Category: Misc

On Mother’s Day

Nothing like some old-school words on Mother’s Day.

For my darling Mum (because others have said it better)…

“No language can express the power, and beauty, and heroism, and majesty of a mother’s love.” – Edwin Hubbell Chapin

“Mother love is the fuel that enables a normal human being to do the impossible.” – Marion C. Garretty

Sonnets are full of love, and this my tome
Has many sonnets: so here now shall be
One sonnet more, a love sonnet, from me
To her whose heart is my heart’s quiet home,
To my first Love, my Mother, on whose knee
I learnt love-lore that is not troublesome;
Whose service is my special dignity,
And she my loadstar while I go and come
And so because you love me, and because
I love you, Mother, I have woven a wreath
Of rhymes wherewith to crown your honored name:
In you not fourscore years can dim the flame
Of love, whose blessed glow transcends the laws
Of time and change and mortal life and death.

by Christina Rossetti

20130512-210314.jpg
Mum came to visit me for Christmas in New York, 2010

No Sleep ‘Til…?

I honestly don’t understand how some people can function on minimal sleep. I can do it when I have to (5ish hours), but I always catch up as soon as I can.

It seems the richer you are, the less sleep you can function on (I’m looking at you, Donald Trump). I read one of Trump’s books a few years ago, and one of his ‘things’ (besides That Hair) is ability to successfully run his empire on only four or five hours of sleep a night. But apparently, it’s the done thing among execs.

sleep  cartoon

The Guardian‘s recently did a related story, listing numerous members of Club Carpe Diem (US chapter). Among them:

  • Bob Iger, Disney’s top dog, who gets up at 4:30am.
  • Brett Yormack, Chief Exec of the Brooklyn Nets, who’s already been up for an hour by the time Iger’s alarm goes off. On the weekends though, talk about lazy! Sleeping in ’til 7am, Brett, really?
  • Dan Akerson, Chairman and CEO of General Motors? Before. Dawn. And even when he is sleeping, he’s apparently plagued by stockmarket worries.

What. The. Fuck. They’re like mutants – the less sleep they get, the more productive they are! And it’s not even one of those ‘Weird-But-Please-Let-It-Be-Contained’ things you can only shake your head at in disbelief and say, “Only in America!” Like deep-fried pickles, or Justin Bieber.

Brits and European bosses aren’t getting much sleep, either. Of course, as their titles suggest, responsibility levels across the board (get it?) are consistently Pretty Fucking High.

I’m no doctor, but I’m confident lack of sleep is shocking for general health. Shakespeare‘s Macbeth spoke of “Sleep that knits up the ravelled sleave of care” – presumably he’d experienced what I do on little sleep: no energy, groggy, lack of motivation, sore eyes, emotional, hungry, With a bit of research (including this Huff Post article and this one from The Harvard Business Review), my suspicions are confirmed – it’s like the Grim Reaper’s pet project! Sleep deprivation has links to obesity, heart disease, cognitive impairment including permanent memory loss, decision-making ability and reaction time, plus increased risk of diabetes, and osteoporosis. The less sleep you get, the worse these risks. But wait, there’s more! According to News.com.au, new research found sleep deprivation can mess with your genes! Specifically, getting only six or less hours a night on a regular basis affects genes involves in immunity, stress responses, and inflammation.In response to the article, one guy said, “SLEEP IS A LIFESAVER! Stress-induced insomnia not only screws with your biochemistry, it turns you into a zombie! Weight gain and the like are all common. I have had to totally rechange the way I live in order to accommodate sleep – left my old career, spend more time outdors, no eating late in the evening and acupuncture for tension and pain…. Take care of yourself!!!” Here, here, Jason of Sydney. Further to Jason’s point on weight gain, The Daily Mail says sleep deprivation causes snacking, which causes weight gain of 2lbs a week! (For Aussies, that’s just under a kilo). AND, you can’t just get more sleep and lose the weight (though it’d help).

