Reading For the Concepts Amidst the Details

Today (which includes the wee hours of this morning) I was reading through a section of a layman-level book in the Scientific American Library book, Life Processes of Plants (which is really a review for me).  I also took notes based on this material, in a summarizing fashion.  This part of that chapter was about the best time to flower and for seeds to germinate.  However, the skill I really want to convey in this post is getting the bottom line amidst the body of writing and not holding an idolatrous “verbatim bondage” to the text.  (By the way, in this post, the focus is on secular non-fiction.)

So, people may think I have a photographic memory (of sorts).  Well, I deny that, especially since claiming that is arrogant and in fact deceitful when my memory is only sub-par to such.  This is especially the case over time, for as usual, details within text tend to fade (just like the average person).  Also, excessive focus on retention and review of past readings, again, shows that bondage to memorization.  From my conscience, this can be idolatry because can potentially displace adoration to God onto secular reading material.

This thereby may put me in the dilemma of “to keep or not to keep.”  Well, here’s my take on it:

  1. When considering investigating into a topic, judge the worth of a topic and see if it is really necessary for your purposes.  Of course, you should show interest in it as well.  Our days are numbered (cf. Ps 90) and should not be wasted.
  2. Get the main points of a book, website, or any informative material.  Remember, details of anything are the elements of “who, what, when, where, why, and how.”  They shape a written work, but are not the work itself.
  3. When you are done with the book, just let it fly!  After all, if that weren’t the case, we wouldn’t check out books from libraries.  You read something, you comprehend it, and just move on!  There’s a whole world of information to explore than that tiny corner of knowledge you might get preoccupied with.
  4. Finally, last but not least, seek God’s wisdom, especially through prayer and Scriptural reading.

Of course, the details of a written work have their purpose, such as reference, or as discussed above, to steer the course of reading the work.

The Bible is a possible exception to this rule, since it can spiritually shape you along your earthly journey in different ways, perhaps using the same scriptures. But the Bible is meant to transform, not merely to inform.

In a nutshell, summarization is as important for non-fiction as it is for fiction.  (Pun intended.)

So, willing to drop everything and read, and do it again and again and again?

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Site Review: Cronodon.com

Cronodon, a fictitious planet, is the home of a “curator”of a “museum of the future.”  And let me tell you, even though still a diamond in the rough, his brainchild is fantastic.

The curator, who anonymously calls himself “Bot,” to the best of my knowledge, for I am a human and hence an earthling, probably has many experts on a team.  The details are a little murky though.

Its primary areas of treatment are biology, quantum physics, and astronomy.  I have also found some topics treated as diverse as chemistry, meteorology and even some urban planning stuff.

The biological coverage is excellent, especially in the areas of botany, invertebrate zoology, and microbiology.  Alas, the only vertebrates covered are cetaceans, a group of marine mammals that includes, you guessed it, dolphins, porpoises, and whales.  But the cover almost every single kind of invertebrate.  It contains extremely rich detail yet makes it very readable, a rare marriage.  And some pages are still readable even when it could get technical (in other words, you can skip those portions of the page and still get the general message).

A central feature woven throughout the site is its robust programming base.  You may even learn to program yourself through certain pages.  In fact, many of the images are made through these methods.  Cronodon also welcomes constructive criticism (be it positive or negative), and in fact often offers a link to do so on a particular article.

Some of the downsides:

-It adds much pseudoscience to the mix, such as alchemy and certain “dark side” philosophies.  As a creationist Christian myself, the old-earth/evolution base in the biology pages could count, but since one side of the never-ending creation/evolution debate will consider the other as pseudoscientific, this leads to a draw.  Besides, personally, I typically substitute my beliefs for what is presented when I read an evolutionary material.

-Printing directly from the site is an ordeal because many of the images overlap with the text.  The extent of this depends on the browser used, e.g., Chrome and Opera have a less severe overlap of images than Firefox, etc.  I recommend that you copy it to a word processor (e.g., MS Word, Google Docs), though things can be disorganized at times upon copying.  Alternatively, you can just read it directly from the website (sometimes enlarging the text can allow for better concentration and comprehension)

-Finally, it has a British tone to the writing, so you should be aware of certain vocabulary differences.  But if you’re already British, this makes no difference!

Aside from those issues, Cronodon is a great place to learn about “science for science’s sake.”  For a Christian like me, this means getting to know this awesome world and universe God has placed us in.  I highly recommend it for any sufficiently educated adult who wishes to learn more about our beautiful cosmos.  The website is simply cronodon.com.

Enjoy your explorations all around!

Sharpening Self-Discipline

As I work hard in Calculus I and at least “hard enough” in this Chemistry class (LOL), I hope to take on more coursework per semester in this fall and beyond.  I enjoy the content, and after these two courses are finished, I thereupon will change officially to the Biology major.  And this associate degree from my current community college that I shall later get will hopefully lead to a corresponding Biology degree (that is, a bachelor’s) at a university.  (What happens beyond that is not a point for planning at this point, since as your money says, in God I trust)  Of course, a good portion of the work will be done by then, thanks to the associate degree.

