All posts by npnicholson

The Formality of Society

Formal vs Informal Words

As the english language has changed and warped to meet the needs of its speakers, the meaning and emphasis of certain words changes. When people begin to use a new set of words, they become more commonplace and loose power as a result. The Ngram above shows the relationship between a few words that would be considered formal to many people and some words that represent the informal version of each. During the 20th century the relative abundance of formal words switched places with that of the informal counterparts and since, informal words have been used much more regularly. That being said, our society is pushing towards less formal methods of communication because of the  abundance of casual words that are found in literature.

In order to look at why this switch occurred, it is a good idea to think about the type of people that were contributing to the literature of the day. Before the 20th century, books and records were written by educated individuals or professionals more commonly than the average person. As a result, more formal works were produced and terms that our society would consider slang had not become widely popular. During the 20s when the country reached its financial high before the great depression, slang terms and those that would be considered more informal emerged as more prominent contributors to literature. As the 20th century progressed, the frequency of each showed how culture was influencing the way people communicated on paper, offering a more thorough glimpse into how they spoke in person.

Modern day society greatly favors informal methods of communication over those that would be considered old, dated,  or strict. Terms like “all right” are much more common than “acceptable”, and while this is not a definitive measure of the formality of society, it shows a push towards informal communication and ultimately a reduction in the use of formal terms and phrases.

The reason for this shift can likely be attributed to the internet and the interconnectivity it provides. Communication has reached levels that are unrivaled and as a result, we are leaning more towards slang in written communication. Whereas at one point written language was exclusively formal, new forms of writing that exhibit casual language are beginning to emerge.


Enough about Risk, Let’s look at Danger 


The field of aviation is extremely valuable to transportation and it is by far the fastest and safest method of long distance travel, especially when compared to automobile transportation. Unfortunately, public perception of flying is often skewed and many people fear aviation. This becomes a problem when an accident occurs and the media offers in-depth coverage of the event because people cease to fly and resort to driving instead. What the average traveler does not consider is the number of death that occur on the roads as a direct result of this decision. In effect, the media is killing travelers by scaring them away from the field of aviation.

Continue reading Enough about Risk, Let’s look at Danger 

Why we need NASA

Pecha-Kucha Presentation by Norris Nicholson


I have had a strong interest in space my entire life. Perhaps because of my parents, or perhaps because it is something that I thoroughly enjoy. Regardless, choosing a topic was fairly easy because I am passionate about the space program. Overall, the presentation was not that difficult to produce and I enjoyed researching the effects that it had on US culture. I split the presentation up into 20 parts and tailored each to the image that was to be displayed.

ShuttleThis image works well with my presentation because I discuss how the space program is viewed as impractical and unproductive towards society. The image above helps to show the audience the magnificence of the program, in contrast to my description of public perception. The idea here is to highlight the public’s idea of what space is, versus the magnificence the program can bring. As such, this image appeals to pathos in the audience.

Another Image in the presentation that appeals to pathos is the following picture of Space Mountain in Disney World.

Space MountianMany people have been to Disney World and, assumably, most of them remember it with pleasant memories. This slide is important to the overall presentation because it relates the effects of the space program to the memories that many of us experienced as children. Personally, every time I see Space Mountain I remember it with nothing but fond memories. The architecture of space mountain was a direct influence of the space program, and this fact is effect at linking it with each member of the audience. While there are many many other examples of space culture to choose from, Space Mountain offers a solid and emotional linkage from the space program to the lives of the audience.

Similarly, the slide that contained this image appealed to our connection with the space program:

CircutBecause so much of our modern computational technology originated with the space program, computers seemed like a logical place to connect the audience with the space program. Many of us (if not all) are dependent on computers in everyday life. By linking computers with the space program’s R&D, a logical linkage between the presentation and audience can be made.

Finally, the last slide in the presentation evokes a sense of excitment in those who see it.

StationBy highlighting the beauty of space, and the wonder that shadows it, a large emotional connection to the program can form. This slide was timed so that it was present when I made a final claim about the importance of the space program as it relates to the world of tomorrow. This image effectively conveys my argument because of the stark contrast between the beautiful blue planet and the small space station, suggesting that space is the next step in human exploration.

The presentation was both interesting and exciting for me to produce, and I made a solid attempt to support my argument with both facts from my speech and visual appeals to emotion through the images in each slide.

The Backbone of an Argument

Claims that are used in arguments must be properly supported in order to contribute as a whole. If the original information is changed or exaggerated, the overall credibility of the work could be subject to question. Darrell West’s report on big data’s application in education (link) retains its credibility because it uses reliable and accurate citations as a backbone for its argument.

To prove that West’s report can be trusted, one must look closely at how he cites his sources and how those sources shape his argument (or how he shapes his sources to match his argument). At the bottom of each page that contains an external reference, West points the reader to his sources.

Screen Shot 2014-10-14 at 11.17.02 PMTo prove that West’s use of of other researchers knowledge  is consistent with their research, it is necessary to look closer at the reference in the footer. By taking the title of Joseph Beck and Jack Mostow work listed in the footer as source number 5 and searching for the document online, one can easily find an abstract of the original document (link). While this work also contains references to external sources, the aspect that west was referring to (reading one story multiple times does not lend to as much learning as reading a variety of stories) was researched and carried out by the authors of the source. This makes this document the primary source for this particular piece of information in West’s report.

The work by Joseph Beck and Jack Mostow contained information that was consistent with what West claimed in his report:

Screen Shot 2014-10-14 at 11.32.39 PM

West’s use of the source was honest and accurate. He brought in external information, properly sited it, and correctly reported the content of the source. His individual interpretation of the source (and how it affects education), as with any citation, is what provides backing for his argument. In this case, the source was referring to the effects of rereading on learning and West showed that this can be applied to education through the use of computer  aided education. The source provided backbone information and West shaped it in a way to support his argument.


