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Thursday, March 21, 2013

NEWS: One handed violinist plays, helps others

Originally posted on CNN on March 16, 2013



The young man tucks his violin under his chin and begins to play. A hush falls over the few spectators in the largely empty opera house, who turn toward the bare stage. As his lilting notes float through the room, other people trickle in from the lobby to listen.

The young man sometimes closes his eyes as he plays, as if lost in the music. If his audience closed their eyes, too, they would never know the violinist standing before them has no right hand, only a stunted appendage with tiny stubs instead of fingers.

Which is fitting, because Adrian Anantawan prefers to be judged for what people hear, not what they see.

At 28, Anantawan is one of the world's most accomplished young violinists. He has performed at the White House, at the Vancouver Winter Olympics, for Pope John Paul II, for Christopher Reeve and most recently for the Dalai Lama during a private recital at MIT. Anantawan played a piece by Bach, and when he finished, the Tibetan Buddhist leader approached him.

"He put my hands together, and put his hands around mine, and our foreheads touched for six or seven seconds," Anantawan said. "And I'm just thinking to myself, 'My goodness, where has this instrument and music taken me?' I feel tremendously blessed to have had experiences like that."

Anantawan's disability has been with him since birth. Doctors think the umbilical cord wrapped around his hand in the womb, cutting off the blood supply and keeping it from growing properly. To compensate, he uses a simple prosthesis called a spatula, which grips the violin bow.

Anantawan on the stage of the Camden Opera House in Camden, Maine,
where he spoke at the PopTech conference.

In recent years, Anantawan has devoted his career to using adaptive technology -- from prosthetic devices like his own to sophisticated computer software -- to aid aspiring young musicians in overcoming a wide range of disabilities. By helping them make music, he believes this technology can help "reveal the inner humanity" of disabled children who struggle to express themselves through other means.

"Accessibility is not an act of charity," Adrian told an audience last summer during a TEDx talk in suburban Boston, where he is now an orchestra conductor at a charter school. "It's one of lifting the ceiling of potential development so that all children can explore this world, but also possibly create new ones."

A 'sonic fingerprint'

Born of Thai-Chinese ethnicity, Anantawan grew up in Toronto. With only one hand, many childhood milestones -- learning to tie shoes, sharpen a pencil in class, ride a bike -- were difficult for him. Classmates made him feel different.

"Growing up without an arm -- it seems trivial now, but when you're in grade one or two, kids can exclude you on many different levels," he said during an interview last fall at the annual PopTech conference in this picturesque Maine seaside town.

By the time he was 9, his parents decided he should learn a musical instrument. The recorder was out, because it's difficult to adapt for two hands. The trumpet was too loud, and so were the drums. Little Adrian didn't have much of a singing voice. So his mother decided on the violin.

His parents took the instrument to a rehabilitation center, where they adapt prosthetics to meet the needs of disabled children. A few months later, engineers there produced a customized device out of plaster, aluminum and Velcro straps. Eighteen years later, he's still wearing the same one.

"Little did my parents know that they had invited a dying cat into their home for the first six months in the form of 'Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,' " said Anantawan in the TEDx talk, squeaking out the melody on his violin.

For a boy with one hand, music became a great equalizer. Suddenly, he could do something the same way as his classmates.

"I had this adaptation. It did look different. But what came out, in terms of the sound from the instrument, was exactly the same as theirs. And we were all trying to make music together," Anantawan said. "Music was my way of sharing my personality with the world. I was very shy. I didn't talk very much. And the instrument, and playing music, helped me come out of my shell."

Adrian learned quickly. In some ways, he was easy to teach, because instructors didn't have to worry about his right-hand technique -- just his left hand and fingers, which press down on the strings of the violin to produce different notes, pitch, tone and so on.
I've had to really think, because there's no manual to (learn to) play with one hand.
Anantawan's educational pedigree is impressive. He graduated from Philadelphia's prestigious Curtis Institute of Music and earned a master's degree from Yale. During two summers he studied under his boyhood idol, renowned violinist Itzhak Perlman, at his residency program in Shelter Island, New York.

For Anantawan, the key to playing music is merging technique with personal expression to produce something genuine and unique.

"You're thinking, 'What do I want to express?' and then your body finds a way to do it. That happens with everyone," he said. "But for me, it's more explicit. I've had to really think, because there's no manual to (learn to) play with one hand."

As a student and a professional, Adrian has performed as a soloist with orchestras throughout his native Canada, at New York's Carnegie Hall and with violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter on a European tour.

He, and others, believe his disability produces a unique sound. Because Adrian's right arm is shorter than that of most people, he draws the bow of his violin across the strings at unusual angles -- not consistently perpendicular to the strings, as most violinists do.

"With the violin, the way that you're built physically influences to a very high degree how you sound. I'm not able to use my entire bow, for instance," Anantawan said. "So therefore I put more pressure on my bow to put more weight onto the string and produce more sound. "It gives me a bit of a sonic fingerprint."

But Anantawan's lack of a right hand hasn't limited his ability to play at a world-class level.
"There's no music he can't play, as far as I can tell," said Professor Lee Bartel, associate dean at the University of Toronto, who is himself a violinist. "There are no limitations with this disability. He has fully adapted it."