So how the heck are the elite few consistently effective, night after night, year after year, with so little sleep?? Particularly if Fast Company‘s Marcia Conner is right, and “sleepless habits deprive us of our natural capacity to excel.” Are they secretly sick all the time? Do they do a Don ‘Mad Men‘ Draper and take regular power naps? I don’t know, but it’s not cool to think of it as aspirational. Dr. Charles A. Czeisler, the Baldino Professor of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, says “encouraging a culture of sleepless machismo is worse than nonsensical; it is downright dangerous, and the antithesis of intelligent management.” I’ll put it down to a downside of extreme success, i.e. no other choice. They have so much to do, they can’t afford to sleep that much. But, by that token, surely they couldn’t afford to get really sick, which is what they’re constantly risking from lack of sleep?

I know what you’re thinking — oh, here we go! Another well-rested person, sans dark-eye circle, disparaging hard working folks who can’t get enough sleep precisely for that reason, AND probably doing so on your laptop from the comfort of your bed, after plenty of sleep. Well, I am well rested now (one of the perks of unwanted unemployment), but an awareness of the deadly side effects of sleep deprivation are as good for me to know as anyone else. So there.

As much as the bosses would probably love some quality shut-eye (except maybe Dan Akerson, the worrywart), I don’t see their behaviour changing anytime soon.

Interestingly, the whole point of The Guardian article isn’t to marvel at chief execs’ lack of sleep, as I’m doing, but to report research that found “people at the bottom of society have among the least amount of sleep – and the most disturbed.” The research found almost one in five men working routine jobs (cleaning, waiting, etc.) get less than 6.5 hours’ sleep a night – not factoring in travel time from the outer ‘burbs. So poor people are tired, rich people are tired – presumably those in the middle aren’t exclusively well-rested. Sounds like a serious public health problem!

With so many sleep deprived people out and about, it’s a wonder there aren’t more car accidents and deaths. Oh, wait, there are. The Harvard Business Review says from 2001-2006, “driver fatigue…accounted for more than 1.35 million automobile accidents in the United States alone, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.” Scary.

Get this: Aussie mathematicians say there’s a formula to getting a good night’s sleep. So ,what encourages restful sleep? Sex before bedtime = six more minutes of sleep. Who knew? And sleeping next to a partner = better sleep quality and an extra 21 mins sleep, BUT nix both those benefits if they’re a snorebag – you’ll lose 14 mins of sleep. (via ‘Body & Soul’ in The Advertiser)

Local? Yeah, It’s Local (News).

Mum recently visited regional SA and brought home a copy of the Milang Community News ($1.50). Besides being a bookworm (and by extension, paperworm), she says on little country jaunts, one picks up the local rag to see what’s going on.

Among the local news and gardening club ads was this gem:

Milang Community News, April 2013, p. 23.

Milang Community News, April 2013, p. 23.

I love a good historical fact, and this one’s fascinating- the history of  ‘saved by the bell‘, ‘dead ringer‘ and ‘graveyard shift‘. I can’t see myself ever needing to know it – maybe some randomly coincidental quiz night question – or Google ‘origin of phrase saved by the bell’, but it’s still a great tidbit I’ll be filing away up top. Kudos, Mervyn Hopgood.

I wonder what the Milang Community News readership is…I imagine it’s put out by a tiny yet dedicated staff (including The Editor). Community news digests like Milang’s are popular in regional Australia (some are online, too)…I read an article last year about local news — for The Guardians ‘Greenslade Blog’ section, former journo Fran Collingham wrote, “Local people do, on the whole, still trust their local newspaper (more than they trust the national media) to tell them what’s really going on in their neighbourhood, and at a time when they can choose hundreds of different sources that can give them a version of what’s going locally, the role of a local newspaper in sorting out the nonsense from the real story is absolutely vital.”

No doubt, Fran, no doubt.

Foxes Passing For Lions.

The title of this post is paraphrased from Latin poet Marcus Valerius Martial‘s epigram ‘To A Plagiarist’:

Why, simpleton, do you mix your verses with mine? What have you to do, foolish man, with writings that convict you of theft? Why do you attempt to associate foxes with lions, and make owls pass for eagles? Though you had one of Ladas’s legs, you would not be able, blockhead, to run with the other leg of wood. (Epigrams, Book 10, Epigram 100)

Pic: San Juan Unified School District

An age-old problem now digital – uni students’ failure to understand plagiarism rules and passing off online content as their own – made the front page of Adelaide’s The Advertiser yesterday (similar copy available at AdelaideNow).

