Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Could hygiene obsession cause allergies?

Just came across this fascinating article at opening the debate about how clean is healthy? I've always wondered if we need a little dirt to teach our immune system what's good and what's bad for us. They go a step further and say that our immune system needs bad stuff otherwise it might start attacking the good stuff within us.

That completely turns the argument on its head.

“The micro-organisms that we evolved with, long before we began this modern lifestyle, became a crucial part of our physiology,” says Rook. “In this state of ‘evolved dependency’, these microbes took the role of switching on the regulatory pathways that allow our immune systems to function as they should. Without exposure to these microbes, our immune system attacks otherwise harmless foreign molecules.” Rook has labelled this new hypothesis the ‘old friends mechanism’; others call it the ‘microbial exposure theory’.

read more

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Things you can do better asleep than you can awake

following on with the theme that sleep is far more important than many of us realise. Here's an analysis of things we can do better asleep than when we're awake.

Essentially there seem to be three main areas that we do better asleep:
  1. Forming accurate memories
  2. Heal from infection
  3. Deal with stress
Lets summarise each area:

Forming accurate memories

Most neuroscientists agree that sleep is when we organize memories for long-term storage. People whose sleep is disturbed after studying have far more imperfect recall than people who get a good eight hours of shuteye. But a study published a couple of weeks ago shows that you can use simple memory reinforcement techniques while you're sleeping that will make your recall better than average.

Heal from infection

We don't just need sleep to improve our minds - we need it to heal our bodies. Physiologist Marc Opp argues that it's possible that sleep is part of our immune system, and that we may have evolved sleep alongside our other bodily defenses against infection. In fact, our ability to dream appears to be connected at a molecular level to our healing abilities. When researchers reduce the levels of proteins used in healing wounds and fighting infection, it also reduces REM sleep. Raising the levels of those same proteins causes people to dream more. So when you go to bed with a cold and wake up feeling better after a night of weird dreams - well, there's a good reason for that.

Deal with stress

Dreaming also appears to be one of the main ways we maintain emotional equilibrium. Sleeping appears to organize our emotions in the same way it organizes and solidifies memories. Researchers report that sleep helps people recognize other people's emotional states, maintain calm in the face of difficult situations, and even develop feelings of trust more easily.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Can amazing abilities be taught?

I've been talking for a while how everything we see other people achieving we could actually achieve ourselves. We just need to learn to bring it out of us.

A couple of weeks ago I ate at a restaurant and the waitress showed exactly what I'm talking about. There were four of us and we had a lot to order. She didn't write anything on a notepad though. She just remembered it. We all thought she was just showing off and it would all go horribly wrong.

Sure enough by the end of the meal she'd remembered all drinks, all 3 courses for each person, all the minor adjustments to the meals and the side orders. The only thing a machine did for her is add up the bill.

We were really impressed and debated whether she just has this really cool memory or if she learnt how to do it.
So I had to ask. As I thought, the answer was that she'd trained herself to do it. There are many techniques you can use that help you remember things by helping organise your brain but you have to work at them like anything else. That's what she did. She used her job to train her brain. From what I could see it meant she found the job easier than other people because she was more self sufficient.

Just like derren brown and others. Who perform amazing feats both physical and mental. They all admit that they've trained themselves to do these things. Some say that makes it less interesting. For me it's the opposite. To feel that I could do what they do is so inspiring.

That's what I want to bring to education. Help connect people with these amazing feats. Give them the belief and the support to achieve them themselves. See that learning is the key to amazing things.

Could education learn from the Google docs business model?

Building on a blog post ive written discussing the notion that flow of resources is key to life. A colleague helped me understand how the same can be said for business models and can explain how to make money in this new connected age. How services like google docs could make good money and education could scale itself. 

In this case we're talking about how google can build a business by selling their tools. Gmail and gdocs are just their tools. Gdocs doesn't contain adverts so where's the business model?

To start with you can by extra space when youve used up the free allowances But that doesn't explain how they can stay competitive. We had to look a little deeper to realise that cloud providers can do things that local organisations and individuals find difficult. Real economies and practices of scale. 

We realised its actually just like the economy being built from banking. If every person withdrew all their cash the banks couldn't actually give it back. They only hold what's necessary to give people what they need day to day. They resell the money they hold and that's how they make money.

This is because it's cheaper for restaurants and car manufacturers to focus on what they do well and pay someone to look after their wealth. It's nore profitable for banks to see their cash as stock and resell it than to lock it up. That's just how the economy and most mature industries work and thrive.

So that's how google make a profit in software and tools. It's too expensive and a waste of effort for every company or individual to build and maintain their own web based office suite. Better to use one from a brand you trust. To make it profitable Google will not have the capacity for every person to use all their allowances at once. It's too expensive to actually buy and maintain the hardware and resources to support this. And also no one uses all their allowance all the time. It also doesn't matter if each persons data is in one place or distributed all over the place. 

All that really matters is the current demand. As long as Google can pull it all together and present it in the way the customer wants and expects they're happy.

So Google have so many customers they'll work on trends. They see documents and tools as data and customer traffic as data traffic and requests for data. Each day an average amount of new data storage is required. It will vary over time but this can be predicted with certain contingencies in place to cater for unpredicted events.

Once you master this you can build a reputation for global reliability. You always "just work". The price you can charge and the loyalty you gain for such reliability and dependability is huge. And this approach to it is cost effective and thus profitable. Thus it's a business model.

That is why I want to bring this to education. This is enterprise structure with enterprise profitability with an enterprise approach. It's what education needs. A platform and infrastructure that's built to scale to modern standards using time honoured approaches of achieving scale. Stand back and see things for what they are. Honesty, no warts. Go back to what you're good at and what people want. Reapply all you know but with a modern focus.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Neural Darwinism: is this how we learn?

I'm excited to have just discovered Neural Darwinism through an interview with Gerald Edelman on all in the mind.

The idea that our brain constantly adapts to our environment using the same evolutionary principles described by Darwin is what I've been coming to believe. It's clear that we create and remove connections every day during sleep and that our brains are constantly evolving from the events of the day.

It's nice to hear I'm not alone in my view and that there is a theory to go along with it.

Friday, 4 February 2011

The only true disability is a crushed spirit

Watching Aimee Mullims ted talk title "The opportunity of adversity" is just fascinating. She makes such a beautiful case for the strengths and values people gain from disability it becomes very clear that the adversity that may entail generally adds far more to us than it takes away.