Sunday, August 07, 2022

New Digital Natives

Supporting New Digital Natives: Children’s Mental Health and Wellbeing in a Hi-Tech Age

Michelle Jayman, Maddie Ohl, and Leah Jewett, eds. 2021. Bristol University Press. [ISBN 978-1-4473-5645-5. 210 pages, including index. US$45.95 (softcover).]


Mental wellness and digital technology are traditionally not viewed as collaborative partners, especially in youth development. The negative aspects of digital technology include cyberbullying, inappropriate visualcontent, social media competition, and the (sometimes) misconception of “too much screen time.” However, nobody can dispute that exposure to technology is unavoidable—from online homework to discussion groups on Zoom, students are required to have an email address in early elementary school. With the new reality of technology-savvy younger children, it is critical to figure out the implementation of it for maximum benefits/fewest risks and how to impose critical boundaries. To this end, Supporting New Digital Natives: Children’s Mental Health and Wellbeing in a Hi-Tech Age was compiled in ten chapters with sources at the end of each chapter, a section on the background of the contributors, a glossary, and index. The editors selected eight case studies by health care providers, teachers, and mental health professionals/researchers to approach mental wellness from a complex wholistic landscape rather than examining any one influencing factor.

“These eight case studies were selected because of their original contributions, each focusing on different aspects of CYP’s (children and young people) lives which are inextricably linked to mental wellbeing, such as friendships and relationships, play and learning experiences, and opportunities for connecting with nature and the community. More than this, each chapter is a platform for raising CYP’s voice, rightly placing them, as experts in their own lives, at the heart of mental wellbeing interventions and services” (p. xxx).

Ironically, the first case study on supporting new digital natives (as the title states) introduces a pyramid club that removes children from all technology and places them in an intentional support group—an environment where they can practice relationship building in a supportive place. For ten weeks, kids meet with other kids who either lack social skills and/or have trouble with friendships. During these ten weeks, the kids do activities targeted toward connection, building teamwork, and creating a safe space like arts and crafts, food preparation and sharing, and circle time. This approach contrasts with the next case study in which Book of Beasties is used to explore how to get children to build virtual friendships through an online card game. “Children learn best in interactive environments which invite them in as interactive collaborators and include content which is meaningful to them” (p 96).

One of the common negatives associated with digital technology is the reduction of outdoor play for children—this is the basis of Forest School and Girlguiding. These case studies look at the effects of nature on the mental wellbeing of youth and the importance of building a support community. In the girlguiding study, the implementation of digital technology has improved some of the programs and the girls are encouraged to use the technology if it helps them.

One of the final case studies introduces LifeMosaic—an app for a smartphone that tracks various data points that might help children understand their mental health better. For example, after tracking sleep and diet they might see the link between poor eating habits and poor sleep quality—and their overall mood as a result. The app allows children to design their own study and then plot graphs and charts which can be shared within their online LifeMosaic community.

All these studies describe either the use of technology to enhance mental wellbeing or the intentional removal of technology to eliminate a technology-driven issue—the intersection of which is a balance the new digital natives of our generation will be forced to eventually navigate themselves.

Julie Kinyoun

Julie Kinyoun is an on-call chemistry instructor at various community colleges in Southern California. An avid reader, she enjoys reviewing books that help her become a better educator.

Saturday, May 07, 2022

How to Lead in Data Science

 


How to Lead in Data Science

Jike Chong and Yue Cathy Chang. 2021. Manning Publications Co. [ISBN 978-1-61729-889-9. 514 pages, including index. US$59.99 (softcover).]

Many recent advancements in our world are data science (DS) applications in industry/academia. In healthcare, genomics/virus research relies on vast databases to make life saving vaccines for public health. Handheld devices may soon transform the way healthcare operates by transmitting real-time data. In the field of artificial intelligence, the neural net is only as effective as the “learning” it does with data input to “teach” it how to conduct its task. These applications support the relevance of How to Lead in Data Science to create, organize, and manage leadership in the field. For this reason, it is a needed resource for an expanding industry.

