Monday, October 31, 2011

The Black Cat, 1911, by Gino Severini

The World at Seven Billion

The world’s population is expected to hit seven billion in the next few weeks. After growing very slowly for most of human history, the number of people on Earth has more than doubled in the last 50 years.

Click below to find out where you fit into this story of human life?

The World At Seven Billion
BBC, October 26, 2011
h/t:  The Big Picture

From Salami to Soda Pop: What Does “Toxic” Really Mean?

It started out as a crazy stunt — a gag to keep commuters entertained. DJs at KDND-FM Sacramento had lined up 20 volunteers for a water-drinking contest. Whoever drank the most water without urinating would take a Nintendo Wii home as a prize.

Jennifer Strange was 28 and the mother of three children; she’d entered the contest to win the game player for her kids. Several hours into the event, she started to complain about the pain in her head, and by the time it was over, her belly was protruding so badly she looked pregnant. The DJs thought it was funny. She left the station crying, the pain in her head growing worse all the time.

She was found dead that afternoon; poisoned by water.

Ms. Strange’s tragic story illustrates a peculiar fact: even water can be toxic if you drink too much. It seems odd because most of the time, we think of toxicity as clear-cut, a property some things have and others don’t. A widespread belief in popular culture has it the origins of a substance tell you how toxic it will be. If a compound is made by Nature, we assume it must be good for us. If it’s artificial or it has a long unpronounceable name, on the other hand, we assume it must be toxic, and it’s only a matter of time until scientists figure that out.

Alas, the truth is more complicated than popular culture would have you believe. Nature makes poisons more vicious than any chemists can invent. And nearly anything can be toxic if you consume too much.

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Angelique Kidjo, Dave Matthews

Amadeo de Souza Cardoso:  Os galgos (c.1911)

Messengers of Death

Are Drones Creating a New Global Arms Race?

By Andreas Lorenz, Juliane von Mittelstaedt and Gregor Peter Schmitz, Der Spiegle

Plastic tanks and miniature models of fighter jets are on display in Steven Zaloga's home office, and his bookshelves are overflowing with volumes about the history of war. War is Zaloga's area of expertise, but even more than that, it's his business. For 36 years, the historian has analyzed global trends in weapons. He currently works for the Teal Group, a renowned defense consulting firm in Fairfax, Virginia, a suburb of Washington.

Zaloga knows exactly how and where war can be profitable at any given point. And when he discusses which weapons have the best business prospects, he doesn't spare a glance for his models of tanks and fighter jets. Those weapons belong in history books.

The future belongs to drones, remote-controlled unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) equipped with sensitive reconnaissance electronics and powerful precision weapons. Drones provide the kind of weapons system strategists have always wished for: They allow a military force to exert power while minimizing its own risks, and to carry out precise, deadly strikes, without sending its own soldiers into danger.

The additional fact that drones are comparatively cheap has made them a favorite with the United States, which has used drone strikes to execute over 2,300 people. Most of these attacks have been carried out as part of the hunt for Taliban members hiding in Pakistan along the border with Afghanistan, and those killed include American-born al-Qaida associate Anwar al-Awlaki, who was executed by one of the remote-controlled weapons without first having been convicted by a court.

A $94 Billion Market?

Zaloga points to a table showing Pentagon budget figures. In 2002, the US military spent around $550 million (€400 million) on drones. In 2011, the figure was nearly $5 billion.

Demand is growing around the world as well. "The Middle East will become an important market for drones," Zaloga believes. "Oman, Saudi Arabia, Egypt. And then Asia, of course: Malaysia, India, Australia. And Europe: Turkey, Italy, Poland, for example."

The analyst estimates global drone sales in the coming decade at $94 billion. Should it so choose, the US has a potential major export success on its hands. The only technological item possibly more popular is the iPhone. A new global " drone arms race" is coming, the New York Times wrote.

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[Click graphic for larger image]

Neko Case

The 20 Best Interiors Blogs

by Gareth Wyn Davies, The Telegraph

Abigail Ahern
Ahern’s white-text-on-black-background blog looks as dramatic as the zeitgeisty interiors that she creates. Like them it is also intimate, with chatty tips (illustrated with lots of arresting pictures) on everything from hanging art to 'zoning’ space, as well as trends and tricks of the trade.

Apartment Therapy
No top 20 would be complete without that behemoth of blogs/forums, Apartment Therapy. Despite its size and reach - and it really is huge, with dizzyingly frequent updates, and posts from around the world - it retains a sense of community. It’s primarily pictorial, with the main feature being House Tours of hipsters’ homes, though it mixes these with practical tips.