Bartel has heard Anantawan play a variety of repertoire in different contexts and scoffs at any notion that he's gained recognition as a musician because people feel sorry for him or see him as a novelty.
"There's no doubt he is exceptionally talented," he said. "He is a star performer."

Giving back

Anantawan says he's happiest playing music or working with children,
who seem to relate to his boyish demeanor.

With his place in the classical music world secure, Anantawan now wants to focus on helping others like him.

He was inspired in part by a visit years ago to Toronto's Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, which built his prosthetic. There Anantawan was introduced to a device, called a Virtual Music Instrument, that translates movement into sound.

Like a motion-controlled video gaming system, the Virtual Music Instrument employs a camera that is mounted on a computer screen and aimed at someone, capturing their gestures. The Virtual Music Instrument software is designed to play prerecorded musical samples when the person waves a hand or tilts their head, activating symbols on the screen.

Intrigued, Anantawan applied for a grant from Yale and gathered a team of doctors, musicians, music therapists and educators to explore the device's potential. He began working with a young musician, Eric Wan, who was forced to give up the violin after a neurological disorder paralyzed him from the neck down. The project concluded with Wan using the Virtual Music Instrument, guided by movements of his head, to play Pachelbel's "Canon in D" during a 2011 concert with the Montreal Chamber Orchestra.

"I had been playing the violin for about eight years before I got paralyzed," said Wan in a YouTube video about the performance. "I really didn't think I was able to play an instrument again. It's an incredible feeling."

Anantawan has been back to Holland Bloorview several times to give concerts and talk to the young patients. As an icebreaker, he always passes his prosthesis around the room so the kids can handle it up close.

"There's a silence that falls upon the room as the kids watch him play," said Tom Chau, vice president for research at Holland Bloorview, and who developed the Virtual Music Instrument. "He's a great role model for our clientele. They can see, down the road, the possibilities (that exist for them)."

It's not just children who have been inspired by Anantawan. He was once approached by an Iraq war veteran who had lost an arm. After seeing Anantawan play in a video online, the man made a crude prosthetic device out of cardboard and took up the violin.

"In most of these stories, it's never about the technique or technology that is important, but the desire to live life authentically and creatively. We often forget even 'traditional' musical instruments are technological adaptations in their own right -- they are tools to manipulate sound in a way that we couldn't do with our bodies alone," said Anantawan, who earned a second master's degree last year, this time from Harvard's Graduate School of Education.

"To say that your example has changed some life along the way for the better -- I'm extremely humbled to be a part of that."

Today, Anantawan combines classroom teaching with the drier but no less important task of developing arts curricula for kids with special needs -- not just physical disabilities, but cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and other conditions. He hopes someday to implement educational practices, working with devices such as the Virtual Music Instrument, that can be adopted by other schools around the globe.

"It's a lot easier to start from the bottom up than the top down," he said. "You have to understand where these kids are coming from, and the nature of their disability. I was extremely lucky to find the right instrument and adaptation and the right medium. But in public education, you don't want luck to be a factor."

Anantawan said he's happiest playing music or working with children, who seem to relate to his boyish look and soft-spoken demeanor. It gives him profound satisfaction to help open doors for kids, to help them hear their own voice.

"The reward (for me) comes on many levels, but perhaps the most rewarding comes in the form of those few seconds that a child is creating something musically unique, a voice that demands our attention," he said.

"In terms of stories, I'm sure that at some point the children I've worked with will have their own. But I've always found that they have touched my life in a far deeper way than anything that I've given them."

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Words Words Words: BUSINESS

BUSINESS

Words Words Words
Many students ask to learn words specific to their professions. Most words lists for different professions are very long. So, below you will find links to very specific dictionaries and glossaries to help you learn.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

NEWS: Ghana's female flying pioneer

Originally posted on BBC on Feb 22, 2013



A young woman in Ghana is breaking barriers by becoming the first civilian female pilot trained in her country.

Patricia Mawuli, 24, is also the first black African to obtain the "coveted" Rotax Aircraft Engines certificate.

She discovered her passion at the age of 19 and now teaches other rural girls how to fly.

The BBC's Focus on Africa programme went to meet her at a flight academy about an hour's drive from the capital, Accra.

Friday, March 1, 2013

NEWS: Revolution Hits the Universities

Originally posted on The New York Times on Jan 23, 2013
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
Lord knows there’s a lot of bad news in the world today to get you down, but there is one big thing happening that leaves me incredibly hopeful about the future, and that is the budding revolution in global online higher education. Nothing has more potential to lift more people out of poverty — by providing them an affordable education to get a job or improve in the job they have. Nothing has more potential to unlock a billion more brains to solve the world’s biggest problems. And nothing has more potential to enable us to reimagine higher education than the massive open online course, or MOOC, platforms that are being developed by the likes of Stanford and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and companies like Coursera and Udacity.

