Miseducation: Split Level

Bowling Difficulty Chart

Probability Chart of Bowling Shot Difficulty

‘Miseducation’ is a series intended to correct falsities that are often mistaken for common knowledge. Tips provided are discouraged from being raised to maliciously correct teachers. Furthermore, OPT does not condone acts of know-it-allism.

Impossibility is often illusory. Between magic acts and statistical anomalies, utter implausibility can be clouded without full context. It can be said that there are different degrees of impossibility – some things are more impossible than others. If one sees this glass of logic as half full, some impossible things are less inconceivable than others. So as it turns out, some apparently impossible things are closer to our reach than we thought possible.

Bowling is a popular pastime in American culture, so much so that in addition to its basketball and tennis courts, the White House had a presidential bowling alley installed in 1947. Within this friendly game exists a legendary feat of difficulty, considered the hardest shot in bowling. Aside from the astronomical aim for perfection by rolling a 300-point game, the notorious 7-10 split is a much sought-after accomplishment that appears just shy of possible. Staring at the pin permutation known menacingly as the “Bed Posts” can unnerve amateurs and professionals alike. The odds of success at a time like that seem incalculable, but bowling and odds are not so difficult to wrap your mind around.

For a professional bowler, the probability of knocking down a 7-10 pin configuration can be expressed as .7%, based on data analysis of past spare conversions. One success in about 145 chances seems bleak to the laymen, but top-tier professionals actually consider the Bed Posts spare to be “very possible” for experts. According to the data, the hardest shot in bowling is actually the 4-6-7-9-10 split, known as the “Greek Church” because of its questionable resemblance to a cathedral. Professional bowlers convert the Greek Church spare less than .3% of the time, or once every 390 times. Based on this model, the 7-10 split is not even the second toughest spare, coming in third after the 4-6-7 split, without a nickname until now: the “Panda Claw,” because we believe it resembles that moniker closely enough.

The 7-10 split rose to prominence as bowling’s toughest shot through a number of films and television shows referencing it as such, but the legend begins with appearances. It is believed that the Bed Posts are so feared simply because it looks hopeless. If any pessimists are interested in applying their defeatism to the Greek Church frame, then they should be informed that even the toughest shot in bowling has a silver lining: The mirror image of the 4-6-7-9-10 split has a professional success rate of 1.3%, making the 4-6-7-8-10 Greek Church spare more likely than the 7-10 Bed Posts. This may be correlated to right- and left-handed bowlers, so while the opposite-hand Greek Church has a discouraging unlikelihood, the same-hand Greek Church is a comparative cakewalk, roughly five times easier. There are indeed tougher spares than the 7-10 split, but each has its weakness.

It is easy to face the difficult and deem it utterly impossible, but that habit is both mathematically inaccurate and motivationally incorrect. Theoretically, there is no reason you could not one day knock down a 7-10 split or achieve virtually any other goal, provided that you commit to that goal and work at it. You might even have seen the Bed Posts spare picked up by a fellow bowler who never thought they themselves could triumph on such a level. Even when a situation appears hopeless, you are closer to greatness than you think. The distance between you and glory is only dedication. So even when your first roll of a frame nets you one pin – the 7 or 10 corner pin, a spare we named the “Fire Marshall” because it is one below maximum occupancy – you have an easier spare than if you had knocked down more initial pins and faced the Bed Posts, let alone the Greek Church.

What’s the Hardest Shot in Bowling? – Ben Blatt – Slate

The White House Bowling Alley – Residence, Ground Floor – The White House Museum

Miseducation: Printing Lies

News Herald

An impossible account of Gutenberg’s role in inventing the printing press

‘Miseducation’ is a series intended to correct falsities that are often mistaken for common knowledge. Tips provided are discouraged from being raised to maliciously correct teachers. Furthermore, OPT does not condone acts of know-it-allism.

Undoubtedly, the printing press ranks among the greatest inventions in history. Maybe more a movement than a machine, the printing press heralded in the era of mass communication, fueled the Renaissance, sparked the Reformation, and essentially began modern history as we know it. By casting off the shackles of illiteracy, the printing press’s dissemination of ideas weakened the social stranglehold of the literary elite and bolstered a newfound middle class. In the fifteenth century, this revolutionary contraption hatched ideas of free thought, free citizenry, and free press – which derives its name from the printing press itself. Truly, the printing press is such a powerful machine that it seems hard to believe it was the inspired vision of a solitary man: Johannes Gutenberg. After all, numerous publications credited Gutenberg for the invention, so the proof is right there in black and white.

