What Can My Students Do with That Phone?

“…the thing is ‘mobile sets Learning Free’ and we can now learn virtually anything, anywhere and anytime and that’s amazing.”
RJ Jacquez

This blog post is going to different from my others. Instead of a deep dive into a topic, this will be a list of apps that might be of use to faculty and students in distance education. I will focus on apps for the mobile phone, likely tablets as well. In my last blog, I mentioned that if a faculty member wants to use apps with mobile technology, they need to pick things that all their students can use. With that in mind, I will only be talking about apps that are free and will work on both iOS and Android.


Students may not be in the classroom, but writing will go on.  These first two might seem a little dull, but remember, it never hurts to be prepared.



While it is easy to look up the definition and alternative words, these two apps give students direct access.  These apps could be especially useful for international students that might currently find themselves without access to their support infrastructure.  Even if English is your primary language, sometimes, we can all use a little help in finding that perfect word.


It is a document collection and organization tool. It is also a bibliography creations tool. In addition to being usable on iOS and Android, you can use it on your laptop or desktop.


EasyBib is also a bibliography tool; the advantage of EasyBib is that it will create the bibliographic reference using your phone’s camera to scan the book’s bar code.  The disadvantage is that the free version will only produce citations in the MLA format.

Google Docs

While many may find it challenging to write a full document on a mobile device, you never know when inspiration will strike. Also, a section on writing would not be complete without a way to write a full document. The google docs apps allow access and editing to records at any time from any location.

Recording Audio and Video

A lot of classes require presentations, speeches, or performances. The default for a lot of faculty will be services like skype or your school’s video conferencing platform. However, it might be necessary to do asynchronous audio or video communication. Asynchronous audio or video communication requires the recording of a file that can be uploaded. Most phones have built-in audio and video recording options. I have included a couple of additional apps in case the built-in options don’t work for some reason.

Rev Audio and Voice Recorder

Rev audio is a fully functioned audio recording device.  Not only can you record audio, but you can share the audio files using lots of different methods. You may see reviews mentions that there is a fee associated with rev audio. That fee is not for any of the voice recording and file-sharing functions. Rev audio offers a transcription service where you can submit your files, and a transcriber will type them up and send you the document.

Horizon Camera

It was particularly hard to find video recording software as most video recorders are customized for Android, iOS, or have a fee associated with them.  Horizon camera offers full video recording options. In this case, it has an especially useful function of being able to record in several different sizes.

Recording Studio Lite

Recording studio lite is an audio recording app specifically for music.  Not only can you record and work with audio files, but you can also create additional tracks with virtual instruments.


Learning and examinations will go on studying must continue.  These apps can help the user study any were any time.


A flashcard creation and review app.

Studyblue is another flashcard app, allowing the creations of flashcards for study and practice. Users have the option to create their flashcards or use and modify existing ones.

Khan Academy

Everyone likely knows about the Khan Academy and their massive selection of educational videos.  While it is easy to access through the web, the khan Academy app gives students the ability to bypass a web browser and if their device supports it the ability to download and view videos without a live web connection.


The edX app gives uses access to full free (noncredit) college courses. Students can use edX courses as study adds or to provide background information on course topics. Some of the classes cost money, but many are free if you are not trying to get a certificate.

Periodic Table App

The Royal Society of Chemistry developed the periodic table app. It is much more than just a period table. It provides asses to lots of information and video content.


Do you use student response systems as part of your lectures? Kahoot lets you create questions that students can respond to using the app on their phone. If you are doing synchronizes lectures or discussions using a video conferencing system, you can use Kahoot to administer poles and questions.

As we move deeper into the grand experiment in sudden distance education information will become even more critical. In this blog I have focused exclusively on free apps there is another category of apps that are free for students but cost schools/instructors. If you have mobile apps that have helped you teach or connect with your students, share them.

Thanks for Listing to My Musings
The Teaching Cyborg

Suddenly All your Students are Online

“You can’t teach people everything they need to know. The best you can do is position them where they can find what they need to know when they need to know it.”
Seymour Papert

Every aspect of our society is currently getting upended by the coronavirus. Every day, news agencies and politicians throw numbers at us. While many of the numbers lack the context for proper understanding, some things like reducing the size of groups are evident.  For education, the most impactful recommendation is the CDC’s recommendation to postpone gatherings of 50 or more people for at least the next eight weeks.  As of March 13, 2020, at least 90 colleges and universities had already canceled classes or gone to online education.

As a faculty member, you are likely asking, “what happens now?” You have spent your entire career teaching in a traditional face-to-face environment.  Suddenly your school expects you to teach online, likely without any training and probably minimal support.  This sudden and drastic change is likely to overwhelm campus IT departments. You will likely have to rely mostly on yourself and your fellow faculty members to figure it out.

