Floating Plastic Island 2x the Size of USA

No, its not science fiction.

I just finished reading the Economist’s special report on the world’s oceans.  Its really good, worth the read, and best of all, its free on the Economist website.

One of the articles describes an area in the Pacific ocean 2x the size of the United States that is completely full of plastic.  Can you imagine walking across the USA, surrounded by plastic the entire time?  Apparently, water currents pull most of the world’s discarded plastic into this zone, creating a floating wasteland of plastic.  Another study found that for every square kilometer of ocean, there are 18,000 pieces of floating plastic.  Another found that the average Dutch seabird has 44 pieces of plastic in its stomach when it dies.
Check out the special report at Economist.com.

Would you Delete 10 Facebook Friends For a Free Whopper?

While I probably haven’t eaten fast food in at least six months, Burger King is my favorite burger chain solely based on its innovative marketing.

They are at it again with their Facebook application Whopper Sacrifice.  WhopperSacrifice.com says:

What would you do for a free WHOPPER?  Now is the time to put your fair-weather web friendships to the test.  Install WHOPPER Sacrifice on your Facebook profile and we will reward you with a free flame-broiled WHOPPER when you sacrifice 10 of your friends.

When a Facebook user defriends someone, Whopper Sacrifice notifies the defriended person with a notice that the person likes Whoppers more than them.
This is by far my favorite Facebook Application so far.  It fulfils an actual need, food, and makes fun of all of the quasi-friends that everyone has on Facebook.  It’s incredibly sticky and extremely viral: one user turns into at least 10 users very quickly.
As of today, over 30250 people have been defriended in favor of the Whopper and it is going up fast.  I am surprised that Facebook has allowed this app to continue, as it eats away (pun intended) at its user base.  Even if the Facebook team decides that this app violates the terms of service, it is a publicity coup for Burger King and a strategy that other web companies should emulate.

Club Trillion

If you like college basketball and have the humor of a college student, you need to read this blog called Club Trillion: Views From the End of the Bench.

It’s written by Ohio State’s last man on the bench Mark “The Shark” Titus and is absolutely hilarious.  I’ll let “The Shark” explain the origin:

Club Trillion is an exclusive club founded in 2007 by three very handsome and very financially well-off Ohio State basketball players–Kyle Madsen (#15), Danny Peters (#13), and myself. We named ourselves “Club Trillion” because as athletically limited white folk, we found ourselves riding the bench for the Buckeyes. When the time came for us to get in, there would usually only be 1 minute remaining in the game and after sitting down for 39 minutes, we really had no interest in trying to be all that productive. So we devised the plan of trying to get the “trillion” which occurs when we play 1 minute and do absolutely nothing that would appear in the box score, thus making our stat line say 1 minute played followed by a bunch of zeroes. I know what you are saying to yourself right now. You are saying, “That is side-splittingly hilarious. These guys are probably just a comical party waiting to happen.” You are absolutely right.

His post about being stuck in an elevator with some of his teammates is laugh out loud funny as well.

Hopefully he can parlay his successful blog into some sort of a job after college that lets him avoid cubicle life to continue to put his superb practical joking and writing skills to good use!
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Everyone should read Outliers

I loved Gladwell’s first book, The Tipping Point, but I actually like Outliers: The Story of Success even better.  
I received Outliers from my parents as a gift and finished it in two sittings.  I found myself saying “wow” and “no way” aloud many times as I was reading the book, something that a book rarely does for me.
Gladwell makes the compelling argument that people who succeed benefit from a multitude of other factors, other than just their own hard work and smarts.
He explains why star hockey players are most likely to be born in the first few months of the year, why Asians are good at math, the importance of growing up in certain cultures or being born in a certain time period.
The part that I want to focus on here is Gladwell’s section of the book about Education in the USA.  He referenced a study about Baltimore school children starting in 1st grade and running until 5th grade.  The researchers compared standardized test scores of low, middle and upper income children and found what most people would expect: poor kids did worse than middle class or rich kids.
What was amazing to me is that when the researchers compared these same test scores from the beginning of the school year to the end of the school year to quantify how much kids learned during the school year,  they found that poor and middle class kids actually outlearned rich kids during their schooling.  This is astounding to me and has broad implications for advocates for schools who have focused most of their attention on improving facilities, teacher pay, class size and increasing school funding.
What is even more amazing was what the researchers found when they compared tests from the end of the year to tests taken right after summer vacation.  After 1st grade, poor kids and middle class kids lost over 3 points on their score, whereas rich kids gained over 15 points.  Over the course of four summers, upper class kids gained over 52 points on standardized test over summer and low and middle income kids barely gained any.  This research shows that most students learn about the same during school, but there is a huge gap between summer learning for poor and upper class kids.
If most of the achievement gap can be explained by what goes on when kids are not in school, there is an easy solution:  more schooling and shorter summer vacation.  This solution is exactly what the Bronx KIPP Academy does.  They select their students by holding a lottery for any student living in the Bronx who wants to attend.  This means that the kids are mostly from single parent households and are either Black or Hispanic.  The extra work that the kids put in allow 90% of them to earn scholarships to private high schools, 84% to score above grade level on the standardized tests and 80% go to college.
The KIPP program has already expanded to over 50 other cities in the USA, but I would love to see even more cities try to use this approach to help students succeed from the poorest neighborhoods.  It would be well worth the effort and could make the USA a much better place!

I agree with Fabrice: Outliers is Fantastic!