Like a typesetter’s nightmare, the ink of history has run and grayed the story behind the printing press. While Johannes Gutenberg had his role to play, it is hardly the full story that he invented the printing press. Movable type as a substitute for handwriting was actually invented in the eleventh century by a Chinese alchemist named Bi Sheng. The common misattribution to Gutenberg instead was not a matter of widespread usage; Marco Polo reported the Chinese were using printed currency in the fourteenth century. Evidently, the reason that Gutenberg rose to fame as the architect of the printing press is the same reason the press proved such an impactful invention. In the absence of mass communication in Europe, it was unlikely Gutenberg or many other Europeans had heard word of movable type developments from Asia. If it were not for the limitations of time, Bi Sheng and his press would have surely made the front page.

What Gutenberg did contribute to the development of the printing press was funded by borrowing large sums of money to keep his vision afloat. As it happens, much of the proof of his involvement known by historians is based on court records where Gutenberg defended himself against numerous breaches of contract, as his property containing printing materials were inventoried by the courts for repossession. Fundamentally, Gutenberg’s press was a combination of the inventions of others. His conception was a modification on the design of a wine press. He saw the then-modern method of relief printing from wooden blocks as unsuitable to withstand long-term usage, so he replaced it with metal. In his day, ink and paper mills were booming industries, which made it easy to adapt to a press. All of this amalgamated with bookmaking techniques produced a cleverly useful machine, even though it basically already existed.

While Gutenberg never did enough preliminary research to know he was only reinventing Bi Sheng’s printing press, his commitment to the final product was intense. Gutenberg conducted thousands of printing experiments before completing what he considered his first print, only after meticulously meeting his personal standards of quality. He labored over a metal alloy of his own design that was soft enough for delicate lettering but tough enough for durability. Rather than settle for paper, Gutenberg opted to print on a top-quality parchment called vellum, which required him to maintain a herd of cattle to supply animal skins. The extra effort was so that his work would stand up to time, as over forty copies have lasted until present day. Had Gutenberg rushed a printing with shoddy materials, he might have bargained with a few literates for a decent payday, but it might not have started a revolution that brought Europe out of the Dark Ages.

After reaching bankruptcy just before the sale of his first edition of books, Gutenberg’s products and materials were repossessed as collateral. Eventually, he was recognized for his efforts and rewarded with the title of nobleman and a pension for his remaining years. While we view him today as a timeless innovator, Gutenberg was regarded at the time for his short temper, colossal debts, and penchant for wine. Personal and historical failings aside, he has since become respected because his commitment to the craft of making literature is commendable, which is why some of his texts survive today. Gutenberg teaches us that determined effort is the only path to legacy. Firsts do not always win, but bests will always rise to the top.

Inventor in History: Johannes Gutenberg – Katie Miller – Intellectual Ventures Laboratory

Technological Advances During the Song – Asia for Educators – Columbia University

Studying Guide: Location

Photo credit to Stuart Bradford, The New York Times

Credit to Stuart Bradford, The New York Times, 2014

The Studying Guide is a blog series exploring the cognitive aspects of studying and test-taking. It presents study techniques that research has proven is beneficial to scholastic abilities. While ideal methods vary by the student, we provide suggestions of techniques and see what works for each individual.

It is reasonable to wish to study in full comfort. Some students find that studying while lying down on a cozy couch will extend the length of their study session by minimizing reasons to stop. There are other imaginative ways to extend study time. A textbook propped on a treadmill during your workout can squeeze in more studying without sacrificing time out of your tight schedule. However, while these comfortable or convenient ways to study seem advantageous, they could cause a student to lose out on knowledge.

Studies show that memory retention is improved by recreating the position you will be in when the information must be accessed. To put it simply, information you learn while lying down is harder to remember later if you are seated upright. Given that your instructor is unlikely to allow you to take your exam curled up on a recliner with multiple pillows, studying this way could be holding back your memory recall capacity. Similarly, studying during a workout, such as running on a treadmill or at spin class, can also hinder your ability to remember when you are sitting upright during the exam. So if you find yourself having trouble recalling information you studied while lying down, studying while sitting upright could be the edge you need to succeed.

Furthermore, memory retention benefits from recreating the testing environment. In addition to sitting upright, sitting at a desk can boost your exam aptitude over reviewing notes on your lap. Studies show that even temperature plays a role in memory recall, so you might want to reconsider studying outside in May for an AP test in the ice-cold library. If you are allowed to study in the room where you will be taking the test, it could help you visualize your triumph. If not the actual testing location, try to study where your surroundings resemble the classroom, such as chair inclination and temperature.

It can be nice to have a designated spot to hit the books, but research shows you might want to mix up your study locale. As it turns out, it helps memory retention when you review information you already know in a new location. When you go over past knowledge in different places, your brain forms new associations with the same material. The more associations you can form around a concept, the stronger the memory will be under the pressure of the exam clock. It might be hard to find new locations that also recreate your testing environment, but it can be as simple as different sections of the library or at a different study group member’s kitchen table each meeting.

