Archive for August, 2010|Monthly archive page

China’s Got Talent: Liu Wei

While we’re on the subject of America’s Got Talent, how about we take a look at one of the talented individuals who tried out for China’s Got Talent.

Twenty-three year old Liu Wei lost both of his arms in a freak accident when he was 10 years old, after he touched an electrified wire while playing hide-and-seek. Having the dream of becoming a pianist, at age 19 Wei taught himself how to play the piano with his feet.

As Wei explained to the judges, he only had two options, abandon his dream which he believed would lead to a quick and hopeless death. The other was to struggle without the use of arms and lead an outstanding life.

Watch Wei’s performance of “Marriage D’amour” below. Oh, and no worries, the video is captioned in English.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Pianist Liu Wei(from Chinese talent show) eng sub, posted with vodpod

America’s Got Talent Semi-Finals: Christina & Ali

From Idaho Falls, Idaho, sisters Christina and Ali captured America’s heart with their need to sing despite complications they faced from having cystic fibrosis, a disease that affects the lungs. Having made it through to the semi-finals, the sister’s came back with their singing performance of There can be miracles (When you believe), originally performed by Whitney Houston and Mirah Carey for the animated film The Prince of Egypt. Their performance below:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

America’s Got Talent Semi-Finals: Christina & Ali, posted with vodpod

The semi-finals show widdled down the last of what was once 48 acts to the top 10 acts who will perform in the Finals. The last two acts fighting for the final spot in the top 10 came between Christina & Ali and indoor kite flyer Connor Doran, whom we have also been following on this blog. As before, the final spot is not chosen by America but is the judge’s pick. Watch the suspenseful decision below:

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America’s Got Talent Semi-Finals Results, posted with vodpod

Congratualtions, to Christina and Ali who have secured the final top spot in the top 10 and will go on to compete for the grand prize of $1 million dollars and a headlining show in Las Vegas.

America’s Got Talent Wild Card & Semi-Finals: Connor Doran

In this season’s America’s Got Talent, the Wild Card show, the judges brought back several of their favorite acts that didn’t make the cut or were prematurely eliminated from the competition. One of these acts was none other than Connor Doran, brought back by AGT judge Howie Mandel. As a wild card, Doran was able to copmete for a spot in the semi-finals round of the competition. Below is Doran’s performance to the music of Josh Grobin’s You Raise Me Up:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

America’s Got Talent Wild Card: Connor Doran, posted with vodpod

Doran went on to compete in the first round of the semi-finals, where he performed his indoor kite flying routine to Owl City’s Fireflies. His performance below:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

America’s Got Talent Semi-Finals: Connor Doran, posted with vodpod

Doran’s performance to the hit song by Owl City was a departure from his previous performances done to inspirational music.

Keep watching America’s Got Talent to follow the performances of Connor Doran and his indoor kite flying.

Textbooks on the cheap

If seeing your tuition costs in breakdown format gave you a little thrill of shell shock, we imagine that sticker shock at the cost of many of your class’s textbooks were enough to send your heart into palpitations. Well, before you go hating your professors, know that while the professor may be the deciding purchaser of the textbook you are using, the publishing company is the one who decides the price. But thankfully, new legislation passed in July that no longer allows Publishers to bundle their textbooks with accompanying materials (such as workbooks). Though the workbooks are still made availabe, colleges are now required to provide students with a list of the assigned textbooks during course registration, leaving the student with the option to purchase the additional publisher suggested materials or not. Publishers are also required to reveal the price of the textbook to professors prior to the professor choosing to purchase the text.

But advancements in technology have also become a source of aid for the student on a budget by helping to offer textbooks in alternate format and/or purchasing methods.

Amazon Kindle

The Amazon Kindle. Image via Google search.