Jike Chong and Yue Cathy Chang state that they authored this book for data scientists. Lay readers may have difficulty with the book yet are encouraged to scan through it as it can serve as a generic management guide. This book describes concepts that are universal to other technical fields, which makes it useful across all industries besides the growing DS field. “The contribution of DS to the economy is still in its infancy as of 2021. According to LinkedIn Talent Solutions data, the discipline has found the most traction in IT, computer software, and internet industries” (p. 412). Growth in the data scientist field is occurring in financial services, banking, insurance, health care, biotech, pharmaceuticals, and fitness, and is likely to increase quickly due to delays in current product pipelines. “The scarcity of data product manager talent is a significant bottleneck for companies looking to develop data and intelligence-driven products and features” (p. 454).

The initial chapters introduce real-life data scientists at varying levels of their career development. Each scientist is analyzed according to their positive performance and areas of needed growth. The authors tie these examples to detailed graphs of the progressive levels of data science advancement. The book uses the TEE-ERA fan (Technology, Execution, Expert Knowledge, Ethics, Rigor, Attitude) in Figure 2.1 of Chapter 2, which also appears on the inside of the back cover. The authors refer to these capabilities and virtues at all levels of the data scientist’s development from a strong technical lead to a manager to a director and, finally, to arrive at the executive level of performance. (The authors also outline a second career track as the path of an individual data scientist outside of management.)

Although How to Lead in Data Science emphasizes that technical knowledge and expertise are foundational to DS, these are the bare minimum skills for survival. The authors sprinkle advice throughout the book with tips for thriving in the field with the most important being to select an industry you like and will grow to love. Only with this affinity can you develop proper relationships with others, remain positive, keep current on technical advances, and keep a relevant skill set for influencing and inspiring an industry. The bottom line is to prove that data can bring impact and success in data science through this detailed guide. Who could go wrong!

Julie Kinyoun

Julie Kinyoun is an on-call chemistry instructor at various community colleges in Southern California. An avid reader, she enjoys reviewing books that help her become a better educator.

Tuesday, March 08, 2022

Being a Mom


Recently I processed my infant-mothering days from the rear-view mirror by compiling an album for the family of a friend. It was for the family of this friend and not the friend herself because my friend died. Yes, my forty-year-old, “younger” friend died of colon cancer. Sigh. That is a different blog post. 

On the cover of the album is a beautiful photo of six soul sisters- six women who banded together and shared maternity and baby clothes, birthday and pool parties, holiday cookie exchanges and weekly play dates at people’s homes and at local parks. We are all calmly smiling for a perfectly posed picture of a perfect friendship because we had just sailed carefree through motherhood together….. NOT! I look at these six women (and two toddlers who unknowingly photobombed our picture by running to mommy) and I know we were tired, we had just disagreed about the time and location of our picnic and some of us had done a separate party with alcohol the night before. That is why this cover photo is unique- never before had someone (my parents in this case) gotten us organized for such a picture. The rest of the 50 assorted photos of these women include one or more of us as dots in the background, serving food, speaking to a child while holding a plate and balancing a baby in the other arm. Truthfully most of the pictures are just of the kids- playing at the park, eating, blowing birthday candles, and posing for mom saying “smile for a picture honey.” 
You can’t survive motherhood alone. Period. With a brand new baby I showed up at mommy events designed for the isolated, family out-of-town mother to bond with other moms only to be asked to work in childcare (What?) or to meet women who lived an hour’s drive across town or just to leave feeling rejected in some way. Wasn’t I the pretty, involved, musically talented teenager who qualified for a highly-select college with professionals at the highest level of accomplishment? What happened to popular me? Now I was the slightly pudgy (from pregnancy), perpetually tired, slightly out-of-fashion maternity clothes who was always asking for a babysitter. People started to avoid me when I would arrive. What is she asking for now? I was thinking THEY were thinking.

