The Last Lecture

Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) had a program entitled, “The Last Lecture”, where they invited professors to imagine they had only one talk left to give before they died. Ironically, they renamed the lecture series last year, just as one of their own, Professor Randy Pausch, who was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer, was scheduled to speak. 

Pausch delivered his presentation, “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams”, on Sept. 18, 2007, and since then, the video has become something of a sensation on YouTube with over 5 million hits. This is amazing for an internet video for many reasons, not the least of which is that the lecture lasts for over an hour and there is no music, no dancing prisoners, no violence, no celebrities in the video.

Instead, Professor Pausch expounds on how his work as an academic (a teacher, really) has helped him realize many of his dreams. He peppers his talk with comedy and great visuals as he works his magic to remind us of the importance of social ties, of teamwork, of dreaming big and working hard, and most importantly of caring about others and having fun as we do it all. The hour plus talk goes by quickly and is worth checking out, for both teachers and students, as Randy Pausch shares the lessons he’s learned and pulls what he calls “a head fake” on his audience, leaving behind one of the most memorable Last Lectures.

Professor Randy Pausch passed away last Friday, July 25, 2008 at the age of 47. 

For more, visit

© 2008 henry toromoreno

Study focuses on birth conditions

When I was in high school, I picked up the newspaper every morning on my way to school. I would read the sports pages first, then the Op-Ed and political cartoons, do the crossword puzzle and then take a peek at my horoscope. I didn’t put any stock in what was printed about my zodiac sign; even back then I couldn’t make sense of the idea that one-twelfth of the world was going to share the same fate as me on any given day.

New research, however, has “uncovered” some startling correlations between birth month, birth season, birth order and the impact that these have on overall health. Some of the findings reconfirm older information, but other discoveries shed new light on what affects these seemingly inconsequential and arbitary conditions have on the long-term health prospects for everyone. Some of the findings (quoted directly from the AOL site) were:

  • If You Were Small and/or Poor… By the time you reach your 30s and 40s you may have the health of someone 12 years older than you, according to a 2007 study conducted by the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research.
  • If You Were Born to a Teen Parent…You may have a raised suicide risk if your mom was a teenager. And, if your dad was a teenager you may have the health problems associated with low birth, according to two different studies. A study from ‘Human Reproduction’ found that children fathered by teenagers were more likely to be born prematurely, have a low-birth weight and be less healthy at birth.
  • If Your Mother Smoked, Used Drugs or Drank…You may have or may later develop a wide range of health problems. Drug and/or alcohol use during pregnancy has been linked to low birth weight, small head size, hyperactivity and attention problems, learning and memory disabilities, deformity and issues with social and emotional development.
For the rest of the findings, click here.
Thank you for stopping by.

© 2008 henry toromoreno

Online Tools: food and exercise

Maybe the Internet is becoming too useful. I’m starting to think I wouldn’t like to live in a world without it. Ok, that’s hyperbole, but it’s pretty close to how I feel. I mean, anytime I have to go somewhere now, I don’t worry about how I’ll get there. I simply get my driving directions online. And that makes me a luddite, because many people now have a GPS in their cars, or on their phones (powered by the internet).

But for me it’s not just about maps, driving directions, banking and other services that are available online. I find myself using resources on the Internet all the time, for tasks both large and small that deal with my life. Some of my favorite sites help me make sense of what I eat and drink and how much energy I need to put out to keep a healthy balance. Yes, having food and exercise information at my fingertips has become critical to me. Here then I share with you some of my favorite sites, all related to food, eating and exercise:

The Calorie CounterI am not a dieter (anyone who has seen my lunches can attest to this), but I am responsible for everything in my home’s refrigerator. I like this site because of its large database, its easy interface and how the results for any search are printed like the Nutritional Information Box we are familiar with from packaged foods. This site would be great for use in a health or cooking class investigating what’s in the stuff we eat.