In my opinion and from experience (a five-year undergrad degree and one-year post-grad), the issue is not so much students’ lack of understanding – rather, they just don’t give a shit.

What cheating students don’t realise is finding and using other resources is good – it shows hard work and research skills. It turns bad when they fail to reference sources – effectively saying “This is all me, I did this”. They’re committing a disservice threefold:

  1. To the original author, who actually did all the hard work and deserves the credit;
  2. To teachers, who provide loads of information on avoiding plagiarism and correct referencing; and
  3. The students themselves. As well as demonstrating integrity, doing the work yourself (and referencing correctly) has added bonuses of understanding the material, effectively applying concept to your own work, forming an argument and applying concepts of rhetoric. There’s no guarantee students really know what they’re talking about if they’re just cutting and pasting.

According to the article, hundreds of SA uni students are caught plagiarising or cheating every year. Of course, it’s not just in SA. There are cheats in WA, US Ivy leaguer Harvard University last month “forced dozens of students to leave in its largest cheating scandal in memory” (Richard Perez-Pena for The New York Times), and about a year ago, The Financial Times reported UCLA’s School of Management in California “rejected 52 applicants to its MBA program, suspecting they had plagiarised more than 10 per cent of their admissions essays.”

In The Advertiser article, UniSA’s Tracey Bretag is warning against the ‘Cut and Paste Cheats’. Among her comments: “Students should be taught in primary school how to properly source and reference information from the Internet and traditional resources to eliminate cheating habits.”

Sheradyn Holderhead's article in 'The Advertiser', p.1 and p.6

Sheradyn Holderhead’s article in ‘The Advertiser’, p.1 and p.6

My primary school years were in the 90s, when the Internet as as an information source was either non-existant or in its infancy (so basically non-existant for kids). But, the concepts of not stealing and giving credit to others work is the same across media, particularly when you’re teaching kids.  Moreover, in 1999, a US-based campaign against academic cheating found it’s been on the rise for the past 50 years (and this was in 1999!) – so it’s not as though the number of those involved was fairly stable and suddenly surged when the Internet became the one-stop-shop for information.

Speaking to my Mum, we remembered our separate times at school – being taught what cheating and plagiarism are, paraphrasing, the importance of credit where credit’s due, acknowledging sources and showing you’ve done research. I remember going with one of my primary school classes (in the 90s) to the school library, and working through basic exercises: working out a statement’s key ideas, picking out the main words or phrases, putting it in a different sentence (and in later years, making sure you’re not losing or changing the context), where to look in a book for author information, and so on. Kids are being taught this stuff. My older sister and I remember being drilled, “Reference everything.” Well, then maybe I just got lucky.

I’d love to see what (if any) school(s) have a successful program in place (students understand the issues and make an effort to reference, etc.) and whether that could that be used as a model for best practice. If not, educators and child psychologists (maybe?) need to get together and work out the best way to explain why passing others’ work off as their own is wrong. I’d think along the lines of ‘you wouldn’t like it if someone stole your work, would you?’ would be effective. I remember as a school kid doing a drawing or having an idea I was really proud of, and being really shitty when someone else sitting nearby miraculously had the same (or almost) idea – even worse when they got praised for the brilliant idea. Maybe use that when you’re teaching kids – eg. “I’m sure you’ve all had a really great idea for a drawing, but what about when you find out someone else has copied it and pretended it’s theirs? So the teacher thinks they’ve done really great work, and they don’t speak up and say “I didn’t think of this myself, I got this idea from my friend”? That makes you feel pretty bad, doesn’t it?” Get the parents involved, too.

A teacher friend told me about catching primary school kids in one of her old classes doing exactly as Bretag describes – cutting and pasting slabs of text ripped from websites, with zero attribution. “But surely,” I lamented, “in high school, and definitely in university…you just know not to do that!!” Apparently, it’s not so common knowledge. Bretag says, “there’s a lot of confusion about what’s appropriate – students often just don’t get it. At school, often students can cut and paste from the web and stick a reference at the end and it’s all hunky-dory but then when they do that at university, it’s plagiarism,” says Bretag in the article.