So to find a group of women who wanted to share these moments was inner-soul soothing. Being accepted on the raw level of something never experienced- being in a low, vulnerable place and having other women surround me and say “we are here too.” Not perfect but definitely critical. I recently told the sister of my deceased friend:  Mothering is the hardest thing you will ever do. People you thought were your friends will disappear and let you down. You will feel alone. You will feel rejected or not good enough or lonely. You will show up at the park with your baby only to feel left out by the elementary-school aged moms who all know each other from soccer league. You will sit with your baby, not knowing anybody, and nobody will introduce themself to you. They look right through you. They do not need a woman with a baby nor is a woman with a baby of any use to them. You are a nuisance. You are an extra responsibility. You are a person always looking to shift responsibility onto others. And it doesn’t matter if that is not who you are- people will make you feel that way.

The album for my friend’s family is called “Good Times.” Our smiles in these select twenty photos don’t reveal our exhaustion, our health problems, our recent fight with our spouse, our disagreements or disappointments with each other, our own insecurities with our body image, relationships and extended family. But we survived and even overcame and thrived despite these things partly because we found each other. Closer with some women at certain times than others- that too changed as time went by. The woman with whom I currently communicate most was probably the woman I knew the least at the time of the photo. Now our kids play on the same sports teams and we see each other frequently. Of the other four, one lives in an adjoining neighborhood and we occasionally bump into each other on a walk, two moved out of the country (and then one of those died), and one lives a few miles away with kids at different schools and in different activities (she has boys and I have girls). Our lives has drastically changed since this photo was taken. We no longer need each other the same way. But speaking for myself- I don’t know what I would have done without this support group when my girls were babies.

All of the women in this tribe shared a few characteristics: our families were all out-of-town, we were all married to highly educated men who primarily worked in the high-tech industry, we had all graduated from college and worked at a job. And most of us had some serious hobbies with which we could throw ourselves into during the drudgery of motherhood.
It was drudgery that nobody could have prepared me for. No amount of babysitting, educational observations, or other preparation would have made a difference. It was sink or swim. 

Together we swam. That swim propelled us out of the world of babies and toddlers into the world of older children where we currently stand. We were a team.






Saturday, February 12, 2022

Book Review on the Subconscious Brain



Subconsciousness: Automatic Behavior and the Brain. Yves Agid. 2021. Columbia University Press. [ISBN 978-0-231-20127-8. 110 pages, including index. US$26.00 (softcover).]

Subconsciousness: Automatic Behavior and the Brain delves into the poorly understood connection between structure and function in the brain-particularly regarding intentional and unintentional behavior. Yves Agid discusses this obscure subject in a 100-page treatise that links the cerebral cortex with the basal ganglia and argues that intentional and unintentional behavior arise from the engagement and disengagement of neural pathways in between. The author clarifies early in his book that subconsciousness is not the Freudian concept of the unconscious mind—primarily repressed mental content that affects behavior. Subconsciousness is not easily discernible, in contrast to the clear sense of consciousness or meta- consciousness. He narrates a first-person account of a traffic jam in Paris—noting the intentional decisions (consciousness) and self-talk (meta-consciousness) during each event in traffic. Autopilot—driving without intentionally thinking about choices and actions—is the work of the subconscious. Later in the book, Agid asks the question that if the brain is operating on autopilot, is it possible to decide (like when driving) without being aware that a decision was made? (The answer is yes). Herein lies some of the complexity of the subconscious.

Text boxes are one method of highlighting important discoveries toward the link between structure and function in the brain. These pull-out boxes summarize case studies with significant outcomes. Box 4.3, for example, describes the famous psychiatrist Sigmund Freud’s rotation in a neurology department (pp. 82–83). This famous neurology research lab studied lesions in various parts of the brain. After death, an autopsy of the spinal cord and brain linked patient behavior while they were alive to the functionality of their brain postmortem. This early work led to the belief that links behavior to the health of various pathways in the different sections of the brain. It is important to note that although Agid strongly argues that the basal ganglia are primarily responsible for the brain’s subconscious functions, it is very much in collaboration with the cerebral cortex. “The basal ganglia are faithful collaborators of the cerebral cortex . . . They are not alone, isolated, and cut off from the rest of the brain, as they involve the cerebral cortex every time they are activated, just as they are activated every time the cerebral cortex drives deliberate behavior” (p. 72). It is a feedback loop of sorts. This description is, of course, a simplification of the extremely complex process occurring. “One might say that this is a caricatured reductionist perspective” (p. 72).

