Friday, August 31, 2012

Insane, True Energy Fact of the Day

Exit signs are so ubiquitous that they're almost invisible. Every public building has them. In fact, they are so common that, taken together, these little signs consume a surprisingly large amount of energy.
Each one uses relatively little electricity, but they are on all the time. And we have a lot of them in our schools, factories, and office buildings. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that there are more than 100 million exit signs in use today in the U.S., consuming 30–35 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity annually. 
That’s the output of five or six 1,000 MW power plants, and it costs us $2-3 billion per year. Individual buildings may have thousands of exit signs in operation.
To put this into a bigger context: This is just one small part of what makes buildings, in general, incredibly energy intense. In the United States, we use more energy powering our buildings—from the lights, to the heating, to the stuff we plug into the walls—than we use to do anything else. Because of that (and because of the fact that electricity is mostly made by burning coal or natural gas) buildings produce more greenhouse gas emissions than cars.

Read more about the energy consumption of exit signs and how we can use less energy, while still getting the same services, at Green Building Advisor

Take a look at some stats on energy use in buildings at the Architecture 2030 website

by Maggie Koerth-Baker, Boing Boing |  Read here:
Image: Exit Sign, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from mtellin's photostream

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Iris, Denne 1871~1940

What Happens to Stolen Bicycles?

It seems as if stealing bikes shouldn’t be a lucrative form of criminal activity. Used bikes aren’t particularly liquid or in demand compared to other things one could steal (phones, electronics, drugs). And yet, bikes continue to get stolen so they must be generating sufficient income for thieves. What happens to these stolen bikes and how to they get turned into criminal income?

The Depth of the Problem

In San Francisco, if you ever leave your bike unlocked, it will be stolen. If you use a cable lock to secure your bike, it will be stolen at some point. Unless you lock your bike with medieval-esque u-locks, your bike will be stolen from the streets of most American cities. Even if you take these strong precautions, your bike may still get stolen.

According the National Bike Registry and FBI, $350 million in bicycles are stolen in the United States each year. Beyond the financial cost of the crime, it’s heartbreaking to find out someone stole your bike; bikers love their bikes. (...)

An Economic Theory of Bike Crime

In 1968, Chicago economist Gary Becker introduced the notion that criminal behavior could be modeled using conventional economic theories. Criminals were just rational actors engaged in a careful cost-benefit analysis of whether to commit a crime. Is the potential revenue from the crime greater than the probability adjusted weight of getting caught? Or, as the antagonist in the movie The Girl Next Door puts it, “Is the juice worth the squeeze?”

Criminal activity (especially crime with a clear economic incentive like theft) could therefore be modeled like any financial decision on a risk reward curve. If you are going to take big criminal risk, you need to expect a large financial reward. Crimes that generate more reward than the probability weighted cost of getting caught create expected value for the criminal. Criminals try to find “free lunches” where they can generate revenue with little risk. The government should respond by increasing the penalty for that activity so that the market equilibrates and there is an “optimal” amount of crime.

Using this risk-return framework for crime, it begins to be clear why there is so much bike theft. For all practical purposes, stealing a bike is risk-free crime. It turns out there is a near zero chance you will be caught stealing a bike (see here) and if you are, the consequences are minimal.

There are a few great accounts of journalists getting their bikes stolen and then going on a zealous mission to try to capture bikes thieves (see here and here). In each account, they ultimately learn from local police that the penalty for stealing a bike is generally nothing.
“We make it easy for them. The DA doesn’t do tough prosecutions. All the thieves we’ve busted have got probation. They treat it like a petty crime.” 
“You can’t take six people off a murder to investigate a bike theft.”
Bike thievery is essentially a risk-free crime. If you were a criminal, that might just strike your fancy. If Goldman Sachs didn’t have more profitable market inefficencies to exploit, they might be out there arbitraging stolen bikes.

What Happens to the Stolen Bikes?

Just because the risk of a crime is zero, that doesn’t mean that a criminal will engage in that crime. If that were the case, thieves would go about stealing dandelions and day-old newspapers. There has to be customer demand and a liquid market for the product in order for the criminal to turn their contraband into revenue. So, how exactly does a criminal go about converting a stolen bicycle to cash?

We decided to survey the prior literature on where stolen bikes are sold as well as consult with bike shops and experts in San Francisco to get a better picture of who steals bikes and where the stolen bikes end up.

by Rohin Dahr, Priceonomics |  Read more:

Fellowship of the Ring

copperplate print with chine colle’( etching)
林孝彦 HAYASHI Takahiko 1990


When you turn twenty-seven you start noticing the number, everywhere. Suddenly everyone else is twenty-seven, too: Every athlete and actor, all of the dead people who ever did anything. Your age is everywhere because you, at twenty-seven, are perfect. Just there. Just where you are right now: educated, but no longer preachy; fuckable, without being whiny; mature, and not yet fat. Never change.

At least, that's what you feel like America keeps telling you.

An old Esquire article, randomly stumbled across, only confirms that you weren't imagining things. This ode to "The 27-Year-Old Woman" is a love-letter to your agesake, half lust and half lecture, written waaaaaay back in 1999: "They are all twenty-seven… They always were twenty-seven, and they always will be, at the moment they are both young enough and old enough to teach you the meaning of heartbreak…" It goes on to list all the twenty-seven-year-olds who ever charmed.

Because yes, everything America mythicizes and celebrates and destroys is twenty-seven and has always been twenty-seven: Ingrid Bergman, in Casablanca; Heather Graham, in Boogie Nights; Marilyn Monroe in Gentleman Prefer Blondes; Jemima Kirke, in "Girls"; and every other actress expected to be a sexual prize for the first 89 minutes and believably settled down in the final frame.

The twenty-seven-year-old can accomplish anything: Yuri Gagarin orbited at age 27; Flannery O'Connor published Wise Blood and Hemingway The Sun Also Rises—their debuts. Think of Ryan Lochte v. Michael Phelps just last month when both were 27, or LeBron James, 27. This is the year at which baseball players ripen, like cantaloupes, their desirability on fantasy rosters spiking (think Matt Kemp, Prince Fielder). And it's not because they're so good (Delmon Young, 27) but because next season, they
settle in; because twenty-seven's home runs and "Play-it-Again-Sams" wax into twenty-eight's solid OBPs and loveless marriages.

At least that's what Julia Roberts' character thinks in My Best Friend's Wedding, which is predicated on two friends promising that if they are not engaged to others by twenty-eight, they'll marry. I watched it while eating a pint of Ben & Jerry's (founded by two twenty-seven-year-olds) and wept: twenty-seven is the last year of romance, ego, mania. It's the last year of Bold Moves. It's the age of the real man of the hour, Christian Grey, who at twenty-seven jumps out of the playpen and into the arms of boring Anastasia. How mature.

And so of course that's why at twenty-seven our musicians sign up for the "27 Club": Winehouse, Cobain, Robert Johnson… Because if you listen to the culture, twenty-seven is where you are most beautiful and where you destroy yourself; it is for Physical Peaks and Physical Destruction, it is for Olympic Lap Lanes and Public Funerals.

by Adriane Quinlan, The Awl |  Read more:

How to Make Your Lost Phone Findable

Last week, I lost my iPhone on a train. I used Apple’s Find My iPhone feature to track it to a house in suburban Maryland, and the local police were able to return it to me. Because I’d tweeted about these developments, the quest for the phone became, much to my surprise, an Internet-wide, minute-by-minute real-life thriller. (You can read the whole story here.)