The Beat that My Heart Skipped
'A blog dedicated to daily design inspirations’ reads the sub head. Which roughly translates as 'nirvana for rubberneckers’. The aesthetic is pretty catholic: one day it might be an austerely simple Georgian country house, the next something mid-century modern in the south London suburbs. thebeatthatmy

Ben Pentreath
It’s not just Ben Pentreath’s interiors shop in Bloomsbury, London, that we’ve fallen in love with; we’re huge fans of his charming blog and even more charming parsonage in Dorset, too. Gratifyingly for nosy types, the parsonage and its enchanting cottage-style garden often crop up in said blog. He’s a cultured so-and-so, is Pentreath, and even his most chatty posts have an erudite but self-deprecating edge.

Bodie and Fou
Karine Candice is a French expat living in London who shares her inspirations, life and all-round creative ingenuity with the world via this blog. Go to the My Home section and sigh at the beauty of her residences (note the plural there). Then click on other links to check out the wonders she’s worked in different rooms - the naff old kitchen cupboards that she has transformed with black paint and a stainless-steel worktop, the charcoal-grey daughter’s nursery, the old pallet turned into a chic (no, really) coffee table.

Decor8 is the name on virtually every other interiors blogger’s blogroll, and with good reason. In six years it’s become such a popular design resource that its American founder, Holly Becker, now has a bestselling spin-off book to her name and is a regular on the lecture circuit.

Emma’s Designblogg
This Stockholm-based blogger is nothing if not prolific. You could lose yourself for hours in all her archived pages. There aren’t too many words (and those that there are, are English rather than Swedish), just photograph after photograph of beautiful interiors best described as Scandi-rustic. A must for anyone seeking design inspiration or simply to get out of chores.

Famille Summerbelle
If you didn’t know that Julie, the Frenchwoman who blogs (in English) under the name Famille Summerbelle, was a designer of prints, textiles and interiors accessories, you’d guess pretty sharpish. The way that photographs are artfully grouped according to their subjects’ form, pattern or colour is a bit of a giveaway. Fans of the artist Rob Ryan would do well to follow the link on the blog to a shop selling her work.

Habitually Chic
'Glamorous Lives & Stylish Places’ is the tagline to this utterly compelling blog from a New York interior designer, a woman of unashamedly uptown taste, both modern, slightly Mad Men uptown and the more traditional. She’ll post photos of everything from the late Jackie O’s swag-tastic Fifth Avenue apartment to her own well-stocked dressing-room. Yes, it’s that fabulous.

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Photo: emmas designblogg

Immunity and Impunity in Elite America

by Glenn Greenwald, Guernica

As intense protests spawned by Occupy Wall Street continue to grow, it is worth asking: Why now? The answer is not obvious. After all, severe income and wealth inequality have long plagued the United States. In fact, it could reasonably be claimed that this form of inequality is part of the design of the American founding—indeed, an integral part of it.

Income inequality has worsened over the past several years and is at its highest level since the Great Depression. This is not, however, a new trend. Income inequality has been growing at rapid rates for three decades.  (...)

The 2008 financial crisis exacerbated the trend, but not radically: the top 1 percent of earners in America have been feeding ever more greedily at the trough for decades.

In addition, substantial wealth inequality is so embedded in American political culture that, standing alone, it would not be sufficient to trigger citizen rage of the type we are finally witnessing. The American Founders were clear that they viewed inequality in wealth, power, and prestige as not merely inevitable, but desirable and, for some, even divinely ordained. Jefferson praised “the natural aristocracy” as “the most precious gift of nature” for the “government of society.” John Adams concurred: “It already appears, that there must be in every society of men superiors and inferiors, because God has laid in the… course of nature the foundation of the distinction.”

Not only have the overwhelming majority of Americans long acquiesced to vast income and wealth disparities, but some of those most oppressed by these outcomes have cheered it loudly. Americans have been inculcated not only to accept, but to revere those who are the greatest beneficiaries of this inequality.  (...)
This is the mentality that enabled massive growth in income and wealth inequality over the past several decades without much at all in the way of citizen protest. And yet something has indeed changed. It’s not that Americans suddenly woke up one day and decided that substantial income and wealth inequality are themselves unfair or intolerable. What changed was the perception of how that wealth was gotten and so of the ensuing inequality as legitimate.

Many Americans who once accepted or even cheered such inequality now see the gains of the richest as ill-gotten, as undeserved, as cheating. Most of all, the legal system that once served as the legitimizing anchor for outcome inequality, the rule of law—that most basic of American ideals, that a common set of rules are equally applied to all—has now become irrevocably corrupted and is seen as such.

