The Lastet from Zombal

The Trend Towards Data-driven Nonprofits

Data Analysis Image

(c) Can Stock Photo

If you follow business or technology news, you've probably read about the massive amounts of data being collected, stored and analyzed by governments, social sites, corporations and academia. To put it in perspective, a 2012 TechCrunch article about Facebook's data says the social networking site "processes 2.5 billion pieces of content and 500+ terabytes of data each day." The term "Big Data" has become a popular buzzword for this flood of information. The article "The Age of Big Data" delves into the implications, one of which is that "decisions will increasingly be based on data and analysis rather than on experience and intuition," according to one MIT data expert. Another implication is there will be an ever-growing need for data scientists and analysts to help make sense of it all.

Nonprofits are also being impacted by this technological trend. In fact, Bill Gates has embraced measurement of data as part of his humanitarian work, saying in a recent Wall Street Journal article, "In the past year, I have been struck by how important measurement is to improving the human condition. You can achieve incredible progress if you set a clear goal and find a measure that will drive progress toward that goal..." Others in the corporate world are also taking notice of the potential of data to affect positive social outcomes. "Harnessing big data to address the world's problems," written by a McKinsey & Company consultant, argues that data can not only enhance the private sector, but can also be harnessed to more effectively fight disasters as well as diseases like AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. And the tools are out there, as even the social site Pinterest has a page devoted to data visualization tools that nonprofits can use to share metrics with donors and supporters.

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Posted By at 15:44

Free and Open Education: Part 2

Free and Open Education

Image by opensource.com

A Report Card -- Part 2

When most of us come across something offered for free, we react with skepticism. Through experience, we've learned to read the fine print anytime we see the words "free offer." There's always a catch, right? However, a remarkable revolution is taking place in online education, and the number of truly free resources for learning currently available is staggering. The term for this movement is open education, and it encompasses everything from video tutorials to classes to educational software to books. In other words, open learning is about the tools as well as the content, and to illustrate, this TED talk by Rice University professor Richard Baraniuk offers an introduction to open-source course material.

What most learners may be familiar with are the free online sites, such as Khan Academy for both young and old learners as well as sites like Coursera, Open Culture and Academic Earth, which offer courses taught by university faculty at prestigious institutions like Harvard, MIT and Stanford. We decided to take a closer look some of these initiatives and found that free doesn't always mean free of controversy. In Part 1, we looked at the Khan Academy phenomenon, and in Part 2, we examine the exponential growth of free options for older learners.

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Posted By at 16:52

Free and Open Education - Part 1

Free and Open Education

Image by opensource.com

A Report Card -- Part 1

When most of us come across something offered for free, we react with skepticism. Through experience, we've learned to read the fine print anytime we see the words "free offer." There's always a catch, right? However, a remarkable revolution is taking place in online education, and the number of truly free resources for learning currently available is staggering. The term for this movement is open education, and it encompasses everything from video tutorials to classes to educational software to books. In other words, open learning is about the tools as well as the content, and to illustrate, this TED talk by Rice University professor Richard Baraniuk offers an introduction to open-source course material.

What most learners may be familiar with are the free online sites, such as Khan Academy for both young and old learners as well as sites like Coursera, Open Culture and Academic Earth, which offer courses taught by university faculty at prestigious institutions like Harvard, MIT and Stanford. We decided to take a closer look some of these initiatives and found that free doesn't always mean free of controversy. In Part 1, we look at the Khan Academy phenomenon, and in Part 2, we examine the exponential growth of free options for older learners.

Khan Academy

Khan Academy has arguably become the most talked about of the free online learning sites since it was launched in 2006 by ex-hedge fund analyst and MIT and Harvard graduate Salman Khan. ...

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Posted By at 08:03

The Greatest Geek Who Ever Lived?

Zombal (Carefully) Wades Into the Debate

Tesla in his lab

Nikola Tesla in his Colorado Springs lab in 1899.

We on the Zombal team couldn't help noticing the buzz around a very funny, insightful and controversial comic on the Oatmeal website with the following title: Why Nikola Tesla was the greatest geek who ever lived. In fact, if you google "the greatest geek who ever lived", the very first result that comes up is a link to this Oatmeal/Tesla piece. It made us think about whether or not Tesla was indeed the greatest, and who the challengers might be for this ... honor. (We stuck in the ellipses out of awareness that calling someone a geek may or may not be a good thing, depending on your perspective.) Also, fictional geeks are excluded from consideration.

So, how do you define a geek? And what makes one great? Unfortunately, there is no standard definition of the term that we could find. To complicate matters, ‘nerd' and ‘geek' are often used interchangeably, and pieces like this from the Daily Infographic make it clear that there are subtle and not-so-subtle differences. (It seems geeks have a certain hip factor that nerds lack.) Here's a description of a geek from the Oatmeal comic, which is the best one we've come across so far:

"Geeks stay up all night disassembling the world so that they can put it back together with new features. They tinker and fix things that aren't broken. Geeks abandon the world around them because they're busy soldering together a new one. They obsess and, in many cases, they suffer."

We have some qualms about the last part. Who doesn't suffer at some point? And why should suffering be associated with geekdom? However, we'll run with this excellent, but imperfect definition, excluding the last bit. As for what makes someone great, we'll define it as someone whose ideas, inventions or innovations transformed the world in ways that are generally regarded as for the better. And as you'll soon read, there are valid arguments to be made both for and against all of them.

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Posted By at 13:22

A Quest to Solve One of Math's Great Puzzles

ZetaTrek / Zombal: Anatomy of an Expedition

The Riemann Hypothesis is a prime number conundrum that has perplexed mathematicians for over 150 years. It's a problem so difficult, there's a $1 million prize offered by The Clay Mathematics Institute of Cambridge, Massachusetts (CMI) to anyone who can solve it. In fact, the institute announced seven Prize Problems on May 24, 2000, but, so far only one prize has been awarded -- and famously and curiously declined! And, if you think solving it is a pursuit so esoteric that non-mathematicians need not apply, you may be in for a surprise.

Quasicrystal

Source/Creator: "keegan"

One undaunted, independent mathematician has embarked on solving the Reimann Hypothesis with a fresh, ambitious approach. Fadereu Le Fou launched the ZetaTrek project in 2011 as a way of tackling the problem by bringing together a crowd of both mathematicians and laypeople. In fact, anyone with an adventurous spirit, a desire to explore deep mysteries and a willingness to put pencil to paper is encouraged to join. One of the project's goals is to bring fresh eyes to an old function, and Fadereu says artists are most welcome. Since one of our missions at Zombal is to solve problems through scientific collaboration, we decided to talk with Fadereu and learn more about how ZetaTrek might unlock the secrets of this fascinating riddle....

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Posted By at 06:22