Foodieview After I’m done worrying about how much fat and how many calories are in something, I’m usually pretty hungry. I love to cook, but I get stuck making the same things over and over again, so for a little inspiration I turn to the web. There are many, many, many sites for recipes (evidently lots of other people also like cooking, so why all the restaurants?) Other sites also have videos that go along with the recipes, but I know some of you still have dial up (Ms. Sicard) so I stuck with a text-only recommendation.

Exercise/ Activity Calculator Once I’m done eating (usually overeating) I like to reconcile my bad habits by figuring out how many calories I’ve used up. This activity calculator realizes that many of us count housework as “exercise”, and that option is available. A half hour of vigorous cleaning, for example, burns 220 calories; which makes me scrub harder. The 3 step interface is easy to use, there are over 200 activities listed, and you can finally figure out how many calories you burn during your half hour unicycling regimen.

Hope your eating is good and your summer is fun. Thank you for stopping by.

© 2008 henry toromoreno

Powers of 10/ The Story of Stuff

I don’t recall the details of when and where I first saw the film, “Powers of 10” by Charles and Ray Eames; I just remember that it blew my mind in a way that few things had or have. By today’s standards, the film is unremarkable in terms of special effects – any of this summer’s blockbusters easily surpasses what the Eames’ did. But what the Eames did is remarkable if you consider that they did it in 1977, before the advent of green screens, CGI, publicly available satellite photos or Movie Maker.

Powers of 10” is a nine minute film exploring the universe in a way that forces us to see the world with fresh eyes; it is a journey that begins at a picnic, takes us to the outer-known edges of space and then zooms in to the sub-atomic scale of quarks.

My second recommendation, leans to the left (warning for all those politically sensitive), but it is also very well done. Ironically, in an age replete with CGI, green screens and high tech animation, “The Story of Stuff” with Annie Leonard, relies on pretty basic line animation to get its point across. According to it’s own description. “The Story of Stuff exposes the connections between a huge number of environmental and social issues, and calls us together to create a more sustainable and just world.” Whether or not you agree with everything in this presentation, it is a great example of how to integrate animation to better explain a complicated message. Though it obviously simplifies much of the details for the sake of brevity, this film too, asks the viewer to reconsider the way they see the world.

While the two films have little in common in terms of contents, what they share is the effective use of their chosen media to convey complex and seldom seen slices of reality. They are great examples of the power of multimedia as an educational tool. Especially today, when more of our students have been born and nurtured in the digital age, it is critical that we seek out and find resources that teach in a way that makes it easier for them to learn about and understand the complex world in which they live.

Thank you for stopping by and I hope your summer is heating up!

© 2008 henry toromoreno

the Internet Archive

I always look forward to checking out new sites recommended to me by one of my many colleagues. This time, Mr. Brandon, our TV Production guru, has hit gold with his discovery. He directed me to the Internet Archive, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and cataloging text, audio, moving images and software. The site is a work in progress (as is everything that exists in digital form, no?) and finding what you are looking for is no easy task yet – it probably doesn’t even exist in the IA catalog, as copyrights and other issues means there are still limitations to the collection.

Among the many resources that you will find at IA are lectures from places like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute (MSRI), the Monterey Institute for Technology and Education (MITE), and 14 universities from China.

Many people, I suspect, will find the moving images and audio collections to be the most interesting link at IA. Each collection is divided into categories and sub-categories, which can also be organized according to popularity and most downloaded. The moving images collection, for example, is divided into groups such as, “animation & cartoons”, “ephemeral films”, “sports videos” and “movies”. Movies is then further sub-divided into “home movies”, “stock footage”, “classic TV”, “feature films”, etc.

Don’t be disappointed when you can’t find the latest blockbusters under “feature films”. What you will find are many films from a bygone era with titles such as, “Night of the Living Dead”, “Nosferatu”, “His Girl Friday” and “D.O.A”. Great stuff for the film lover, not so much for the Internet surfer. Besides viewing these films online, some of the links also allow you to download the films to your computer. This download feature is also available on the “stock footage” link, which provides generic film footage to be used, free of charge, in your own video productions.