While the Founders accepted outcome inequality, they emphasized—over and over—that its legitimacy hinged on subjecting everyone to the law’s mandates on an equal basis. Jefferson wrote that the essence of America would be that “the poorest laborer stood on equal ground with the wealthiest millionaire, and generally on a more favored one whenever their rights seem to jar.” Benjamin Franklin warned that creating a privileged legal class would produce “total separation of affections, interests, political obligations, and all manner of connections” between rulers and those they ruled. Tom Paine repeatedly railed against “counterfeit nobles,” those whose superior status was grounded not in merit but in unearned legal privilege.
Once it’s obvious that a common set of rules no longer binds all the competitors, the winner will be resented, not heralded.
After all, one of their principal grievances against the British King was his power to exempt his cronies from legal obligations. Almost every Founder repeatedly warned that a failure to apply the law equally to the politically powerful and the rich would ensure a warped and unjust society. In many ways, that was their definition of tyranny.

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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Pearl Jam

A Sister’s Eulogy for Steve Jobs

by Mona Simpson, NY Times

I grew up as an only child, with a single mother. Because we were poor and because I knew my father had emigrated from Syria, I imagined he looked like Omar Sharif. I hoped he would be rich and kind and would come into our lives (and our not yet furnished apartment) and help us. Later, after I’d met my father, I tried to believe he’d changed his number and left no forwarding address because he was an idealistic revolutionary, plotting a new world for the Arab people.

Even as a feminist, my whole life I’d been waiting for a man to love, who could love me. For decades, I’d thought that man would be my father. When I was 25, I met that man and he was my brother.

By then, I lived in New York, where I was trying to write my first novel. I had a job at a small magazine in an office the size of a closet, with three other aspiring writers. When one day a lawyer called me — me, the middle-class girl from California who hassled the boss to buy us health insurance — and said his client was rich and famous and was my long-lost brother, the young editors went wild. This was 1985 and we worked at a cutting-edge literary magazine, but I’d fallen into the plot of a Dickens novel and really, we all loved those best. The lawyer refused to tell me my brother’s name and my colleagues started a betting pool. The leading candidate: John Travolta. I secretly hoped for a literary descendant of Henry James — someone more talented than I, someone brilliant without even trying.

When I met Steve, he was a guy my age in jeans, Arab- or Jewish-looking and handsomer than Omar Sharif.

We took a long walk — something, it happened, that we both liked to do. I don’t remember much of what we said that first day, only that he felt like someone I’d pick to be a friend. He explained that he worked in computers.

I didn’t know much about computers. I still worked on a manual Olivetti typewriter.

I told Steve I’d recently considered my first purchase of a computer: something called the Cromemco.

Steve told me it was a good thing I’d waited. He said he was making something that was going to be insanely beautiful.

I want to tell you a few things I learned from Steve, during three distinct periods, over the 27 years I knew him. They’re not periods of years, but of states of being. His full life. His illness. His dying.

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Photo:  Business Insider

New Dream for Fields

by Ken Belson, NY Times

Mike Dollar had a faraway look as he watched his wife, Laura, hit baseballs to their son, Jesse, who fielded them at shortstop in an Atlanta Braves T-shirt. Abby, their daughter, played catcher. The sun was bright, the sky was clear and the cornstalks were waving in the breeze.

“They really captured the purity of it,” said Dollar, who had driven 900 miles from their home in Georgia so they could frolic here. “This field, we’d hate to see it change.”

Change, it turns out, comes creepingly at the Field of Dreams Movie Site. In the film “Field of Dreams,” a farmer hears a voice telling him to build a baseball diamond in his cornfield so the ghosts of the disgraced 1919 Chicago White Sox can return to play.

The movie so touched a chord that since its 1989 release, hundreds of thousands of fans have come to this corner of Iowa to run the bases, walk in the cornfields and soak up the feel of the place, which looks much as it did in the film. Retired major leaguers like George Brett, Lou Brock, Catfish Hunter and Kirby Puckett have been here. Politicians on the campaign trail have stopped by. Kevin Costner, a star of the film, returned with his band in 2006.   (...)

But on Sunday, Don and Becky Lansing, the owners of the 193-acre farm that includes the field, are to announce that they are selling their property to an investment group led by a couple from the Chicago area. The group plans to keep the field as it is but also to build a dozen other fields and an indoor center for youth baseball and softball tournaments.

For the Lansings, who have no children, it is a bittersweet transaction. The property has been in the family for more than a century, and Don grew up in the two-bedroom house featured in the movie. The couple tended the grounds, gave tours and sold souvenirs. They spurned offers to commercialize the site and tried to maintain their privacy even as each year 65,000 visitors from around the world pulled into their driveway.  (...)

The Field of Dreams has become a tourist attraction in the most unassuming way. Other than its Web site and a few brochures, it is barely promoted. No billboards alert drivers to turn off the highway; only a few signs point the way to the farm. The Lansings placed a donation box near the guest book at the backstop. Shirts and other souvenirs are for sale, but there are no neon signs or corporate come-ons. The site is closed in the evenings and in the winter.