However, let’s try and help with some suggestions and ideas. As a faculty member suddenly thrust into online education, the most important thing to remember is don’t panic.  Take a deep breath and start with something small. When we administer exams, we tell our students don’t get stuck on a single question. If you can’t answer a question, move on and come back to the hard one later. Take the same approach to online education. Don’t fixate on a single issue.  Put problems aside from that you can’t answer now and move on to something you can.

Let’s discuss mobile apps. A lot of faculty are talking about apps they can use to teach. However, keep in mind all your students might not be able to use a specific app.  While many apps have both an iOS (iPhone, iPad) and Android (Google, Samsung, etc.) version, some apps don’t.  If an app is only available for iOS and half your students use android Phones, you can’t use that app. Perhaps you want to use live video conferences for group discussions. Your students might not have reliable high-speed internet in their homes. An excellent way to start planning is to send your students a survey to find out what technology they have. Here’s a short example

As you all know, the coronavirus has forced the university to shift to online education for at least the next several weeks. So that we can determine the best technology to use in continuing your education remotely, we would like to collect some information about the technology you have available to you.

Thank You
Instructors Name


What mobile tech do you use?

What kind of operating system does your mobile tech use?

What type of computer do you have?
Don’t own a computer

What operating system does your computer use?

what type of network access do you have?

Once you know, the technology your students have access to, you can start thinking about apps and other mobile technologies.

Because the change to online education was sudden, you will likely be playing catch-up. While you are waiting for responses from your students, let’s move one to another step. Even if you have never taught online, you have likely used a powerful online educational tool, your school’s Learning Management System (LMS). Your students can access the LMS anywhere they have an internet connection. Many LMS’s even have apps that give access through mobile devices.

A good starting point is to transfer your quizzes and exams into your LMS. You could even use the LMS to send your technology survey to your students. If your class involves lots of discussion questions, as the next step, set up discussion boards around your questions. Online discussion boards are not exactly like an in-class discussion. If you use the discussion board in the LMS, you are probably going to want to give your students some guidelines. As an example

This week’s discussion will focus on:

To receive full credit for the discussion, everyone must post at least a two-paragraph answer to the discussion questions.

Then comment on three other discussion posts, and responds to at least two comments

Next, look at the assignments tool; faculty can use it for more than grading papers. Students should be able to upload all kinds of digital files (document, image, audio, or video) through the assignment tool. Use the assignments tool as a means of excepting any type of data that gives your students one location to submit files. It also helps you keep track of your student’s submissions. The ability to accept multiple file types is especially useful in a class that has a lot of auditory content like speech or music classes. If your students have a regular weekly performance, you can create an assignment for each week.  The students can record their performance and then upload the file to the assignments page.

Yes, I know everyone is asking, what about lectures? You can use video or audio recordings to present your lectures. Today most LMS systems will allow video uploads. However, you should ask your school IT department if your school has access to a streaming video service. Streaming services are like YouTube or Netflix; they use a unique technology to deliver videos. Delivery of videos over the internet is technically demanding, and bandwidth-heavy process streaming services have optimized technology. If your school has access to a streaming service, you should use it. If your school does not have access to a streaming service or video delivery through your LMS, there is always YouTube.

What’s is the easiest way to record a lecture.  You might not like to hear this, but PowerPoint is a quick and easy way to create narrated presentations, you can find basic instructions here or here. Once you have recorded your narration, you can save your presentation as a PowerPoint show, which will play even if your students don’t have PowerPoint.  Alternatively, your school might have a lecture capture system.

However, the strongest recommendation I can make about online videos is to keep them short. If you record a whole lecture, break it up, and post it in 5-10-minute pieces. Alternatively, just record 5-minute videos concerning the most important topics.

Finally, over the next weeks and months, share what you learn.  Let people know what worked for you and what didn’t.  Let people know why something did or did not work. The best way to get through this is to help each other.

Thanks for Listening to My Musings
The Teaching Cyborg

P.S. Let me know if there are specific technologies or distance education problems where a blog post might help.

Mars, Water, and Life

“Mars tugs at the human imagination like no other planet. With a force mightier than gravity, it attracts the eye to the shimmering red presence in the clear night sky.”
John Noble Wilford

It seems like everything associated with space has a Mars focus.  NASA’s plan to return to the moon has a Mars association. Scientists are receiving a nearly continuous string of data about Mars from orbiters, landers, and rovers. NASA is planning on sending astronauts to Mars for research, and SpaceX is planning to colonize the red planet.

When we think of Mars, we think of a dry radiation banked world.

This March 27, 2015, view from the Mast Camera (Mastcam) on NASA's Curiosity Mars rover shows a site with a network of prominent mineral veins below a cap rock ridge on lower Mount Sharp. https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/mars/images/index.html
This March 27, 2015, view from the Mast Camera (Mastcam) on NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover shows a site with a network of prominent mineral veins below a cap rock ridge on lower Mount Sharp. https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/mars/images/index.html

However, we know that Mars once looked very different. Exploration has shown that Mars was warmer with a thicker atmosphere and flowing water.  Martian rovers discovered much of this evidence.  Opportunity found hematite a mineral of iron that forms in water.  Opportunity also discovered gypsum, a calcium sulfate mineral usually created by the evaporation of water.  Opportunity also found evidence of clay minerals that form in water.

