don’t watch movies at the theater too often – one because I talk a lot at movies and my friends hate it, and two because I’m cheap and I don’t want to spend the money. But I was home this past weekend and I watched Arctic Tale with my parents and my little sister. It’s a movie from National Geographic , who also did March of the Penguins.
I really liked it. It mainly focuses on the life of two baby girls – a polar bear named Nanu and a walrus named Seela – as they grow up in the cold arctic world up north. The cinematography is amazing – beautiful panning of ice and ocean, lots of closeup shots of the bears and the walruses, and a great deal of underwater filming. The narration is by Queen Latifah, who is a bit funnier than Morgan Freedman, who did March of the Penguins. (PS After reading the wikipedia entry, I’m very impressed with Queen Latifah’s accomplishments and I think a lot of people aren’t giving her enough credit)
This film took over 8 years to film. That is incredible. It seems like it was made right on the tail of March of the Penguins but really this film must have been in production for a looong time. When you watch the movie you constantly thinking – how were they able to follow these families for so long, and tell a coherent story that intertwines the two animals and captures significant points in their lives. My hat is off to the dedicated National Geographic staff for putting such a big project together.


What’s the Matter with Colleges? Answer: It’s You, not Us.

Tuesday, July 17th, 2007

Rick Perlstein of the New York Times asks “What’s the Matter with Colleges?”. He wants to know why colleges no longer lead our society in culture like they did in the 60’s and 70’s and even 80’s. The main reason is that there are a lot more people IN college today.
I’ll be honest, I did not like this essay and my response is not going to be politically correct. Rick Perlstein seemed to me to be a stuck up rich literary nerd who is longing for the good old days back when he was in school, oh so long ago (1988-1992). He talks about reading forbidden books, going to see jazz masters play, inviting and engaging with intellectual and cultural luminaries, spending countless hours debating issues in the dorms.
But in contrast, today’s colleges lack this cultural and intellectual vigor. One college student complains that “people here are so insanely uncreative, and they’re proud of it.” The main problem in his eyes was that his classmates “had to spend their entire high school experience studying for the SATs or something and didn’t really get a chance to live life or experience things.”
To me that sounds exactly like something a rich white kid would say.


Warren Buffet has a lower tax rate than his secretary

Thursday, July 5th, 2007

Times Online:

Mr Buffett said that he was taxed at 17.7 per cent on the $46 million he made last year, without trying to avoid paying higher taxes, while his secretary, who earned $60,000, was taxed at 30 per cent. Mr Buffett told his audience, which included John Mack, the chairman of Morgan Stanley, and Alan Patricof, the founder of the US branch of Apax Partners, that US government policy had accentuated a disparity of wealth that hurt the economy by stifling opportunity and motivation.

I read this article today and I think it really says something about this country and about Warren Buffet. He is a great man who has donated 37 billion dollars to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – which is dedicated to bringing innovations of health and learning to the global community. Even with all his money Buffet doesn’t think of himself as better or more worthy of consideration than the average American.
America has a huge disparity in income between its richest and its poorest citizens. In 2000 the richest 5% made 19x more than the poorest 20%. Studies show that Income disparity makes a huge difference in a person’s health and happiness. (Stanford’s own Prof. Salposky)
Most people still say that America is a land of opportunity – that if you work hard, you can fashion a great life for yourself. But the heavy taxes that affect the middle class all but assure that you’ll never become super-wealthy.
It seems like those who can afford to pay higher taxes are the ones that don’t have to. Too bad. I’m glad someone wealthy is talking about it.

Studies Show Death Penalty Deters Criminals

Monday, June 11th, 2007

My friend sent me this article today, Studies say death penalty deters crime – Yahoo! News, and I found it pretty interesting. He knows I’m against the death penalty mainly because I believe that it does not deter crime.
The article might change my views. Apparently there have been several studies in the past 6 years that are all suggesting that for in each state, an execution deters between 3-18 homicides. This is accounting for other factors like unemployment data, income per capita and others. I haven’t looked at the studies myself but they sound pretty good – but have attracted a lot of controversy.
So say it’s true – that more executions could prevent more innocent people from dying. Does that necessarily make the death penalty right? Perhaps.
Some things are intrinsically wrong, no matter what the consequences are. For example – we can’t force people to be organ donors even if it means many more people would be able to stay alive.
I think what it boils down to is your opinion on the purpose of sentences for crimes:
1) to prevent other people from doing it
2) to stop those who commit crimes from committing more crimes
3) or to exact punishment on people who commit crimes – to make them “pay”.
Personally I’m with number 2. What’s your take on sentences? On the death penalty?
Good luck with finals everyone! Sign up to blog for the summer!

Why Are Certain Animals Ok to Eat and not Others?

Sunday, May 27th, 2007

I came across this BBC article called “Cruelty in the Kitchen” on how some animals are ok to eat (Whales in Japan, and Dog in Vietnam) and others are not ok (In the US/Europe, eating whale and dog meat would be unthinkable).
The author discusses how people argue that whales are endangered species (but not all of them are, and Japan didn’t make them that way, Europe and America did). He also discusses how many people think killing whales with harpoons is cruel.
But what’s not cruel about slicing the beaks off chickens minutes after they are born, or keeping sows in 2″ by 7″ gestation crates for their entire lives? Why is it ok to eat chicken and pork but not whale and pig? I would eat any animal given the right circumstance.
Let me be clear. I love eating meat. A tasty steak makes my mouth water and I’m sure I’ve eaten hundreds of pounds of meat in my lifetime. But I won’t eat it anymore. It’s wrong.
If you think kicking a stray dog in ribs or breaking the neck of a stray cat is wrong; you must realize you do the same thing every time you eat meat that is not locally produced. You are supporting an industry that does horrendous things to living, feeling creatures.


The Imposter Controversy: A Look at the Reaction

Friday, May 25th, 2007

So everyone and their mother now know about the Stanford Imposter and the crazy ridiculous situation that has transpired at Stanford. Well, except my mother that is, I didn’t tell her because she would start freaking out about my safety, a fruitless exercise of stress. Anyways, the Daily article is an impressive piece of investigative journalism and of course the Stanford administraton has little to say about the matter.
I find that there has been a wide range of reactions to the story. Most people are just shocked that this could happen and I’m sure it has started at least 20% of all conversations among Stanford undergrads today. The story was even listed on Reddit, a widely used social bookmarking site. There are already 4 Facebook groups: including “I want Azia Kim as my roommate” and “Let Azia Stay”.
The comments on the Daily article though, are the MOST intriguing.


The Machine is Us/ing Us

Monday, May 21st, 2007

This short little video conveys a great deal of information in a very short time span (4.5 minutes). It discusses how the internet and web 2.0 is changing the way we interact and the way content can be displayed. Very informative, innovative and at times profound. Take a look.