Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Alexander Goudie Moules Marinieres 20th century

Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning

The new captain jumped from the deck, fully dressed, and sprinted through the water. A former lifeguard, he kept his eyes on his victim as he headed straight for the couple swimming between their anchored sportfisher and the beach. “I think he thinks you’re drowning,” the husband said to his wife. They had been splashing each other and she had screamed but now they were just standing, neck-deep on the sand bar. “We’re fine, what is he doing?” she asked, a little annoyed. “We’re fine!” the husband yelled, waving him off, but his captain kept swimming hard. ”Move!” he barked as he sprinted between the stunned owners. Directly behind them, not ten feet away, their nine-year-old daughter was drowning. Safely above the surface in the arms of the captain, she burst into tears, “Daddy!”

How did this captain know – from fifty feet away – what the father couldn’t recognize from just ten? Drowning is not the violent, splashing, call for help that most people expect. The captain was trained to recognize drowning by experts and years of experience. The father, on the other hand, had learned what drowning looks like by watching television. If you spend time on or near the water (hint: that’s all of us) then you should make sure that you and your crew knows what to look for whenever people enter the water. Until she cried a tearful, “Daddy,” she hadn’t made a sound. As a former Coast Guard rescue swimmer, I wasn’t surprised at all by this story. Drowning is almost always a deceptively quiet event. The waving, splashing, and yelling that dramatic conditioning (television) prepares us to look for, is rarely seen in real life.

The Instinctive Drowning Response – so named by Francesco A. Pia, Ph.D., is what people do to avoid actual or perceived suffocation in the water. And it does not look like what most people expect. There is very little splashing, no waving, and no yelling or calls for help of any kind. To get an idea of just how quiet and undramatic from the surface drowning can be, consider this: It is the number two cause of accidental death in children, age 15 and under (just behind vehicle accidents) – of the approximately 750 children who will drown next year, about 375 of them will do so within 25 yards of a parent or other adult. In ten percent of those drownings, the adult will actually watch them do it, having no idea it is happening (source: CDC). Drowning does not look like drowning – Dr. Pia, in an article in the Coast Guard’s On Scene Magazine, described the instinctive drowning response like this:
  1. Except in rare circumstances, drowning people are physiologically unable to call out for help. The respiratory system was designed for breathing. Speech is the secondary or overlaid function. Breathing must be fulfilled, before speech occurs.
  2. Drowning people’s mouths alternately sink below and reappear above the surface of the water. The mouths of drowning people are not above the surface of the water long enough for them to exhale, inhale, and call out for help. When the drowning people’s mouths are above the surface, they exhale and inhale quickly as their mouths start to sink below the surface of the water.
  3. Drowning people cannot wave for help. Nature instinctively forces them to extend their arms laterally and press down on the water’s surface. Pressing down on the surface of the water, permits drowning people to leverage their bodies so they can lift their mouths out of the water to breathe.
  4. Throughout the Instinctive Drowning Response, drowning people cannot voluntarily control their arm movements. Physiologically, drowning people who are struggling on the surface of the water cannot stop drowning and perform voluntary movements such as waving for help, moving toward a rescuer, or reaching out for a piece of rescue equipment.
  5. From beginning to end of the Instinctive Drowning Response people’s bodies remain upright in the water, with no evidence of a supporting kick. Unless rescued by a trained lifeguard, these drowning people can only struggle on the surface of the water from 20 to 60 seconds before submersion occurs.
(Source: On Scene Magazine: Fall 2006 (page 14)
by Mario Vittone |  Read more:

Wain's Cats

The work of Louis Wain, who lived between 1860 and 1939, is frequently held up as an example of the progression of schizophrenia, and the effects of the disorder on the perceptions of an artist.

However, despite Wain’s art appearing in several psychology text books in chapters covering schizophrenia, it is unclear whether he was suffering from that particular condition. It has been suggested that Wain may instead have been suffering from Asperger’s Syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder, because his skill as a draughtsman remained plain to see throughout his illness. Diagnosis after the fact is always a sketchy business, and this suggestion may well be incorrect – one of the reported symptoms of Asperger’s is a loss of physical co-ordination.

As Wain’s condition worsened, so his pictures of cats became more abstract until, towards the end of his life, they were barely recognisable as cats at all, instead becoming intricately detailed, fractal shapes full of unnaturally (at least for a cat) bright colours. The foreknowledge that they are images of felines allows the viewer to pick up on certain shapes – the pointy triangular ears and some features of the face – but without it, you would be hard-pressed to realise these are cats.

The tale of Wain’s life is a sad one. For a time he was a successful artist, but a series of poor investment decisions left him penniless and he began to develop mental health problems in the early 20th century. He deteriorated quickly, becoming a suspicious and sometimes violent man, prone to incoherent, rambling speech. In 1924 he was incarcerated in the pauper ward at Springfield Mental Hospital in Tooting, south London, not far from where I live. After intervention by some famous and influential figures, including Stanley Baldwin, the Prime Minister of the day, and H.G. Wells, Wain was transferred to more pleasant surroundings. He ended his days in Napsbury Hospital, north of London, which had a garden and, happily for Wain, a colony of cats. In this environment he was able to resume drawing, and it was here he produced some of his most spectacular work.

by Joseph Milton, Scientific American |  Read more:

Thomas Boone Bananas with Sun 2011

Shopping Under the Influence

After enjoying a few drinks, some people go dancing. Others order food. And for some, it’s time to shop online.

“I have my account linked to my phone, so it’s really easy,” said Tiffany Whitten, of Dayton, Ohio, whose most recent tipsy purchase made on her smartphone — a phone cover — arrived from Amazon much to her surprise. “I was drunk and I bought it, and I forgot about it, and it showed up in the mail, and I was really excited.”

Shopping under the influence has long benefited high-end specialty retailers — witness the wine-and-cheese parties that are a staple of galleries and boutiques. Now the popularity of Internet sales has opened alcohol-induced purchases to the masses, including people like Ms. Whitten, who works in shipping and receiving and spent just $5 on the cat-shaped phone cover.  (...)

Online retailers, of course, can never be sure whether customers are inebriated when they tap the “checkout” icon. One comparison-shopping site, Kelkoo, said almost half the people it surveyed in Britain, where it is based, had shopped online after drinking.

But while reliable data is hard to come by, retailers say they have their suspicions based on anecdotal evidence and traffic patterns on their Web sites — and some are adjusting their promotions accordingly.

“Post-bar, inhibitions can be impacted, and that can cause shopping, and hopefully healthy impulse buying,” said Andy Page, the president of Gilt Groupe, an online retailer that is adding more sales starting at 9 p.m. to respond to high traffic then — perhaps some of it by shoppers under the influence.

On eBay, the busiest time of day is from 6:30 to 10:30 in each time zone. Asked if drinking might be a factor, Steve Yankovich, vice president for mobile for eBay, said, “Absolutely.” He added: “I mean, if you think about what most people do when they get home from work in the evening, it’s decompression time. The consumer’s in a good mood.”

by  Stephanie Clifford, NY Times |  Read more:
Photo: Matt Nager for The New York Times

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Guiltless Pleasure

My wife, who knows everything, says there are two kinds of people in this world. First, there are people like her, mustard people, who wake up in the morning and run five miles, or at least talk about how they used to. They wear clothes ordered from catalogs, the ones that show people hiking, fly fishing, or paddling a canoe, usually beside a Labrador puppy. They eat flax and what appears to be horse feed and swear they like it, and would no more let whole milk pass their lips than hemlock. They have never had high blood pressure, except when talking about their feelings. They have never had gout, which they even like to say, but can eat a whole pound of dark chocolate without ever having to check their blood sugar. They will tell you with a straight face that sometimes they just forget to eat.