Are Infographics as Trustworthy as They Seem?

Infographics are unique in that they convey information effectively and creatively with an emphasis on visual elements. A side effect of this method is that people tend to believe it unconditionally. Images give viewers a false sense of authority from the author that is not always justified.

As with many infographics, the sources in the above graphic are small and to the side. One of the sources listed at the bottom (here is the link) concerns the price of bottled water and offers the information surrounding the cost of tap water versus that of bottled water. Several of the sources are broken links; the one I picked was one of the few that was still intact. The source, which, for the sake of clarity, will be referred to as the article, happens to be published by the same group as this infographic (Environmental Working Group or EWG) but is not completely consistent with the data that is shown in the image. While the infographic states “the price of bottled water is up to 10,000 times the cost of tap water”, the article states that this number is closer to 1,900.

Some brief digging shows that EWG is a credible source that researches and reports much of its data. Because of this fact, it is relatively safe to assume that the article is the primary document. The troubling aspect of this finding is that the infographic above is also a product of EWG which affects the credibility of both sources. One possible reason for this discrepancy is exaggeration, as it is clear that the intent of the above infographic is to discourage the use of bottled water. Exaggerating the price of bottled water is an effective and eye catching way to reduce its  consumption. In light of this finding, the validity of both the infographic and the reports at EWG may be placed into question, despite the viewers initial impressions of the infographic. While some of the information that is presented in this image may very well be true and supported, the overall perceived credibility of the infographic may be augmented by its visual appeal. It is a distinct possibility that the infographic is incorrectly communicating data and its validity should be put into question.

The Lungs of the Earth

As public awareness and concern for environmental issues has increased, organizations who seek to preserve wildlife have produced advertisements and images  to instill a sense of responsibility in those who see them. The image above is one such example that appeals largely to pathos by relating rainforest devastation to the destruction of Earth’s lungs.

The image is mostly green and rich with life, except for the portion of the forest lung that is being destroyed in the bottom corner. This contrast draws the viewer to this portion of the image, which is also conveniently located near the organization’s logo. The placement of these items on the image is no accident, as the author used the natural path of our eyes to not only highlight the devastation that is spreading to a large portion of our forests, but to bring attention to the organization which seeks to preserve this landscape as well.

The green landscape instills a since of beauty and life when a viewer looks upon it, and the section that is brown and dying appears to be almost cancerous. This contrast is a powerful metaphor into the future of the rain-forests if we continue to destroy them at our current rate. The image does a very good job conveying this, especially since there is no written text. The visual aspects provide more then enough pathos to get the viewers attention and spread the word about rainforest conservation.

Finally, ethos is established by the professionalism the image exhibits and the organization logo at the bottom corner, which many will recognize as the World Wide Fund for Nature charity. The organizations past contributions and  future ambitions provide more then enough credibility for a viewer to believe the statement the image is trying to make.

Data is Progress?

“In the future – and sooner than we may think – many aspects of our world will be augmented or replaced by computer systems that today are the sole purview of human judgment. Not just driving or match making, but even more complex tasks. After all, Amazon can recommend the ideal book, Google can rank the most relevant website, Facebook knows our likes, and LinkedIn divines who we know. The same technologies will be applied to diagnosing illnesses, recommending treatments, perhaps even identifying “criminals” before one actually commits a crime. Just as the internet radically changed the world by adding communications to computers,  so too will big data change fundamental aspects of life by giving it a quantitative dimension it never had before” – Big Data (page 12)

The quantity of data that our society produces and processes on a daily basis rivals that of any other time in human history. Information and knowledge have become not only readily available, but in many ways vital to the technological world we live in. Although this is opening the doors to endless possibilities, we must be cautious of the negative aspects of this growth as big data takes over many aspects of our lives.

Many of the major outlets that analyze information come through large companies that we as people use and interact with frequently. This may be referred to as big data or crowd sourced data. This data not only allows companies to reveal information about its individual users but it also allows them to apply their knowledge in more creative and constructive ways. While many uses for this data are still in the early stages, big data and crowd sourced information will soon become vital to our society, subsequently bringing the negative aspects of open information along with it.

The addition of large scale data collection also raises some concerns, despite the possible benefits. Privacy is slowly becoming a thing of the past, as corporations like Google and Facebook track everything from what we search to where we go for lunch. Google even knows where I live and has even given me direction to work without prior knowledge of my workplace. The same can be said for government agencies such as the NSA. In the world we live in, knowledge is power, power is money, and there is little legislature in place to prevent large corporate or governmental entities from abusing the use of this information.

While there is likely little that can be done to stop the upcoming transition into a big data driven society, individuals need to be aware of the drawbacks in order to best prevent abuse of the system. Only by reflecting on the drawbacks will we as a society be able to stop the growth of abusive data before it becomes an irreparable aspect of life.

Truth of Fact, Truth of Feeling Video Response

Norris Nicholson


Producing a video adds another layer of complexity to an argument. Unlike written passages, a video captures the verbal response from the author as well as other more insightful aspects. A video allows the viewer to see the author or speaker’s facial expressions and emotional connection to what they are talking about. Furthermore, a video gives the viewer a more personal connection to the author, as opposed to written text which makes it easy to alienate one’s self from the author.

Despite these benefits to a visual response, a video is more difficult to successfully produce. In my video I struggled convey exactly what I wanted to  and I feel that because I used guidelines rather than a script, the video may have lacked smooth flow from one topic to the next. On the other hand, verbal responses are not usually held to the same level of speech as written text because people generally write better than they speak. The trick is to juggle the two and find a healthy median.

If I had more time to work on the video I would make it longer and improve my statement in order to make it more concise and meaningful.