First, who doesn’t like a FREE book — or a FREE anything for that matter. Google Books has scanned many of the very same texts you’ll be using into its database. Now, you may not have access to the full text, but Google guarantees you’ll have access to at least every 10th page. Also with this service, not every book in tarnation is available so the text you need may not be available at all. Still, for free, it doesn’t hurt to spare a few moments to give Google a try. However, Project Gutenberg is a scholarly project and were the first producers of free electronic books (eBooks). Housing over 33,000 eBooks, the Gutenberg Project has taken out-of-copywrite books in the public domain and digitized them. The eBooks can be easily downloaded to read on your PC, iPad, Kindle, Sony Reader,iPhone, Android, or other portable devices.

Apple iPad

The Apple iPad. Image via Google search

ETextbooks are also available for purchase and download through sites like CourseSmart.com, which is a consortium of major textbook publishers that provide eTextbooks. While printing is limited to just 10 pages at a time, eTextbooks do allow students to highlight and take notes electronically. But don’t think of this as a limitation, think of this as a forced method of organization. You’ll never loose a loose note with this option, and all your thoughts and interests regarding a passage can be easily found right there on your device. ETextbooks usually sell for about half the cost of the full retail price.

But if reading on an electronic device isn’t your cup of tea — and neither is paying full price for a textbook — renting may be more your speed. Resources like Chegg.com work much the same as Netflix, but with books. Shipping starts at $3.99, and return shipping is free. Other online book renting companies include: CampusBookRentals.com, which provide free shipping both ways; ECampus.com rents, sells, and buys back textbooks; and other suggested companies are Textbookrentals.com and Collegebookrenter.com.

Buying textbooks online is an oldy but a goody. But other than the usual Amazon.com and online retail distributors from major bookstores such as Barnes & Noble, you may want to try Campusbooks.com and Bigwords.com. Both use search engines to scour the internet for the best prices on buying new or used books.

Also, don’t forget to be a couponer (yes, that’s possible even on the internet). Sites like PromotionalCodes.com, CouponWinner.com, and PromoCodes.com offer an entire category of discount codes for textbooks and eBooks for various book providers and renters.

campus book swap

Image via Google search

And one of the best good ole fashioned ways of getting textbooks on the cheap is helping out a fellow student. For every new semester there are students that need to get rid of their textbooks from the semester past. Check campus bulletin boards located around the campus (in the cafeteria, in SAB, and in the Success Center, for example) for flyers from students trying to sell their last semester texts. Students have also listed books they are selling on sites such as Facebook and even Craigslist so be sure to search the listings and your friends profiles (even the profiles of your friends’ friends). Student PIRGs, a statewide student organization dedicated to solving the world’s problems one student organization at a time, also has its own swapping website, www.CampusBookSwap.org, which allows students to look up their school and post the books they have available, or search the site for the books they need. Another student-to-student swapping website you may want to try is textbookrevolt.com.

For more information on making textbooks affordable, visit Student PIRGs page Make Textbooks Affordable page. The page has several suggestions as well as information on how the option works and its potential pros and cons.

Also, if you happen to be interesting in the ins and outs of the complex world of the textbook, you may find this article from Disruptive Library Technology Jester interesting. The article details the life cycle of the textbooks from its publishing conception to its life with students and its eventual publication death.

Related:
Siegel Bernard, Tara. “How to Find Cheaper College Textbooks.” NYTimes.com. 11 Aug. 2010. Web. 11 Aug. 2010. http://bucks.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/08/03/how-to-find-cheaper-college-textbooks/.

Back to School with the Echo Smartpen

Who doesn’t want to the neatest gadgets the market has to offer in this age of technology. While this gadget isn’t necessarily marketed towards being an assistive device for persons with disabilities, we feel this nifty contraption would not only make the college kid’s heart swell with techno-savvy glee, but would also help in earning that all important grade.

Meet echo, the smartpen by livescribe. The echo’s many functions lend itself perfectly as an assistive device to individuals with learning disabilities as it combines the use of visual and audio aids (either separately or used in conjunction with one another). Students with physical limitations who find it difficult to thumb through sheafs of paper, textbooks, and notes will love the audio and computer syncing capabilities.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Echo smartpen by Livescribe, posted with vodpod

Pretty neat, huh?! This bit of technological gadgetry is a pen and a computer all rolled into one. Now, the pen doesn’t just work on any ole paper, there is also “smartpaper” that comes in a variety of styles from looseleaf to spiral notebook and journal forms. Called “Dot paper” the smartpen and the paper work together to document, record, store, and recall your notes, lectures, comments, even your doodles.