The rover Spirit found environments that suggest active hot springs and warm neutral (pH) water, environments that are highly conducive to life as we know it. The existence of these features and minerals tells us that water once flowed freely above and below the Martian surface.  (https://mars.nasa.gov/mer/mission/science/results/)

The scientific evidence shows that liquid water once flowed on the surface of Mars.  How does this tell us that the plant was warmer with a thicker atmosphere? Water can exist in three phases solid, liquid, and gas. Two physical properties affect the phases of water, temperature, and pressure.  We know that below specific pressures (about ten mbar), water can only exist as a solid and gas.

Additionally, above a specific pressure (about 100 kbar), water can only exist as a solid. Temperature has similar effects on water. Scientists mapped out the results of pressure and temperature water, producing a triple point diagram.

The triple point diagram tells us for there to have been flowing water on Mars. The plant had to be warmer with a higher pressure.  Higher pressure means a thicker atmosphere since the thickness of the atmosphere determines atmospheric pressure.  Therefore Mars was once a wet, warmer world with a thicker atmosphere.

All this scientific evidence means is that Mars once had all the ingredients necessary for life liquid water and energy either from the sun or from hot springs.  Hot springs are a great source of energy for life.  If you have ever been to an area rich geothermal activity, you have likely seen hot springs with multicolored patterns. Like the Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone.

This picture shows the different colors of the Grand Prismatic Spring. A corner of Grand Prismatic Spring-1.jpg By Tigerzeng on 19 August 2017, 18:07:47. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.
This picture shows the different colors of the Grand Prismatic Spring. A corner of Grand Prismatic Spring-1.jpg By Tigerzeng on 19 August 2017, 18:07:47. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Microorganisms produce the colors. (The Science Behind Yellowstone’s Rainbow Hot Spring) Everyplace on earth where we have water and energy, we have found life. Therefore, we know that Mars once had all the ingredients to support life as we know it.  Additionally, we know that there are life forms like Tardigrades, also known as water bears, that can survive in extremely harsh environments.

Scanning electron micrograph of an adult tardigrade (water bear). By the Goldstein lab – tardigrades This image, which was originally posted to Flickr, was uploaded to Commons using Flickr upload bot on 28 September 2009, 13:40 by Tryphon. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.
Scanning electron micrograph of an adult tardigrade (water bear). By the Goldstein lab – tardigrades This image, which was originally posted to Flickr, was uploaded to Commons using Flickr upload bot on 28 September 2009, 13:40 by Tryphon. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

In 2007, scientists exposed Tardigrades to the vacuum and radiation of space.  When the tardigrades returned to earth, many of them revived and reproduced. 

All of this might lead you to ask why NASA hasn’t looked directly for life on Mars.  NASA has looked for life on Mars. NASA’s first successful Martin landers Viking 1 and Viking 2 carried experiments to look for life on Mars.  These experiments incubate samples of Martian soil with organic nutrients and water.  The experiment then examined the containers holding the soil to see if they produced gas consist with life (Viking lander biological experiments).

At first, scientists thought they had uncovered proof of life on Mars. However, there were inconsistencies between different experiments. The scientific consensus was that the observations were the result of naturally occurring chemicals in the soil. However, Gilbert V. Levin principal scientist on the Viking lander Labeled Release experiment thinks they did find life.  In the Scientific America article I’m Convinced We Found Evidence of Life on Mars in the 1970s, he lays out the argument.

Whether or not NASA found life what is true as Dr. Levin said: “Inexplicably, over the 43 years since Viking, none of NASA’s subsequent Mars landers has carried a life-detection instrument to follow up on these exciting results.” that NASA has not sent any other direct life sensing experiments to Mars. Now I will freely admit I have a hard time understanding how life could exist on the Martian surface.  The environment on Mars is hostile to life in all ways.  However, even just a little way below the surface that starts to change.  After all, dirt is good at blocking radiation.

In the article Life on Mars? It’s pointed out that some scientists think Mars might still harbor life.  “At a February conference in the Netherlands, an audience of Mars experts was surveyed about Martian life. Some 75 percent of the scientists said they thought life once existed there, and of them, 25 percent think that Mars harbors life today.”

You might ask the question, “If there is or was life on Mars, let’s get there as fast as we can so we can study it.”  If there is still life on Mars, what we could learn from it is unknowable.  Studying the life on Mars might change our understanding of biology and medicine in ways we can’t imagine.

So, we want to get to Mars.  There is a distinctive difference between dedicated research and colonization.  Colonization will have a direct impact on the Martian environment.  We will have to create large areas for food productions and the mining of resources.  While much of the waste products produced will likely be recycled, some of it will get into the environment. Because of the waste products and modifications of the environment, the colony will disrupt possible Martian life, potentially leading to the loss of valuable information.  Lastly, it will be imposable to keep a living growing colony biologically sealed from Mars-based microorganisms.  Which could prove dangerous?