Mustard people make their doctors happy, with arteries as slick as the inside of a drinking straw, and make their children sad, by putting carrot sticks in lunchboxes, with apple slices as a special treat. They like to vacation in Colorado, and Wyoming, and the holy grail of mustard people, Portland, Oregon – really any place with hills they can walk up and down, or gorges they can plunge into on their mountain bikes. They like smoked salmon, rare tuna, and are wholly responsible for keeping the turkey population of this United States whittled down to a manageable level, one whole-grain, mustard-accented, boring sandwich at a time.

And then, there are the rest of us.

We wake and drive five miles, to eat pancakes. With any luck, that will be the only meal of the day at which we will not have mayonnaise. We like L.L. Bean catalogs, too, but only because they offer most of their clothes in XXL, and we like their running shoes, which we wear to Popeye’s, and the mailbox–if it is not too far.

We would not get near a canoe even if it was the only thing we could hide under during a lightning storm. We like to vacation in New Orleans, where you have to go uphill to drown, where every flat, easy street seems to dead end into a platter of shrimp rémoulade, fried eggplant drizzled with béarnaise, or fried oyster po’ boys slathered in … well, you know.

At home, we like any fish that comes with a side of tartar sauce, and if we are going to have a sandwich it will likely be roast beef and cheddar on an onion roll, with mustard and mayo, and we do not even mind some lettuce, tomato and hot Spanish onion, as long as the whole thing is buried under an avalanche of Zapp’s Hotter ‘n Hot Jalapeno potato chips, and served with a quart of Barq’s Root Beer or sweet iced tea.

Because, you see, we do not hate on the mustard people, at least not as much, or as often, as they sneer at us.

by Rick Bragg, Gourmet |  Read more:

The Definitive Post On Why SOPA And Protect IP Are Bad, Bad Ideas

There's been plenty of talk (and a ton of posts here on Techdirt) discussing both SOPA (originally E-PARASITE) and PROTECT IP (aka PIPA), but it seemed like it would be useful to create a single, "definitive" post to highlight why both of these bills are extremely problematic and won't do much (if anything) to deal with the issues they're supposed to deal with, but will have massive unintended consequences. I also think it's important to highlight how PIPA is almost as bad as SOPA. Tragically, because SOPA was so bad, some in the entertainment industry have seen it as an opportunity to present PIPA as a "compromise." It is not. Both bills have tremendous problems, and they start with the fact that neither bill will help deal with the actual issues being raised.

That main issue, we're told over and over again, is "piracy" and specifically "rogue" websites. And, let's be clear: infringement is a problem. But the question is what kind of problem is it? Much of the evidence suggests that it's not an enforcement problem and it's not a legal problem. Decades of evidence from around the globe all show the same thing: making copyright law or enforcement stricter does not work. It does not decrease infringement at all -- and, quite frequently, leads to more infringement. That's because the reason that there's infringement in the first place is that consumers are being under-served. Historically, infringement has never been about "free," but about indicating where the business models have not kept up with the technology.

Thus, the real issue is that this is a business model problem. As we've seen over and over and over again, those who embrace what the internet enables, have found themselves to be much better off than they were before. They're able to build up larger fanbases, and to rely on various new platforms and services to make more money.

And, as we've seen with near perfect consistency, the best way, by far, to decrease infringement is to offer awesome new services that are convenient and useful. This doesn't mean just offering any old service -- and it certainly doesn't mean trying to limit what users can do with those services. And, most importantly, it doesn't mean treating consumers like they were criminals and "pirates." It means constantly improving the consumer experience. When that consumer experience is great, then people switch in droves. You can, absolutely, compete with free, and many do so. If more were able to without restriction, infringement would decrease. If you look at the two largest contributors to holding back "piracy" lately, it's been Netflix and Spotify. Those two services alone have been orders of magnitude more successful in decreasing infringement than any new copyright law. Because they compete by being more convenient and a better experience than infringement.

Finally, even if you disagree with all of that, and believe that the problem is enforcement, SOPA and PIPA, won't be effective in dealing with that. The internet always has a way of routing around "damage" no matter how hard people try to stop it, and the approach put forth by these bills is a joke. It's hard to find anyone with technology skills who thinks that they will be effective. Every "blockade" has an easy path around it, and the supposed "anti-circumvention" rule in SOPA will never deal with the more obvious paths around things like DNS blocking (use a different DNS or a perfectly legal foreign VPN system). The private right of action efforts are also mistargeted. They're based on the premise that infringement is done for monetary reasons. It's amusing that just a few years ago, these same industries insisted that music and movie fans never wanted to pay anything any more, but now they're claiming that these same people are paying for cyberlockers all the time? That's simply not credible. And if there's so much money to be made, the studios and labels would be opening their own cyberlockers. Either way, we've watched this game of Whac-a-mole for over a decade. It doesn't work. Every site that is shut down leads to half a dozen new ones that spring up. This is not how you tackle a problem: by making the same mistake made over and over again in the past.

So... SOPA & PIPA don't attack the real problem, do nothing to build up the services that do solve the problem, and won't work from a technological standpoint. And that's just if we look at the what these bills are supposed to do.

The real fear is the massive collateral damage these bills will have to jobs, the economy and innovation.

by Mike Masnick, Techdirt |  Read more:

Platform Wars

Want to learn MBA management skills and strategies for free?  Thanks to "Platform Wars," a video game simulator created by MIT’s Sloan School of Management, anyone can learn elements of a business school education by portraying an executive at a video game console manufacturer online.

The simulator has been used for the past four years in business management classes taught by professor John Sterman. A user playing an executive Nintendo, for example, might be tasked with figuring out how how to help the Wii beat out competition from Microsoft's XBox. The ultimate goal is to strategize against your competitor to maximize cumulative profit over 10 years. The player has to make all the applicable decisions to win the market—everything from setting the price of the console to determining the royalties video game makers will pay for the right to produce games for the platform.

“Platform Wars” proved to be so popular at the business school that in late November, MIT—the home of the renowned OpenCourseWare program—decided to make the simulator available to the public on the MIT Sloane Teaching Innovation Resources website. Users can play as an individual or as a class. To fully equip gamers, Sterman is also providing free case studies and video explanations for both students and teachers.

Platform markets “are increasingly common in settings besides video games,” so Sterman says that the skills users can learn through Platform Wars are “applicable in many markets." Figuring out how to ensure your product’s price, features, and complementary products stay competitive is in every business' best interests. After all, we all know what happened in the real-world platform war between VHS and Betamax.

by Liz Dwyer, Good |  Read more:

Why We Make Bad Decisions

What role do our surroundings have in the choices we make? Consider the fact that we are more likely to commit a “random” act of kindness toward a person who has already done something kind toward us. We are less likely to help someone in serious trouble when we’re in a crowd, or choose different professions based on the sound and spelling of our first names. It turns out the context in which we make our decisions has a huge impact on their outcomes.