It is hard to argue against comfort. If you find you study hardest with your feet up on the couch, be our guest. You definitely do not want to be uncomfortable when studying, but recreating the testing environment by sitting upright at a desk to study could make a positive difference in your performance. You could also benefit from reviewing information in new locations to cement it in your memory. Where you learn has a lot to do with recall, so whether you are studying astronomy or geography, it’s location, location, location.

Better Ways to Learn – Tara Parker-Pope – The New York Times

Does Memory Suffer if you Work Outside of the Office? – Amy M. Garczynski & Matthew J. Grawitch, PhD – American Psychological Association

Miseducation: Media War of the Worlds

Orson Welles

Orson Welles, 1938

‘Miseducation’ is a series intended to correct falsities that are often mistaken for common knowledge. Tips provided are discouraged from being raised to maliciously correct teachers. Furthermore, OPT does not condone acts of know-it-allism.

Halloween is a time to keep aware that not everything is what it seems. With so many ghoulish tricksters trying to surprise and frighten you, it is important to keep your wits about you. This is advice that America could have used on the eve of Halloween 1938, when radio listeners tuned into Orson Welles’ production of H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds. The science-fiction thriller was so expressively captured, the radio audience was reportedly convinced that aliens had breached our atmosphere and had begun a full-scale invasion. While it is easy enough to believe gullibility is a frequent trait, the more plausible explanation is that legends of interesting stories can become exaggerated over time, or in some cases begin as exaggerated.

Orson Welles’ production was aired on the anthology series The Mercury Theater on the Air on October 30, 1938. Broadcasted by CBS in its radio heyday, auteur-to-be Welles produced it as a series of realistic news reports that detailed the space invasion. As a responsible network, a disclaimer assuring the falsity of the news reports preceded the program. However, because The Mercury Theater aired parallel to a more popular show on another network, listeners would change stations during commercials, preventing the hearing of the initial disclaimer. To Welles’ credit, his program was timed for the action to coincide with the more popular program’s commercial breaks, thus heightening his chances at audience captivation. Meanwhile, “The War of the Worlds” was broadcast with no commercials, which only added to the perceived validity of the news reports.

In historical context, it is understandable to mistake the burgeoning medium of radio for a credible news resource, as previous generations were not accustomed to new-wave entertainment and viral media. In what could be considered the first ever viral sensation, panic ensued, but mostly in newsrooms. As radio had risen to prominence in the public’s heart, the flow of advertising revenue shifted from newspapers to broadcast stations. In a desperate bid to regain readership and sponsorship, newspapers saw an opportunity to discredit radio by spinning the extent of panic out of proportion. Print journalists criticized Welles’ entertainment tactics as irresponsible and called for legal action. Audiences should have learned from the broadcast that just because something masquerades as news does not make it so.

Contemporary sociologists have established the panic as exaggerated through several ways. For safe measure, CBS added a disclaimer in program breaks at 40 and 55 minutes for anyone too enthralled for skepticism. The leading ratings service calculated that only 2% of the audience was tuned in to “The War of the Worlds.” Some CBS affiliate stations opted to air local programming instead of The Mercury Theater, so many areas such as Boston would not have had access to Welles’ adaptation. While calls to local authorities and newspapers increased during the broadcast, this is generally viewed now as a lack of panic in a society of pre-war anxiety. Some media historians would go as far to say that practically nobody was tricked.

Staying rational when things become stressful is crucial. Whether you’re trying to keep sharp in a haunted house, watching something scary on television, or taking a terrifying test, people often want to trick you. Ulterior motives arise when the incentives are great, such as candy or candy advertising dollars. Orson Welles’ “The War of The Worlds” was a prime example of the news media sensationalizing story for commercial reasons.

The Myth of the War of the Worlds Panic – Jefferson Pooley and Michael J. Socolow – Slate

War of the Worlds – American Experience – Public Broadcasting Service

Miseducation: The Adequate Wall of China

Iberian Peninsula from the International Space Station

Iberian Peninsula from the International Space Station

‘Miseducation’ is a series intended to correct falsities that are often mistaken for common knowledge. Tips provided are discouraged from being raised to maliciously correct teachers. Furthermore, OPT does not condone acts of know-it-allism.

Even on the brink of the final frontier, it is in human nature to look back on where you have been. This tendency is likely what has raised to fame the claim that the Great Wall of China is such a monumental structure, it can be seen all the way from space. Supposedly, a viewer still within the radius of Earth’s orbit would be able to view such gargantuan infrastructure, even without magnification from binoculars or a zoom lens. It is even considered to be the only man-made structure visible from such a distance. This assumption is outrageously false, as it would instead take upwards of 17,000 times normal human visual strength. While this is conclusive, the question of whether the Great Wall can be seen from closer reaches of space remains.