Long before we ever consider colonizing Mars, we need to know whether life existed or still exists on Mars. If life exists on Mars, we need to conduct research using carefully designed research outposts that protect both the astronauts and the Martian life.  We need to discuss and decide what conditions need to meet before colonization can happen. If we are not careful when it comes to Mars, we will end up doing things before we have decided if we should.

Lastly, why aren’t teams of students and professors proposing life find experiments to NASA? If enough teams think about and design experiments, we might come up with something that works.

Thanks for Listing to My Musings
The Teaching Cyborg

“The New Ph.D.” Again

“There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.”
C.S. Lewis

A while ago, I wrote a blog post Re-Envisioning the PhD +13 Years.  While a graduate student, I was associated with the Woodrow Wilson Re-Envisioning the PhD project.  In that blog post, I reviewed my old notes to see if my opinion had changed. I concluded that the problem was not with a PhD degree but people trying to hijack the degree for other uses.

Today I came across an article in the Chronical of Higher Education, “The New Ph.D.: Momentum grows to rewrite the rules of graduate training.” While I am reluctant to dip back into the topic of changing the PhD, there is a lot going on, and I think we should give the Chronical article a look.  As Rear Admiral Grace Hopper said, “The most dangerous phrase in the language is: We’ve always done it this way.” (By the way, if you don’t know who Grace Hopper is, shame on you and educate yourself.)

The article starts with a story about Meg Berkobien, a graduate student in comparative literature.  Her dissertation was on 19th-century Catalan-language periodicals.  Meg was not motivated by her project and eventually decided to leave the program.  In a letter to her department chair, Meg wrote,

“Every time I sit down to write, I’m overwhelmed by a quiet despair — that our world is literally on fire and I’m not doing nearly enough to build a better world,” Berkobien wrote in an email to her department chair. “Pair these concerns with a downright awful job market, and I hope it’s clear why I think my best option is to leave.”

Instead of letting Berkobien leave the department let her “reimagine her dissertation as a series of essays focused largely on her public-facing work, which included building a translators’ collective that prints books and creating translation workshops for immigrant high schoolers learning English.” Beyond Berkobien’s story, the authors focused on a whole section of the Chronicle article on the dissertation.

One complaint is that the dissertation does not prepare students for jobs outside of academia. Since the bulk of Doctoral graduates will work outside of academia, maybe the dissertation should reflect that.  Sidonie Smith argues, “The one-size-fits-all proto-book structure shackles scholarship,” “It often yields bloated projects that don’t merit such long-form treatment.” While Earl Lewis says, “Lewis made a much-discussed suggestion that historians should consider allowing students to pursue co-authored dissertations. This, he says, would enable them to produce better answers to really big scholarly questions.”

The Chronical article lists several programs experimenting with alternative dissertations. It also contains several examples were alternative dissertation formats have been successful. However, the article never talks about the purpose of the dissertation.  Why is the dissertation part of the PhD?  Additionally, the dissertation is not that old.  According to DED: A Brief History of the Doctorate, a University awarded the first doctoral degree in the 12th century.  Universities awarded the first PhD in the 19th centaur, and Yale awarded the first US PhD in 1861.  Therefore, in the US, at most, the PhD dissertation is only 159 years.

What is the dissertation purpose? Why should the students write anything? The PhD is predominantly a research degree. If you do, a web search asking what a PhD is some were in the description will be a phrase like “original research” or “contribute new knowledge to your field.” The writing of a dissertation is how you show that your research answered the original research question.

I think the writers of the Chronical article are confusing several different problems. Let’s use Meg Berkobien as an example.  Meg was not engaged by her original research into 19-century Catalan-language periodicals.  As the article said, “What excited her was political organizing and mobilizing her translation expertise outside academe.” The department let her change her research topic to her translational working outside academia. They also changed the format of her dissertation.  Did the department have to do both?  Why couldn’t they have let Meg do a research project about her translational work outside academia while still writing a traditional dissertation?

Over the years, I have met many graduate students that have complained about their research projects.  There was an English lit major that wanted to study a 20th-century science fiction writer. The student’s advisors told the student no because science fiction wasn’t scholarly enough.  There was a biology student who wished to understand society’s comprehension of science. The student was told that it was not scientific enough.  I know an engineering student that wanted to understand how engineering impacted government policy; their advisor told them the department didn’t care.

In the end, these three students and many others left school.  In this case, the problem was not with the dissertation but with what was considered “scholarly” research.  However, it seems to me that almost any topic can be a research project, especially if we truly believe that all knowledge is worthwhile.  Do books have to be 100, 200, or 400 years old to be worthy of research. Isn’t it worthwhile to understand what the best way to communicate scientific information is?  The dissertation does not have to change to let in new and modern research questions.