In his new book “Situations Matter: Understanding How Context Transforms Your World,” author Sam Sommers, an associate professor of psychology at Tufts University, looks at what context can teach us about everything from test questions to romantic partners to career choices. Sommers offers a fascinating glimpse into the way our most important judgments are framed by the world around us.

Salon spoke with Sommers over the phone about Occupy Wall Street, online dating and Penn State’s Joe Paterno riot.

In the book you argue that this perception that, as you describe it, “What you see is what you get” is flawed and dangerous. Why are judgments based on first impressions misguided?

It’s our default assumption. It’s our fallback, automatic assumption about other people. It serves us well in a lot of respects. It makes the world a more predictable place. It allows us to make predictions about the world. But a variety of different research over the past few decades shows that this automatic judgment is a cognitive cutting of corners. It doesn’t give an accurate perspective on how human nature works. One of the really good examples is the quickness with which we turn to the “bad apple” explanation. When we read about bad behavior, whether it’s people committing crimes, rioting, etc., we immediately assume that that person is a bad apple, that we would never do something like that. It makes us feel better about ourselves at the end of the day, but it keeps us from solving some of the root issues at the heart of human nature.

by Hannah Tepper, Salon |  Read more:
Illustration: VLADGRIN via Shutterstock

Rejoice for Utopia is Nigh!

One hundred years ago an American immigrant invented science fiction.

Okay, that’s not true. Not even close. People have been building fantastic narratives out of scientific gobbledygook since the days of the Greeks. Lucian of Samosata imagined a trip to the moon over 17 centuries before Jules Verne took a whack at it. And decades before 1911 Verne and H.G. Wells wrote the stories that established the contours of the genre: fantastic voyages in space and time, alien encounters, technology run amok, and so forth. The term “science fiction” wouldn’t even be invented until 1929. But the genre as a coherent field of literary endeavour—as the thing that takes up a whole wall at your local Barnes & Noble or Waterstone’s—might not have come to be if it weren’t for a failed inventor-turned-publisher with aesthetic ambitions. Naive, utopian and romantic, a man named Hugo Gernsback ended up establishing a new strand of science fiction, one that helped shape (and was shaped by) the American century.

Gernsback had come to America in 1904 with the common immigrant dream of striking it rich. He planned to revolutionise battery technology, but when that didn’t pan out he turned to scientific-magazine publishing. He started out with mail-order catalogues for his imported radio-equipment business, but, as the years went on, his efforts took a more explicitly literary turn. Amazing Stories, which he founded in 1926, has a fair claim to being the first magazine dedicated solely to what he called “scientifiction”. It would go on to help define the genre, publishing the debuts of some of its greatest authors. The ever-expanding community of science-fiction readers and fans was so grateful it named its highest honour after him; there isn’t an science-fiction writer from Asimov to Zelazny who hasn’t coveted a Hugo trophy.

But in 1911 all that lay in the future—a topic which, to be fair, was something Gernsback was pretty interested in. As a young man of 27, he was witnessing a new century and a newly revitalised country all at once. America’s can-do spirit involved a gleeful embrace of technology (the trans-continental railroad! The wizard of Menlo Park: Thomas Edison! Henry Ford’s Model T!). New inventions, discoveries and achievements seemed to be rolling off the brand-new assembly line every day, and the factual articles of Modern Electrics, Gernsback’s magazine (its name a kind of romantic statement itself), were hardly capacious enough to contain the sense of possibility. And so he turned, diffidently, to fiction.

by Prospero, The Economist |  Read more:


A smugly enamored couple sit in a restaurant, their hands clasped as they fret over the menu. The chicken, for instance: can the waitress tell them a little bit about its provenance? Of course she can, because this is the kind of cool restaurant in Portland, Oregon, where patrons regularly seek elaborate assurances about the virtuousness of their food. The waitress informs the couple that the place serves only local, free-range, “heritage-breed, woodland-raised chicken that’s been fed a diet of sheep’s milk, soy, and hazelnuts.” But because the diners, Peter and Nance, are characters on “Portlandia”—a television comedy in which precious concerns spin into giddy lunacy—the conversation does not stop there. Peter, played by Fred Armisen, asks if the hazelnuts, too, are local. Nance, played by Carrie Brownstein, needs to know the size of the parcel of land where the chicken roamed freely. (Four acres.) The waitress excuses herself and returns to the table with a file folder and a photograph. “Here is the chicken you’ll be enjoying tonight,” she says, with therapeutic solemnity. “His name was Colin.” Peter seems appeased: “He looks like a happy little guy who runs around.” But then he wonders if the animal had “a lot of friends—other chickens as friends?” The waitress, who finds this a reasonable question, admits, “I don’t know that I can speak to that level of intimate knowledge about him.”

“Portlandia,” which débuted last winter, on the Independent Film Channel, and returns on January 6th, is the rare sketch-comedy series that has a sustained object of satire. It’s about life in hipster enclaves, and the self-consciousness that makes hipsters desperately disavow the label. Many of its characters are caught up in the prideful culture of D.I.Y. entrepreneurship, in which people reject office jobs in favor of becoming, say, an appliqué-pillow designer with a page on Etsy. (This season, a couple launch a business based on the catchphrase “We can pickle that!,” brining everything from eggs at an urban farm to a broken high heel found on the sidewalk.) “Portlandia” is an extended joke about what Freud called the narcissism of small differences: the need to distinguish oneself by minute shadings and to insist, with outsized militancy, on the importance of those shadings.

Brownstein, who is also one of the show’s writers and producers, told me, “In general, things in a place like Portland are really great, so little concerns become ridiculous. There are a lot of people here who can afford—financially but also psychologically—to be really, really concerned about buying local, for instance. It becomes mock epic. It’s like Alexander Pope’s ‘Rape of the Lock.’ I was standing in line at Whole Foods, and the guy in front of me says, ‘I really wish you guys sold locally made fresh pasta.’ And the cashier says, ‘Look, we do.’ And the guy says, ‘No, no—that’s from Seattle.’ Really? You don’t have a bigger battle?”

“Portlandia” presents a heightened version of the city’s twee urbanity: a company sells artisanal light bulbs, a hotel offers a manual typewriter to every guest, and a big local event is the Allergy Pride Parade. The mayor, played by Kyle MacLachlan, becomes an object of scandal when he’s “outed” as the bass guitarist in a middle-of-the-road reggae band. (The real Portland’s mayor, Sam Adams, who is openly gay, plays MacLachlan’s assistant on the show.) Armisen and Brownstein, wearing anthropologically precise wigs and outfits, portray most of the main characters: bicycle-rights activists, dumpster divers, campaigners against any theoretical attempt to bring the Olympics to Portland, animal lovers so out of touch that they free a pet dog tied up outside a restaurant. (“Who puts their dog on a pole like a stripper?”) Many characters recur, and, because they often seem to know one another, their intersections from sketch to sketch give the show the feel of a grownup “Sesame Street.” This childlike vibe has an edge to it, however; as an Armisen character explains at one point, Portland is “where young people go to retire.”

by Margaret Talbot, NewYorker |  Read more:
Photograph by Gabriele Stabile

Monday, December 26, 2011

What is the Greatest Invention?