Agid devotes an entire chapter to a discussion about deficiencies in the structure of the brain and how those correlate to functionality. Two diseases that illustrate this well are Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. In Alzheimer’s disease the patient has problems related to memory, language, and perception, all controlled by the cerebral cortex while with Parkinson’s the patient cannot perform routine tasks like brushing teeth, walking, and writing—all controlled by the basal ganglia. “These two pathologies are somehow mirrored, which suggests, but does not demonstrate, that the cerebral cortex plays a predominant rule in nonautomatic behaviors, and conversely, that basal ganglia dominate in automatic behaviors (p. 57).

Perhaps because it is unavailable, information is not given to directly support brain scans and the Alzheimer’s/cerebral cortex link versus the Parkinson’s/ basal ganglia link. However, this lifelong researcher in the field of neurology and behavioral science seems convinced that link is probable.

Julie Kinyoun

Book Review: A New Metaphor for the Brain


 

An Internet in Your Head: A New Paradigm for How the Brain Works. Daniel Graham. 2021. Columbia University Press. [ISBN 978-0-231-19604-8. 344 pages, including index. US$30.00 (hardcover).]

“But metaphors—and especially technological metaphors—have been critical in the history of science, and they will continue to be so as we get closer to understanding the brain” (p. 27). Even before modern technology allowed us to use tracers and imaging techniques on the brain, philosophers and scientists used metaphors to encompass the intricacy and complexity of this critical organ. Seventeenth century philosopher RenĂ© Descartes likened the brain to the plumbing behind the grand waterworks of the Palace of Versailles—water was pumped uphill from a nearby river—and artfully expelled several meters high on display—delivering more water than was supplied to all of Paris. Building upon this premise, Nobel Prize winner Charles Sherrington likened neurons to “valve-like” structures. Charles Darwin, famous for his work on evolutionary theory, was unable to conceptualize the brain, partly because he had no metaphor for it. He believed thoughts were secreted by the brain, like digestive chemicals. Gottfried Leibniz, co-inventor of calculus, suggested the brain was a type of mill—this suggests different processes operating at different levels. This morphed into the modern-accepted metaphor of the brain as a computer.

In An Internet in Your Head: A New Paradigm for How the Brain Works, computational neuroscientist Daniel Graham argues that although the computer metaphor for the brain is helpful and somewhat accurate, it is ultimately obsolete. Many current research observations and discoveries suggest an organ more akin to a network communicator, or an Internet. “There is no doubt that the computer metaphor has been helpful and that the brain does perform computations. But neuroscience based on the computer metaphor is incomplete because it does not consider the principles of network communication. Neuroscientists are starting to realize that, in addition to performing computations, the brain also must communicate within itself” (p. viii).

Graham cites experimental evidence for the flaws in the computer model: In a controlled study of monkey brains compared with a deep net artificial intelligence system, the deep net system predicts less than half of the neuron activity over time. Besides showing the inadequacy of a deep net, this experimental evidence suggests the system is missing the most important signals occurring in the monkey brains.

For the rest of An Internet in Your Head, Graham provides a comprehensive analysis of the ways in which the Internet does and does not correlate to what scientists currently understand about the functionality of the brain. Flexible routing, asynchronous communication, management of errors, background noise, overall growth of the network (and other phenomena) can all be explained in more depth by an Internet-like structure rather than by a computer. Graham argues that a structure of multiple hubs connected in multiple ways creates a net of communication on many different levels. A problem with his analysis is that some of the vocabulary and experimentation is very specific to the field and an understanding of both electronics and neuroscience seems required to follow all the arguments.

And ultimately, scientists don’t have the ability to experiment with the brain’s inner workings. “Many of the limitations are procedural: it boils down to the fact that living brains, particularly human brains, are difficult to study, whereas single neurons are tractable” (p. 67).

Julie Kinyoun

Monday, November 15, 2021

About Us: A Book Review

 About Us: Essays from the Disability Series of The New York Times Peter Catapano and Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, eds. 2021. [ISBN 978-1- 63149-858-9. 286 pages. US$18.95 (softcover).] 