Stats from a Turnitin study (2011 iParadigms LLC) via eLearning Team Blog http://elearning-team.blogspot.com.au/2012/04/infographic-from-turnitin-shows.html

Stats from a Turnitin study (2011 iParadigms LLC) via eLearning Team Blog

So, young adults pass high school classes using simple ‘cut-paste-reference’ attribution, and then go on to university in a haze of ignorance and naiveté (despite being smart enough to get into uni in the first place), assuming they’ll be able to write university-level essays and material the same way, then cry foul when they’re called out for it?

I think that’s a bit of a stretch. From experience, high school-to-uni students are told writing at uni is a whole different ballgame, and expectations are clear that at university, you need to up the ante with sourcing and referencing. I can only speak from my experience as a UniSA student of only a handful of UniSA’s tutors, but their standard was excellent (in particular, Leanne Glenny and Joy Chia) – explaining the expectations and the serious consequences for plagiarism (ranging from losing marks, to failing the assignment, to expulsion), AND the specifics were provided repeatedly – in handouts, ‘Readers’ and course material, and verbally reiterated in class before assignments.

One of my old subject readers from Uni, including referencing guide.

One of my old subject readers from Uni, including referencing guide.

And with the Internet comes freely, easily available online information on how to avoid plagiarism and correct referencing technique – including the right way to cite social media sources in academic work, eg. here. So it’s not a case of ‘I didn’t know I had to reference’, or ‘I didn’t know what I was doing was plagiarising’. It’s more ‘Someone else has already said it better than me, and the teacher won’t bother to check up on it anyway.’ Lazy students are taking chances, and getting away with it – going on to eventually toff their mortar board, walk across the graduation stage, and collect a diploma for stolen work. These students are effectively being rewarded for cheating! It pisses me off. These are young adults, obviously old enough to know better – to know this form of lying and stealing is serious – yet are somehow able to make peace with or justify their deceit.

Technology and digital media have certainly has changed the landscape, forcing educators and technology to try and keep up.

Shea Bennett's 'Has Social Media Created A Cut And Paste Generation?' on Mediabistro http://www.mediabistro.com/alltwitter/copy-and-paste_b28885

Shea Bennett’s ‘Has Social Media Created A Cut And Paste Generation?’ on Mediabistro

Bretag says “social media, and the Internet more broadly, [have] blurred the boundaries of when it [is] acceptable to copy the work of others because it [is] now commonplace to download, share and retweet information in a click.” In my opinion, this is not exactly accurate. As I said earlier, academic cheating has been on the rise for decades. And the nature of sharing online media and use of hyperlinked text makes it easy to credit the original and reference the source. Hyperlinks are accepted protocol – they let readers to know they’re reading credible information because, if necessary, they can trace it back to the original source. I know I wouldn’t trust a blog or online source with no links to external content!

The act of retweeting specifically credits the course via the ‘RT’ cue and quotation marks! Or, users can include a “via @username”. Sure, tweets can be edited before retweeting, but it goes against the nature of Twitter (immediate, instantaneous) and the accepted protocol and etiquette among users. So, yes – social media and Internet use is now commonplace, but students should be more aware, and more vigilant in familiarity with crediting sources and avoiding the cheat’s method.

To combat the problem, numerous educators and institutions are using content matching software like iThenticate, Blackboard and Turnitin – the latter checks text in student “papers against 24+ billion web pages, 300+ million student papers and 110,000+ publications”. A Google search shows Turnitin is used by Australian universities including UniSA, Flinders, La Trobe, UWA, UNSW, Melbourne Uni, RMIT, University of Western Sydney, University of Newcastle, University of Tasmania, Macquarie, and Deakin.