You can visit the official page for the livescribe echo smartpen for a full breakdown and demonstration of the pen in action. But just to give you a basic understanding of the smartpen, while you’re writing, the echo smartpen is remembering and linking everything you hear to everything you write. The pen records the lecture or spoken note that goes with the corresponding written note on the dot paper. Later, you simply tap on the notes to replay the recording.

echo smartpen

Record everything, play it back with the echo smartpen from livescribe.

And finding long lost notes is as easy as typing the keyword in your search menu. Now, this does take some forethought, but with a little practice you’ll get the hang of it. Just like a digital recorder, the echo smartpen allows you to download your recordings (written notes included) through a USB cord to your computer. You can organize, manage and export your notes and audio, and easily recall specific notes later by using the program’s search menu.

echo smartpen

Save, organize, and search notes with the echo smartpen by livescribe

But why stop with exporting notes just for yourself. Share your notes and recordings with the world…or at the very least, with your classmates. You can export your notes as a PDF, an audio file, or as interactive Flash movies called pencasts. Then embed the pencasts on a blog, website, Facebook, or even the Livescribe Community.

echo smartpen

Send and share your notes with the echo smartpen by livescribe.

And just like today’s fancy smartphones, the echo smartpen is also customizable with apps. Customize the smartpen with games (not that we’re suggesting you do so with all those hours of hard studying we just know you’re dedicating yourselves to), reference guides (now that’s more like it), and productivity tools (to help you students who need a little guidance with time management).

Now, this isn’t the cheapest gadget on the market, but the echo smartpen is reasonably affordable as far as technology goes. With prices ranging from $129 for 2GB smartpen, $149 for 4GB, and $199 for 8GB, students have the option of choosing the amount of storage space that best suits their needs. The echo smartpen from livescribe is available at major retailers, such as Best Buy, as well as available for purchase online.

A prosthetic tail offers hope and a movie deal for one famous Florida dolphin

Winter the dolphin

Image courtesy Chris O'Meara of the Associated Press


In December 2005, 3-month old Winter, a bottlenose dolphin, was found by a local fisherman tangled up in the buoy line of a crab trap in Indian River Lagoon near Cape Canavereal. The buoy line had cut off blood flow to Winter’s tail, causing the fluke to slowly fall off like shreds of paper. A team at Clear Water Marine Aquarium, a nonprofit animal rescue center housed in the city’s former water treatment plant, worked tirelessly to save Winter’s life. Today, she is a happy, social, and healthy 4-year old who has recently made news, not only for being the first dolphin recorded to survive without its powerful flukes, but also because she has been working closely with reknowned Prosthetic specialist Kevin Carroll to create a prosthetic tail.

Since losing her tail, Winter has learned how to swim and play without it, but experts fear that her adjustments may hurt her delicate spine in the long run if other options are not found. The dolphins flukes (i.e. each half of its tail) are used for propulsion while its flippers are most often used for steering and braking. Winter’s adaptations to swimming without her flukes has led her to swim with moves similar to the undulating swimming style of an alligator and the side-to-side tail swipes of a shark. Winter uses her flippers to begin her propulsion. However, experts say that Winter’s swimming style will lead to spinal problems; evidence of this is already indicative by the way she sometimes bends her spine in an unnatural curve.

Winter's prosthetic tail

Image courtesy Chris O'Meara of the Associated Press

While trainers do not expect Winter to wear the prosthetic tail full-time, she is wearing the tail daily, especially during her work outs and extensive physical therapy sessions designed to keep her muscles strong, her spine in alignment, and to keep her tail from deteriorating.