    It is obvious that usability and accessibility drive technological innovation and advancement. Not so conspicuous is the source of this usability. For example, many are surprised to hear that the original touchscreen technology of the iPhone was purchased by Apple’s Steve Jobs in 2005 from an electrical engineering student sustaining injuries that interfered with his ability to study and work. Many do not know that the updated kitchen products engineered by the Oxo were the original design of a woman unable to work in the kitchen due to her arthritis. A Nuremberg-based watchmaker, also a paraplegic, created the first self-directed wheelchair which was the precursor to the modern bicycle. Or that curb cuts originated with disgruntled wheelchair users in Berkeley, CA. Later curb cuts became universal because they helped strollers, bicycles, baggage handlers, and anybody else navigating wheels. 

It is these inspirational stories with which we can relate and that make About Us: Essays from the Disability Series of The New York Times so relevant to the technical world. And yet beneath the inspirational stories of lifechanging technology, there is humanity—heartache, struggle, alienation, and loneliness. The challenges with daily problems and the striving to maintain an outlook of positivity are also relevant to the technical world. 

In this collection, editors Peter Catapano, Opinion Editor for the New York Times, and Rosemarie GarlandThomson, disabled English professor at Emory University, compiled about 60 essays from the New York Times’ groundbreaking series on disability. Their intent was to include a wide variety of people—different ages, disabilities, outlooks, and experiences. Their goal of inclusion is explained, “By ensuring that people with disabilities tell their own stories, we intend to avoid and counter the sort of biased, simplified, often demeaning portrayals of them that are produced by an American popular culture designed by and for the nondisabled” (p. xx). 

These essays, first published starting in August 2016, are organized in seven sections: justice, belonging, working, navigating, coping, love, family, and joy. By sorting experiences according to these topics, three overall disability challenges are conveyed: inherent challenges, access challenges, and social challenges. Underlying all this is the idea that the American Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, while progressive in many ways, was just a small step forward in necessary changes required for people of all disabilities to be integrated into our society. Mentioned at least twice throughout the text is the offensive 1927 Supreme Court decision in which Oliver Wendell Holmes declared, “It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. Three generations of imbeciles are enough” (p. ix). That such a statement was ever made in such a context demonstrates misguided public opinion both past and present. 

These first-hand accounts of experiences and obstacles in the lives of disabled people open a glimpse into their worlds. It is through these rare glimpses that we can hope to bridge more of the gap between what the American Disabilities Act aimed to achieve and the realities of change and progress in our increasingly technological world. 

Julie Kinyoun Julie Kinyoun is an on-call chemistry instructor at various community colleges in Southern California. An avid reader, she enjoys reviewing books that help her become a better educator.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Goldiblox- STEM for girls.

 My girl engineers were busy this weekend- they made THIS!

These projects from Goldiblox are the ultimate in engineering for girls. Each comes with a story- it is thought that making science about a story will engage more girls in the subject. This particular project is a drum set for Valentina (one of the Goldiblox characters).


Here is a copy of the instructions for one of the projects- a car. The entire kit is the largest one I have seen- you can make more than four different projects from it- including the drum set and this car and the ice cream truck pictured below. We made the ice cream truck and witnessed the ice cream sign above the vehicle rotate around in a circle when the wheels rotate. Most projects feature something like this.



It’s really too bad these are discontinued because my girls have spent hours studying the directions and putting these kits together. The skill development in these exercises is irreplaceable. They love them. And they are PINK! 
Go girl engineers!


Saturday, August 14, 2021

The organization of organisms….

 

https://www.economist.com/schools-brief/2021/08/12/how-organisms-are-organised



Here is chemistry in action. This article describes and summarizes the functions of organs- many are driven by underlying chemical gradients. The picture shows a plant and its functions (driven by a membrane chemical process shown) and a neuron- a basic component of an animal brain. Chemicals are not shown for delivery of messages on an axon, however, they are implied by the word “action potential” which implies an electrical process of some kind.

Chemistry is critical for the functioning of all living creatures.