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Photos: Mark Hirsch for The New York Times, and Joe Scherrman/DreamCatcher Productions LLC

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Best Little Whore In Texas

by Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone

Early morning in a nearly filled corporate ballroom at the Cobb Energy Centre, a second-tier event stadium on the outskirts of Atlanta. It's late September, and a local conservative think tank is hosting a get-together with Rick Perry, whose front-runner comet at the time is still just slightly visible in the bottom of the sky. I've put away five cups of coffee trying to stay awake through a series of monotonous speeches about Georgia highway and port reform, waiting for my chance to lay eyes on the Next Big Thing in person.

By the time Perry shows up, I'm jazzed and ready for history. You always want to remember the first time you see the possible next president in person. But as every young person knows, the first time is not always a pleasant experience. Perry lumbers onstage looking exceedingly well-groomed, but also ashen and exhausted, like a funeral director with a hangover.

In a voice so subdued and halting that I think he must be sick, he launches into his speech, which consists of the following elements: a halfhearted football joke about Texas A&M that would have embarrassed a true fan like George W. Bush, worn bromides about liberals creating a nanny state, a few lines about jobs in Texas, and a promise to repeal "as much of Obamacare as I can" on his first day in the White House.

"I will try," he says, "to make Washington, D.C., as inconsequential in your life as I can."

Then he waves and walks offstage. The whole thing has taken barely 10 minutes.

I can't believe it, and neither can the assembled crowd of Georgia conservatives, who hesitate before breaking into polite applause. I feel like a high school cheerleader who just had her leg jizzed on in the back of a convertible. That's it? It's over? That was Rick Perry's stump speech?

"Low energy, low substance," sighs Justin Ryan, one of the conference attendees. "That's sort of the candidate in general."

But this is America, remember, where one should never underestimate shallow. And Rick Perry brings shallow to a new level. He is very gifted in that regard. He could be the Adolf Hitler of shallow.

Perry's campaign is still struggling to recover from the kind of spectacular, submarine-at-crush-depth collapse seldom seen before in the history of presidential politics. The governor went from presumptive front-runner to stammering talk-show punch line seemingly in the speed of a single tweet, rightly blasted for being too incompetent even to hold his own in televised debates with a half-bright pizza salesman like Herman Cain and a goggle-eyed megachurch Joan of Arc like Michele Bachmann. But such superficial criticisms of his weirdly erratic campaign demeanor don't even begin to get at the root of why we should all be terrified of Perry and what he represents. After all, you have to go pretty far to stand out as a whore and a sellout when you come from a state that has produced such luminaries in the history of political corruption as LBJ, Karl Rove and George W. Bush. But Rick Perry has managed to set a scary new low in the annals of opportunism, turning Texas into a swamp of political incest and backroom dealing on a scale not often seen this side of the Congo or Sierra Leone.

In an era when there's exponentially more money in politics than we've ever seen before, Perry is the candidate who is exponentially more willing than we've ever seen before to whore himself out for that money. On the human level he is a nonpersonality, an almost perfect cipher – a man whose only discernible passion is his extreme willingness to be whatever someone will pay him to be, or vote for him to be. Even scarier, the religious community around which he has chosen to pull his human chameleon act features some of the most extreme end-is-nigh nutcases in America, the last people you want influencing the man with the nuclear football. Perry is a human price tag – Being There meets Left Behind. And sometimes there's nothing more dangerous than nothing at all.

Bombay Bicycle Club

Good Design

Jonathan "Jony" Ive is an English designer and the Senior Vice President of Industrial Design at Apple Inc. He is the leading designer and conceptual mind behind the iMac, titanium and aluminum PowerBook G4, G4 Cube, MacBook, unibody MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, iPod, iPhone, and iPad.

After cofounding the London design agency Tangerine, Ive was hired in 1992 by Apple’s then Chief of Industrial Design Robert Brunner after a Tangerine consultancy with Apple. He gained his current position at Apple in 1997 as Senior Vice President of Industrial Design after the return of Steve Jobs, and since then has headed the Industrial Design team responsible for most of the company's significant hardware products. Jobs made design a chief element of the firm’s product strategy and Ive proceeded to establish the firm’s leading position with a series of functionally clean, aesthetically pleasing and remarkably popular products.

The work and principles of Dieter Rams, the Chief of Design at Braun from 1961 until 1995, have influenced Ive's work. In Gary Hustwit's documentary film Objectified (2009), Rams states that Apple is the only company designing products according to Rams' ten principles of "good design".