But as any good test subject, Winter is not only reaping the benefits of her new prosthetic, she is also providing prosthetic specialist Kevin Carroll with invaluable information that has alread helped at least one veteran amputee in his recovery. Air Force Senior Airman Brian Kolfage lived in pain in his prosthetic legs. Having lost both of his legs in a mortar bomb in a 2004 attack in Iraq, Kolfage had what Carroll describes in an interview with USA Today as “dagger-like boney growths sticking into the socket.” Carroll saws these protrusions as being similar to those he saw in Winter. It was through developing the gel sleeve that he developed to allow the prosthetic flukes to cling to Winter’s tail without irritating her skin that he was able to sooth the painful prosthesis that Kolfage was living with. By necessitating new development in the field of prosthetics in order to help Winter, Carroll hopes that, like Kolfage, Winter’s case will be able to help other prosthesis users in the future.

Currently the aquarium team of specialists along with Carroll and his team of specialists continue to develop new prosthetic attachments and physical rehabilitation to train Winter to using the artificial flukes. Plans are to continue socializing Winter to new prosthetic pieces until the time, yet to be determined, they will attach the first fully prosthetic artificial tail flukes.

In the meantim, Winter’s disability and her amazing methods of adaptation and assistance devices has her starring in an upcoming film alongside Morgan Freeman, Harry Connick Jr., and Ashley Judd. Filming for the 3-D movie, entitled “Dolphin’s Tale,” will begin September 27, 2010. Produced by Alcon Entertainment, filming will be done at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, where a $300,000 major addition to the aquarium, including a 20,000-gallon recovery pool and additional 80,000-gallon pool is currently under construction. Though the tanks are being built for the purposes of filming the movie, they will remain as part of the nonprofit facility to help aid in its purposes of animal rescue. The film producers have also made agreements to share profits from the movie and its Winter merchandising as endowments to help keep the facility growing and operating.

Visit the Clearwater Marine Aquarium at www.seewinter.com/winter for more on Winter and updates on the movie’s production.

The Related links below share more of the story on Winter’s prosthetic tail and the makings of the movie.

Related:
Davis, Phil. “Prosthesis Offers Hope for Tailless Dolphin.” USA Today. Associated Press, 25 Aug. 2007. Web. 18 Aug. 2010. http://www.usatoday.com/news/offbeat/2007-08-25-tailless-dolphin_N.htm.

Belcher, Walt. “Winter Practices, Construction Starts for Dolphin Movie.” Tampa Tribune. Tampa Tribune, 17 Aug. 2010. Web. 18 Aug. 2010. http://www2.tbo.com/content/2010/aug/17/winter-practices-construction-starts-dolphin-movie/news-breaking/.

The real-life Quasimodo

Quasimodo

Image via Google search

Quasimodo. Victor Hugo’s famously feared and reviled monster by fictional townspeople, and sympathized for, loved, and found morbidly curious by generations of readers, found sanctuary in an unlikely love that is fulfilled only in death. And though we’ve come to identify Quasimodo by his physical deformity, the infamous hunchback that seems only as horrible as the imagination that could conjure it, there is in fact more thruths to be had in this literature than imagination need invent.

For instance, the hunched back is, in fact, a type of medical malady known as kyphosis. While the imagery conjured for Quasimodo’s hump more often depicts the hump as a tumorous like growth — akin to the “wart” that grows over Quasimodo’s eye — kyphosis is actually a disorder involving an extreme and abnormal upward curvature of 50 degrees or more of the spine. Kyphosis may be congenital (the condition being present at birth), result in old age (from osteoporosis or bone weakness), or may present itself in the time in between as a result of a diseased thoracic vertebra, injury, and a number of other various conditions. Kyphosis can also be a hereditary defect. With kyphosis, a hump as large as the one depicted in Hugo’s Quasimodo is, in fact, possible.

Furthermore, a UK archivist has found what he believes is the real-life inspiration for the French novelists character Quasimodo. Adrian Glew, who works on the Tate collection’s archives in London, was studying the seventeen-volume handwritten autobiography of the 19th century British sculptor Henry Sibson when he came across an entry referencing a Frenchman whose nickname was “le bossu,” or hunchback. Sibson had been contracted in the 1820s to carve stone as part of the restoration of Notre Dame in Paris which had suffered damage in the French Revolution of the 1790s. After a falling out with one of his contractors sent him looking for employment at the government studio, Sibson met a carver called Trajan, a name Glew indicates as being suspiciously similar to the name of the main characcter in the earlier version of Hugo’s “Les Miserables,” whose name was originally Jean Trajean, and was later altered by Hugo to Jean Valjean.