However, such software isn’t without criticism. Late last year, Monash Uni’s Robert Nelson discussed ‘Delusions of candour: why technology won’t stop plagiarism’ on The Conversation. He argues, “beneath these appeals to superior forensic intelligence lies an unhappy fallacy – that a technological fix can address a moral problem” and says while content matching software is great for catching word-for-word plagiarism – the ‘Cut and Paste Cheats’ of the article – it’s not so good with paraphrasing. Fair points. But Nelson loses me claiming the biggest problem with a “policing strategy” like technology is it “inadvertently creates risk by appealing to the gaming mentality of young students who are used to such challenges in their favourite entertainment. In many video games, the player can get ahead by risky deceptions which cheat the system.” Way to generalise! I’d love to see some stats on this (and if Nelson is right, I’ll say so). To me, it seems highly unlikely uni students would take the massive risks that come with plagiarising just because they want to try and ‘beat’ the software and stick it to The Man. (Deakin Uni’s Wendy Sutherland-Smith responded to Nelson’s piece, arguing technology is an important tool to curb the cheating problem.)

And every positive measure seems to be matched by a new way to cheat. (But maybe it’s not an increase in cheaters, but an increase in the number of students getting caught…) The West Australian discussed an increase in essays for sale: WA university students paying for online ghostwriting services (and check out the Sydney Morning Herald‘s ‘Confessions of a university ghost writer’!). One ‘professional’ ghostwriting site I found using a simple Google search charges from $13 per page. Some services even offer completely original essays, making content matching software useless in those cases.

WHY cheat?

1. A lack of understanding of the rules; not enough education during primary school years.

As mentioned, this is Bretag’s theory. If this is the case, I want to know: What are the other variables? What is the scope of the problem? Are teachers too vague with assignment guidelines, leading to students’ loose interpretation of them? This excuse came up during the Harvard scandal mentioned earlier – an investigation leading to accusations a large number of students cheated on a take-home exam. Perez Pena’s article explains, “the instructions on the take-home exam explicitly prohibited collaboration, but many students said they did not think that included talking with teaching fellows.” Or, are teachers just not paying attention, and failing to follow through on their promise of checking references? If not, how do students know they can get away with it? It’s just too hard to police – extra resources would be needed to do it thoroughly.

More questions…

  • Are punishments set by universities too light? What example is being set? How do students know the faculty doesn’t just wax lyrical?
  • Are high schools failing to prepare students for what’s expected of them at university level?
  • And what’s being done to combat ghostwriting sites?

2. It’s not just the teachers – the whole school system design is flawed!

In Psychology Today, psychology research professor Peter Grey argues:

“Our system of compulsory (forced) schooling is almost perfectly designed to promote cheating…Students are required to spend way more time than they wish doing work that they did not choose, that bores them, that seems purposeless to them. They are constantly told about the value of high grades…

Students become convinced that high grades and advancement to the next level are the be-all and end-all of their school work. By the time they are 11 or 12 years old, most are realistically cynical about the idea that school is fundamentally a place for learning. “

Gee, kids are really up against it! With that sort of evidence, I’m amazed students are able to do any of their own work at all! What’s next – a link between plagiarising and violent video games?

3. Stress/Study+Work/Pressure to Achieve

“I’m normally on top of everything but…it’s just this semester…I just haven’t got time…there’s so much pressure on me to do well…well, it’s just easier to plagiarise than ask for help or admit I don’t understand the material.” Sound legit? I’m not too sure.

University of WA acting deputy vice-chancellor (education) Grady Venville (in Hiatt’s article) says the stressful combination of study and part-time work is partly to blame, and a Canadian study says millennials (18-33 year-olds) are suffering an “epidemic of perfection” – as a result, they’re more stressed than other generations.

But if it’s that bad, why don’t students talk to their tutor? That’s exactly why provisions like ‘extension on compassionate grounds’ exist!

International students also have to deal with culture stress. A study of international students at an Australian university found “poorer than expected academic performance and coming from an Asian or African country were each associated with higher levels of cultural stress”. This raises even more questions!

  • Is the relevant information handed out in multiple languages, and simple to understand?
  • How do tutors make sure all students understand what’s expected of them?
  • Do students (including from culturally different backgrounds) see tutors as unapproachable?

4. A growing breed of Machiavellian young adults who don’t give a shit about integrity.

Ah! Now we’re getting somewhere. The West Australian article I mentioned earlier says, “more than 4000 students were warned or disciplined in the past two years for submitting the work of others as their own, colluding or cheating in exams, compared with nearly 2000 in the previous two years.” Generation I? More like Generation Lie.