Rams' ten principles of "good design"

  • Is innovative - The possibilities for innovation are not, by any means, exhausted. Technological development is always offering new opportunities for innovative design. But innovative design always develops in tandem with innovative technology, and can never be an end in itself.
  • Makes a product useful - A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy certain criteria, not only functional, but also psychological and aesthetic. Good design emphasizes the usefulness of a product whilst disregarding anything that could possibly detract from it.
  • Is aesthetic - The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products are used every day and have an effect on people and their well-being. Only well-executed objects can be beautiful.
  • Makes a product understandable - It clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product clearly express its function by making use of the user's intuition. At best, it is self-explanatory.
  • Is unobtrusive - Products fulfilling a purpose are like tools. They are neither decorative objects nor works of art. Their design should therefore be both neutral and restrained, to leave room for the user's self-expression.
  • Is honest - It does not make a product more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept.
  • Is long-lasting - It avoids being fashionable and therefore never appears antiquated. Unlike fashionable design, it lasts many years – even in today's throwaway society.
  • Is thorough down to the last detail - Nothing must be arbitrary or left to chance. Care and accuracy in the design process show respect towards the consumer.
  • Is environmentally friendly - Design makes an important contribution to the preservation of the environment. It conserves resources and minimizes physical and visual pollution throughout the lifecycle of the product.
  • Is as little design as possible - Less, but better – because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with non-essentials. Back to purity, back to simplicity.
Source:  Wikipedia

Cargill - Quiet Giant

by David Whitford with Doris Burke, Fortune

Greg Page's only misgiving about the job offer he received from Cargill in 1974 was that it was from Cargill. He had grown up in tiny Bottineau, N.D., six miles from the Canadian border. His dad was the local John Deere dealer, who also owned an 800-acre hobby farm with 40 cows. "Cargill has historically had probably mixed sentiments about it out on the prairie," says Page. "That's who you sold your grain to." Farmers knew that if they didn't keep their wits about them, they might well get squeezed by the food giant. You knew to "keep a weather eye out," he says.

Page took the job anyway. He labored happily "in close proximity to livestock" for his first 24 years at Cargill, beginning with the feed division, then in meat, at home and abroad, until he was picked for bigger things. Eventually he was promoted all the way, in 2007, to chairman and CEO of the country's largest private company. Today he runs a business that is vastly larger and more influential than the Cargill of his youth.

With $119.5 billion in revenues in its most recent fiscal year, ended May 31, Cargill is bigger by half than its nearest publicly held rival in the food production industry, Archer Daniels Midland (ADM, Fortune 500). If Cargill were public, it would have ranked No. 18 on this year's Fortune 500, between AIG (AIG, Fortune 500) and IBM (IBM, Fortune 500). Over the past decade, a period when the S&P 500's revenues have grown 31%, Cargill's sales have more than doubled.

But those numbers alone don't begin to capture the scope of Cargill's impact on our daily lives. You don't have to love Egg McMuffins (McDonald's (MCD, Fortune 500) buys many of its eggs in liquid form from Cargill) or hamburgers (Cargill's facilities can slaughter more cattle than anyone else's in the U.S.) or sub sandwiches (No. 8 in pork, No. 3 in turkey) to ingest Cargill products on a regular basis. Whatever you ate or drank today -- a candy bar, pretzels, soup from a can, ice cream, yogurt, chewing gum, beer -- chances are it included a little something from Cargill's menu of food additives. Its $50 billion "ingredients" business touches pretty much anything salted, sweetened, preserved, fortified, emulsified, or texturized, or anything whose raw taste or smell had to be masked in order to make it palatable.

Despite Cargill's extraordinary size, strength, and breadth, it has long been remarkably successful at keeping out of the public eye. But the days when the company could get away with saying nothing and revealing less are over. "I think the world has curiosity about where its food comes from that is more earnest than it's been in the past," says Page, who earlier this year took the unprecedented step of allowing Oprah's cameras inside a Cargill slaughterhouse. (No video of the actual slaughtering, however.)

Read more:

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Psychological Study of Smiling

by Eric Jaffe, APS

A smile begins in our sensory corridors. The earcollects a whispered word. The eyes spot an old friend on the station platform. The hand feels the pressure of another hand. This emotional data funnels to the brain, exciting the left anterior temporal region in particular, then smolders to the surface of the face, where two muscles, standing at attention, are roused into action: The zygomatic major, which resides in the cheek, tugs the lips upward, and the orbicularis oculi, which encircles the eye socket, squeezes the outside corners into the shape of a crow’s foot. The entire event is short — typically lasting from two-thirds of a second to four seconds — and those who witness it often respond by mirroring the action, and smiling back.