Like many other non-profits, the Internet Archive depends on contributions and contributors. Unlike many other sites, the “ABOUT” section of the IA actually contains useful information for those wishing to help with money, or desiring to become a contributor of information. Scroll down the “ABOUT” section, and you will also discover links to yet more information resources such as Project Gutenberg, and The National Science Foundation Digital Library Program– to name just two.

Thank you for stopping by.

© 2008 henry toromoreno

Looking for “lost” software?

This past January, after years of getting the most out of my “Frankenstein’s’’ machine, I finally purchased for myself a new PC. My previous computer was stitched together from no less than three older machines. It had two hard drives with a total of 16 GB of memory, an A-drive (how quaint), an 8X CD ROM reader, and one USB port.

My anxiety was not about trading up to a better computer, of course, but how to save all my valuable data. I wasn’t so much worried about my own documents, to tell the truth. I have hard copies of my most personal and valuable documents; and I have digital stores of these files spread all around (at school, on my wife’s computer, online, in thumb drives – it seems you can really leave digital litter around, no?)

Most important for me was that I was not going to be able to transfer some of my favorite programs over to my new computer for a variety of reasons — (i.e. some Win 98 software won’t work on Vista; and I had long ago lost/ discarded many of my start-up disks). The one program that I most lamented having to leave behind was my Photoshop, even though it was version 4 or 5? (how quickly I forget).

So, I have been living with MS Paint, which is like having to roller skate everywhere, once you’ve gotten a great car, learned to drive and been driving for years. Why not just buy another copy of Photoshop, you ask? Two reasons. It’s expensive and, I don’t use it that much. Fortunately, I was reading an article online recently and discovered a great, free substitute. I don’t say replacement, because the freeware isn’t quite as powerful as the industry standard, but it’s good enough for most of us dabblers. I wish I could remember where I read about this Paint.NET program, so I could give the proper credit. (I will if I recall)

Below is a little example of how I used the Paint.NET program to create a funny postcard for my wife’s swimshirt company. We wouldn’t use it in our real marketing … I was just trying to have fun. 

I found Paint.NET to be really easy to use, and quite powerful. FOR FREE!
I found Paint.NET to be really easy to use, and quite powerful. FOR FREE!

For anyone else looking for a substitute to one of their favorite long lost programs (audio and/or video editing, word processing, etc.) I also advise that you read PC World Magazine and visit their web site for recommendations to “safe” and mostly virus-free software. An article by Robert Strohmeyer in the August ’08 issue (20 Features Windows Ought to Have; and how to get them), led me to a great audio editing program called Audacity. I just downloaded it and plan to play with sound now for a while.

Thanks for stopping by and hope summer is going well.

© 2008 henry toromoreno

Midsummer Night’s Post

It is the middle of July, and I have missed posting anything new. I have been working, as most of you probably are as well; preparing myself for the upcoming year. In the meantime, I have enjoyed surfing the web and finding more interesting sites, articles and resources. I’ve gathered a handful of virtual destinations that I would love to share with you. I hope that you find at least one that is worth your while:

  •  Strange maps is a blog dedicated to maps and cartographic illustrations (Mr. Cosgrove should appreciate this one). The maps come from all kinds of sources, both real and fantastic.
  • I’ve already mentioned that is a great place to find really well-written blogs by scientists, researchers and others in various fields. (I think). If I haven’t, then I mention it now and refer you to one that I found called Not exactly rocket science. The writing is accessible and the topics are interesting.
  • Popular magazines always post annoying lists of the greatest this or that. One list that I find intriguing, though, is TIME magazine’s list of the 100 greatest Graphic Novels. As a librarian, I am interested in what people read, especially young, high school types. This list is informative for those not yet familiar with the graphic novel.
  • A leading architectural historian, Joseph Rykwert, discusses what skylines “mean”. Believe it or not, the manmade landscapes we create contain just as much meaning as anything else that comes out of our wonderfully imaginative minds.
  • You probably already know what those inventive scientists are doing with the small Hadron Collider (I don’t think there is one). This link will take you to Brian Cox and his dicussion about his work on the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. Not that you asked or anything, but I thought you should know.

Thanks for stopping by, and hope that summer is going well.

© 2008 henry toromoreno