In his studies, Glew noted that Sibson was describing French artisans who were active in the same part of Paris as where Hugo lived in the 1820s, and with Hugo’s interest in the restoration of Notre Dame, it was quite plausible that writer may have seen, may very well had even known, Trajan. So why is this association with Trajan noted as a sort of missing puzzle piece. Because Trajan was under the government employ of a man whom Sibson cannot recall the name of but described in his writings as being humpbacked. This humpbacked employer of Trajan was known as M. Le Bossu, a nickname given to him for which Sibson recalls only ever knowing the man by.

Furthermore, Glew found that Sibson, Trajan, and Trajan’s hunchbacked boss were working in Dreaux, a town near Paris, at the same times as Hugo, where he proposed to his wife-to-be.

Glew is still researching the mysterious humpbacked boss, though he has yet to discover the man’s real name.

Sibson’s memoir will be on display outside the Hyman Kreitman Reading Room at the Tate Britain Gallery from August 16 until the end of the month.

And if you haven’t read The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and no, seeing the Disney movie does not count, you can download the audio ebook for FREE from Gutenberg Project. Visit http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/6539#downloads.

Related:
Collett-White, Mike. “UK Archivist Says Uncovers Real-life Quasimodo.” Yahoo News. Reuters, 16 Aug. 2010. Web. 17 Aug. 2010. http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20100816/lf_nm_life/us_quasimodo_identity.

That mountain of snow you walked to school in everyday just became obsolete by tales of phones with cords. A “Did You Know” service announcement.

generation gap

Image via Google search.

Do you remember that sled piled three feet high with books that your parents use to treck up and down the side of a mountain in 12 ft. of snow in the middle of a blizzard just to get to school everyday. If you do…then, you’re ancient! If you have no idea what we’re talking about, then you’re probably a part of the Class of 2014 — or dare we say, younger.

For the Class of 2014, Clint Eastwood is known more as a “sensitive director” than as Dirty Harry. For students entering college this Fall, email is too slow, phones have never had cords, and the computers us 30-somethings played with in high school are now exhibits in museums. And few incoming freshmans will know how to write in cursive!

Too shocking to believe us? Then check out the Mindset List by Beloit College. The compilation, released today, is assembled each year by two officials, Ron Nief, former public affairs director at Beloit College, and Tom McBride, an English professor at the private school, and is meant to remind teachers that cultural references familiar to them might baffle, befuddle, or draw blank stares from college freshman (strictly speaking of this Fall’s freshmans, most were born in 1992). The intent is that by being aware of the generation gap helps professors craft lesson plans that are more meaningful.

For example, history professors, the Class of 2014 will associate the War in Iraq and Afghanistan with the disaster of 9-11 only, and a few may even know the termonology of Desert Storm and “that guy Sadam Hussein” fits in there somewhere. But for these freshman, they won’t know that U.S. conflicts with Iraq truly began with the Cold War and its conflict between the U.S., Russia, and Russia’s control of Afghanistan. For this generation of students, Russia and the U.S. have lived as neighbors in space, not as competitors in the “space race.”

The list is an interesting lesson in cultural perspective, comparing those thoughts, ideas, and objects that were controversial of yester year, to its modern counterpart that this Fall’s freshman’s live with. Plus, professors, the list may expand your current vocabulary to a more contemporary one — at the very least, you’ll know what the kids are talking about. 🙂

To see the list, visit http://www.beloit.edu/mindset.

Related:
Ramde, Dinesh. “Wear Wristwatch? Use E-mail? Not for Class of ’14.” The Associated Press. 17 Aug. 2010. Web. 17 Aug. 2010. http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100817/ap_on_re_us/us_mindset_list.

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