Via Pinterest

Via Pinterest

“For students today, the lure of plagiarising and the temptation to cheat might appear overwhelming; it’s at the fingertips, at their keyboard…Here is everything the profoundly lazy, over-worked, under-inspired, and over-achieving student has been looking for: thousands–no, tens of thousands– of essays and papers, researched articles and personal responses, two-to-twenty-page commentaries on any subject (you name it) from “Albatrosses in the Ancient Mariner” to “Zealots in Zimbabwe.” Regina Barreca, Psychology Today

Explaining the UCLA plagiarism situation mentioned earlier, Dave Wilson, chief executive of the Graduate Management Admission Council says, “Places on exceptional MBA programmes are scarce commodities and the economic return is so substantial that some people are prepared to risk and to try things that would gain them an unfair advantage.”

In the ‘Delusions of Candour’ article, Nelson says the problem’s a moral one, so forget technology! What’s needed is “a widespread consciousness within a community and a social mood are needed in which “right” is expected, talked about, prized and thought of with pride.” Yes, that’s the way to do it! Surely students won’t want to cheat if “they feel deeply that their time at university is about learning, and consequently that any short-cut in learning short-changes their priceless development”! I’m pretty sure cheaters aren’t too concerned with their ‘priceless development’ or short-changing their learning (not only is this obvious, but backed up by research showing many students value grades over education). They want the most benefit with the least work, and if that means pinching intellectual property, so be it. Look at what Wilson said just before – it’s all about ‘economic return’.

Whatever the reason, it’s still an excuse, and I’m more inclined towards a stick, rather than carrot, solution. A 2003 study found students often rationalise their dishonest behaviour and don’t take plagiarism seriously. So up the punishments – students need to know plagiarising is a big deal, not a set of rules in legalese that’s too often treated like the Terms and Conditions on a product warranty (how many people really read and understand them?). And don’t let cheaters get off with a slap on the wrist. The sooner schools and universities exercise a more stringent tolerance policy and harsher penalties, the sooner students will do the right thing (I was going to say zero tolerance, but this raises ‘grey area’ questions about the definition of plagiarism, which would need addressing anyway. Sutherland-Smith’s article separates students who intentionally set out to get away with cheating, from those who didn’t understand or made an honest mistake with a citation or editing etc.).

Yes, absolutely look at increasing student engagement and re-aligning the skew-whiff moral compass of offenders (however that might be done), but also clearly demonstrate dishonesty won’t be tolerated. Stanford Uni says, “Cheating no longer carries the stigma that it used to. Less social disapproval coupled with increased competition for admission into universities and graduate schools has made students more willing to do whatever it takes to get the A.” Bring back the stigma!

Stop the ‘Copy and Paste’ rort. Research and reference with integrity.

Considering my stance, obviously I’ve done my best to credit all sources in this post. No infringement intended!

Asthma Sucks. Hard.

May! Mother’s Day, my Dad’s birthday, Cinco de Mayo, Labour Day — and World Asthma Month. I didn’t even know about the latter until I searched on Twitter for #asthma related posts after having a shocking night. I have severe adult-onset asthmaI had childhood asthma until I was about 12, then re-developed it in NYC (pretty sure my then-fondness for flavoured cigs was a factor). Ah, asthma. So common, yet so tough to spell correctly.

Of those 300 asthmatics, about 32 mill are in Europe, and I’m one of 2 million in Australia (about 1 in 10 adults have it here). And whaddya know – asthma doesn’t descriminate! Taylor Walker, superstar key forward for the Adelaide Crows AFL team, has battled asthma all his life.

