Thursday, October 22, 2015

The man who beat Edison, the Flu, and Terry Gross

The man who defeated Thomas Edison
The man who holds more patents than anyone (including Thomas Edison) is Lowell Wood of Bellevue, WA. What makes the story intriguing to me is that he was terrible in school.
Wood insists that if he’s smart, he didn’t start out that way. Growing up in Southern California, he says, “I didn’t do well in any classes.” He often failed or received the lowest score on the first exam given in a particular course and improved his marks through repetition and intense effort. The strategy worked. He skipped a couple of grades and enrolled at UCLA at 16, where he tested into an honors-level calculus class. The worst score on the first exam—once again—was his. “I’d gotten into the class on the basis of aptitude, not knowledge, which is a ruinous sort of thing,” he says. “It’s like being told I understand the theory of swimming, and so here I am tossed into a high-speed river.”
The score horrified Wood, and he tried to make up for it with a very hard extra-credit problem. “You had to figure out how to cover an area with tiles in a specified fashion,” he says. “This is back in 1958, and it was a famous math problem. It was hopeless, and everyone worked on it for a while and then threw it away.”
As it happened, UCLA had just taken delivery of the first digital computer west of the Mississippi. Wood taught himself how to use the machine over the Christmas break and then wrote a program to solve the tiling problem. “It was a shameless sort of thing,” he says. “I used brute force to solve a problem that was meant to be solved through cleverness.” After he turned in his work, his professor accused him of cheating. “And so I reached down in a briefcase and pulled out the program,” he says. “The professor’s jaw literally dropped, and he said, ‘What is a computer? You can have the points if you teach me how to use this thing.’”
It makes me wonder how many of my low scoring students have hidden talents that I can't see. Then it makes me wonder how we change the education system so that we might be able to see those talents more clearly.

The Flu
What makes the flu spread more easily in winter? Partially, it's the dry air:
Tyler Koep, then at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, has estimated that simply running an air humidifier in a school for one hour could kill around 30% of the viruses flying around the air.
Read the article here

Terry Gross
Fresh Air's Terry Gross is America's best interviewer (I'm sorry Charlie Rose, but it's true), and The New York Times Magazine just did a profile of her. The profile includes an exchange from an interview I vividly remember listening to. Maurice Sendak was so real, and his emotions were so naked. I'm really glad the profile captured part of it.
On ‘‘Fresh Air,’’ we listen to Gross grapple with the most complex questions of existence — racial prejudice, faith, family, illness, morality, betrayal, gratitude. In 2011, when Maurice Sendak was 83, Gross called him at his home in Connecticut. What was meant to be a short conversation about his new book, ‘‘Bumble-Ardy,’’ became a meditation on his nearness to death. You feel Sendak looking over into it from his living room.
Sendak: Oh, God, there are so many beautiful things in this world which I will have to leave when I die, but I’m ready, I’m ready, I’m ready. … You know, I have to tell you something.
Gross: Go ahead.
Sendak: You are the only person I have ever dealt with in terms of being interviewed or talking who brings this out in me. There’s something very unique and special in you, which I so trust. When I heard that you were going to interview me or that you wanted to, I was really, really pleased.
Read the interview here

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