Different writers at More Intelligent Life offer their own answers. Samantha Weinberg argues it is the Web. Edward Carr makes the case for the blade. Roger Highfield's candidate, the modern scientific method, is probably the answer I agree with most:
All great inventions rest on understanding how things work. And the greatest of all is the über-invention that has provided the insights on which other inventions depend: the modern scientific method, the realisation that we cannot grasp the way the world works by rational thought alone.
To gain meaningful insights into the scheme of things, logic has to be accompanied by asking probing questions of nature. To advance understanding, we need to devise rational conjectures and probe them to destruction through controlled tests, precise observations and clever analysis. The upshot is an unending dialogue between theory and experiment.
Unlike a traditional invention, the scientific method did not come into being at a particular time: its history is complex and stretches back long before 1833, when the term “scientist” was coined by the English polymath William Whewell. The method is not a concrete gadget like Gutenberg’s press, the computer or the Pill. Nor is it a brainwave like the non-geocentric universe, the Indo-Arab counting system or the theory of evolution. It is a fecund way of thinking on which the modern world rests. In relatively few generations, the rigorous application of the method has bootstrapped modern society through a non-linear accumulation of both knowledge and technology. Its impact on everyday life is ubiquitous and indisputable, even though a surprising number of people, including some senior politicians, have only a feeble grasp of its significance.
 via: 3 Quarks Daily and More Intelligent Life

Amazing Bamboo

[ed. One of the most versatile plants in the world, bamboo is classified as a grass and used for food, medicine, construction, furniture, textiles, paper, water processing, transportation, landscaping, and fishing.]

Bamboo is one of the fastest-growing plants on Earth with reported growth rates of 100 cm (39 in) in 24 hours. However, the growth rate is dependent on local soil and climatic conditions as well as species, and a more typical growth rate for many commonly cultivated bamboos in temperate climates is in the range of 3-10 cm (1-4 inches) per day during the growing period. Primarily growing in regions of warmer climates during the Cretaceous period, vast fields existed in what is now Asia. Some of the largest timber bamboo can grow over 30 metres (98 ft) tall, and be as large as 6-8 inches in diameter. However, the size range for mature bamboo is species dependent, with the smallest bamboos reaching only several inches high at maturity. A typical height range that would cover many of the common bamboos grown in the United States is 15-40 feet, depending on species.

Bamboo, one of the “four gentlemen” (bamboo, orchid, plum blossom and chrysanthemum), plays such an important role in traditional Chinese culture that it is even regarded as a behaviour model of the gentleman. As bamboo has some features like upright, tenacity and hollow heart, people endow bamboo with integrity, elegance and plainness though it is not physically strong. Ancient Chinese poets wrote countless poems to praise bamboo, but actually they were truly talking about people like bamboo and express their understanding of what is a real gentleman should be like. According to Laws,an ancient poet Bai, Juyi (772-846) thought that to be a gentleman, a man doesn’t need to be physically strong, but he must be mentally strong. He must be upright, perseverant, and, just as a bamboo is hollow-hearted, he should open his heart to accept anything that is benefit and never has arrogance and prejudice. Bamboo is not only a symbol of gentleman, but also an important role in Buddhism. In the first century, Buddhism was introduced into China. As cannons of Buddhism don’t allow its believers to do anything cruel to animals, meat, egg and fish were not allowed in the diet. However, people need something nutritional to live, thus, the tender bamboo shoot (it is called “sun” in Chinese) became a good choice. The bamboo shoot is nutritional and eating it does not violate the cannon. With thousands of years’ development, how to eat bamboo shoot has become a part of cuisine system, especially for monks. A Buddhist monk named Zan Ning, wrote a manual of the bamboo shoot called “Sun Pu”. He offered descriptions and recipes for many kinds of bamboo shoots. Bamboo shoot has always been a traditional dish on Chinese’s dinner table, especially in southern China. In ancient time, as long as people have money to buy a big house with yard, they will always plant bamboos in their garden. Bamboo is a necessary element of Chinese culture, or even in the whole Asian civilization. People plant bamboos, eat bamboo shoots, paint bamboos, write poems for bamboos, and speak highly of gentlemen who are like bamboos. Bamboo, is not only a plant, but also a part of people’s life.

In Japan, a bamboo forest sometimes surrounds a Shinto shrine as part of a sacred barrier against evil. Many Buddhist temples also have bamboo groves.

via: Wikipedia
Photo: via

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Susan Brown “Orchid and Three Pears”

Measuring the Human Pecking Order

Measuring power and influence on the web is a matter of huge interest. Indeed, algorithms that distill rankings from the pattern of links between webpages have made huge fortunes for companies such as Google.

One the most famous of these is the Hyper Induced Topic Search or HITS algorithm which hypothesises that important pages fall into two categories--hubs and authorities--and are deemed important if they point to other important pages and if other important pages point to them. This kind of thinking led directly to Google's search algorithm PageRank

The father of this idea is John Kleinberg, a computer scientist now at Cornell University in Ithaca, who has achieved a kind of cult status through this and other work. It's fair to say that Kleinberg's work has shaped the foundations of the online world.

Today, Kleinberg and a few pals put forward an entirely different way of measuring power and influence; one that may one day have equally far-reaching consequences.

by MIT Technology Review |  Read more:

The Muses of Insert, Delete and Execute

The literary history of the typewriter has its well-established milestones, from Mark Twain producing the first typewritten manuscript with “Life on the Mississippi” to Truman Capote famously dismissing Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road,” pounded out on a 120-foot scroll, with the quip “That’s not writing, that’s typing.”

The literary history of word processing is far murkier, but that isn’t stopping Matthew G. Kirschenbaum, an associate professor of English at the University of Maryland, from trying to recover it, one casual deletion and trashed document at a time.

Pay no attention to the neatly formatted and deceptively typo-free surfaces of the average Microsoft Word file, Mr. Kirschenbaum declared at a recent lunchtime lecture at the New York Public Library titled “Stephen King’s Wang,” a cheeky reference to that best-selling novelist’s first computer, bought in the early 1980s.

“The story of writing in the digital age is every bit as messy as the ink-stained rags that would have littered Gutenberg’s print shop or the hot molten lead of the Linotype machine,” Mr. Kirschenbaum said, before asking a question he hopes he can answer: “Who were the early adopters, the first mainstream authors to trade in their typewriters for WordStar and WordPerfect?”

The lecture was drawn from Mr. Kirschenbaum’s book “Track Changes: A Literary History of Word Processing,” which Harvard University Press is set to publish in 2013, or as soon as he can finish tapping it out on his iBuyPower 64-bit laptop, and on the vintage computers he has assembled at the university’s College Park campus, where he is also the associate director of the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities. (...)

The study of word processing may sound like a peculiarly tech-minded task for an English professor, but literary scholars have become increasingly interested in studying how the tools of writing both shape literature and are reflected in it, whether it’s the quill pen of the Romantic poets or the early round typewriter, known as a writing ball, that Friedrich Nietzsche used to compose some aphoristic fragments. (“Our writing tools are also working on our thoughts,” Nietzsche typed.)

by  Jennifer Schuessler, NY Times |  Read more:
Photo:Brendan Smialowski for The New York Times

Saturday, December 24, 2011


photo: markk

The Book of Books

The Bible is the model for and subject of more art and thought than those of us who live within its influence, consciously or unconsciously, will ever know.

