On Infrastructure

A great quote from a NY Times Health article a few weeks ago:

“…fragile bones don’t matter, from a clinical standpoint, if you don’t fall down.”   – http://bit.ly/21SoFI

In context it makes sense, makes a point, and is not totally banal.

Out of context, however, it’s in a way the ultimate example of short-sightedness.  And I think it applies to more than just bone density.

I immediately saw an analogy with systems in an organization.  I hear it saying that it doesn’t matter if you have weak infrastructure as long as you never make a mistake and never have to quickly respond to an unanticipated need.

Though it’s tempting to work even harder at being perfect, since thinking about this quote I’ve been focusing more on strengthening the systems at the learning center.

Brains, Stress, and Behavior

Brain electrodes by laimagendelmundo on Flickr
Brain electrodes by laimagendelmundo on Flickr

The NY Times had an interesting brain science article written by Natalie Angier.  It basically said that chronically stressed-out people’s brains change: their habit-forming neurons multiply while their decision-making neurons languish.

The result of these changes is that stressed-out people rely on habits, and that these habits can become “ruts” and downright counterproductive behavior.  From the article:

“Behaviors become habitual faster in stressed animals than in the controls, and worse, the stressed animals can’t shift back to goal-directed behaviors when that would be the better approach,” Dr. Sousa said. “I call this a vicious circle.”

Angier also emphasizes the plasticity of the brain, noting that the brain returns to normal when the stressors are removed.

Some interesting groups of stressed-out people whose brain chemistry might be favoring habits over goal-driven behavior:

  • Refugees and immigrants
  • People struggling to pay bills (be they heat or private college tuition)
  • Overworked, under-supported teachers
  • Doctors

This has some pretty interesting ramifications.  What I see applying to my students (many of whom are refugees):

  • they need a safe, relaxed, predictable environment to help them think
  • many would respond well to repetitive exercises, vocabulary drills, etc.
  • teaching them basic survival habits will help them through future stressful situations

Also, this talk of stress and habits in relation to the brain begs the question of how this research fits in with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and addiction.  These conditions aren’t addressed in the article.

Interesting read!

“Saver’s Remorse?” Try Reader’s Remorse, NY Times.

I have minimal expectations of the NY Times.  The bar is low.  And this article didn’t even come close to clearing it.  The point of Susan Saulny’s Even to Save Cash, Don’t Try This Stuff at Home seems to be “If at first you don’t succeed, give up forever and pay someone else $1,000.”

It’s not just that I disagree with what’s said.  It’s that I think even the author would disagree if she’d spent a moment of thought on it.

Yes, I know, when you’ve inadvertently flooded your house, you don’t have a lot of choice but to call a plumber.  But since when is having ugly hair an emergency that requires $1,000 to fix?  And you’re telling me you don’t have even one friend who could help you change your car battery?  Come on, people.

No mention was made of actually learning how to do things yourself through research and tapping your network for help.  There’s no acknowledgment, explicit or tacit, that there’s any value in to trying to do something for yourself.  There’s no link to actual DIY resources.  There’s no reference to “best practices” (read: common sense) such as starting small.  There’s no mention of honestly evaluating the necessity of the project and the worst-case impact of your utter failure before you begin.  I didn’t even get a good laugh out of it.  There’s basically nothing of value in this article.

I guess you could argue that adding value to the world wasn’t the point.  And I guess someone very clever could argue that that’s ok.  Who am I to say that the NY Times can’t print shallow drivel if it wants to?

I guess it falls to bloggers like Trent at TheSimpleDollar.com to put thought into written pieces.  Check out a home repair gone awry as told by Trent, and a few other related articles of his that might also be useful to you.