Last May I wrote about Coursera — co-founded by the Stanford computer scientists Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng — just after it opened. Two weeks ago, I went back out to Palo Alto to check in on them. When I visited last May, about 300,000 people were taking 38 courses taught by Stanford professors and a few other elite universities. Today, they have 2.4 million students, taking 214 courses from 33 universities, including eight international ones.

Anant Agarwal, the former director of M.I.T.’s artificial intelligence lab, is now president of edX, a nonprofit MOOC that M.I.T. and Harvard are jointly building. Agarwal told me that since May, some 155,000 students from around the world have taken edX’s first course: an M.I.T. intro class on circuits. “That is greater than the total number of M.I.T. alumni in its 150-year history,” he said.

Yes, only a small percentage complete all the work, and even they still tend to be from the middle and upper classes of their societies, but I am convinced that within five years these platforms will reach a much broader demographic. Imagine how this might change U.S. foreign aid. For relatively little money, the U.S. could rent space in an Egyptian village, install two dozen computers and high-speed satellite Internet access, hire a local teacher as a facilitator, and invite in any Egyptian who wanted to take online courses with the best professors in the world, subtitled in Arabic.

You just have to hear the stories told by the pioneers in this industry to appreciate its revolutionary potential. One of Koller’s favorites is about “Daniel,” a 17-year-old with autism who communicates mainly by computer. He took an online modern poetry class from Penn. He and his parents wrote that the combination of rigorous academic curriculum, which requires Daniel to stay on task, and the online learning system that does not strain his social skills, attention deficits or force him to look anyone in the eye, enable him to better manage his autism. Koller shared a letter from Daniel, in which he wrote: “Please tell Coursera and Penn my story. I am a 17-year-old boy emerging from autism. I can’t yet sit still in a classroom so [your course] was my first real course ever. During the course, I had to keep pace with the class, which is unheard-of in special ed. Now I know I can benefit from having to work hard and enjoy being in sync with the world.”

One member of the Coursera team who recently took a Coursera course on sustainability told me that it was so much more interesting than a similar course he had taken as an undergrad. The online course included students from all over the world, from different climates, incomes levels and geographies, and, as a result, “the discussions that happened in that course were so much more valuable and interesting than with people of similar geography and income level” in a typical American college.

Mitch Duneier, a Princeton sociology professor, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education in the fall about his experience teaching a class through Coursera: “A few months ago, just as the campus of Princeton University had grown nearly silent after commencement, 40,000 students from 113 countries arrived here via the Internet to take a free course in introductory sociology. ... My opening discussion of C. Wright Mills’s classic 1959 book, ‘The Sociological Imagination,’ was a close reading of the text, in which I reviewed a key chapter line by line. I asked students to follow along in their own copies, as I do in the lecture hall. When I give this lecture on the Princeton campus, I usually receive a few penetrating questions. In this case, however, within a few hours of posting the online version, the course forums came alive with hundreds of comments and questions. Several days later there were thousands. ... Within three weeks I had received more feedback on my sociological ideas than I had in a career of teaching, which significantly influenced each of my subsequent lectures and seminars.”

Agarwal of edX tells of a student in Cairo who was taking the circuits course and was having difficulty. In the class’s online forum, where students help each other with homework, he posted that he was dropping out. In response, other students in Cairo in the same class invited him to meet at a teahouse, where they offered to help him stay in the course. A 15-year-old student in Mongolia, who took the same class as part of a blended course and received a perfect score on the final exam, added Agarwal, is now applying to M.I.T. and the University of California, Berkeley.

As we look to the future of higher education, said the M.I.T. president, L. Rafael Reif, something that we now call a “degree” will be a concept “connected with bricks and mortar” — and traditional on-campus experiences that will increasingly leverage technology and the Internet to enhance classroom and laboratory work. Alongside that, though, said Reif, many universities will offer online courses to students anywhere in the world, in which they will earn “credentials” — certificates that testify that they have done the work and passed all the exams. The process of developing credible credentials that verify that the student has adequately mastered the subject — and did not cheat — and can be counted on by employers is still being perfected by all the MOOCs. But once it is, this phenomenon will really scale.

I can see a day soon where you’ll create your own college degree by taking the best online courses from the best professors from around the world — some computing from Stanford, some entrepreneurship from Wharton, some ethics from Brandeis, some literature from Edinburgh — paying only the nominal fee for the certificates of completion. It will change teaching, learning and the pathway to employment. “There is a new world unfolding,” said Reif, “and everyone will have to adapt.”

Links:
Coursera
Udacity
edX

Word List:
  • MOOC: Massive Open Online Course
  • demographic: a group of people who are of a similar age, the same sex, etc
  • facilitator: a person who helps somebody do something more easily by discussing problems, giving advice, etc. rather than telling them what to do
  • rigorous: done carefully and with a lot of attention to detail
  • special ed: short for "special education" - the education of children who have physical or learning problems
  • sustainability: involving the use of natural products and energy in a way that does not harm the environment
  • penetrating: showing that you have understood something quickly and completely
  • subsequent: happening or coming after something else
  • leverage: the ability to influence what people do
Pronunciation Practice:
= demographic
= facilitator
= rigorous
= sustainability
= penetrating
= subsequent
= leverage