Of course, this applies beyond school.  Mundane early-morning activities like breakfast and showering are also key factors in just about anyone’s daily agenda.  And as an already sharp learner apart from school; books, the Internet, etc., can be a nice weekend (and perhaps otherwise) diversion, whether during school, my career, or retirement.  Remember, we will always be learning till we’re 6 feet under, and I am certainly no exception.  For weekends (and perhaps weekdays), I may keep track of my planned events for the day in a more detailed way.  And if there is nothing left over, find more to do per day, and hence raise the bar.

Remember, however, one must account for (and accept) certain weaknesses as well.  For example, I feel I absorb information more readily when a website is printed.  Or just outright reading an already printed book.  There are exceptions, but this is the rule of thumb.  Also, my handwriting is a mess, and I prefer to type things except if there is no need for mass presentation of information.  Sometimes, weaknesses can be improved on.  After all, this very improvement of self-discipline is one.  But some are more formidable than others, and it may require wisdom to determine if they really should be honed, or just accept how God has made you, and focus on your strengths.

Jesus talked in the Parable of the Talents (Mat 25:14-30) about the three men using the “talents” (a very substantial unit of money in Biblical times) in different ways.  Two of the men, having five and two of these units, used them properly, and it was fruitful; while the third only had one of these units and abused it.  It shows a “quality over quantity” pattern here, as you can see.  It is believed the word “talent” in English is derived from that, but I’m not a Biblical or linguistic scholar.  (Sorry!)  But at least you have an idea that one’s natural, temporal gifts are to be used to God’s glory.

Efficiency isn’t easy.  Procrastination is child’s play.  Let’s reverse the trend.

Is Being Academically “Ahead of the Pack” Worth It?

Now in my second semester at Community College of Philadelphia, I am now taking Calculus I and an Introductory Chemistry course that solidly prepares a student for “college” chemistry.  It also prepares me for my intended majors Biology I course required as part of the biology program at CCP.

In both courses, there is certain material that I may already know, and know quite well.

Chemistry

Right now in chemistry, the professor has so far discussed some VERY basic math skills, probably none of which goes beyond the middle school level.  This includes: place values, solving pathetically simple algebraic equations (e.g., 2x + 3 = 13, something I can do in my head), the metric system, rounding (I already know 0-4 is rounding down and 5-9 is rounding up), scientific notation, operations with integers, yada, yada, yada!  It’s already like 3 weeks into the semester and it still feels more like math than chemistry!  He mentions there may be measurement units that we’ve never heard of, but the only one I know (the mole and all its kin), probably have been covered in HS chemistry classes wherein most, if not all, students have probably attended.  (I was among those that did not do so).  And last but not least, the instructor’s monotone lecturing style doesn’t help either.

At my original community college, Bucks County (Pennsylvania, USA), I have attempted majors chemistry twice unsuccessfully, and completed a non-majors chemistry course successfully (even in that situation, I was “ahead of the pack”).

Of course, to maintain the Christian value of humility, I keep silent about existing knowledge of mine, keeping compassion for the students and not being arrogant.  (cf. 1 Cor 8:1,2)

But looking on the bright side, at least I learned a good concise way of doing the scientific method, and some more appealing details amidst all the tedium.  You sometimes just have to look for the “silver lining” sometimes.

Calculus

Calculus I was another Bucks course I have taken but did not complete, and I learned a lot of neat stuff then (though since I have forgotten much, this serves a good review).  At least this course is challenging, both then and now.  But especially now, due to the professor’s methodology.  One imperative rule of schooling (this applies to chemistry, calculus, or any subject) is that you should not use your existing knowledge to do work in that class until that concept is taught therein.

“Too Much, Too Soon”*

My fetish with college materials, especially textbooks, began back in high school.  In mid-to-late August 2006, shortly before school started, I obtained a botany book via Amazon, the same text (but a newer edition) a HS teacher used in his college years.  The reading of this text spanned the rest of 2006 and into 2007.  Most typical high school kids have substantial homework, but being in a situation where homework assignments were few and far between (I shall not discuss why, though).  Since then, this interest (or if you will, addiction) has become over-the-top, and has lead (and will keep on leading) to the same tedious and boring situations in classrooms throughout college.  You would think it would make college (when you reach that point) easy.  In a way it does, but it also makes lectures boring and “old news.”  This past fall’s Psychology class was fascinating, but of course, I knew little of the material prior to then.

Conclusion

Eccl. 3:1-8 (incidentally, the apparent source for the Byrds’ 1965 folk-rock song “Turn, Turn, Turn”), is an OT Scripture beautifully puts diametrically opposed situations in a poetic nutshell that is quite versatile even beyond the exact words.

I have also discovered that textbooks used alone are often less fruitful that when with an instructor.  Sure, you’ll learn new things, but are they they accurate?  And there might be subtle gems of information either not in the text at all or “in between the lines”

Moral of the story?  For now, I should focus on the actual curriculum and hold off on other, non-assigned academic subjects until your formal studies are past, and just take our schooling one step at a time.

*This section’s title was part of an actual blog post title in a now-defunct blog of mine.