Several readers wrote to ask how to set up their own phones to be findable. As you’d guess, given last week’s experience, I have some strong feelings about the importance of setting up Find My iPhone or the equivalent on Android phones.

First, though, some caveats.

These phone-tracking systems work only if your lost phone is turned on and online; if its battery is dead or it’s powered off, it can’t see the Internet and can’t show you its location.

Furthermore, professionals know about Find my iPhone. As soon as they steal a phone, they connect it to a computer running the iTunes program and wipe it, so that Find My iPhone won’t work anymore.

All right — duly warned? Here’s how you set things up. iPhone first.

by David Pogue, NY Times |  Read more: 
Image via: Wikipedia

Defining Nature: How to Annoy E.O. Wilson

My friend Emma Marris wrestles with giant Burmese pythons. Well, OK, not literally. But in her book Rambunctious Garden (which you should all read this very minute), she takes on the long-held idea of nature as a pristine, unspoiled, and distant place.

She asks if we can learn to see nature almost everywhere — in highway medians, “trash forests,” even an Everglades infested with exotic, predatory snakes. She argues that while we can and should continue to push for the protection of large, relatively unaltered landscapes, we shouldn’t necessarily try to restore them to pre-Columbian conditions — and we definitely shouldn’t allow the fight for big parks and wildernesses to limit our notion of nature. For if we see nature only as a place apart from us, she says, we’ve already lost it to climate change and any number of other forces. And who wants to join a lost cause?

This summer, Emma had another public wrestling match, not with a Burmese python but with the preeminent biologist and conservationist E.O. Wilson.

During a panel at the Aspen Environment Forum in Colorado, as she describes here, Emma piqued Wilson with her talk of making more nature — of expanding our definition of the natural world to include places humans have invaded, altered, and restored. Spending billions trying to return coastal areas like the Everglades to pre-Columbian “purity,” she added, is a lost cause. Better to invest in upslope reserves, and perhaps even learn to admire the tenacity of invasive species.

“Where do you plant the white flag that you’re carrying?” Wilson asked irritably.

Emma, who got the last word, quoted Joseph Mascaro, an ecologist she interviewed for her book. Mascaro studies the ecological attributes of “novel” ecosystems heavily influenced by human activities. “When people accuse him of admitting defeat,” said Emma, “he says, ‘I never took up arms. I’m playing a different game here.’” His message, she says, is “I’m here for nature, not for 1491.”

Me, I had the luxury of watching from the audience. At times, Emma and Wilson seemed to be arguing over a false dichotomy. After all, both spoke passionately about the importance of all types of nature, from macro to micro to humble to grand, and they agreed that all deserve appreciation. What’s so wrong with defending a few pythons, then, especially if it means bringing nature a little closer to our everyday experience?

But from Wilson’s perspective, Emma’s view is heretical. By arguing that the project of conservation should extend from the peaks of national parks into the sloughs of Seattle, protecting different places in different ways for different reasons, Emma risks diluting its urgency. If nature really is found almost everywhere, one might well wonder why we need to work so damn hard to save the best bits.

by  Michelle Nijhuis,  The Last Word On Nothing |  Read more:
Photo: Urban Nature

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Lin Decai(林 德才 Chinese, b.1948)

Medicine Cabinet Bread

Kenji Aoki

During a Heart Attack, Dial 911 and Chew an Aspirin


Last week the entertainer Rosie O’Donnell surprised fans when she announced that she recently had a heart attack.

Ms. O’Donnell wrote on her blog that she felt an ache in her chest and soreness in her arms, followed by nausea and a “clammy” feeling. She took an aspirin, she said, but decided against calling 911. The next day she went to a hospital, where she learned one of her coronary arteries was 99 percent blocked, requiring a stent.

“I am lucky to be here,” she wrote. “Know the symptoms, ladies.”

Studies show that for men and women, the symptoms can differ. Men are more likely to experience the classic signs, like chest pain, shortness of breath and radiating pain in the neck and arms. Women are more likely to experience severe fatigue, indigestion and cold sweats.

Despite the differences, the response should be the same: Immediately call 911, then chew an aspirin, said Dr. Noel Bairey Merz, director of the Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Center at the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles.

Some people may suspect that chewing an aspirin, which inhibits platelet activity that could block arteries during an attack, makes little difference. But a study in The American Journal of Cardiology highlighted its importance. In a group of 12 subjects tested in a laboratory, chewing an aspirin tablet for 30 seconds before swallowing on an empty stomach prompted a 50 percent reduction in platelet activity in five minutes. It took 12 minutes to achieve the same effect when the aspirin was swallowed whole.

Dr. Merz said people who suspect they are having an attack should chew one full-strength tablet, which is 325 milligrams. But most important, she added, is to “get to an emergency room.”


If you experience symptoms of a heart attack, dial 911 first, then chew on an aspirin.

by Anahad O'Connor, NY Times |  Read here:

A Portrait of David Foster Wallace as a Midwestern Author

[ed. See also: this excerpt describing DFW on the brink of writing Infinite Jest, all the more interesting if you've read Mary Karr's stunning memoir Lit.]

Where were you when the first plane hit the World Trade Center? David Foster Wallace—the experimental novelist who grew up in Illinois; who wrote Infinite Jest, which established him as the most influential author of his generation; and who committed suicide in 2008 at the age of 46—was in the shower of his Bloomington-Normal home, listening to a Bears postmortem on WSCR.

Wallace, who didn't own a TV, ended up at the house of Mrs. Thompson—"one of the world's cooler seventy-four-year-olds," as he put it an essay about that day for Rolling Stone. Most readers remark on Wallace's page-long sentences, his rococo vocabulary, his infamous footnotes, but his best work has always depended on its smaller, more intimate details. And in writing about that morning with Mrs. Thompson and some ladies from the church they both attended, he gets the details exactly right: the way the living room was decorated with knit samplers and a mallard wall clock; the way the small-town newspaper proceeded to trip all over itself (the next day's headline: "ISU PROFESSOR: B-N NOT A LIKELY TARGET"); the way the women, whose sense of New York came entirely from TV, didn't realize how far south the Financial District was until Wallace stepped in and calmed down the one whose grandniece was interning in the Time-Life Building.

It all adds up to a terrific, tangible picture of what 9/11 felt like in a place like Bloomington-Normal. And yet, reading it today, one can't help but wonder: Why on earth was David Foster Wallace living and showering in central Illinois? The state has nurtured more than its share of great authors, from Ernest Hemingway to Richard Wright, but then they move away. There's something surprising about a writer like Wallace (and let's finish filling in his trophy case: a MacArthur "genius" grant; short stories in every magazine you can think of; and The Pale King, a posthumous novel and one of three finalists for this year's Pulitzer) living anywhere other than New York.

So how did growing up in the midwest shape Wallace's work? And what about his decision to return to it? He wrote superbly about the region, with his essay on Mrs. Thompson being a perfect example. But what if there's more to it than that?

With the publication of D. T. Max's Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story, the first full biography of Wallace, we can start to answer such questions. In 2009, Max wrote a very good profile of the author for the New Yorker, and his book makes it even clearer that, from the beginning, Wallace struggled with his mental health—that he was always the smartest kid in the room, and also the most troubled. (...)

By the time he enrolled in high school, Wallace was smoking prodigious amounts of pot. It made tennis and any other high-level cardio impossible, but at least it calmed him down. He had begun suffering from occasional anxiety attacks and a near-constant sense of self-loathing. "Feet too thin and narrow," he wrote in one early note dug up by Max. "Thighs squnch out repulsively."

One day, around the same time, Wallace asked his father what he did for work. The professor handed his son some Plato, and they began to work through it. "I had never had an undergraduate student who caught on so quickly," his father would later say. "This was this first time I realized what a phenomenal mind David had."

It's no surprise, then, that when Wallace got to Amherst, his father's alma mater, he won more awards and prizes than any student in the college's nearly 200-year history. Max's account of Wallace the student provides some of his book's best passages. Far from home, the young polymath began to stand out, studying with his dad's former profs and even writing a senior thesis on philosophy. But he also discovered fiction. Max tells one story about a friend tossing Wallace a copy of Thomas Pynchon's postmodern satire The Crying of Lot 49—"like Bob Dylan finding Woody Guthrie," in the words of Mark Costello, another student and one of Wallace's two best friends. Wallace ended up writing a second senior thesis, a novel called The Great Ohio Desert, working the whole time with a picture of Pynchon pinned up on the wall.

The writing went so rapturously that Wallace told Costello, "I can't feel my ass in the chair." But his time at Amherst also included much despair. Wallace dropped out for a full semester not once but twice, and in the summer after graduation, in 1985, another breakdown sent him to a psychiatric unit. By this point, he had been diagnosed with clinical depression—the "festering pus-swollen c[h]ancre at the center of my brain," as he put it to one friend—and prescribed an antidepressant known as Nardil.

The patterns Wallace established at Amherst would haunt him the rest of his life: binges of incredible productivity followed by deep sloughs of sadness (and by nasty addictions to drugs, alcohol, and sex). He would win a fellowship to the University of Arizona's creative-writing program, then publish The Broom of the System, a revision of The Great Ohio Desert, before even finishing. But a breakdown would follow, with Wallace trying to kill himself via overdose in 1988. He would line up a second book, a collection of short stories titled Girl With Curious Hair, then head off to Harvard's PhD program in philosophy. But a breakdown would follow, with Wallace ending up in Boston's McLean Hospital.

by Criag Fehrman, Chicago Reader |  Read more:

How Google and Apple's Digital Mapping is Mapping Us

Over the last few years, at the kinds of conferences where the world's technological elite gathers to mainline caffeine and determine the course of history, Google has entertained the crowds with a contraption it calls Liquid Galaxy. It consists of eight large LCD screens, turned on their ends and arranged in a circle, with a joystick at the centre. The screens display vivid satellite imagery from Google Earth, and the joystick permits three-dimensional "flight", so that stepping inside Liquid Galaxy feels like boarding your own personal UFO, in which you can zoom from the darkness of space down to the ocean's surface, cruising low over deserts, or inspecting the tops of skyscrapers. (The illusion of real movement is powerful; your legs may tremble.) You can swoop down to street-level in Cape Town, spot ships in the Mekong river, or lose yourself in the whiteness of Antarctica.

But you don't, of course. What you do – or what I did, anyway, but watch anyone using Google Earth for the first time, and you'll see they do the equivalent – is to hurtle across continents to the semi-detached house on the outskirts of York where you grew up, to peer down at a street you know well. In an era of previously unimagined opportunities for exploring the far-off and strange, we want mainly to stare at ourselves.

It is a testament to the rate of change in the world of mapping, though, that Liquid Galaxy is now essentially old hat. Google has much, much bigger plans. In June it revealed that it had already started using planes – "military-grade spy planes", the New York senator Charles Schumer claimed – to provide more detailed 3D imagery of the world's big cities. It also unveiled the Street View Trekker, a bulky backpack with several 15-megapixel cameras protruding on a stalk, so that operatives can capture "offroad" imagery from hiking trails, narrow alleyways or the forest floor. Almost every month, new kinds of data are incorporated into Google Maps: in June, it was 2,000 miles of British canal towpaths, complete with bridges and locks; it was bike lanes. And for the first time, Google's dominance of digital mapping faces a credible threat: Apple has announced that it will no longer include Google Maps on iPhones or iPads, replacing it with an alternative that, an Apple source told the tech blog All Things D, "will blow your head off".

"I honestly think we're seeing a more profound change, for mapmaking, than the switch from manuscript to print in the Renaissance," says the University of London cartographic historian Jerry Brotton. "That was huge. But this is bigger." The transition to print gave far more people access to maps. The transition to ubiquitous digital mapping accelerates and extends that development – but it is also transforming the roles that maps play in our lives.

The idea of a one-to-one scale map of the world, portraying everything in it, is a venerable device in literature, surfacing most famously in the work of Lewis Carroll and Jorge Luis Borges; in Harry Potter, there's a map that shows what everyone in Hogwarts is doing at every moment. But in the era of Street View Trekker and Liquid Galaxy, these fictional maps seem somewhat less absurd – and the level of detail is only one way in which maps are changing. Increasingly, the boundary between consulting a map and interacting with the world outside it is blurring: when Google glasses, currently in prototype, can project directions, or reviews of the restaurant you're looking at, directly into your visual field, what does the word "map" mean anymore? While researching his forthcoming book, A History of the World in Twelve Maps, Brotton sometimes brought up the "one-to-one map" idea, from Borges and Carroll, with people at Google, but they didn't find it particularly witty or intriguing.

"Oh, yeah," they would reply, matter-of-factly. "We can make that map."

by Oliver Burkeman, The Guardian |  Read more:

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Gould's Book of Fish

Sketch 11. Leafy sea dragon (mistitled, actually Weedy seadragon, Phyllopteryx taeniolatus

This painting done by William Buelow Gould is one out of his work Sketchbook of Fishes, done in 1832. What was most interesting was the circumstances of the artwork, produced while Gould was incarcerated at a penal colony at Macquarie Harbour, Tasmania for forging a bank note. Despite his life of crime, Gould was important as one of the first artists to document the fauna at the colony.

Source: Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts, Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office.


"Gould's Book of Fish'' is a novel about fish the way ''Moby-Dick'' is a novel about whales, or ''Ulysses'' is a novel about the events of a single day.

This remarkable book by the Tasmanian writer Richard Flanagan tells the story of a 19th-century forger and thief who was sentenced to 49 years in the notorious prison on Tasmania's Sarah Island, and who was ordered by the prison doctor to paint the varieties of local fish as part of a scientific survey. The fish Gould so obsessively paints -- in 12 different colors, 12 different moods -- become representative figures of the people he encounters on his travels, as well as symbolic renderings of his own most deeply held dreams and fears.

Yet the novel, which was inspired by a series of fish paintings made by a 19th-century convict and forger named William Buelow Gould, is not simply an imagined account of its hero's picaresque life. It is also a wondrous, phantasmagorical meditation on art and history and nature; a surreal examination of the parlous consequences of British colonialism and the ambivalent legacy of the French Enlightenment; a fantastic tale involving killer pigs, talking heads and Kublai Khan-esque palaces rising from the South Pacific sands. It is a novel that weds the cacophonous digressions and philosophical asides of ''Tristram Shandy'' to the magic realism of Gabriel García Márquez; a novel that welds a Joycean love of language to a billowing, Melvillian vision of the world.

by Michiko Kakutani, NY Times |  Read more:

The Best Night $500,000 Can Buy


When you see the entrance to Marquee at 11 P.M. on a Saturday, you know why the promoters call this process "bringing the shitshow." Massing out front were, by my estimation, at least 2,000 people. Packs of Asian bachelorettes sucking on cock-and-balls lollipops. Pods of probably either Libyan or Italian princes of the overclass in blazers and exposed solar plexuses and calfskin loafers and Adrian Grenier knit caps. Teams of 29-year-old white men in untucked dress shirts and heavy cuff links who stood stunned mute by the endless throng of women wearing almost identical vagina-length dresses that perpetually seemed on the verge of revealing at least, at least, a butt cheek—though by some invisible force above the hemline never, never ever did. It wasn't just for show, either, this massing of people. Las Vegas isn't New York, where part of the social psychology is the difficulty of entrance. "We don't do a door-hold just for the sake of doing a door-hold, so we can look busy," one of the owners had told me. Inside, they were already at capacity.

A series of velvet ropes tranched the guests into classes—extreme VIPs, semi-VIP hot ladies, unrich ladyless dudes who probably wouldn't get in before 2 A.M. I guesstimate the general-admission line was a quarter mile long, stretching past the Cosmopolitan hotel's curated "shopping experience" and into a recessed hallway of Pentagonian proportions.

This was maybe the sixth or seventh night I'd been to Marquee. On other nights I would show up before the club opened, so I could observe the hidden machinery and ascertain how the people who run the place go about manufacturing the communal fun-gasm that made Marquee the highest-grossing nightclub in Las Vegas and very likely the universe. But tonight I was with a bachelor party, and in honor of the occasion we'd decided to avail ourselves of a table reservation. A table reservation requires guests to spend between $1,000 and $10,000, depending on the night, and among its perks is access to a special line. The table line is the line you're supposed to see from other lines and think: Why am I not in that line? Or: Why didn't my boyfriend get me into that line?

A trim woman wearing smart business attire and a clear Secret Service earpiece greeted me as if she had been waiting all night to see me. She had a tiny envelope with my name on it, and into this tiny envelope she deposited my driver's license and credit card. She then passed the envelope to a man in a dark suit, a VIP host, who shook my hand with similar warmth. All the suited functionaries at Marquee that night treated me as if I were an important business partner in a business where important business partners may or may not be bought prostitutes.

An elevator car with glass walls, lit like a lounge, was waiting. The desperate sounds of human beings begging doormen and imploring homeys to hurry up because I'm waiting for you at the entrance, son,were silenced by the shush of the closing doors. A woman in a white short-sleeve shirt, whom you might call an elevator host, pressed a button on the control panel and then began a speech prepared to last precisely the duration of one elevator ride to the fourth floor.

Hello, gentlemen, she said. My name is Laura. When you step out of the elevators, you will find our Boom Box bar, down the stairs. Upstairs is the Library, our exclusive lounge. And just outside, you'll find our main level. There is a bar straight ahead, and to our right the dance floor, where your table is. Benny Benassi will be DJ'ing tonight. We have 60,000 square feet of nightclub. Our outdoor space is open. Roam the club. Find some ladies. Bring them back to your table. The elevator jostled us gently as it stopped. Welcome to Marquee, gentlemen. Your party


Part of the branding concept at Marquee is: Overwhelm the guest. And when we walked into that main room, we were indeed overwhelmed. Like it physically drew the air from our lungs and then replaced it with something that felt and tasted like vaporized Red Bull. The room had no visible ceiling. It was a clamshelly cavern of a place that glowed reddish and pulsed, with a dance floor at its focal point, layers of bottle-service tables perched around it, and a forty-foot LED screen above the DJ stage. The sound system cost $1.5 million and was built to rock a space as big as Madison Square Garden. Facing the speaker arrays was like walking into a strong headwind.

At our table, our VIP host handed us off to Joe, our semipersonal security guard. Joe wore the same suit and earpiece that all our assorted hosts wore. He told us how pleased he was to hang with us tonight and then stepped back into the human flow-stream, crossed his arms, and waited for a chance to protect us.

At the same time, a team of men in all black, like the people who change sets in off-Broadway plays, arrived at our table with the parts of our movable bar unit: a two-tiered silver tray for cut citrus, several carafes of mixers, and finally, a bowl of ice embedded with glowing battery-powered ice cubes, carried by a man with an LED flashlight in his mouth to further illuminate the thing as if it were bearing the Heart of the Ocean (fromTitanic). Our waitress, Jessica, gave us a menu. We chose what it seemed like we were supposed to choose, a $950 bottle of Grey Goose vodka identical to the $950 bottle of Grey Goose vodka that every other table had. When Jessica disappeared into the gyrating throng, Joe approached.

"Do you just want to sit back and chill?" he said to us. "Or do you want me to go find you some girls? Do you have any preference on girls?" What were the five of us—four married, one affianced—supposed to say? I would like someone without any of the hepatitises? I would like someone who will get impossibly turned on when I'm taciturn at cocktail parties?

Later another security officer would tell me, "Some guys get racial and say, 'I only want Asian girls' or 'white girls.' Or they'll be like, 'We only want blondes' or 'brunettes.' But a lot of guys say, 'We don't care, just bring us some sluts.' "

For the moment, we told Joe, we would just chill. You know. Because we're cool like that. Because for right now, we were still busy being overwhelmed—by the Funktion-One sound system, by all the bottles of champagne and vodka being consumed (conspicuously), by the overwhelming scent of sex (the room was perfumed with bosoms and tushies), overwhelmed by the oontz and oontz and above all by all these fucking people.

Thirty-five hundred: That was the club's capacity. Over the course of the night, 6,000 souls would enter and exit Marquee. How exactly do you get 6,000 people to want to come to the same nightclub on any given night? How do you get 6,000 people, all from different places, who don't know one another, many of whom have never been to this nightclub, many of whom don't ever really even go to nightclubs, to decide communally that they're going to Marquee? Especially when there were twenty-five other nightclubs right here in Las Vegas that could have strobed them with the same seizure-inducing lights, where equally busty women in similar magician-assistant outfits could sell them the same Grey Goose and cranberry while exactly the same music played in rotation every single night (and by "exactly" I mean, like, more or less the same ten songs).

"That," the owners of Marquee told me, "that is our secret sauce."

by Devin Friedman, GQ |  Read more:
Photos: Lauren Greenfield

Surfonomics Quantifies the Worth of Waves

[ed.  A similar process can be applied to other natural resources including things like wilderness and refuge areas, which, on their face, might seem of little economic benefit. Yet, unspoiled natural areas support a variety of businesses and small scale economies (think guiding/fishing/hunting/eco-tourism, sporting goods, equipment rentals, lodges, air and boat taxi operations, print/publishing companies, nearby community services, and other linked economies like airline, hotel and transportation services that bring people to locations where natural areas can be accessed). Considered this way, leaving something in its natural state can have significant economic benefits if you follow all the various links. There's also a process called "contingent valuation" which attempts to assign economic values to non-market resources. This was first used on a large scale to assess damages in the Exxon Valdez oil spill.]

In 2002, a surfer named Chad Nelsen enlisted an economist at Duke University to help put a price tag on a popular surfing spot on Puerto Rico’s northwest coast. Nelsen’s idea was novel: to prove that the waves breaking on the beach constituted a multimillion-dollar asset and persuade the local town to take pains to preserve it.

Real estate developers were after another multimillion-dollar asset: the views from the beach, which would be the selling point for three high-rise condominiums they planned to build.

Surfers and environmentalists feared that the construction at Rincon, the village in Puerto Rico, would change the flow of sediment around the beach and bury a reef that created the surf break. Nelsen sought to show that without the reef, there would be no waves, no surfers and, ultimately, a big drop in tourism dollars.

“We found that people were buying second houses there just for the surfing,” said Linwood Pendleton, the Duke economist who assisted Nelsen and is a chief economist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “It was contributing literally millions of dollars a year to the local economy.”

Rincon and its world-class wave break, discovered by surfers in the late 1960s, embodies a cycle that’s as regular as the tides: Surfers trek to remote reaches of the globe in search of the perfect wave. They discover prized beaches. Word gets out. Tourists pile in. Developers seize land and opportunity. Construction alters the wave break. The surf loses its edge.

Surf advocates have long argued that Mother Nature is priceless, invoking geological and hydrological mechanics that distinguish the character and appeal of the waves. In a new strategy, Nelsen and a handful of other surf intellectuals are letting go of lofty environmentalist rhetoric and fighting economics with economics.

“Those of us who really love the ocean have an instinct when we see beautiful places like this to think that they’re priceless and to think that the commodification of nature, and putting price tags on everything, is the root cause of nature’s destruction. . . . I think that’s actually counterproductive,” Jason Scorse, director of the Center for the Blue Economy, said in a TEDx talk in April. Scorse is the author of the book “What Environmentalists Need to Know About Economics” (2010). “When nature is undervalued, we make bad decisions.”

Rincon was a rare victory for surfers. The international campaign to protect the wave break, led by the Surf­rider Foundation, an advocacy group, blocked the condo proposal and persuaded lawmakers to designate Tres Palmas, the name of the break, as the heart of Puerto Rico’s first marine reserve.

And it helped launch the science of “surf­onomics.”

by Gregory Thomas, Washington Post |  Read more:
Photo: Eric Luse/SFC

Monday, August 27, 2012

Silvia Marius

The Hidden Truths about Calories

Odds are you sometimes think about calories. They are among the most often counted things in the universe. When the calorie was originally conceived it was in the context of human work. More calories meant more capacity for work, more chemical fire with which to get the job done, coal in the human stove. Fat, it has been estimated, has nine calories per gram, whereas carbohydrates and proteins have just four; fiber is sometimes counted separately and gets awarded a piddling two. Every box of every food you have ever bought is labeled based on these estimates; too bad then that they are so often wrong.

A Food is Not a Food—Estimates of the number of calories in different kinds of foods measure the average number of calories we could get from those foods based only on the proportions of fat, carbohydrates, protein and sometimes fiber they contain (In essence, calories ingested minus calories egested). A variety of standard systems exist, all of which derive from the original developed by Wilbur Atwater more than a hundred years ago. They are all systems of averages. No food is average.

Differences exist even within a given kind of food. Take, for example, cooked vegetables. Cell walls in some plants are tougher to break down than those in others; nature, of course, varies in everything. If the plant material we eat has more of its cell walls broken down we get more calories from it. In some plants, cooking ruptures most cell walls; in others, such as cassava, cell walls hold strong and hoard their precious calories in such a way that many of them pass through our bodies intact.

It is not just cooked vegetables though. Nuts flagrantly do their own thing, which might be expected given that nuts are really seeds whose mothers are invested in having them escape digestion. Peanuts, pistachios and almonds all seem to be less completely digested than their levels of protein, fat, carbohydrates and fiber would suggest. How much? Just this month, a new study by Janet Novotny and colleagues at the USDA found that when the “average” person eats almonds she receives just 128 calories per serving rather than the 170 calories “on the label.”

It is not totally clear why nuts such as almonds or pistachios yield fewer calories than they “should.” Tough cell walls? Maybe. But there are other options too, if not for the nuts themselves then for other foods. (...)

In general, it seems that the more processed foods are the more they actually give us the number of calories we see on the box, bag or other sort of label. This applies not just to cooking and pounding but also to industrial processing. A new study this year found that in a lab experiment individual humans who ate 600 or 800 calorie portions of whole wheat bread (with nuts and seeds on it) and cheddar cheese actually expended twice as much energy, yes twice, in digesting that food as did individuals who consumed the same quantity of white bread and “processed cheese product.” As a consequence, the net number of calories the whole food eaters received was ten percent less than the number received by the processed food eaters (because they spent some of their calories during digestion). Similar work in pythons has shown that cooked and/or ground up meat also requires less energy to digest (at least for pythons). If you want more calories, whether or not you are a snake, cook, pound and otherwise predigest your food.

A Body is Not a Body—Amazingly, there are more ways in which a calorie is not a calorie. Even if two people were to somehow eat the same sweet potato cooked the same way they would not get the same number of calories. Carmody and colleagues studied a single strain of heavily inbred lab mice such that their mice were as similar to each other as possible. Yet the mice still varied in terms of how much they grew or shrank on a given diet, thanks presumably to subtle differences in their behavior or bodies. Humans vary in nearly all traits, whether height, skin color, or our guts. Back when it was the craze to measure such variety European scientists discovered that Russian intestines are about five feet longer than those of, say, Italians. This means that those Russians eating the same amount of food as the Italians likely get more out of it. Just why the Russians had (or have) longer intestines is an open question. Surely other peoples differ in their intestines too; intestines need more study, though I am not going to volunteer to do the dirty work. We also vary in terms of how much of particular enzymes we produce; the descendents of peoples who consumed lots of starchy food tend to produce more amylase, the enzyme that breaks down starch. Then there is the enzyme our bodies use to digest the lactose in milk, lactase. Many (some say most) adults are lactose deficient; they do not produce lactase and so do not break down the lactose in milk. As a result, even if they drink milk they receive far fewer calories from doing so than do individuals who produce lactase. Each of us gets a different number of calories out of identical foods because of who we are and who our ancestors were.

by Rob Dunn, Scientific American |  Read more:
Photo: Health

In-Depth Journalism Rebirth Defies Twitter Age

[ed. Hey Duck Soup readers, congratulate yourselves on being in the vanguard of new age journalism (which is really old age journalism, but who cares? ha ha...). The thing is, stimulating a reader's interest takes a lot more than just finding longer articles, and hopefully this site captures that dynamic better than most. Thanks for your support.]

The Twitter age is killing in-depth journalism, while local newspapers are becoming extinct -- right?

Then what is a talented young New York Times reporter doing founding a website devoted to in-depth local reporting?

News aggregators, 24/7 news cycles, 140-character Tweets and attention-span-challenged web users have transformed much of the US media into the journalistic equivalent of McDonalds: quickly produced, easily consumed.

Times freelancer Noah Rosenberg says his "Narratively" website, which he hopes to launch next month, will be more like a long-simmering stew.

"There's been a push against the 24/7 bubble, the echo chamber," Rosenberg said at a Brooklyn cafe that sometimes doubles as his start-up's office. "We're really slowing things down."

Narratively's stable of about 30 young New York journalism high-fliers will ignore breaking news for original, behind-the-scenes material that takes a long time to report and -- at 5,000 words -- a good while to read.

There'll be no breaking news, Rosenberg said, but stories "you can dust off in one year, two, three years down the road and they'll still have some meaning."

When the popular BuzzFeed homepage carries of slideshows like "Cutest Pictures Of Cats And Babies,"'s "Trending Now" is mostly showbiz, and big media organizations chase in herds after the same news, Narratively's ambitions might seem quixotic.

But Rosenberg is part of a surprising revival in which sites like and, both founded last year, and, founded in 2010, are finding new ways to turn high-quality, lengthy non-fiction into a business.

"We're really tapping into this energy out there," the 29-year-old said.

-- Old-fashioned journalism done in new ways --

by Yahoo Finance |  Read more:

George Ault (American, 1891-1948), Bright Light at Russell’s Corners, 1946. Oil on canvas, 19 5/8 x 25 in. (49.9 x 63.4 cm). Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Wood Pulp: the World's New Wonder Material

The hottest new material in town is light, strong and conducts electricity. What's more, it's been around a long, long time.

Nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC), which is produced by processing wood pulp, is being hailed as the latest wonder material. Japan-based Pioneer Electronics is applying it to the next generation of flexible electronic displays. IBM is using it to create components for computers. Even the US army is getting in on the act, using it to make lightweight body armour and ballistic glass.

To ramp up production, the US opened its first NCC factory in Madison, Wisconsin, on 26 July, marking the rise of what the US National Science Foundation predicts will become a $600 billion industry by 2020.

So why all the fuss? Well, not only is NCC transparent but it is made from a tightly packed array of needle-like crystals which have a strength-to-weight ratio that is eight times better than stainless steel. Even better, it's incredibly cheap.

"It is the natural, renewable version of a carbon nanotube at a fraction of the price," says Jeff Youngblood of Purdue University's NanoForestry Institute in West Lafayette, Indiana.

The $1.7 million factory, which is owned by the US Forest Service, will produce two types of NCC: crystals and fibrils.

Production of NCC starts with "purified" wood, which has had compounds such as lignin and hemicellulose removed. It is then milled into a pulp and hydrolysed in acid to remove impurities before being separated and concentrated as crystals into a thick paste that can be applied to surfaces as a laminate or processed into strands, forming nanofibrils. These are hard, dense and tough, and can be forced into different shapes and sizes. When freeze-dried, the material is lightweight, absorbent and good at insulating.

"The beauty of this material is that it is so abundant we don't have to make it," says Youngblood. "We don't even have to use entire trees; nanocellulose is only 200 nanometres long. If we wanted we could use twigs and branches or even sawdust. We are turning waste into gold."

by Will Ferguson, New Scientist |  Read more:
Image: Jim Zuckerman/Corbis)

The Man and the Moon

[ed. A couple of fine pieces on Neil Armstrong and his first steps on the moon. For the New Yorker's coverage of what it was like that day in 1969, read E.B. White's Comment: Between the Earth and Moon.]

F. Scott Fitzgerald was wrong. He didn’t know it, and he couldn’t have guessed it, and it wasn’t his fault; but he was wrong. On the final page of “The Great Gatsby,” he thought—or allowed Nick Carraway to think—of Dutch sailors sighting America, “a fresh, green breast of a new world.” To set foot upon that greenness was not an invasion, but a gasp: “For a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate with his capacity for wonder.” When those words were published, in 1926, it was unfathomable that they might demand revision; but because of what happened forty-three years later, and because of one American who died on Saturday, we need quietly to amend Fitzgerald’s text, and add a single word. Instead of “the last time in history,” make it the second last.

Not that Neil Armstrong had much time for wondering, on July 20, 1969. Especially not around quarter past three, by the Houston clock. He was too busy looking for a parking space. This is never easy, with rush hour coming on, and Eagle—Armstrong’s vehicle of choice, a flimsy little bug of a thing, with Buzz Aldrin in the passenger seat—was still cruising along at quite a lick. Also, for most of the ride, he was upside-down. He flipped over, descended, slowed to forty-eight miles per hour, and went looking for a free bay. There were no other cars, but plenty of rocks the size of cars, which seemed unlikely to pull out and let him in. They had been parked there for a few billion years, and nobody had given them a ticket. So Armstrong switched to “attitude hold” and carried on looking.

In the end, he found his spot on the moon, and his place in history, though both were won with an almost frightening lack of hoopla. If, on landing, he was flustered by the presence, in Eagle’s gas tank, of no more than twenty seconds’ worth of remaining fuel, he didn’t show it.

All the tributes paid Saturday, after his death at the age of eighty-two, took care to stress his modesty, and he certainly belongs to that chastening group of beings whose capacity for heroic action is outstripped only by their reluctance to make a big deal out of it, let alone a profit. But it would entirely wrong to cast him, on the grounds of his natural diffidence, as a hermit; he retreated to no grotto, but became a teacher—still the best way to find, and use, your public voice without being forced to raise it. Nothing is more typical of Armstrong, or more estimable, than his decision not to go into politics; heaven knows what the blandishments, or the invitations, must have been. That is not to deprecate the service rendered by, say, John Glenn, but simply to remind ourselves that political ambition, like our other passions, is in the end a low sublunary affair; and that Armstrong, by dint of being the first man to tread not upon terra firma but upon the gray dust of terra incognita, rose above the fray and stayed there.

by Anthony Lane, The New Yorker |  Read more:
Photograph: NASA

Copying Works: How Samsung’s Decision to Mimic Apple Paid Off in Spades

In the fall of 2008, just a year after it released the iPhone, Apple became the most profitable phone maker in the world. The milestone wasn’t much remarked upon by the press. At the time, Apple was still selling only a tiny number of phones compared to its rivals, and it wasn’t clear that it could ever become a global juggernaut in the phone business.

Still, because rivals couldn’t match Apple’s average sales price and profit margins, they were falling behind. In the fourth quarter of 2008, Nokia, which had long been the phone industry’s profit leader, sold 113 million devices worldwide, about 15 million of them smartphones. It made about $1.2 billion in profit on all those phones. That same quarter, Apple sold just 4 million iPhones. But that single device earned Apple a profit of $1.3 billion.

These numbers—which Asymco’s Horace Dediu has helpfully archived here—provide the backstory to an industry in panic. If you were a phone maker watching the iPhone’s sudden rise in 2008, you had to make a quick decision. A storm was blasting through your business and your survival depended on how you reacted.

One option was to do nothing. A lot of firms opted for this path—Nokia and RIM, for instance, seem to have decided that the iPhone was a blip, a cultish device that would never reach mass appeal, so why bother taking it on?

Another option was to try to leapfrog Apple. You could spend many months, maybe even years, working on devices that aimed not just to match the iPhone’s innovations, but to beat them. This was Palm’s idea. Belatedly, it’s what Microsoft began to do, too.

Then there was a third choice. You could just copy Apple. You could borrow the iPhone’s key ideas, make a half-hearted attempt to dress them up in your own brand, and bake them all into your product line-up.

On Friday, a federal jury decided that Samsung was guilty of doing just that. But you don’t need this decision, nor any of the damning internal documents uncovered during the patent case, to realize this. Just look at the devices Samsung released in response to the iPhone—for instance, the 2010 Galaxy S, pictured above. If that’s not copying, the term has no meaning.

It’s tempting, after such a sweeping verdict in Apple’s favor, to conclude that Samsung’s decision to mimic the iPhone was a terrible mistake. The firm will now be on the hook for at least $1 billion in damages, and the judge could triple that amount. Samsung will likely face sales injunctions on many of its products, and will be forced to quickly design around Apple’s patents in its current and upcoming devices, if not to pay a steep licensing fee. Other companies that took inspiration from Apple—including Motorola, HTC and, at the top of the chain, Google—will also be stung by this decision.

But if you study what’s happened in the mobile industry since 2007, a different moral emerges. It goes like this: Copying works.

by Farhad Manjoo, PandoDaily |  Read more:

Sunday, August 26, 2012

I am in a state of shock

In 1961, a professor of English wrote to author Flannery O'Connor and asked her, on behalf of his students, to explain "A Good Man is Hard to Find" — a short story of hers that his class had recently been studying, and for which they were struggling to find an acceptable interpretation. He wrote, in part:
"We have debated at length several possible interpretations, none of which fully satisfies us. In general we believe that the appearance of the Misfit is not 'real' in the same sense that the incidents of the first half of the story are real. Bailey, we believe, imagines the appearance of the Misfit, whose activities have been called to his attention on the night before the trip and again during the stopover at the roadside restaurant. Bailey, we further believe, identifies himself with the Misfit and so plays two roles in the imaginary last half of the story. But we cannot, after great effort, determine the point at which reality fades into illusion or reverie. Does the accident literally occur, or is it part of Bailey's dream? Please believe me when I say we are not seeking an easy way out of our difficulty. We admire your story and have examined it with great care, but we are not convinced that we are missing something important which you intended us to grasp. We will all be very grateful if you comment on the interpretation which I have outlined above and if you will give us further comments about your intention in writing 'A Good Man is Hard to Find.'"O'Connor was unimpressed, and responded as follows.
(Source: The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O'Connor, via Patrick Robbins; Image: Flannery O'Connor, via.)

28 March 61

The interpretation of your ninety students and three teachers is fantastic and about as far from my intentions as it could get to be. If it were a legitimate interpretation, the story would be little more than a trick and its interest would be simply for abnormal psychology. I am not interested in abnormal psychology.

There is a change of tension from the first part of the story to the second where the Misfit enters, but this is no lessening of reality. This story is, of course, not meant to be realistic in the sense that it portrays the everyday doings of people in Georgia. It is stylized and its conventions are comic even though its meaning is serious.

Bailey’s only importance is as the Grandmother’s boy and the driver of the car. It is the Grandmother who first recognized the Misfit and who is most concerned with him throughout. The story is a duel of sorts between the Grandmother and her superficial beliefs and the Misfit’s more profoundly felt involvement with Christ’s action which set the world off balance for him.

The meaning of a story should go on expanding for the reader the more he thinks about it, but meaning cannot be captured in an interpretation. If teachers are in the habit of approaching a story as if it were a research problem for which any answer is believable so long as it is not obvious, then I think students will never learn to enjoy fiction. Too much interpretation is certainly worse than too little, and where feeling for a story is absent, theory will not supply it.

My tone is not meant to be obnoxious. I am in a state of shock.

Flannery O'Connor

IKEA's New Catalogs: Less Pine, More Pixels

Almhult, Sweden—That couch catching your eye in the 2013 edition of IKEA's new catalog may not be a couch at all.

It is likely the entire living room was created by a graphic artist. In fact, much of the furniture and settings in the 324-page catalog are simply a collection of pixels and polygons arranged on a computer.

The Swedish furniture giant has for decades spent more than two-thirds of its marketing budget building and furnishing living quarters, which are typically portrayed with a sparse, fastidious fashion sensibility and lighted with impeccable precision.

But the privately-held company's quest to curb costs and boost productivity has it mothballing some of this real-world production. It is instead turning to 3-D graphics to fill its pages.

This year 12% of IKEA's content for the Web, catalog and brochures were rendered virtually; that number will increase to 25% next year.

In all, IKEA plans to publish 208 million catalogs this year, more than double the amount of Bibles expected to be produced. And it will create 62 different versions in 43 countries.

"It's a clever way to save money," Anneli Sjogren, head of photography at IKEA, said during a recent interview at the company's sprawling photo studio in this sleepy southern town. "We don't have to throw away kitchens in the Dumpster after the photo shoot."

Instead, sets for entire rooms—spanning kitchens to bathrooms to porches—can be mocked up and created on a computer screen without the help of a single camera. (...)

Putting together a catalog is a massive task, taking about 10 months from concept to finished product. Until late in the last decade IKEA relied entirely on its sprawling photo studio here. The studio is one of the largest in Europe, covering 94,000 square feet—about a third the size of an IKEA store—and employs 285 photographers, carpenters, interior designers and other people working full time on photo shoots.

IKEA's 3-D team is housed in the same building. Faced with a shortage of people capable of doing this work, the company is collaborating with photo schools to teach computer design skills. It is also retraining photographers to better create a scene without a camera. The company said it is retaining all photographers, carpenters and set designers and reapplying their skills to the 3-D environment.

"With real photography you're constrained by the four walls," Ms. Sjogren said, noting the company is running out of room in its studio. "A kitchen has to be built in a week or two and then torn down the following week to make room for a bedroom shoot…everything has to run like clockwork."

A kitchen shot for potential U.S. buyers might have darker colors. "Now let's say we want to sell that kitchen in Japan," she added. "Japanese people, like Scandinavians, like lighter hues of wood than Americans."

Instead of rebuilding the kitchen, IKEA can easily change the color and the background. "And we can still use the same basil plant on the counter. In 3-D, the basil plant never wilts," she said.

by Jens Hansegard, WSJ | Read more:
Illustration: IKEA

Louise Hoffsten

[ed. Whoa. I don't think I'll ever listen to this old Willie Dixon/Muddy Waters tune again without thinking of this version.]

How Facebook Design Tricks People Into Trading Away Privacy

On TechCrunch, Avi Charkham provides an excellent side-by-side comparison of an older Facebook design and the latest one, showing how the service has moved to minimize the extent to which its users are notified of the privacy "choices" they make when they interact with the service. The Facebook rubric is that people don't value their privacy ("privacy is dead, get over it,") and we can tell that because they demonstrate it by using Facebook. But really, Facebook is designed to minimize your understanding of the privacy trades you're making and your ability to make those trades intelligently.

All privacy offers on FB are take-it-or-leave-it: you give up all your privacy to play Angry Birds, or you don't play Angry Birds. There's no "give up some of your privacy to play Angry Birds" offer, or "here's a game that's 95% as fun as Angry Birds but requires that you only yield up the most trivial facts of your life to play it" that we can test the market against.

Charkham's five examples from the visual interface design are very good evidence that FB isn't a harbinger of the death of privacy; rather, it's a tribute to the power of deceptive hard-sell tactics to get people to make privacy trade-offs they wouldn't make in a fair deal.
#3: The Tiny Hidden Info Symbol Trick 
In the old Design Facebook presented a detailed explanation about the “basic” information you’re about to expose to the apps you’re adding. In the new design they decided to hide that info. If you pay careful attention you’ll see a tiny little “?” symbol and if you hover over it you’ll discover that this app is about to gain access to your name, profile pic, Facebook user ID, gender, networks, list of friends and any piece of info you’ve made public on Facebook. Quite a lot of info for a 20×10 pixel tiny hidden info symbol don’t you think?!
Of course, the interface is only a small part of the tactics used to manipulate privacy decisions on FB. More insidious and likely more effective is the use of the proprietary algorithms to apply intermittent social reward for disclosure, driving users to greater and greater disclosures -- something well documented in The Filter Bubble, Eli Pariser's 2011 book on the subject.

5 Design Tricks Facebook Uses To Affect Your Privacy Decisions (via Hacker News)

by Cory Doctorow, Boing Boing 

Hysterical Literature

The black-and-white video begins with a woman sitting at a table with a book in front of her. She looks into the camera and states her name, the name of the book, and begins to read. It seems she’s overwhelmed by the words — there’s a slight twitch, a smirk, a straightening of the back, a desperate breath in — and she struggles to continue reading.

Eventually you realize there is more to this scene than it at first seems — maybe when you notice the ever-so-slight buzzing sound in the background, or maybe not until the moans begin. Either way, before the end of the video there is the unmistakable appearance of an orgasm. But you never see just what has produced it: Is there someone or something under that table? Was it just the words that produced those paroxysms of pleasure?

This is the setup of art photographer Clayton Cubitt’s new video series, “Hysterical Literature.” So far, there have been two installments: one starring porn performer Stoya reading “Necrophilia Variations” by Supervert, the other featuring a woman identified simply as Alicia reading Walt Whitman’s sensual “Leaves of Grass.”But frankly, they could read their grocery lists and I’d still hang on their every word, every breath, every squirming movement during their vulnerable, resistant build to orgasm.

I talked to Cubitt, also known as Siege, by email about his fascinating new project, the line between high and low art, and authentic portraiture in the age of self-branding.

by Tracy Clark-Flory, Salon | Read more:

The New Art of Underbragging

If you're unusually insightful and perceptive, like me, you may have noticed that boastfulness is increasingly socially acceptable these days. Perhaps this helps explain the unhinged gusto with which Usain Bolt declared himself a living legend last week at the Olympics: in a world where every other Facebook status update is a veiled act of self-aggrandisement, the only way to make an impact with your bragging is to push it to the limit. The more everyday kind of bragging – the mock-shy mention of your latest professional achievement, the smartphone photographs of your current holiday idyll, the drive-by name-dropping – is the fuel that powers social media.

Laughing at others' clunky efforts at self-promotion used to be a strictly annual pleasure, confined to the opening of round-robin Christmas letters; now it's a daily chore. This is why, speaking for myself, I try not to add to the problem by engaging in too much boastfulness in public forums. But then I have often been complimented on my restraint – once, indeed, by a rather prominent celebrity, whose name I probably ought not to mention here.

Technology is partly to blame: with so many more channels through which to manipulate one's public image, it's not especially surprising that we are tempted to present ourselves as positively as possible. The filters of social media make things worse. A network such as Twitter is designed precisely to connect you with exactly the kinds of people who don't mind your boasts, while those who might keep you in check won't follow you in the first place: your audience thus serves as an army of enablers, applauding your self-applause. Writing recently in Slate, the literary critic Jacob Silverman complained that this self-reinforcing niceness was damaging his trade, by dissuading people from criticising books they disliked. "It's not only shallow, it's untrue," he wrote, "and it's having a chilling effect on literary culture."

But, as the Wall Street Journal noted this week, in a worried piece headlined Are We All Braggarts Now?, the causes may be economic, too. In the most competitive job market in recent memory, the pressure to portray yourself as better than everyone else is intense. Predictably, there's neuroscientific evidence to undergird all this: self-disclosure activates the same brain regions as eating or sex, according to research by Harvard neuroscientists published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, though you can bet they mentioned it on their Facebook pages too.

And as bragging grows ubiquitous, it evolves, the better to penetrate the defences of those who would otherwise be too embarrassed to engage in it. Hence the "humblebrag", that staple of Twitter-boasting that deploys self-deprecation in order surreptitiously to draw attention to the bragger's brilliance or privilege. Here's Cheryl Cole: "How can I still be nervous about red carpets after 10 years. Eeek!" And a classic from George Bush's former press secretary Ari Fleischer: "They just announced my flight at LaGuardia is number 15 for takeoff. I miss Air Force One!!"

By now, though, even the humblebrag is growing easy to spot, thereby defeating its purpose, and so it is giving way to a new mutation, spotted and named by blogger Jen Doll: the "underbrag".

by Oliver Burkeman, The Guardian |  Read more:
Photograph: McClatchy-Tribune/Getty Images

The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy

Reviews by ordinary people have become an essential mechanism for selling almost anything online; they are used for resorts, dermatologists, neighborhood restaurants, high-fashion boutiques, churches, parks, astrologers and healers — not to mention products like garbage pails, tweezers, spa slippers and cases for tablet computers. In many situations, these reviews are supplanting the marketing department, the press agent, advertisements, word of mouth and the professional critique.

But not just any kind of review will do. They have to be somewhere between enthusiastic and ecstatic.

“The wheels of online commerce run on positive reviews,” said Bing Liu, a data-mining expert at the University of Illinois, Chicago, whose 2008 research showed that 60 percent of the millions of product reviews on Amazon are five stars and an additional 20 percent are four stars. “But almost no one wants to write five-star reviews, so many of them have to be created.”

Consumer reviews are powerful because, unlike old-style advertising and marketing, they offer the illusion of truth. They purport to be testimonials of real people, even though some are bought and sold just like everything else on the commercial Internet.

Mr. Liu estimates that about one-third of all consumer reviews on the Internet are fake. Yet it is all but impossible to tell when reviews were written by the marketers or retailers (or by the authors themselves under pseudonyms), by customers (who might get a deal from a merchant for giving a good score) or by a hired third-party service.

The Federal Trade Commission has issued guidelines stating that all online endorsements need to make clear when there is a financial relationship, but enforcement has been minimal and there has been a lot of confusion in the blogosphere over how this affects traditional book reviews.

The tale of, which commissioned 4,531 reviews in its brief existence, is a story of a vast but hidden corner of the Internet, where Potemkin villages bursting with ardor arise overnight. At the same time, it shows how the book world is being transformed by the surging popularity of electronic self-publishing.

For decades a largely stagnant industry controlled from New York, book publishing is fragmenting and changing at high speed. Twenty percent of Amazon’s top-selling e-books are self-published. They do not get to the top without adulation, lots and lots of it.

by David Streitfeld, NY Times |  Read more:
Photo: Nick Oxford