Literatures are self-referential by nature, and even when references to Scripture in contemporary fiction and poetry are no more than ornamental or rhetorical — indeed, even when they are unintentional — they are still a natural consequence of the persistence of a powerful literary tradition. Biblical allusions can suggest a degree of seriousness or significance their context in a modern fiction does not always support. This is no cause for alarm. Every fiction is a leap in the dark, and a failed grasp at seriousness is to be respected for what it attempts. In any case, these references demonstrate that in the culture there is a well of special meaning to be drawn upon that can make an obscure death a martyrdom and a gesture of forgiveness an act of grace. Whatever the state of belief of a writer or reader, such resonances have meaning that is more than ornamental, since they acknowledge complexity of experience of a kind that is the substance of fiction. (...)

A number of the great works of Western literature address themselves very directly to questions that arise within Christianity. They answer to the same impulse to put flesh on Scripture and doctrine, to test them by means of dramatic imagination, that is visible in the old paintings of the Annunciation or the road to Damascus. How is the violence and corruption of a beloved city to be understood as part of an eternal cosmic order? What would be the consequences for the story of the expulsion from Eden, if the fall were understood as divine providence? What if Job’s challenge to God’s justice had not been overawed and silenced by the wild glory of creation? How would a society within (always) notional Christendom respond to the presence of a truly innocent and guileless man? Dante created his great image of divine intent, justice and grace as the architecture of time and being. Milton explored the ancient, and Calvinist, teaching that the first sin was a felix culpa, a fortunate fall, and providential because it prepared the way for the world’s ultimate reconciliation to God. So his Satan is glorious, and the hell prepared for his minions is strikingly tolerable. What to say about Melville? He transferred the great poem at the end of Job into the world of experience, and set against it a man who can only maintain the pride of his humanity until this world overwhelms him. His God, rejoicing in his catalog of the splendidly fierce and untamable, might ask, “Hast thou seen my servant Ahab?” And then there is Dostoyevsky’s “idiot” Prince Myshkin, who disrupts and antagonizes by telling the truth and meaning no harm, the Christ who says, “Blessed is he who takes no offense at me.”

Each of these works reflects a profound knowledge of Scripture and tradition on the part of the writer, the kind of knowledge found only among those who take them seriously enough to probe the deepest questions in their terms. These texts are not allegories, because in each case the writer has posed a problem within a universe of thought that is fully open to his questioning once its terms are granted. Here the use of biblical allusion is not symbolism or metaphor, which are both rhetorical techniques for enriching a narrative whose primary interest does not rest with the larger resonances of the Bible. In fact these great texts resemble Socratic dialogues in that each venture presupposes that meaning can indeed be addressed within the constraints of the form and in its language, while the meaning to be discovered through this argument cannot be presupposed. Like paintings, they render meaning as beauty.

by Marilynne Robinson, NY Times |  Read more:
Illustration by O.O.P.S

Friday, December 23, 2011

photo: markk

The Trouble with Scientific Secrets

[ed. This is a very big deal. Information sharing is a bedrock principle of scientific research and this is the first time a prohibition of this type has been requested.] 

In early September, the European Scientific Working group on Influenza convened on Malta to hold its fourth conference. Researchers delivered a variety of technical reports on the state of influenza research and the prospects for vaccines. As was the case with the first three conferences, the world took little notice.

The data presented by one group, however, has so alarmed public-health officials throughout the world that yesterday the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, a federal group established by the United States Department of Health and Human Services, asked the journals Science and Nature to refrain from publishing essential details of the research. It was the first time the group had made such a request. Officials said the report had implications for bioterrorism that were too obvious too ignore, and too powerful to make public.

The report in question involved avian influenza. At the conference, Ron Fouchier, a virologist from Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, had announced that he and his colleagues had created a form of the H5N1 influenza virus—more commonly known as bird flu—that could pass easily among ferrets. Flu experts got the point instantly: ferrets are mammals; if they can be infected though the airborne transmission of H5N1, so, almost certainly, can we. This was the extremely bad news that the epidemiological world had been waiting for—but hoping never to hear—since avian influenza began to spread across Asia nearly a decade ago.

by Michael Specter, NY Times |  Read more:
Photograph by Kin Cheung/AP Photo

Friday Book Club - The Marriage Plot

There was no predicting where Jeffrey Eugenides would go after his first two novels, so different were they in tone and form. “The Virgin Suicides” — humid, dreamlike, entranced — comes off as a single thought. “Middlesex,” a chatty multigenerational saga that winds its way from Turkey to Michigan to San Francisco to Berlin, sweeping together the burning of Smyrna, the rise and fall of Detroit, the immigrant experience, the Nation of Islam, the sins of Nixon and, of course, the lore and genetics of intersexuality, has as many moving parts as a Rube Goldberg machine. “The Virgin Suicides,” edged with antic wit and edging toward the surreal, glances in Nabokovian contempt at the petty preoccupations of “rangers and realists.” “Middlesex,” for all the novelty of its hermaphroditic protagonist, is straight-up realism, start to finish.

The books are far apart in quality, too. The language of “The Virgin Suicides” is taut and watchful from the first line, its mood a subtle synthesis of mystery and carnality. Like a myth, the novel imposes its own logic. In telling the story of five teenage sisters who kill themselves under the rapt gaze of the neighborhood boys, Eugenides showed a willingness to push to extremes, and the skill to bring it off once he got there. The book reminds me of Marilynne Robinson’s “Housekeeping,” another flaying first novel, both of them imagistically obsessive, spiritually uncompromising stories of water, light, death and girls.

You almost can’t believe the same person is responsible for “Middlesex.” Clanking prose, clunky exposition, transparent devices, telegraphed moves — the novel is “Midnight’s Children” without the magic, the intellect or the grand historical occasion, a hash of narrative contrivances with very little on its mind. In making these judgments, of course — the novel was a huge best seller and a Pulitzer Prize winner, to boot — I am joining a minority of perhaps no more than one. But I found the whole thing utterly unpersuasive. Take away its trendy theme and dollops of ethnic schmaltz (it could have been called “My Big Fat Greek Novel”), and “Middlesex” scarcely contains a single real character or genuine emotion.

“The Marriage Plot” is yet a new departure — daylight realism, like “Middlesex,” but far more intimate in tone and scale. Instead of three generations, it presents us with three characters, college students leaving Brown in 1982, the year before Eugenides did: Madeleine Hanna, a beautiful, uncertain WASP; Leonard Bankhead, her sometime boyfriend, brilliant, brooding, charismatic, poor; and Mitchell Grammaticus, authorial surrogate, a Greek from Grosse Pointe, Mich., who yearns in alternation for Madeleine and God. The novel starts the day the three graduate, returns to college to give us the back story, then follows their first year out. Mitchell heads to Europe and India, seeking sanctity; the others keep house on Cape Cod, where Leonard works in a genetics lab and Madeleine applies to graduate school.

by William Deresiewicz, NY Times |  Read more:
Image via: The Hairpin

George Tooker, Government Bureau (1956)

$100 Hand of Blackjack, Foxwoods Casino

I met Anthony in a poker game at the Diamond Club in New York City. He was fairly nondescript, just a normal everyday thirty-something white guy, business casual, head-down and putting-in-work in the pot-limit game. We were having a conversation around the table about blackjack. I had just made a comment about card counting when his head shot up.

“You count cards?” he asked me.

“A little,” I responded. I had no idea how to count cards. “Do you?”

“Do I!” He laughed.

It turns out Anthony, a finance industry flunky by day, had a small crew that hit Atlantic City and Foxwoods on the weekends and counted cards. He said a typical weekend haul was “nothing serious, maybe twenty or thirty grand.” It just so happened they were looking for some new talent and would I like to go to Foxwoods with them for the weekend and give it a shot? It sounded like an adventure. The fact that I had no idea how to count cards never entered in to my mind before I enthusiastically agreed.