The other reason given to change the dissertation is because it does not adequately prepare a student for work outside of academia.  While it is undoubtedly vital to train people so that they can be happy contributing members of society, we also need to train people for jobs in academia and research.  Part of the problem is overfilling in graduate programs, coupled with schools not being transparent about prospects.  I have had several faculty members tell me the only reason their departments enroll the number of graduate students is to fill the Graduate Teaching Positions, not because they need them.

While schools should be aware of student futures and provide their prospective students with realistic expectations, instead of changing the dissertation, why not allow a student to create additional projects or participate in internships to complement and enhance their graduate experiences.

The last issue brought up by Dr. Smith, and Dr. Lewis is that the current dissertation model inhibits the type of research and questions that students can ask. These are good questions concerning changes to the dissertation.  If a change to the structure of the dissertation improves the student’s ability to do research or open new kinds of research, then we should make changes.

While continuing to do something because we have always done it, that way is dumb.  It is equally foolish to change something because of problems with something else.  It is still worth looking for a better way to do things.  Just because something is not a perfect fit for everything doesn’t mean it should be changed.  After all, there are things for which a PhD is ideal.  As time and society change, schools will undoubtedly have to adapt to provide an educated society. However, as I have said before, perhaps the appropriate switch is to create a new degree not to edit the old degree out of existence.

Thanks for Listing to my Musings
The Teaching Cyborg

PS. In case you think rose-tinted glass biased my opinion, I hate my dissertation.  Not just because the company my school used to print and bind the digital files did such a horrible job.  The entire document looks like a bad copy produced off a low-quality copy machine. 

I suppose what gets me is that while I was worried about writing a document that large, I had a plan and was looking forward to creating the pseudo book.  I had a story to tell, present the background, which showed where there were holes in our knowledge.  Then develop the experimental methods to address the gaps.  Finally, I would get to show how my data added to the models and lead to new questions for future research.  Instead, my department wanted a catalog of every single experiment I did.  In the end, I felt like “my” dissertation belonged more to my committee, then it did to me.

But Will It Be a Mammoth?

“The dawn of the era of cloning is a little like splitting the atom, with enormous prospects for evil and enormous prospects for good.”
Glenn Bucher

Ice is central to the story of the Woolly Mammoth. The last ice age drove the evolution of Woolly Mammoths.  One of the driving factors in the extinction of Woolly Mammoths was the loss of ice at the end of the last ice age.  Finally, ice in the form of permafrost might let Woolly Mammoths walk the earth again. Permafrost “is a permanently frozen layer at variable depth below the surface in frigid regions of a planet (such as earth).”  Some permafrost dates to the last ice age. 

The Woolly Mammoth has become the poster child for the cloning of extinct animals. Most of the Woolly Mammoths became extinct around 11,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age. However, a group of Woolly Mammoths survived until about 4000 years ago on Wrangel Island in the arctic ocean.  Rising water separated Wrangle island from the rest of northern Russia around the time the rest of the Mammoths died out. (The Last Wooly Mammoths Died Isolated and Alone)

When some Wooly Mammoths died, they got frozen in the permafrost, which preserved the mammoths. In 2013 Scientists found a 10,000 years old Wooly Mammoth so well preserved it started to bleed when it thawed. (Preserved Woolly Mammoth with flowing blood found for first time, Russian scientists claim)

Preserved mammoth remains have led to scientists thinking that they might clone the Wooly Mammoth. The reason frozen mammoths might make cloning possible is DNA, more specifically the preservation of DNA.  Scientists hope that viable cells or DNA can be derived from the frozen mammoths and used to clone living mammoths.  Currently, scientists are researching three methods to clone the Wooly Mammoth. 

The first technique is nuclear transfer.  In this method, scientists would inject a mammoth nucleus into a host egg, which would give rise to a mammoth embryo.  Second, scientists are hoping to fertilize elephant eggs with mammoth sperm.  The fertilization would produce a half-mammoth half-elephant hybrid.  The hybrids would then be bread together over several generations to create a full mammoth. Lastly, scientists have sequenced the Woolly Mammoth genome.  With this information, scientists plan to use CRISPER to edit mammoth genes into elephant DNA. Scientists would then use the engineered cells to produce mammoths.

So, we have preserved mammoths, that scientists think they can use to clone the Wooly Mammoth. Why would we clone a Wooly Mammoth? There are two fundamental reasons to clone a Wooly Mammoth. One, we can get scientific information about mammoths from the clones. Two, we want to see Wooly Mammoths walking around. These two reasons are not mutually exclusive.

However, there are problems with cloning mammoths for scientific research.  Specifically, the only scientific reason to clone the mammoths is so we can learn something we can’t learn from the genomic sequence. Can any of the three cloning methods teach us how a real mammoth lived? The first method of nuclear transfer cloning doesn’t work. It turns out that mammoth nuclei from a 28,000-year-old mammoth named Yuka were injected into mouse eggs (Signs of biological activities of 28,000-year-old mammoth nuclei in mouse oocytes visualized by live-cell imaging).  Scientists hoped that the mouse eggs would activate the mammoth nuclei and repair the DNA.  The mammoth nuclei did activate, but the DNA repair failed. The scientists concluded, “the results presented here clearly show us again the de facto impossibility to clone the mammoth by current NT technology.”

The second method using mammoth sperm to fertilize an egg will have the same problems as nuclear transfer.  Essentially a sperm cell is simply a way to transfer a nucleus into an egg cell. Even if scientists could get nuclear transfer cloning or sperm fertilization to work, this will not produce a full mammoth. 

To understand why these cloning technics will not produce a full mammoth it’s necessary to understand some cell biology.  All multicellular animals are eukaryotes, and eukaryotic cells contain multiple membrane-bound organelles.  One organelle is the mitochondria, which have DNA and are inherited only from the mother.  Therefore, nuclear transfer or sperm fertilization will not produce mammoth mitochondria. Thus, with these two techniques, the “mammoth” will never have mammoth mitochondria.

That leaves CRISPR mediated genetic engineering.  Using CRISPR, scientists would take a cell and use CRISPR to engineer mammoth genes into the cell.  According to the Woolly Mammoth page on the Revives and Restore project site, the genome of the Woolly Mammoth is 99.96% identical to the Asian elephant.  Mammoth produced by genetic engineering, will be an engineered Asian elephant, there will always be some modern Asian elephant DNA.  While some modern DNA might not seem important, it will be imposable to rule out that modern DNA is affecting the mammoths’ biology.

There is one last problem with cloning a Wooly Mammoth for science.  Even if we clone a Wooly Mammoth, we will not have a prehistoric mammoth.  Mammoths like living elephant relatives were likely intelligent and social creatures.  Modern elephants learn how to be an elephant from the members of their herd.  Since we don’t have any living mammoths, we will produce a mammoth that acts like an elephant.

It is unlikely; we will ever produce a 100% biological mammoth.  Additionally, no matter what we do, we will never produce a mammoth that behaves like a prehistoric mammoth.  Therefore, the only real reason to create a Woolly Mammoth would be to see one walk around.  We should ask ourselves, “Is that a good reason to clone a mammoth?”  Additionally, the first few mammoth embryos would have to be gestated by Asian elephants, which is an endangered species.  Is it justifiable to use Asian elephants to produce mammoths when every Asian elephant birth is vital for their species?

There is a lot of information scientists can learn from the Woolly Mammoth.  I am not convinced scientists can learn anything from a “Woolly Mammoth” clone.  Maybe there is a question I am missing, if there is, I would love to hear it from one of the scientists.  I must admit if I had the opportunity to see a Woolly Mammoth walking around, I probably would.  However, is that a good enough reason to clone one? I can’t help but think a discussion about cloning the Woolly Mammoth would make an excellent addition to a scientific ethics course.

Thanks for Listing to My Musings
The Teaching Cyborg

How Many Times Do We Have to Say Something for It to Be True?

“A typewriter is a means of transcribing thought, not expressing it.”
Marshall McLuhan

There is more to good writing than sitting down and typing.  Almost all writing requires research of some kind.  The question is, when have you done enough research?  How I conduct research often depends on what I’m writing.  I tend to research my blog posts as I write them.

However, even research can cause problems, is the information in your reference correct? Previously I wrote about two commonly cited studies that are either miss represented or didn’t exist, Do You Know If Your References Are Biting You?   In my last blog post, Should We Care About Grammar and Structure?, I talked about grammar and its impact on readability.  Specifically, the effect of two spaces vs. one space after the period.

Today in 2020, the style guides say to use one space after the period.  When I was in school, the teachers taught us to use two spaces. When did the rule about spacing at the end of the sentence change? To answer that question, I will probably need a library, since I don’t own every version of every style guide published.

Several articles did explain why the rule changed while searching for when I ran into the same why argument repeatedly.  An article from the Atlantic, Why You Should Never, Ever Use Two Spaces Between Sentences, sums it up nicely.

“To accommodate that machine’s (typewriter) shortcomings, everyone began to type wrong.  … Monospaced type gives you text that looks “loose” and uneven; there’s a lot of white space between characters and words, so it’s more challenging to spot the spaces between sentences immediately. Hence the adoption of the two-space rule–on a typewriter, an extra space after a sentence makes text easier to read.”

Therefore, the only reason we used double-spacing at the end of a sentence is because of typewriters.  Typewriters used monospaced fonts, which produced variable spacing inside of words and sentences.  Because of the variable spacing, people used two spaces at the end of the sentence to enhance readability.

