Weekly Newsletter

August 2, 2015

Plant Genetics

How Driscoll’s Is Hacking the Strawberry of the Future
Profiles Phil Stewart, Driscoll’s chief strawberry geneticist. I enjoyed learning about the challenge of breeding an optimal set of characteristics into Driscoll’s strawberries.

Education

A College Without Classes
Explores the recent phenomenon of online, competence-based university programs, which, rather than holding lectures, test their students periodically on competency in course topics. I view competence-based metrics for education as an important alternative to traditional grades. I suspect more pre-professional programs will begin to adopt competence-based metrics for applied subjects. Knewton, an educational technology company, uses competence-based metrics to measure high school and middle school students’ understanding of material and has seemingly had success so far.

The 1$-a-week school
Argues that the growth of private schools in developing countries is a boon for children in countries, where public school systems cannot and often do not provide viable options for good education. Further argues that NGO’s and the UN’s bias against the private sector prevents them from seeing the value of private schooling.

Psychology

Immortality Instinct
A psychologist discusses her research into human intuition about life after death. Although it’s difficult to separate intuitive beliefs about the afterlife from learned ones, the studies discussed get as close as possible to focusing solely on the intuitive side.

Does Language Influence Culture?
A Stanford psychology professor discusses her work regarding language’s effects on cognition and culture. The idea that language can affect cognition was popularized in the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis. I’ve been fascinated by the idea that the thoughts we can think and ideas we can express are limited by language. I first learned about this idea through two of my favorite sci-fi works and have been enamored with it ever since. The first is a story by Ted Chiang, my all-time favorite sci-fi short story author, called Story of Your Life. If Story of Your Life gets you down, a much more optimistic take on the implications of the strongest version of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis can be found in Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein, widely considered to be a member Big Three (along with Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov) of science fiction.

Behavioural Shadowbotting?
This post discusses one technique gaming and other online communities use to punish aggressive and inappropriate users. The post then lays out a concept for a more complex, potentially effective way to modify “bad” users behavior in video games. While reading this article, I couldn’t help but think about how these ideas could be applied to children in school.

How America’s Psychologists ended up endorsing torture
The title speaks for itself on this one. The APA, the largest professional organization of American psychologists, worked with the DoD to create ethical guidelines that would allow psychologists to participate in interrogations.

Other Contributions

Say A Little Prayer (Andrew Lindner)
An investor comments on recent Federal Reserve decisions and makes recommendations for the future.

Discussion, links, and tweets

I'm a software developer currently working at UberEats. I keep a low social media presence, but, if you enjoy what I have to say or want to rant at me, you should email me at stephenmalina@gmail.com. If you're interested in what I'm currently programming, check out my Github. I occasionally rant on Twitter as well.