Other well-known asthmatics (apparently):

  • Creative types: Diane Keaton, Liza Minnelli, Bob Hope, Martin Scorsese, Sharon Stone, Liz Taylor, Orson Welles, Jason Alexander, Beethoven, Billy Joel, rapper DMX, rocker Alice Cooper, Charles Dickins
  • Former US presidents: JFK, Bill Clinton, Woodrow Wilson, Calvin Coolidge, Theodore Roosevelt

Some of our major related organisations – the Asthma FoundationAsthma Australia (which does not have any nice infographics) and the National Asthma Council Australia – provide these stats:

  • Over 400 Australians die each year from asthma
  • In 2011, asthma caused the deaths of 378 Australians
  • Asthma prevalence in Australia is high by international standards
  • The majority of adults with asthma have mild or very mild asthma
  • Up to 90% of people who have asthma inhalers do not use them correctly

Day-to-day, I keep it under control using a combination of inhalers and Singular (given recent media attention re: medicating asthmatic kids with it – read Asthma Australia‘s statement here). When it gets really bad, I find smelling Eucalyptus oil (Bosisto’s from the big supermarkets – has clean/freshen properties, too – good to add to laundry loads like sheets FYI!) and setting up a vapourizer in my bedroom of a nighttime helps.  Plus, a hot coffee can help if I’m out and about — the caffeine and steam helps open the lungs.

An unfortunate trigger is pet hair – and we have four dogs. But that’s not all! Among the other things that’ll set asthma off…

(Strong emotions?! That doesn’t set mine off, as far as I know) Biggies for me are dust, pollen (FML), food allergies, exercise, changes in the weather, and smoke.

As I have the winning combo of severe asthma and salicylate allergy (with the super fun risk of anaphylaxis!), making me a pain in the ass during a medical emergency, I wear a MedicAlert bracelet ID 24/7. I ordered it hassle-free online – picked the one I wanted (talk about range: they do them in 24K gold now – phwoar! – plus dog tag style for the lads, sports bands, and ones with Swarovski crystals…I went for the still-classy-but-I-can-still-eat stainless steel), plugged in my info (condition specifics, GP contact details, emergency contacts) and now emergency services and healthcare people can look up my info immediately and give me the right treatment. I think MedicAlert IDs are particularly important if you’re often away from close friends and family (who know the right treatment etc.).

What’s the deal during an asthma attack? EverydayHealth has a great guide, including how to recognise an asthma attack (impaired breathing is the clearest sign, leading to wheezing, tightening of the chest, coughing spells, spluttering etc.) and what to do (stay calm, eliminate the trigger if possible, put the emergency plan into action if possible (inhalers etc), call an ambulance).

If you’re on Twitter, check out the #asthma and #worldasthmaday hashtags.

Library use in the digital age? Google It.

Sometimes I wonder: what did we do before Google?

E1LLS

Obviously, we read (more hardcover) books. Visited libraries (more often). Speaking of which, how are libraries doing these (digital) days? I haven’t visited my local in ages, and I think I only visited my uni one once, and it was to meet someone – not even for research! I love hardback books (am I actually having to specify the type now – that’s I mean ‘traditional’ and not electronic?!) and have always considered myself an avid reader.

photo-4

But in the past few years, my hardcover book consumption has decreased, and my online book and information use has vastly increased. The last book I read was (I can’t believe I actually have to cast my mind back and think about this) A Six-Letter Word For Death, by Patricia Moyes (left).

I love murder-mysteries and whodunits, and Mum picked that one up at a secondhand bookshop (published in 1983, likely out of print), read it, enjoyed it, passed it on to me (for the record, it’s fantastic). Until my recent move back to my home state a few months ago, I always had a stack of books – either To Read or Reading – next to my bed. When I first moved back, I was reading a recent John Grisham, but for the life of me I can’t remember where I’ve put it – and why I haven’t realised that sooner.

I regularly buy books for my Mum, the original Bookworm . I will be eternally grateful to her for introducing me to the magic of reading and books; she’s responsible for the mini-libraries in our house…when I visited friends’ houses as a kid, I always thought their family was a bit weird if they didn’t have big overflowing bookcases. But lately, even she’s been buying up on Kindle (though sometimes, this is for the massive price reduction). And when I do buy hardcovers for her, they’re usually from op-shops, eBay or Etsy (out-of-print copies).

Kathryn ZickuhrLee Rainie and Kristen Purcell did some research on US library use and released their report, Library Services in the Digital Age in January of this year.