Now, if the typewriter and its monospaced font are the sources of double-spacing, then the appearance of double-spacing should correlate with the rise and fall of the typewriter.  According to A Brief History of Typewriters, Pellegrino Turri built the first functional typewriter in 1808. Commercial typewriter production begins in the 1870s.  The end of the typewriter came about with the advent of the word processor, first, as a standalone device and then as a program on every personal computer. IBM invented the term word processor in the 1960s. By the 1990s–2000s, the typewriter had been almost entirely replaced by the computer. Therefore, the commercial lifespan of the typewriter is about 130 years.

Now let’s look at style guides if the argument about one space versus two spaces is correct. Before and after the lifespan of the typewriter, we should see the rule is for a single space. According to The History and Art of Printing, written in 1771.   The author Philip Luckombe states the rule about spacing after periods is “Another rule that is inculcated into beginners, is, to use an m quadrat after a Full-point:” (page 396) An m quadrat is a larger space.

The print shop at the University of Chicago published the first Chicago Manual of Style in 1906; a pdf copy is available here.  According to the Chicago Manual rule 245 on page 83 “A standard line should have 3-em space between all words not separated by other punctuation points than commas,” With regards to periods the 1906 Chicago Manual states “an em-quad after periods, and exclamation and interrogation points, concluding a sentence.”  3-em is shorthand for 1/3 of an em space.  Therefor the Chicago Manual calls for three spaces after a period.

The above examples show for 100 years before, and at least 36 years after the advent of the typewriter, style guides were recommending multiple spaces at the end of the period.  One could argue that for most of the formalized history of typesetting, the preference has been for multiple spaces after the end of a sentence.  Therefore, the argument that typewriters were the reason for double spacing is not valid.  Double spacing existed because typographers felt it made for an improved reading experience.

Why the rule changed from one space to two is not clear.  One common argument is a single space is cleaner. As Farhad Manjoo states, “A page of text with two spaces between every sentence looks riddled with holes; a page of text with an ordinary space looks just as it should.”  The problem with the idea about holes is that it has been well-known as a potential problem for a long time. 

Again, in The History and Art of Printing, the author talks about the possibility of producing a text that looks full of holes.  “but at the same time, they (young typesetters) should be informed, not to do it (use multiple spaces at the end of a sentence), where an author is too sententious, and makes several short periods in one paragraph.  In such case the blanks of M-quadrats will be contemptuously called Pigeon holes; which, and other such trifles, often betray a compositor’s judgment,” (pages 396-397) Specifically spacing is something authors expected trained typesetters to be aware of and correct.

In Two Spaces – an Old Typists’ Habit? the author blames technology and cost savings, specifically, the linotype and the teletypesetter.  These two pieces of machinery allowed publishers to hire typists to replace typesetters. I find arguments concerning the impact of cost and the loss of skilled expertise much more compelling than the typewriter.

One thing I think the typewriter and early word processors did was confuse people about the separation of content and layout.  The content of a piece of writing is in its words and grammar.  The layout is dependent on the item printed and the audience.  It used to be a common practice to publish science fiction stories in multiple monthly parts in magazines.  Later, these stories were put together and published as books.  The layout between the two publications’ magazines and books was different while the content was identical.

With the creation of things like CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) and variable layouts, people again realize that content is independent of the layout.  The independence of layout from content led to the realization that publishers should structure the layout to the publication type and use. These realizations will likely open the door to future style guide built around research and skilled practice, not cost savings.

For now, we should use one space (I’m sure I will fail at that) because that is what the style guides say.  Not because we no longer use typewriters.  Lastly, repetition never makes something true.

Thanks for Listing to My Musings
The Teaching Cyborg

PS:  If you are interested in pursuing this question further. There are several other articles about the typewriter not being the reason for two spaces at the end of the sentence.  One of them Why two spaces after a period isn’t wrong (or, the lies typographers tell about history) uses several of the same sources as I do. However, the author goes into much greater depth.

Additionally, the author seems to have answered the original question that sent me down this rabbit hole.  The eleventh edition of the Chicago Manual of Style published in 1949 was the first edition to adopt the single space rule.  Another good article about the typewriter not being the source of the two-space rule is One or two spaces after a period? How about three?

Should We Care About Grammar and Structure?

“Every language has a grammar, a set of rules that govern usage and meaning, and literary language is no different. It’s all more or less arbitrary of course, just like language itself.”
Thomas C. Foster

I have written a lot about textbooks, ten blog posts.  Perhaps it is more accurate to say the I have written about the confluence of textbooks, modern technology, and educational practices.  What is a textbook, what should a textbook be, is education or business driving the design of textbooks, do textbooks still have a place in modern education, and should textbooks be digital or physical?

Lately, I have been thinking about grammar and typography with respects to writing and communication.  I try and pay attention to grammar when I write.  I am by no means a grammar expert. I am much more concerned with making sure my arguments and points get across then I am with perfect grammar.  I own a copy of Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, I like the book; however, if it were not for grammar checkers, I would be hopeless when it comes to commas.