Other muscles can simulate a smile, but only the peculiar tango of the zygomatic major and the orbicularis oculi produces a genuine expression of positive emotion. Psychologists call this the “Duchenne smile,” and most consider it the sole indicator of true enjoyment. The name is a nod to French anatomist Guillaume Duchenne, who studied emotional expression by stimulating various facial muscles with electrical currents. (The technique hurt so much, it’s been said, that Duchenne performed some of his tests on the severed heads of executed criminals.) In his 1862 book Mecanisme de la Physionomie Humaine, Duchenne wrote that the zygomatic major can be willed into action, but that only the “sweet emotions of the soul” force the orbicularis oculi to contract. “Its inertia, in smiling,” Duchenne wrote, “unmasks a false friend.”

Psychological scientists no longer study beheaded rogues — just graduate students, mainly — but they have advanced our understanding of smiles since Duchenne’s discoveries. We now know that genuine smiles may indeed reflect a “sweet soul.” The intensity of a true grin can predict marital happiness, personal well-being, and even longevity. We know that some smiles — Duchenne’s false friends — do not reflect enjoyment at all, but rather a wide range of emotions, including embarrassment, deceit, and grief. We know that variables (age, gender, culture, and social setting, among them) influence the frequency and character of a grin, and what purpose smiles play in the broader scheme of existence. In short, scientists have learned that one of humanity’s simplest expressions is beautifully complex.

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Night Fishing at Antibes, Pablo Picasso

Tamara de Lempicka:  Succulent and Flask (1941)

Friday Book Club - West With the Night

From Wikipedia:

West With the Night is a 1942 memoir by Beryl Markham, chronicling her experiences growing up in Kenya (then British East Africa), in the early 1900s, leading to a career as a bush pilot there. It is considered a classic of outdoor literature, and in 2004, National Geographic Adventure ranked it number 8 in a list of 100 best adventure books.

Beryl Markham was a British-born Kenyan aviatrix, adventurer, and racehorse trainer. During the pioneer days of aviation, she became the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic from east to west.
When she was four years old, her father moved the family to Kenya, which was then British East Africa, purchasing a farm in Njoro near the Great Rift Valley. Although her mother disliked the isolation and promptly returned to England, Beryl stayed in Kenya with her father, where she spent an adventurous childhood learning, playing and hunting with the natives. On her family's farm, she developed a knowledge of, and love for horses. As a young adult, she became the first licensed female horse trainer in Kenya.

Impetuous, single-minded and beautiful, Markham was a noted non-conformist, even in a colony known for its colourful eccentrics. During her lifetime she was married three times. She also had an unconcealed 1929 affair with the Duke of Gloucester, the son of George V. The Windsors promptly cut the romance short; Hubert Broad had an affair with Beryl and he was named as the accomplice in the divorce by Mansfield Markham. After her Atlantic crossing, she returned to be with Broad. He was also a great influence in her flying career.

Markham chronicled her many adventures in her memoir, West with the Night, published in 1942. Despite strong reviews in the press, the book sold modestly, and then quickly went out of print. After living for many years in the United States, Markham moved back to Kenya in 1952, becoming for a time the most successful horse trainer in the country.

Markham's memoir lingered in obscurity until 1982, when California restaurateur George Gutekunst read a collection of Ernest Hemingway's letters, including one in which Hemingway lavishly praised Markham's writing (and attacked her character):

"Did you read Beryl Markham's book, West With The Night? ...She has written so well, and marvellously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer. I felt that I was simply a carpenter with words, picking up whatever was furnished on the job and nailing them together and sometimes making an okay pig pen. But this girl, who is to my knowledge very unpleasant and we might even say a high-grade bitch, can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves as writers ... it really is a bloody wonderful book."

Intrigued, Gutekunst read West with the Night and became so enamored of Markham's prose that he helped persuade a California publisher, North Point Press, to re-issue the book in 1983. The re-release of the book launched a remarkable final chapter in the life of the eighty-year-old Markham, who was lauded for her three final years as a great author as well as flyer.

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PHANTOM WATER EDIT from Chris Bryan on Vimeo.

First known photograph taken of a surfer. Hawaii, 1890.

Moon Shot

[ed.  History of the first golf shot on another planet.  Not the longest drive ever recorded which has been estimated to be nearly a million miles, but who wouldn't like to have this honor?  Interestingly, both shots were made with a six-iron.]

by Mike McAllister, PGATour

Somewhere in the Colorado home of Laura Shepard Churchley is a collapsible golf club consisting of five aluminum tubes held together with plastic o-rings. Running through the hollow middle is a thin string attached to a small handle. At the bottom is the club head of a Wilson Staff Dyna-Power 6-iron from the early 1970s.