Card counting isn’t mathematically very complicated. You keep a running tally in your head of the high cards versus the low cards. Low cards add to the tally, high cards subtract from it. The higher the number the more favorable the conditions for betting; the idea being that a shoe with a high concentration of high cards in it will deal out more winning hands than a shoe with low cards. There’s more complexity to it than this, but that’s the basic gist. I went to the bookstore and bought a book on counting called “Blackjack for Blood.” I practiced on decks of cards at home. I thought I had it down. I felt like I was ready. Once again my overconfidence was not only unfounded but about to get me in to trouble.

by David Hill, McSweeny's |  Read more:
Photo: Gammonish

Elwyn Lynn, Darkness at Noon, Mixed media, 175 x 175cm

Is America at a Digital Turning Point?

Americans love their online technology, but there may be a cost to their personal and professional lives.

A decade of studies by the USC Annenberg Center for the Digital Future creates a portrait of the American user of the Internet reaping the benefits of online activity, while at the same time paying a tremendous price in the form of time, privacy, and well-being.

“After 10 years of studies, we find that the strengths as well as the consequences of technology are more profound than ever,” said Jeffrey I. Cole, director of the Center for the Digital Future. “At one extreme, we see users with the ability to have constant social connection, unlimited access to information, and unprecedented buying power. At the other extreme, we find extraordinary demands on our time, major concerns about privacy and vital questions about the proliferation of technology – including a range of issues that didn’t exist 10 years ago.

“We believe that America is at a major digital turning point,” said Cole. “Simply, we find tremendous benefits in online technology, but we also pay a personal price for those benefits. The question is: how high a price are we willing to pay?”

The year-to-year comparisons in the Center’s Digital Future studies involve more than 100 major issues concerning the impact of online technology in the United States. Among the highlights of the findings, along with predictions by Cole for digital directions to come, are these nine major issues:

by USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism |  Read more:

The New Full Frontal

Meet Sophia Pinto: the 21st century's standard-issue, all-American perfect 10.

The 5-foot-5 Minnesota native -- a sly, funny, 22-year-old natural blonde who spends every summer bikini-clad on the shores of Lake Minnetonka -- works out five days a week. Her slim waist and megawatt smile hearken back to the polyvinyl glamour of the original Barbie doll.

In fact, if Mattel were to redesign Barbie based on the new millennium's ideal woman, she would likely resemble Pinto. Healthy, athletic, alluring, and smart (Pinto will graduate early this month from Northwestern University), she's both a role model and a sex symbol.

And if you were to undress Pinto, you'd find she embodies yet another trademark characteristic of the plastic glamour girl-turned-careerwoman: Like Barbie, Pinto has no pubic hair.

Every four to five weeks, the East Asian Studies major undergoes a cosmetic procedure known as a Brazilian wax. An esthetician pours wax heated to 140° F (roughly the temperature of a steak fresh off the grill) onto her labia and spreads it like butter on bread. Half a minute later, she swiftly peels away the hardened wax -- and with it, a full crop of pubic hair, freshly ripped from the follicles.

If you're squeamishly wondering how much the college senior gets paid for submitting to these weird acts of perverse, pornographic violence, brace yourself for the truly agonizing part: It's actually Pinto who shells out the cash, paying her regular waxer, Anna, more than $65 every time. But it beats the ingrown hairs and razor bumps that come from shaving, she says.

Sound excruciating? Sure is, says Pinto, who pops two Advil before each appointment. But grooming habits like hers hardly raise an eyebrow among the under-30 set. Today, it's all but commonplace for women to go to extreme measures to get bald, pre-pubescent nether regions: Indiana University researchers Debby Herbenick and Vanessa Schick found in a recent study that nearly 60 percent of American women between 18 and 24 are sometimes or always completely bare down there, while almost half of women in the U.S. between 25 and 29 reported similar habits. Herbenick's numbers show a clear-cut trend: More women lack pubic hair than ever before.

What's happening to America's vaginas? Is pubic hair going extinct?

by Ashley Fetters, The Atlantic |  Read more:
Painting: Francisco de Goya, La Maja Desnuda, 1797

Tour De Gall

As you know, it was Thomas Gold Appleton, Longfellow’s brother-in-law, who said, “Good Americans, when they die, go to Paris.” He failed to add that, prior to joining the choir eternal, good Americans all go to eat at L’Ami Louis. Presidents, movie stars, C.E.O.’s, playboys, and Woody Allen all make their way to a little bistro on a side street near the old market of Les Halles. It’s not just good Americans—fat Englishmen are drawn to L’Ami Louis. Two nations, separated by a common language and a mutual antipathy to each other’s cuisine, are joined in an appetite for L’Ami Louis.

In all my years as a restaurant critic I have learned that there is a certain type of florid, blowsy, patrician Brit who will sidle up and bellow, with a fruity bluster, that if I ever happen to find myself in Paris (as if Paris were a cul-de-sac on a shortcut to somewhere else) there is this little place he knows, proper French, none of your nouvelle nonsense, bloody fantastic foie gras, and roast chicken like Bridget Bardot’s tits, and that I should go. But, they add, don’t bloody write about it. We don’t want Monsieur Yank and his good lady wife turning up in droves. It’s called …

I know what it’s called. L’Ami Louis. I ask the hotel concierge at Le Meurice to book a table for lunch. “L’Ami Louis,” he says, with a pitiful sadness. “It’s always L’Ami Louis for les Anglais.

What you actually find when you arrive at L’Ami Louis is singularly unprepossessing. It’s a long, dark corridor with luggage racks stretching the length of the room. It gives you the feeling of being in a second-class railway carriage in the Balkans. It’s painted a shiny, distressed dung brown. The cramped tables are set with labially pink cloths, which give it a colonic appeal and the awkward sense that you might be a suppository. In the middle of the room is a stubby stove that also looks vaguely proctological.

by A.A. Gill, Vanity Fair |  Read more:
Photograph by Ed Alcock/The New York Times

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Song

She was his girl; he was her boyfriend
She'd be his wife and make him her husband
A surprise on the way, any day, any day
One healthy little giggling dribbling baby boy
The wise men came, three made their way
To shower him with love
While he lay in the hay
Shower him with love love love
Love love love
Love love was all around

Not very much of his childhood was known
Kept his mother Mary worried
Always out on his own
He met another Mary who for a reasonable fee,
less than reputable was known to be.

