Thursday, July 16, 2009

136. Instead of watching television, exercise your mind

Have you ever just been sitting around the house, tired of the same old shows on television and thought, "Man, I would love to take a course on Thermodynamics and Kinetics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)"? If chemistry is not your thing, then maybe a course in Atomistic Computer Modeling of Materials is more to your liking. Still no go? Then maybe a class in the Philosophy of Film, Chinese, or Introduction to Algorithms appeals to you.

In fact, if you were considering a break from the television, or if you just wanted the chance to conveniently embrace continuing education, you could select from thousands of courses: Free! Not only MIT, but several other colleges now allow you to access their classes over the Internet, without cost. The courses differ, but not only do Internet "students" get the audio/video lectures, they also get a syllabus, class transcripts, lecture notes, reading assignments, exercises and practice exams. Again, not all classes offer all of the above, but enough material is shared that one can genuinely experience the course as is it offered by the university to its students.

MIT's program is called, "OpenCourseWare," though there are many universities, such as U.C. Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon, and Tufts University that are available to choose from. Although no academic credit is given for the courses, and nothing is graded, one interested in a quality education, for the sake of learning, has the opportunity that other self-taught students, like Albert Einstein and Alexander Graham Bell, could only dream of.

Surprisingly, these courses have been around for some time now; MIT's program began with 50 pilot classes in 2002 and officially launched the program in October of 2003 with 500 classes. Today, it offers about 1900 full-length courses, many with video hosted by YouTube and iTunes U. Today, MIT's OpenCourseWare gets an amazing 2 million visits per month.

I often enjoy the lectures offered by The Teaching Company, which also offers professionally-produced audio and video lectures from the countries best college professors. These lectures are expensive to purchase but are readily available in many libraries. Their promotion includes the idea that even spending an hour a day listening to their lectures would result in a course being completed in just weeks. The audio lectures are great for long car rides.

Science has long encouraged lifetime learning, and, although not conclusive, the latest research has suggested that exercising your brain might help prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer's. However, even without the perceived physiological benefits, it can be fun to learn new things-at your time, place and convenience.

For some, it might be difficult to consider putting in the effort and not getting the college credit for it. These courses are not really something that belongs on a résumé. Rather, these courses offer the opportunity to take classes completely out of interest, and you do not have to take each class required in pursuit of a formal degree. And while these courses, if applicable to one's profession, do not garner official recognition, it is not to say that they will not help in the performance of one's job.

It is amazing what the Internet has brought to us; this is just another of its dynamics with the potential to change the world. For me, I'll pass on the Thermodynamics and Kinetics class, but I saw several others that caught my attention. However, and perhaps more importantly, I can't wait to see what the Internet brings us next!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

135. Animal cruelty is unconscionable

Leaving for vacation and not sure what to do with the dogs? There is, of course, the option of taking them to a kennel, asking family and friends to dog sit, or maybe even giving the neighbor kid a few bucks to watch over them. The other possibility, the one only a heartless, soulless Columbus firefighter would choose, is to take them in the basement, tie them to a pole, and fire eleven bullets into them.
Have a leisurely garden with those precious flowers that a pesky fawn insists on nibbling at? Again, one could choose to put a small fence up around it, feed the fawn, or get over it and plant something that deer will not eat. The other possibility, the one only a selfish, wretched, evil person would choose, is to grab a shovel, beat the fawn to death and then put it out for the other deer to see.
Running late and forced to stop for that annoying parade of Canadian geese? One could patiently wait, offer a couple toots of the horn, or even get out of the car to get them to pick up the pace (as my wife has done). The other possibility, the one only an impatient, cruel Oak Point motorist would choose, is to run one over a goose to what, “teach them a lesson”?
Have dozens of farm animals that you cannot afford to care for any longer? One could certainly ask the community for help, offer the animals to a shelter, or voluntarily surrender them to officials. The other option, the one only a wicked, brutal ignorant Grafton farmer would choose, is to do nothing but stand there and watch them starve to death.
The headlines have been horrific and for the people that care about animals, it is difficult to tolerate. Similar to my previous column about chained dogs, it is nearly unfathomable that so many people can act so cruelly to largely loving defenseless animals. I do not understand the pleasure that some people feel in watching an animal suffer or die. Is it a feeling of domination? Of superiority or power? Perhaps it is a psychological transference to compensate for shortcomings in their otherwise pathetic lives.
I do not often offer such harsh tones, but I have no respect for people that engage in the cowardice of harming an animal.
These headlines coincidently came to focus as Pamplona, Spain engaged in their miserable, archaic tradition of the “running with the bulls,” which draws national attention each year. The event leads bulls past a cheering crowd and “brave” runners into the bullring to meet the matadors and their almost certain death. The event is described this way by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals:
Each year, more than 40,000 bulls are barbarically slaughtered in Spain’s bullrings. Most foreign visitors who witness a bullfight never wish to see one again. They are repulsed, disgusted and saddened by the cruelty of the spectacle.
At best, the term “bullfighting” is a misnomer, as there is usually little competition between a nimble sword-wielding matador and a confused, maimed, psychologically tormented and physically debilitated bull.
This absurd event has now seen fifteen people killed since 1924. I am sorry to say, and quite honestly, I am willing to accept as many deaths as it will take to end the event—because, as we know, our conscience is only measured in human deaths.
Columbus Fire Chief Ned Pettus Jr. has recommended that the firefighter who killed his dogs be fired.  The firefighter, who volunteered to take anger management courses, pleaded guilty to animal cruelty and was sentenced to 90 days in jail. Despite bragging about what he had done, his lawyer now says that he is “extremely remorseful.” The most ridiculous part of the agreement is that he is prohibited from having a pet for five years. It should be forever.