Among their findings:

  • Fully 91% of Americans ages 16 and older say public libraries are important to their communities; and 76% say libraries are important to them and their families.
  • In the past 12 months, 53% of Americans ages 16 and older visited a library or bookmobile
  • 52% of recent library users say their use of the library in the past five years has not changed to any great extent, and 22% say their use has decreased.
  • The main reason patrons say their library use decreased? ‘Can get books, do research online, and the Internet is more convenient.’ (40%)

As a journalist, I’m always impressed by those who’ve gone before me to report the news sans Google. William Prochnau, a former national reporter for the Washington Post, now a contributing editor of Vanity Fair, wrote this fascinating related piece for the American Journalism Review. For insight into the press biz 25 years ago, Prochnau spoke to Tom Fiedler, the editor of the Miami Herald. Fiedler remember when “We still had linoleum on the floors so we could stub out our cigarette butts.”

“You do pay a price for this…the ability to wander off, to think, to talk to people, may be getting squeezed out by all the technology. You find an extra hour when you used to talk to people and you go to your laptop and look for e-mails and surf the Web. Sometimes we lose ourselves in that stuff, and we never have that conversation where the thread of an idea just emerges, something that you would have never thought of.” – Tom Fiedler

The article also quotes Geneva Overholser (as Prochnau describes, “Overholser is one of those former everythings–editor of the Des Moines Register, Nieman fellow, editorial writer at the New York Times, ombudsman at the Washington Post. Now a faculty member for the Washington bureau of the University of Missouri School of Journalism”)…

She thinks we have created a modern journalistic world so driven by demographics and cost–target the readers, then give them what they think they want at the least possible expense–that it threatens our reason for being. “Newspapers are failing to give reporters time or even encouragement to do the things that we used to say made us ‘great’ or ‘good,’ ” Overholser says. “We almost have a different definition of good now. It’s not surprising that a handful of papers win all the Pulitzers. They are the only ones that are investing in journalism.”

That’s pretty damn melancholy.

Apparently, ‘B.C’ – Before Google – is a thing. Here’s a tribute website to it. One guy wrote about Searching the Internet B.G. (lengthy, but worth a skim to see how far technology has come). He explains how you couldn’t even search the Net until the 1980s. The mind boggles!

The whole point of this post, originally, was to share this recent discovery via StumbleUpon: The Drawings of Leonardo da Vinci. Then I got all distracted by how amazing the Internet is. BUT the page has a ton of da Vinci’s portrait studies, anatomy sketches, and drawings of inventions. Prepare to be inspired.

Happy reading?

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I Heart New York

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I lived in the Big Apple for a year, and I’m not exaggerating when I say it was one of the best times of my life. Some months were better than others – for me, the second half was a lot better, but I think I had to get through the first to know I could, which gave me the push to make the most of the rest!

It’s not like my second home, it just is. I always miss the city. Sometimes it’s something specific. For example, I’m currently staying at my folks place (I maintain it’s temporary – The Unemployed Grad does what they have to, but luckily I get along great with them, and they’re always backing me 100% – ANYWAY!) and if my dalmatian doesn’t wake me up, it’s the choir of birds from the trees around our house, and in the park nearby. That’s when I miss the New York City Lullabye – the sounds of the street in the city that never sleeps.  Manhattan was always louder than Brooklyn, but the same instruments: the traffic – sirens, honking, yelling, tires going through snow slush in the winter, and the constant the low hum of voices….for an idea, check out this video The Noise of New York’.  Takes me back!

I love coming across something NYC-related. Today, it’s ’23 Signs You’ve Lived In New York City Too Long’, via BuzzFeed, via an American friend I worked with at an Upper West Side gelato shop, who posted it on her Facebook timeline. Among the listed items was this one, which totally relates to my little story earlier:

17. When you visit the suburbs and try to sleep at night, the silence scares you.

Other ‘OH MY GOSH, YES’ moments for me:

3. Nothing fills you with more rage than getting on a crowded subway car and suddenly hearing, “It’s showtime!”

6. In the summer, you consider the wind from an approaching subway car to be “a nice breeze.”

13. You wear earbuds while grocery shopping.

14. You’ve become immune to the hot garbage smell.

15. You can swipe your Metrocard without breaking stride.