Like the beginning of every scientific question, we must conceptualize our terms with operational definitions. International aeronautical authorities agree that Earth ends and space begins at the Kármán line, marking the edge of space at 62 miles above sea level. However, a more practical definition of space visibility would be from the window of the International Space Station, orbiting at roughly 245 miles up, where one could take the time to get a good look at the view. This incongruity of perspective demonstrates the importance of operational definitions, as visibility of the Wall fades out at roughly 180 miles above sea level.

So while the moon is a stretch, the myth of the Great Wall is not a total fraud. However, visibility of the monument is dependent on weather and lighting conditions, which more often than not obscure its view. Not only can it only be viewed under virtually perfect conditions, it also depends on the space traveler. Some astronauts describe the Wall as hardly visible, whereas others cannot spot the Wall at all, given that it is not particularly wide nor does its color clash with landscape.

Although there is limited truth to the Great Wall’s space visibility, the common notion that it is the sole man-made feature with a heavenly view is totally false. The most common example would be larger highways, which outspan the Wall and are more identifiable because they are straighter and more off-color. While individual buildings are hard to spot, clusters of infrastructure can easily be recognized from the International Space Station. Densely urbanized cities are discernible from vast rural areas, where the most to be seen from space would be the occasional dam. Whereas interstellar lighting plays a key role in visibility of the Wall, nighttime may actually heighten visibility of highways and cities from space, as they become flooded with powerful electric lights that illuminate the structures.

Construction of the Great Wall of China was started in the seventh century B.C. as strategic military fortification from foreign invaders. But in a grander view, its majesty pales in comparison to the structural advances invented for the betterment of humankind, such as electricity, irrigation, and even roads. City lights, river dams, and interstate highways were built with noble intent, leading to widespread use. Because of this, their omnipresence towers over the Great Wall in the context of a bigger picture. Granted, the Great Wall of China is certainly a better vacation spot than a desert highway, but an astronaut – returning home after years of looking at the world luminous and ribboned with highways – might disagree.

Is China’s Great Wall Visible from Space? – Mara Hvistendahl – Scientific American

Iberian Peninsula at Night – Earth Observatory – NASA

Miseducation: Finding the Middle Ground with Columbus

The Erdapfel (1492) and Martin Behaim

The Erdapfel (1492), the oldest surviving globe, painted with its creator, Martin Behaim

‘Miseducation’ is a series intended to correct falsities that are often mistaken for common knowledge. Tips provided are discouraged from being raised to maliciously correct teachers. Furthermore, OPT does not condone acts of know-it-allism.

Christopher Columbus’s legacy is fraught with controversy. By modern standards, his deeds would be considered less than reputable. More than that, controversy stems from numerous inaccuracies about his voyages, such as coming in second to the Americas to Leif Ericson and never having landed in the U.S. but the Caribbean islands. Christopher Columbus remains a history lesson despite his faults, but he may make a better lesson because of his faults.

One pillar of the Columbus mythology is his crusade against the commonplace belief of a flat Earth. Fabricated accounts describe the voyager as perpetually persuading potential financiers of Earth’s sphericality. While an alternate route to India was a tough sell, it had nothing to do with a mistaken perception of the globe. By medieval times, Earth’s three-dimensional nature was generally accepted as fact among the European intellectual elite, as well as eventual investors King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain.

This misconception about medieval thinking is known among historians as the Flat Error. Indeed, the concept of the flat Earth was done away with long before Columbus set sail. As early as ancient Greece, scholars have made themselves aware of the orbicular form of our planet. Aristotle’s cognizance, however, has been compromised through years of sloppy historians crediting Columbus with heralding in the round Earth era.

This misconception of Columbus having an uphill battle against ignorance is a warped recounting of a different uphill battle, almost in defense of ignorance. While many agreed one could conceivably sail westward to India, discerning investors correctly deemed it further than the explorer anticipated. The Spanish crown only agreed to finance half the voyage on a last-minute whim against the advice of learned counsel. In the absence of the Americas, making a straight shot from Europe to Asia as Columbus envisioned, the distance would have exhausted the supplies of his ships. Since it saved the crew from certain doom, the area was then declared the land of opportunity.

Columbus was undoubtedly wrong in a few ways, and his legacy is poorly cited. With all the facts in place, it might seem like there’s nothing to learn from Columbus besides luckily stumbling upon an opportunity. Nevertheless, his saga has thematic undertones about goals, in that you sometimes find what you were searching for isn’t what you expected – but that can still mean success. Even with obstacles, such as the Atlantic Ocean or being misinformed, accomplishment can only be the result of pursuit and effort. But unless you want to depend on luck, you should learn as much as you can before embarking on a goal.

The Myth of the Flat Earth – Jeffrey Burton Russell – American Scientific Affiliation

The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus – Irving Washington (1828)