His heart full of love love love
Love love love
Love love was all around

When Jesus Christ was nailed to his tree
Said "oh, Daddy-o, I can see how it all soon will be
I came to shed a little light on this darkening scene
Instead I fear I've spilled the blood of my children all around"

The blood of my children all around
The blood of my children's all around

So I'm told, so the story goes
The people he knew were
Less than golden hearted
Gamblers and Robbers
Drinkers and Jokers, all soul searchers
Like you and me
Like you and me

Rumors insisted he soon would be
For his deviations
Taken into custody
By the authorities less informed than he.
Drinkers and Jokers all soul searchers
Searching for love love love
Love love love
Love love was all around

Preparations were made
For his celebration day
He said "eat this bread and think of it as me
Drink this wine and dream it will be
The blood of our children all around
The blood of our children's all around
The blood of our children all around

Father up above, why in all this hatred do you fill
Me up with love, love, love
Love love love
Love love was all around
Father up above, why in all this hatred do you fill
Me up with love, fill me love love love
Love love love
all you need is love
you can't buy me love
Love love love
Love love
And the blood of our children's all around

Weight Watchers Revamps Its Magic Formula

Like many Weight Watchers members, David Kirchhoff has a Before picture and an After picture. In the Before, he looks jolly but hefty, all cheeks and jowls, the result of years of eating obliviously. A 32-year-old with a biomedical engineering degree from Duke, an MBA from the University of Chicago, and a job as a management consultant, he’s clearly been paying more attention to his studies and advancement than his appearance or health. Things aren’t so bad that he would get the Kevin Smith treatment from Southwest Airlines, but it’s easy to imagine him breaking into a sweat carrying a pint of Ben & Jerry’s up a flight of stairs. He’ll soon be diagnosed with high blood pressure and high cholesterol. His doctor suggests a statin.

Now the After, more than a decade later: close-cropped blond hair, 34-inch waist, and 15 percent body fat on his 6′ 3″ frame. In a form-fitting suit, the 45-year-old father of two cuts the figure of a Marine sergeant 20 years his junior. This is a picture of a man in control.

Kirchhoff’s tale of weight gain is a common one. Between the end of high school and his midthirties, a slowing metabolism, changing lifestyle, and some disposable income all conspired to reshape his body. Looking back, it’s not hard to see where things went wrong. “In college, it was all-you-can-eat—10,000 gallons of beer, pizza, the whole thing,” he recalls. “Then I got a job with a lot of traveling. There was life on the road, room service. It became really easy to have any kind of awesome food any time I wanted. Take-out Chinese, delivery Chinese, deep-dish Chicago pizza, barbecue, huge breakfasts. There was literally no restraint. If you look at my swing from high school to my peak, it’s about 75 pounds.”

Unlike most, however, Kirchhoff found his way back to fighting trim. He entirely credits Weight Watchers. Walking the aisles of a mom-and-pop grocery store in Manhattan’s Flatiron District, he parses the contents of the shelves to demonstrate what the company taught him about the effect of various foods on his body. Chips, pretzels, prepared meals loaded with oils and butter, blue cheese dressing: all obviously evil. Orange juice, sun-dried tomatoes, and hummus: surprisingly bad. Then there’s the good stuff: any (nonprocessed) fruit and (nonstarchy) vegetables, shellfish, and whole-grain bread, as well as chicken sausage, flank steak, skinless turkey breast, and pork tenderloin. “You know what’s funny? People tend to run away from bacon, but it’s not bad,” he says, picking up a vacuum-sealed package in the meat case and tapping the nutritional information into a calculator app on his iPhone. “And turkey bacon is a great deal.”

If Kirchhoff sounds like the perfect spokesperson for Weight Watchers, it’s no accident. He’s not just one of the dieting giant’s million-odd members around the globe, he’s the guy in charge: In 2006, he became the company’s president and CEO. And lately he’s been guiding the sprawling enterprise through a sort of renaissance.

In the past year, Kirchhoff has crafted a corporate After picture as impressive as his own. In the midst of protracted economic malaise, he’s boosted online membership by 64 percent and increased attendance at North American meetings by 14 percent. He’s breathed new life into the brand, posted impressive revenue and profit growth, and doubled the company’s market cap to, as of mid November, roughly $5 billion.

The story of how he’s managed to do all this starts with Kirchhoff ripping out the foundation of Weight Watchers in the name of science. Actually, it starts with a hunch that the science underlying the company’s venerable weight-loss formula—the very formula that helped Kirchhoff lose all that weight and made his own After picture possible—was flawed.

by Jeffrey M. O'Brien, Wired |  Read more: 
Photo: Bela Borsodi; food styling: Karen Evans; retouching: Flavored by Dippin' Sauce

Photo: markk

Why Pilot Projects Fail

This is one more installment in a continuing series, brought to you by the universe, entitled "promising pilot projects often don't scale".  They don't scale for corporations, and they don't scale for government agencies.  They don't scale even when you put super smart people with expert credentials in charge of them.  They don't scale even when you make sure to provide ample budget resources.  Rolling something out across an existing system is substantially different from even a well run test, and often, it simply doesn't translate.

Sometims the "success" of the earlier project was simply a result of random chance, or what researchers call the Hawthorne Effect.  The effect is named after a factory outside of Chicago which ran tests to see whether workers were more productive at higher or lower levels of light.  When researchers raised the lights, productivity went up.  When researchers lowered the lights, productivity also went up.  Obviously, it wasn't the light that boosted productivity, but something else--the change from the ordinary, or the mere act of being studied.

Sometimes the success was due to what you might call a "hidden parameter", something that researchers don't realize is affecting their test.   Remember the New Coke debacle?  That was not a hasty, ill-thought out decision by managers who didn't care about their brand.  They did the largest market research study in history, and repeated it several times, before they made the switch.  People invariably told researchers they loved the stuff.  And they did, in the taste test.  But they didn't love the stuff when it cost them the option of drinking old Coke.  More importantly, they were being offered a three-ounce cup of the stuff in a shopping mall lobby or supermarket parking lot, often after they'd spent an hour or so shopping.  New Coke was sweeter, so (like Pepsi before it) it won the taste test.  But that didn't mean that people wanted to drink a whole can of the stuff with a meal.
by Meagan McArdle, The Atlantic |  Read more:
Photo: Paxton Holley via Flickr

Smoke Screening

Not until I walked with Bruce Schneier toward the mass of people unloading their laptops did it occur to me that it might not be possible for us to hang around unnoticed near Reagan National Airport’s security line. Much as upscale restaurants hang mug shots of local food writers in their kitchens, I realized, the Transportation Security Administration might post photographs of Schneier, a 48-year-old cryptographer and security technologist who is probably its most relentless critic. In addition to writing books and articles, Schneier has a popular blog; a recent search for “TSA” in its archives elicited about 2,000 results, the vast majority of which refer to some aspect of the agency that he finds to be ineffective, invasive, incompetent, inexcusably costly, or all four.

As we came by the checkpoint line, Schneier described one of these aspects: the ease with which people can pass through airport security with fake boarding passes. First, scan an old boarding pass, he said—more loudly than necessary, it seemed to me. Alter it with Photoshop, then print the result with a laser printer. In his hand was an example, complete with the little squiggle the T.S.A. agent had drawn on it to indicate that it had been checked. “Feeling safer?” he asked.

Ten years ago, 19 men armed with utility knives hijacked four airplanes and within a few hours killed nearly 3,000 people. At a stroke, Americans were thrust into a menacing new world. “They are coming after us,” C.I.A. director George Tenet said of al-Qaeda. “They intend to strike this homeland again, and we better get about the business of putting the right structure in place as fast as we can.”

The United States tried to do just that. Federal and state governments embarked on a nationwide safety upgrade. Checkpoints proliferated in airports, train stations, and office buildings. A digital panopticon of radiation scanners, chemical sensors, and closed-circuit television cameras audited the movements of shipping containers, airborne chemicals, and ordinary Americans. None of this was or will be cheap. Since 9/11, the U.S. has spent more than $1.1 trillion on homeland security.

