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Biomedical and Electrical Engineer with interests in information theory, evolution, genetics, abstract mathematics, microbiology, big history, IndieWeb, mnemonics, and the entertainment industry including: finance, distribution, representation






Tea if by sea, cha if by land: Why the world only has two words for tea.


Shannon Reid, It's a bit more involved depending on your background, but over the summer, you might also take advantage of free MOOC's like edX's "The Chemistry of Life" [] which might give you some additional ideas as well as to give you more insight as to how all the material of Big History ties together.

If that course is too involved given your background, you might also find some interesting/useful similar material from The Great Courses via The Learning Company. (For after all, wasn't it Bill Gates listening to Dr. Christian's Big History series via the Great Courses that set what we're all doing in motion?) Keep in mind that you can often find DVDs, CDs, and materials in their series for free at your local library, or you can take advantage of free trial offers on platforms like audible [This one should give you two free audiobooks:]. I find it easy and entertaining to listen to material like this while jogging or on my morning commute.


This is a brilliant exercise!

I have to imagine that once the conceptualization of language and some basic grammar existed word generation was a much more common thing than it is now. It's only been since the time of Noah Webster that humans have been actively standardizing things like spelling. If we can use Papua New Guinea as a model of pre-agrarian society and consider that almost 12% of extant languages on the Earth are spoken in an area about the size of Texas (and with about 1/5th the population of Texas too), then modern societies are actually severely limiting language (creation, growth, diversity, creativity, etc.) [cross reference:]

Consider that the current extinction of languages is about one every 14 weeks, which puts us on a course to loose about half of the 7,100 languages on the planet right now before the end of the century. Collective learning has potentially been growing at the expense of a shrinking body of diverse language.

To help put this exercise into perspective, we can look at the corpus of extant written Latin (a technically dead language): It is a truly impressive fact that, simply by knowing that if one can memorize and master about 250 words in Latin, it will allow them to read and understand 50% of most written Latin. Further, knowledge of 1,500 Latin words will put one at the 80% level of vocabulary mastery for most texts. Mastering even a very small list of vocabulary allows one to read a large variety of texts very comfortably. These numbers become even smaller when considering ancient Greek texts. [cross reference: and]

Another interesting measurement is the vocabulary of a modern 2 year old who typically has a 50-75 word vocabulary while a 4 year old has 250-500 words, which is about the level of the exercise.

As a contrast, consider the message in this TED Youth Talk from last year by Erin McKean, which students should be able to relate to:


For those looking for an interesting summer read(s), I've recently picked up the two volume treatise on political history by noted political scientist Francis Fukuyama with the titles:

*The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011) [] and

*Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014) []

The introduction of the first reads almost as if it were being submitted as a major work of big history scholarship as Fukuyama hits on almost every major theme and concept behind big history. Though it only covers human political formation from roughly the early Holocene onward (threshold 6 forward to the present day), it's got a very interesting thesis to help explain the difficulties and complexities of modern-day politics. I'm sure many here may appreciate it if they hadn't heard of these two volumes already.


@TheEconomist on Gangnam Style and Productivity

Often giving students a good idea of the size and scope of historical events can be difficult.

The Economist has a lovely graphic today that equates the number of man hours used ("wasted"?) in watching the music video Gangnam Style on YouTube to the man hours required to build various historical structures like Stonehenge, the Great Pyramid, or Burj Khalifa. Hopefully for many, it will put into high relief something from their daily lives in comparison with societies and cultures far distant in time from their own while also exercising some critical reasoning skills.

The Economist usually has some interesting daily charts that can be interesting to take apart and ask additional questions about. For instance on this one, how might man hours translate into direct cost across each of these disparate time periods? What does this say about the freedoms different societies either enjoyed or didn't? What might this indicate about the "next" potential threshold we reach? Are we possibly not getting to it as quickly as we otherwise might because of base entertainment?

On a smaller time scale, what is the equivalent if an individual student gave up something in their life (texting, video games, television) and instead spent it on something else (studying, for example)? How could one calculate the amount of time it takes to get a Ph.D., for example, and convert that into video gaming time? If one then gave up videogaming, how many Ph.D.s could one earn?