I have been thinking a lot about grammar, typography, and layout lately. Mostly because of the humble period.  More precisely, the number of spaces used after the period.  When I was in school, my teachers taught, it would be more accurate to say abusively drilled into us that you always used two spaces after the period. Today it would appear that most style guides suggest using one space after a period. The only exception being the American Psychological Association (APA). However, this seems to have changed with the release of the 7th addition APA standards.

While the argument about double vs. single spaces is old, I have encountered it several times while recently doing research.  I wondered when the period rule changed. Surprisingly I can’t find a date or even decade.  In a lot of the articles about one space or two, the authors focused on explaining how the spacing was the result of “technology.”  I will come back to the technology (typewriter) argument in another blog post.

The argument about two spaces or one comes down to readability. Specifically, how does spacing affect readability?  It turns out there is little actual research looking at the effect of the number of spaces after the period on readability.  A paper published in April of 2018 Are two spaces better than one? The effect of spacing following periods and commas during reading concludes, two spaces.  Yes, I said a paper one.  However, the evidence is currently 100% on the side of two.  More research is needed.

What I found most interesting, however, was an article from the Atlantic The Scientific Case for Two Spaces After a Period A new study proves that half of people are correct. The other is also correct.  After explaining what the article says, the author “explains” why the work is not valid or relevant.  I’m not quite sure whether the author is arguing for irrelevancy or invalidity. The author concludes, “The standard comes down to aesthetics, tradition, conservation of paper and space—basically, the fact that reading is an act of much more than information delivery.”

The author goes on to talk about how people can read sentences without spaces.  He says, “Thai and Chinese are typically written without spaces between words.”  He is in fact correct, people have a tremendous ability to and comprehend regardless of word structure. For example, take the common sentence “Thequickbrownfoxjumpsoverthelazydog.” Or this version “Th qck brwn fx jmps vr th lzy dg.” Or even “7h3 qu1ck br0wn f0x jump5 0v3r 7h3 l4zy d06.” Chance is you can read all these variations.

So, let’s ask since you can read these sentences, does that mean we should write this way?  Think about how much paper we would save if we left out all the vowels.  According to article Vowel Compressibility And The Top 5000 Words In English on average, 31.45% of all characters are vowels. Plugging the textbook Concepts of Biology from the open textbook library into Microsoft Word, we find that Concepts of Biology is 599 pages long with 253,113 words and 1,601,952 characters.  Doing a little math on Concepts of Biology, the textbook has an average of 2674.4 characters per page.  Using 31.45% of all characters are vowels, there are 503,813.9 vowels in Concepts of Biology.  If we left out all the vowels Concepts of Biology would be 188.4 pages shorter. That’s a lot of savings.

Let’s take our question further.  This paragraph comes from page 15 of Concepts of Biology,

“Crl Ws nd th Phylgntc Tr

Th vltnry rltnshps f vrs lf frms n rth cn b smmrzd n  phylgntc tr.  phylgntc tr s  dgrm shwng th vltnry rltnshps mng blgcl spcs bsd n smlrts nd dffrncs n gntc r physcl trts r bth.  phylgntc tr s cmpsd f brnch pnts, r nds, nd brnchs. Th ntrnl nds rprsnt ncstrs nd r pnts n vltn whn, bsd n scntfc vdnc, n ncstr s thght t hv dvrgd t frm tw nw spcs. Th lngth f ch brnch cn b cnsdrd s stmts f rltv tm.”

or if we are going to embrace the idea that spacing and vowels don’t matter and you can still comprehend the meaning then we can write the paragraph like this,



Can you read either of the previous paragraphs? It’s posable you can, it’s also possible you can’t.  Try and read the paragraph; here is the paragraph as it appears in the book.

Carl Woese and the Phylogenetic Tree

The evolutionary relationships of various life forms on Earth can be summarized in a phylogenetic tree. A phylogenetic tree is a diagram showing the evolutionary relationships among biological species based on similarities and differences in genetic or physical traits or both. A phylogenetic tree is composed of branch points, or nodes, and branches. The internal nodes represent ancestors and are points in evolution when, based on scientific evidence, an ancestor is thought to have diverged to form two new species. The length of each branch can be considered as estimates of relative time.”

Was your understanding correct, could you read the paragraph?  Even if you could read the paragraph, can you honestly say we should write this way? When it comes to communication and writing, one of the most important things I ever learned was the idea, “It is not your audience’s job to figure out what you are trying to say, it is your job to make sure they can understand it.”

Therefore, if you are trying to communicate, you should use anything that makes it easier for your audience.  While it is true that your readers don’t need two spaces to read your sentences if it makes it easier on your reader, no matter how small, shouldn’t you do it?  As writers, it is our responsibility to do everything; we can improve our writings readability.  Next time you want to stick rigidly to a rule, ask yourself, are you doing it for you or your audience? If you are writing a textbook, remember its already hard to learn something new, make sure your writing makes it as easy as possible.

Thanks for Listing to My Musings
The Teaching Cyborg