To a large number of security analysts, this expenditure makes no sense. The vast cost is not worth the infinitesimal benefit. Not only has the actual threat from terror been exaggerated, they say, but the great bulk of the post-9/11 measures to contain it are little more than what Schneier mocks as “security theater”: actions that accomplish nothing but are designed to make the government look like it is on the job. In fact, the continuing expenditure on security may actually have made the United States less safe.

by Charles C. Mann, Vanity Fair |  Read more:
Photo: Tim Boyle/Getty Images.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


Well, my internet connection seems not to be as reliable as I thought. Intermittent posts until I can get things fixed, thanks for your patience.


The Overjustification Effect

The Misconception: There is nothing better in the world than getting paid to do what you love.

The Truth: Getting paid for doing what you already enjoy will sometimes cause your love for the task to wane because you attribute your motivation as coming from the reward, not your internal feelings.

Money isn’t everything. Money can’t buy happiness. Don’t live someone else’s dream. Figure out what you love and then figure out how to get paid doing it.

Maxims like these often find their way into your social media; they arrive in your electronic mailbox at the ends of dense chains of forwards. They bubble up from the collective sighs of well-paid boredom around the world and get routinely polished for presentation in graduation speeches and church sermons.

Money, fame, and prestige – they dangle just outside your reach it seems, encouraging you to lean farther and farther over the edge, to study longer and longer, to work harder and harder. When someone reminds you that acquiring currency while ignoring all else shouldn’t be your primary goal in life, it feels good. You retweet it. You post it on your wall. You forward it, and then you go back to work.

If only science had something concrete to say about the whole thing, you know? All these living greeting cards dispensing wisdom are great and all, but what about really putting money to the test? Does money buy happiness? In 2010, scientists published the results of a study looking into that very question.

The research by Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, analyzed the lives and incomes of nearly half-a-million randomly selected U.S. citizens. They dug through the subjects’ lives searching for indicators of something psychologists call “emotional well being,” a clinical term for how often you feel peaks and valleys like “joy, stress, sadness, anger and affection” and to what degree you feel those things daily. In other words, they measured how happy or sad people were over time compared to how much cash they brought home. They did this by checking if the subjects were consistently able to experience the richness of existence, by whether they were tasting the poetic marrow of life.

The researchers discovered money is indeed a major factor in day-to-day happiness. No surprise there. You need to make a certain amount, on average, to be able to afford food, shelter, clothing, entertainment and the occasional Apple product, but what spun top hats around the country was their finding that beyond a certain point your happiness levels off. The happiness money offers doesn’t keep getting more and more potent – it plateaus. The research showed that a lack of money brings unhappiness, but an overabundance does not have the opposite effect.

According to the research, in modern America the average income required to be happy day-to-day, to experience “emotional well being” is about $75,000 a year. According to the researchers, past that point adding more to your income “does nothing for happiness, enjoyment, sadness, or stress.” A person who makes, on average, $250,000 a year has no greater emotional well-being, no extra day-to-day happiness, than a person making $75,000 a year. In Mississippi it is a bit less, in Chicago a bit more, but the point is there is evidence for the existence of a financiohappiness ceiling. The super-wealthy may believe they are happier, and you may agree, but you both share a delusion.

by You Are Not So Smart |  Read more:
Illustration: Benedikte on Flickr

How Does the Brain Perceive Art?

In 1995, the Metropolitan Museum of Art mounted a controversial exhibition entitled “Rembrandt/Not Rembrandt,” in which works considered to be genuine Rembrandts were displayed alongside those done by his students and admirers. (These lesser paintings are often dismissed as “the school of Rembrandt.”) The point of the exhibition was to reveal the fine line between genius and imitation, authenticity and fakery.

A hundred years ago, about 700 works were attributed to Rembrandt. Over the course of the 20th century, that number declined by 50 percent, as critics and historians began searching for those tell-tale marks that distinguish the old master from his young pupils. Such critical distinctions have massive financial consequences: While a painting by celebrated Rembrandt pupil William Drost might sell for a few hundred thousand dollars — his best canvases can go for a couple million — a genuine Rembrandt is worth many times more. In 2009, a lesser Rembrandt portrait sold for $33 million.

What accounts for this staggering difference in value? One possibility, of course, is that there’s something inherently special about a real Rembrandt, that the Dutch painter filled his art with discernible flourishes that can be detected by observers. Although we might not be able to explain these minor differences, we still appreciate them at an unconscious level, which is why we hang Rembrandts in the Met and consign his imitators to the basement. Great art is not an accident. The second possibility is that our aesthetic judgements are really complicated. While Rembrandt was an astonishingly talented artist, our response to his art is conditioned by all sorts of variables that have nothing to do with oil paint. Many of these variables are capable of distorting our perceptions, so that we imagine differences that don’t actually exist; the verdict of art history warps what we see. The power of a Rembrandt, in other words, is inseparable from the fact that it’s a Rembrandt. The man is a potent brand.

by Jonah Lehrer, Wired |  Read more:
Top image: An authentic self portrait of Rembrandt. (Wikipedia/CC-licensed)

Jon Corzine, MF Global, and Unaccountability

[ed. The Sargent Schultz defense - 'I know nothing!']

In April 2007, former New Jersey governor, 'honorable', Jon Corzine had an altercation with a Garden State Parkway guardrail. A year later, he addressed a bevy of reporters at the swanky Drumthwacket mansion and expressed appreciation for “family, friends, and the fragility of life.” During his recovery period, he advocated seatbelt safety, before returning to New Jersey's budget, extracting $500 million in austerity measures from farmers, educators, and environmentalists, and hiking tolls on New Jersey roadways.

On the one-year anniversary of his accident, his chief-of-staff, Bradley I. Abelow declared, “Corzine has returned to his former self as a thorough and exacting boss.” (Italics mine.)

Fast forward to the current MF Global flameout. Abelow shifted to Corzine’s Chief Operating Officer. And not only did Corzine ratchet up the ante on ways to really piss off farmers, but after several days of engaging in verbal dodge ball with Congress, this ‘thorough and exacting boss’ maintained his Forest Gump type cloak of secrecy regarding the stolen $1.2 billion of his customers’ segregated money.

After days of political-reality TV, we knew nothing more about its evaporation. Corzine and his stewards, Abelow and Chief Financial Officer, Henri Steenkamp, executed a perfect chorus of ‘I don’t recalls’, ‘I didn’t intends’ and ‘the butler did its’.

For the most part, testimony from the various regulators didn’t shed additional light on the ‘missing’ funds either (everyone’s extremely sorry and deep in search mode) but they did reveal extreme, pass-the-blame incompetence, in the spirit of AIG.

Acronym alert. SEC director, Robert Cook testified that MF Global Holding Company (like AIG) had no official consolidated supervisor regulating it; one of its subsidiaries, MF Global UK Limited, fell under the UK Financial Services Authority (FSA.) The other one, MF Global Inc. (MFGI) was registered under the Commodity Futures Trade Commission (CFTC) as a FCM (futures commission merchant) and also, under the SEC as a broker-dealer. It was the Chicago Board of Options Exchange (CBOE) supposedly overseeing MFGI’s broker-dealer activities, while its futures activities fell under the CFTC, National Futures Association and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME). Somewhere in the mix lurked the private self-regulatory body, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). Really, how many inept regulatory bodies does it take to screw customers out of $1.2 billion?

But, here’s how we know Corzine was lying – besides the nervous body movements.

by Nomi Prins |  Read more: