What Happens in Ukraine, Doesn’t Just Stay in Ukraine

11 Apr

Many people say students today are more aware of the world around them than at any time in history. The technological boom in the 21st century – where news of events happening thousands of miles away can be reported instantaneously via social media – certainly helps make that a plausible argument.

We saw evidence to support that theory in our own backyard this week as social studies classes from four area high schools attended an April 7 forum at Southern called, Crisis in Ukraine: What Happened and What’s Next?” The latest developments in the standoff between Ukraine and Russia – and between East and West — were the focus of a panel discussion.

Panelists at Southern's forum on Ukraine ponder a question from moderator Chris Velardi (far left), a news anchor at Channel 8.

Panelists at Southern’s forum on Ukraine ponder a question from moderator Chris Velardi (far left), a news anchor at Channel 8.

Faculty experts representing a variety of disciplines and perspectives shared their views and insights. The panel discussion included a look at what the United States can and should do in response to the Russian annexation of Crimea, as well as with the threat of further territorial encroachments.

Costel Calin, an assistant professor of political science at Southern, gives his assessment of the situation in Ukraine.

Costel Calin, an assistant professor of political science at Southern, gives his assessment of the situation in Ukraine.

The high school contingent – representing Amity High School of Woodbridge; Shelton High School; and Hillhouse High School and Sound School, both from New Haven – totaled about 100 students. In all, about 250 people attended, which also included college students (mainly from Southern), faculty, staff and some individuals from the general public.

A Southern student takes notes during the panel discussion.

A Southern student takes notes during the panel discussion.

But it wasn’t a matter of a few teachers forcing their classes to sit through a college program. The students generally and genuinely seemed excited to be with us and were attentive to the discussion. In fact, a few teachers told us beforehand that the students had been discussing the situation in Ukraine in their classes and were eager to attend the forum to learn more about what is happening.

To be sure, any group of 100 high school students is likely to include a few who wished they could be somewhere else. Of course, that’s true of adults, too. But by and large, their behavior and enthusiasm was impressive, especially at a time when young people are often criticized as having a short attention span. Most listened intently during the 1 hour, 45 minute program as the professors enlightened and opined.

These Amity High School students are enjoying their trip to Southern.

These Amity High School students are enjoying their trip to Southern.

In fact, many of the Shelton High School students were continuing the discussion after the program’s conclusion, according to their history teachers Sharon Cayer and James Allan.

“From my observation, the high school students – and the audience, in general – certainly seemed engaged,” said Greg Adams, chairman of Southern’s Sociology Department and a panelist for the forum. “That gives me hope for the future.”

Hillhouse High School students are eager for the program to start.

Hillhouse High School students are eager for the program to start.

Adams was part of the six-person panel that also included: Kevin Buterbaugh, SCSU professor of political science; Patricia Olney, SCSU professor of political science; Krystyna Gorniak-Kocikowska, SCSU professor of philosophy; Costel Calin, SCSU assistant professor of political science; and Matt Schmidt, assistant professor of political science and national security at the University of New Haven.

In addition to Sharon Cayer and James Allen from Shelton High, the teachers whose classes attended included John Buell from Sound School; Jack Paulishen from Hillhouse; and James Clifford, Chris Borelli and Lee Ann Browett from Amity.

Sound School students are among the first to arrive for the forum.

Sound School students are among the first to arrive for the forum.

If you would like to see the program in its entirety, you can check it out thanks to the Connecticut (Television) Network – CT-N.
http://www.ct-n.com/ondemand.asp?ID=10117

 

Happy Pi Day!

14 Mar

For a look at some practical applications of everyone’s favorite irrational number, check out a previous post in Wise Words.

Enjoy a slice of pie.

Enjoy a slice of pie.

It’s hard not to like pi!

Even Grammar No Longer Sacred

7 Mar

Those of us “of a certain age” can probably recall our English teachers – at least one stickler on proper grammar – telling us not to end a sentence with a preposition. Similarly, split infinitives – a verb phrase in which the word “to” is separated from the action word – were to be avoided at all costs.

Some grammatical rules of writing, once considered non-negotiable, are being questioned and de-emphasized more often today.

Some grammatical rules of writing, once considered non-negotiable, are being questioned and de-emphasized more often today.

Sure, you might be able to get away with breaking the rules a bit in a science report. Even a social studies teacher might let it slide. But the following sentences in an English class would likely merit you with some “red ink” on your essay.

• Nobody knew where the marchers were from.
• That is what it was all about.
• We are planning to gradually improve our grades.
• They decided to fully implement the system.

As students, we were inclined to accept these rules as “grammatical gospel.” But do you know who established those rules? And why can’t we end a sentence with a preposition or use a split infinitive?

Dina Brun, an adjunct faculty member at Southern in the Department of World Languages and Literatures and who teaches Introduction to Linguistics, says the history of these rules dates back to the 17th century. She says Joshua Poole, a grammarian and rhetorician, and John Dryden, a literary writer and poet, have largely been credited with the preposition rule. Dryden was also associated with the split infinitive rule.

“These two individuals, and others, wanted to make English more like Latin,” Brun says. “In Latin, an infinitive is a single word, so there is no split.”

For example, she points to the Latin word, “clamare,” which means to claim, and “habere,” which means to have. The “re” part of the word is the English equivalent of “to.”

Brun says the rules have been getting much more relaxed in recent years. “It’s been a gradual process throughout the 20th century to the point where today, ending a sentence with a preposition is pretty much accepted,” she says. “The same is true of the split infinitive.”

And Brun said that is not necessarily a bad thing. She points out that when sentences are constructed intentionally to avoid ending in a preposition, it can lead to some awkward constructions.

For example: This is the book I told you about. To comply with the old rule, it would need to be changed to something like: This is the book about which I told you.

The same is true with the “no split infinitives” rule. For example: “We need your help to fully implement the process” would have to be changed to: “We need your help to implement fully the process.” The latter just doesn’t sound right.

Brun says that before the 17th century, there really was no such rule. She notes that even great literary geniuses, such as Shakespeare, ended sentences with prepositions.

Other language rules also are beginning to change. Brun notes that the differentiation between “who” and “whom” is beginning to wane. She says that people are beginning to drop “whom” and replace it with “who.”

Before long, we may be writing letters “To Who it May Concern.”

English teachers and writing coaches, what do you think? Is this progress or regression?

Using Your Brain…All of It

20 Feb

It’s a question that may be the ultimate brain teaser – how much of our brains do we actually use?

You’ve probably heard – even from presumably good sources – that human beings only use a small percentage of our brains. Some will say 5 percent. Others say 10, or perhaps 15 percent.

People actually use their entire brain, rather than the oft-quoted small portion of 5- to 10-percent.

People actually use their entire brain, rather than the oft-quoted small portion of 5- to 10-percent.

Is it any wonder, then, that we have heard that the human mind can be greatly enhanced and has the potential to develop ESP, or even mental telepathy? After all, if we are only using 5 percent of our minds, it could be inferred that we could improve the power of our brains to an almost unbelievable level. (Those of you who saw the 1970 film “Beneath the Planet of the Apes” might remember the telekinetic, mutant humans who were able to read minds, create mirages and inflict searing pain on their perceived enemies telepathically.)

But the truth is that none of those tiny percentages that are espoused in terms of how much of our brains we actually use are even remotely close to the truth.

“How much of your brain do you really use? All of it!” says Kelly Bordner, assistant professor of psychology at Southern.

Today, Wise Words looks at the myth that people use only a small portion of their brain. In Part I of this 2-part series, we examined the myth that opposites attract in romantic relationships, at least in the long run. Both subjects were among the psychological and behavioral myths explored in a course offered last fall at Southern.

Part II:

Just like muscle mass can be increased, so can the strength of our brain – just not to super human levels. For example, Bordner says that when we challenge ourselves with new material or learning a new skill, we create new neuronal connections.

“If we only used 10 percent in the first place, there certainly wouldn’t be the need to build new brain mass,” Bordner says. In other words, why bother challenging yourself with complex ideas if you could just tap into the “unused 90 percent of the brain.” And would stroke victims really need therapy to create new pathways in the brain to compensate for the damage sustained in the episode? At the very least, rehabilitation would seem to be a much easier process if you had all that “surplus brain” to work with in generating those new connections.

So, where did this myth originate? Bordner says no conclusive answer has yet been found. Some say it might have started with an interpretation of a quote from William James, who is often credited with being the father of American psychology.

In his book “The Energies of Men,” James wrote: “We are making use of only a small part of our possible mental and physical resources.” But he never used a percentage, and could have been talking generically about the benefits of reaching our mental and physical potential.

Others say the myth could have stemmed from taking comments from other philosophers and scientists out of context. Even Albert Einstein has been attributed with having made statements supporting the myth.

But Bordner says there is no evidence in modern science to support the myth.

So, the next time you hear someone say that people only use 10 percent of their brains, you might want to tell them that isn’t the case with anyone you know.

Opposites Attract? — Studies Show Opposite View

12 Feb

They say opposites attract.

And that is absolutely true when you are dealing with…say…magnets. Who doesn’t remember their elementary school science classes when you would watch the “north pole” of one magnet gravitate toward the “south pole” of another. Conversely, two north poles or two south poles would repel each other.

The axiom of opposites attracting might even apply to initial attraction among humans. But when it comes to successful, long-term relationships, the opposite is more likely to be true, according to Kelly Bordner, assistant professor of psychology at Southern.

Finding someone with a similar personality and similar values may just be the prescription for happiness in a long-term relationship.

Finding someone with a similar personality and similar values may be just the prescription for happiness in a long-term relationship.

“It’s likely that the initial difference in personality and temperament leads to interest, excitation and perhaps, attraction,” she says. “But in the long run, despite what people say, opposites don’t attract, they attack.”

Bordner explored this topic, as well as other psychological and behavioral myths, during a course last semester. Her students also examined the roots of the myths, separating fact from fiction, and looking at the implications of what would life be like if the myths were actually true.

In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, Wise Words examines the “do opposites attract” subject today in the first of a 2-part series. The second part will look at the popular notion that we humans only use a small percentage of our brains.

Part I:

The media culture is full of examples of opposites attracting. Fans of the “Big Bang Theory” have watched the on-again, off-again romance between nerdy scientist Leonard Hofstadter and the attractive but more superficial Penny. Yet, if the sit com were real life – granted that’s a reach — Sheldon Cooper and Amy Farrah Fowler would have a better chance of success.

“So, where did this myth originate? Well, no one really knows,” Bordner says. “But if you’re in it for the long haul, look for someone similar to yourself. After all, could you imagine spending the rest of your life bickering with your partner about whether to go out or stay in; whether to save money or spend it; whether to be neat or messy?”

Granted, sometimes a person’s “real personality” may not be evident right away. For example, a persona of bravado may merely be a cover for a deep-seeded insecurity. Some perceptive individuals can see through such a facade right away, but others are initially fooled and that can alter how someone views another, particularly a potential love interest.

“The reality is that these, and countless other quips and familiar ‘facts,’ are far from being true. Through examination of published scientific works and thoughtful discussion, we’ve asked ourselves: How and why did this myth originate? What evidence do we have that it’s (true or) false? What other falsities do I hold onto as a result of this?”

Bordner notes that not everyone shares her belief that deep down, most people seek mates with similar values and characteristics. In fact, most people say they prefer someone with opposite characteristics, according to a recent study published in the journal, Evolutionary Psychology. Yet, that study also shows the opposite is true: people generally prefer those who are similar in personality.

Other research — including a 2003 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences — shows that people generally reflect a “likes-attract,” rather than an “opposites- attract” approach to decision making in finding a spouse.

Bordner also points out that the compatibility algorithms used by online dating sites usually use similar values and traits as key indicators.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Coming soon: Do people use only a small part of their brains in everyday life?

 

Safe Surfing in Cyberspace

6 Feb

Those of you who have read Part I and Part II of this 3-part series on cybersecurity may be tempted never to turn your computer on again.
But take heart. While there are villains out there who seek to take control of your machine — and they may even be successful – you are not defenseless against hackers.

Home computer users can significantly reduce the chances of being hacked by taking several steps to protect their machine.

Home computer users can significantly reduce the chances of being hacked by taking several steps to protect their machine.

Part III:

Lisa Lancor, chairwoman of Southern’s Computer Science Department, says several steps can be taken to protect your machine. “Unfortunately, no single solution exists to protect your computer from all of the risks that are out there,” she says. “But securing your computer and your digital transactions should be thought about in layers.”

Here are her suggestions:

  • Layer 1: Operating System – Regardless of the operating system you use (e.g., Windows 7, Windows 8, Mac OS X, etc.), always apply updates when you are notified. Most, if not all updates, are released to patch one or more security vulnerabilities. On your Windows machine, set the updates to happen automatically. On your Mac, when you see your App Store icon indicating that you have new updates to apply, do so immediately.
  • Layer 2: Internet Browser – It is critical that your browser stay up-to-date. “Historically, vulnerabilities in your browser have been a goldmine for hackers,” Lancor says. “Some browsers automatically check for the most recent version and if you don’t have it installed, it redirects you to update your browser before it allows you to access the Internet.” You can usually check if you are updated by going to the “About” page of your browser.
  • Layer 3: Third Party Applications and Plugins – Third party applications are stand-alone programs that work with your system, but are written by someone other than your operating system provider. Third party plugins are software widgets that add a feature to an existing software application. Adobe FlashPlayer, Adobe Reader and Oracle’s Java are examples of third party software. Always update this software, but beware of fake update messages for these and all applications and operating systems. Never click on a link to apply an update. Instead, manually navigate to the corresponding site and apply the update directly from the site.
  • Layer 4: You – This may be the most important layer of security. Many attacks are designed only to have an effect if you are duped into running malware. “As someone who studies this area, I have on several occasions almost been fooled by some very clever and targeted phishing email attacks,” Lancor says. “There was the UPS tracking message that appeared to be sent from Amazon during the holidays and then the very clever looking faux-Facebook email that enticed me into checking out some comments that ‘friends’ wrote on my wall. The friends listed were actual Facebook friends – clearly an attack that was targeted just for me.” The best way to handle these types of attacks is to never click on links in your email – simply navigate to the site manually. In the event that you need to click on the link, always hover over the link in your email and make sure the domain matches the site you are going to visit. Also, update your antivirus software. “If you don’t update your antivirus engine and signature file, your system won’t be protected from the latest known malware  that is out there,” Lancor says.

“The key is to be smart when surfing the Internet and always think like a hacker so that you can protect yourself from having your machine taken over,” Lancor says.

Happy and safe surfing!

Note: Lisa was interviewed Tuesday on WTIC’s (1080 AM) “Mornings with Ray Dunaway” about some of the latest hacking incidents and what people can do to protect their computers.

Updating Your Antivirus Software Just Isn’t Enough

29 Jan

In Part I of our 3-part series, Wise Words focused on the myth that hackers have no interest in the computers of everyday individuals who do not store sensitive information on them. As you may have read, nothing could be further from the truth. Hackers can use the storage or processing power of your computer for multiple nefarious functions, even if you keep only the most innocuous of information on your machine.

Today, we look at some other popular misconceptions.

Part II:

Myth: Using and updating antivirus software is enough to prevent my computer from becoming vulnerable to security incidents.

Reality: The use of antivirus software certainly is one step you can take to help protect your system. And it is helpful against known malware (malicious software), according to Lisa Lancor, chairwoman of Southern’s Computer Science Department. (Southern recently restructured its M.S. in computer science degree to focus on cybersecurity and software development.)

“Unfortunately, antivirus software does not protect you from malware that it does not know about,” Lancor says. “Malware that exploits a brand new vulnerability is referred to as a ‘zero-day attack’ because the security community has known about the vulnerability for zero days.”

Nobody wants to see the dreaded virus alert pop up on their screen.

Nobody wants to see the dreaded virus alert pop up on their screen. Keeping your antivirus software up-to-date is just one of several steps you should take to minimize the chances of your computer getting sick.

Fair enough. But what are the chances of being hit with a “zero-day attack?”

It’s not that rare, according to Lancor. “A recent report by McAfee Labs indicates that its researchers find and catalog close to 100,000 new samples of malware per day,” she says. “That equates to 69 new, zero-day malware samples per minute. Are you keeping up with antivirus updates every minute?”

Even more disturbing, malware developers can sell their code on the black market of the Internet, Lancor says. They can sell for tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of dollars. “Clearly, creating zero-day malware is big business for hackers these days.”

Myth: Mac users are safe from malware.

Reality: It is true that at one time, Mac users were relatively safe from malware, though there are always exceptions. But because the number of Mac users has increased significantly during the last decade, virus writers have set their sights on Apple, according to Lancor. Just recently, a malware called IceFog was discovered that attacks both Windows and Macs and provides a backdoor into your system. “It can accept instructions from a command-and-control infrastructure to have your system do whatever hackers want,” she says.
Lancor points to the FlashBack virus that infected more than 600,000 Macs and included them into one of the first significant Mac-based botnets. Apple has been continuously adding security features, including its own anti-malware applications, into its operating system. Mac users are advised to follow safe security practices, just like PC users.

Myth: As long as you don’t click on ridiculous email links from people you don’t know, you should be pretty safe.

Reality: These aren’t the spam attacks of your grandparents’ day…er, in your parents’ day…um, in your older siblings’ day. It’s not just the Nigerian banker who wants to deposit money into your banking account, or the Viagra link, or an announcement that you’ve won the lottery of a foreign country for which you never bought a ticket. “Hackers are fully aware of the security education and training that you have been receiving about not clicking on links in emails from people you don’t know or trust,” Lancor says.

She points out that “smart phishing attacks,” also known as “spear (very targeted) phishing attacks now come from people you do know, or from hackers acting as someone you do know. “Hackers go so far as to study the content of previous email exchanges that you have had with someone and then they mimic the language and styling in an attempt to let your guard down and click on a malicious link,” she says. “The malicious link will look legitimate and quite benign.” Examples might include “annual sales report” or “a properly formed UPS tracking number. “If you click on the link, it will take you to an exploit site that is set up to blast your browser and operating system with every vulnerability that it knows about in an attempt to gain access to your machine.

“And to make matters worse, while it used to be the case that you always needed to click on something to get infected, now there are drive-by-downloads that require you to do nothing. Just visit a website that is compromised and without you noticing, it will redirect you to a site that will fire everything it has at you (to take over your computer).”

Coming soon:

Part III — Protecting yourself against hackers, malware

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