It is a replica of the most famous golf club in American history -- the one Churchley's father, Apollo 14 commander Alan Shepard, used 40 years ago to hit two golf balls on the moon.   (...)

Not to worry. Another replica of the club can be found at the World Golf Hall of Fame museum in St. Augustine, Fla. It sits under a spotlight inside a glass case near the front of the museum's special "Shanks for the Memory" exhibit that pays tribute to one of Admiral Shepard's friends, comedian Bob Hope -- who, as it turns out, was the inspiration for the idea of taking a few swings on the lunar surface.

Unlike Churchley's replica, which was built a decade ago at her request by the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center, the Hall of Fame's club is one of three that Shepard himself commissioned in 1971. In a gesture of goodwill, the club was originally given to a space museum in Japan before the Hall of Fame acquired the piece for its permanent collection.

Mark Cubbedge, who has traveled around the world to acquire artifacts and memorabilia for the Hall of Fame, is the museum's collections manager. As such, he has touched -- delicately, to be sure -- every piece the museum owns.

Almost every piece.

"It may be the only thing in the museum I haven't handled," he says, a tone of reverence in his voice.

Other replicas are out there. One is in the Smithsonian. Churchley's two sisters each own one. But where is the real club, the one that Shepard used on Feb. 6, 1971 as he and astronaut Edgar Mitchell wrapped up their lunar stay at Fra Mauro base?

It resides in the Arnold Palmer Center for Golf History at the USGA Museum in Far Hills, N.J. Tucked safely under thick glass walls in a display simply labeled, "The Moon Club," it was donated by Shepard -- at the request of another comedian friend, Bing Crosby -- during a ceremony at the U.S. Open at Winged Foot in June, 1974.   (...)

"The moon club is the most popular artifact in the museum," museum director Rand Jerris says. "People come just to see the club. But what's fun for me is to see the people who don't know that it's here. When they see it, it's a moment of disbelief. They had no idea the club survived.

"Everybody just loves it. I get more questions asked about the club than any other artifact we have. They crave the information."

So, Jerris was asked, how would he describe the moon club?

"Well," he begins, "it's a funny-looking piece ..."

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Current Events: The Spotlight Now Shines on Italy

by James B. Stewart, NY Times

It finally dawned on me this week that the value of my retirement account might depend on Silvio Berlusconi.

You know Mr. Berlusconi. He is the billionaire prime minister of Italy who not only owns much of the Italian media but also provides them with ample material through his escapades. By his count, Mr. Berlusconi has survived 577 police interrogations and 2,500 court appearances related to innumerable legal and political scandals, not to mention enough suspected sexual adventures to top Hugh Hefner.  (...)

This might have remained diverting tabloid fodder for most people outside of Italy, but this week the country moved to center stage in the European debt crisis, pushing Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain at least temporarily into the wings and allowing Mr. Berlusconi to assume what seems to be his natural place, which is in the spotlight. On his 75-year-old shoulders rests the task of shoring up Italy’s finances so that the European Central Bank buys more Italian sovereign debt, to gain French and German support for a larger bailout fund to protect Italy’s banks, and to keep Italy from becoming another Greece and plunging the world into an even more devastating financial crisis.

This remains the case even after the latest effort by European heads of state to put the crisis behind it. Nothing they said could change the fact that Italy has $2.6 trillion in sovereign debt outstanding, the fourth-largest debt in the world after the United States, Japan and Germany. Much of this has to be rolled over — $54 billion in February 2012 alone, according to a Goldman Sachs report. Italy is the world’s eighth-largest economy. Both Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s recently downgraded Italy’s debt ratings and warned of more to come, pushing up borrowing costs and widening credit spreads.

Greece’s debt is modest by comparison, and the fierce effort waged by European banks to avoid a huge write-down on the value of their Greek loans was less about Greece then about setting a precedent that could extend to Italy and other heavily indebted countries. Outside of Italy, French banks have the biggest exposure to Italian sovereign debt — over $500 billion, according to Goldman Sachs. And who knows what institutions (including American ones) insured all that debt?  (...)

In August, Mr. Berlusconi promised ambitious reforms to get the European Central Bank to buy Italian debt. Among them were raising the retirement age, raising taxes on the wealthy and opening up the professions to more competition. By last Sunday, as European leaders prepared for a critical meeting on the debt crisis scheduled for Wednesday, Mr. Berlusconi had accomplished none of that.

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Painting by Kenton Nelson


When the Words Don’t Fit

[ed. Love, fate, persistence.  Nice story.]

by Sarah Healy, NY Times

Shortly after I turned 21, a boy handed me a poem. It was folded and folded until the words were concentrated and tucked away, handwritten black letters turned and flipped inside a small square.

We had been on a plane from Burlington, Vt., to Newark, seated a few rows away from each other. I had noticed him before we boarded: the way he sat with his feet resting on his carry-on, his gaze focused on the open pages of a book.

During the flight, I felt his eyes trying to catch mine as I turned and pretended to look for something behind me. The voice we used when ordering drinks, the way we stood to pull this or that from the overhead compartment: everything was choreographed for the benefit of the stranger across the aisle.

And then the plane landed and made its way to the gate. In my memory, it was evening and the rain had just subsided. Somewhere between the gate and my parents’ waiting car, he handed me the poem.

That was almost 13 years ago. I had been flying home from college for the weekend for my sister’s wedding — or rather, the celebration of her marriage. My family wasn’t big on weddings in the save-the-date, banquet-hall sense. So this was the small, elegant party held after she and her husband had eloped. Our tradition wasn’t to have weddings but to have elopements.

My parents had eloped. They had known each other for less than three months and had been on only a handful of dates before they went to a justice of the peace and took vows they meant and kept. My mother had been working at a welcome station in Florida. She handed my father a glass of free orange juice. That’s how they met: my mother with her thick dark hair and crystal-blue eyes, my father in his naval uniform.

I was proud of that, the story of my parents’ beginning. It was a glass of free orange juice, but it could have been a poem.

“Did you hear that a boy gave Sarah a poem?” my older sisters whispered. They were enamored with the idea, and I passed around the white sheet of paper with its pale blue lines so they could read it.

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Illustration: Brian Rea
George Booth, 1985.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Black Keys

[ed.  Cool moves.]

The Power of Red

Like most teenagers in suburbia I took a driver’s education class shortly after I earned my learner’s permit. Though I picked up critical driving tips, and got plenty of practice in the driver’s seat, one of the most interesting facts I learned concerned car insurance and the color red. According to my teacher, drivers with red cars had to pay higher insurance rates. Apparently this was due to the fact that people in red cars were more likely to speed. I’ve since learned that the relationship between red and speeding is actually a pervasive urban legend. Nevertheless, it piqued my interest in the association between color and behavior. Though red might not be associated with speeding, it has been found to relate to a variety of psychological processes and outcomes in both humans and non-human primates including dominance, competitive sports outcomes, achievement, and sexual attraction.

Dominance, Aggression, and Sports

There is a large body of animal research showing that red coloration is related to testosterone levels and by extension to dominance and aggressive behavior – a signal that members of the species use to guide their actions. In one recent study, for example, researchers evaluated whether wild male rhesus macaques (monkeys) would be less likely to steal food from a human researcher if the researcher was wearing red. According to their hypothesis, red clothing signals that the human is dominant and aggressive, and therefore the monkey would be more hesitant to steal from or challenge them. The study was conducted on Cayo Santiago – a small island in Puerto Rico that is home to a large population of free-ranging rhesus macaques. Two experimenters would locate a male monkey, approach him together, take out a plate with a slice of apple on it, and then step away once it was clear the monkey saw them. The monkey could then approach and steal the apple from one of the experimenters. One experimenter wore a red shirt, and the other wore either a green or blue shirt. Across conditions the monkeys disproportionately stole from the experimenter NOT wearing red – even if the “red” experimenter was female (~70% of the time).

This research followed from a wildly publicized study in 2005 evaluating a somewhat similar process in humans. The researchers followed contestants in combative sports, including boxing, tae kwon do, and two types of wrestling, in the 2004 Olympics. These contestants were randomly assigned to either wear red or blue uniforms during the games. The researchers found that contestants wearing red were significantly more likely to win their matches. This was especially the case when the two competitors were relatively equal in ability (red gave them an extra nudge). Similar results were found with teams assigned to wear red in an international soccer tournament in 2005. The researchers argued these results are due to an evolutionary history – in which red coloration was related to testosterone levels and by extension dominance. In this way, it became a cue regarding which male would win a competition – a cue still used by humans today. How exactly this process operates, however, is still unclear. Is the competitor wearing red more confident or their opponent more intimidated? Other researchers have argued that the effect has to do with the referees’ biases. For example, referees were found to give more points to tae kwon do competitors wearing red than to those wearing blue, even when the performances were identical. Whatever the reason, the effect is there, and should be considered in high stakes competitive sports. 

Deep Intellect

[ed. Excellent article on one of the most fascinating creatures on the planet.  Inside the mind of the octopus.]

by Sy Montgomery, Orion

Octopuses are classified within the invertebrates in the mollusk family, and many mollusks, like clams, have no brain.

Only recently have scientists accorded chimpanzees, so closely related to humans we can share blood transfusions, the dignity of having a mind. But now, increasingly, researchers who study octopuses are convinced that these boneless, alien animals—creatures whose ancestors diverged from the lineage that would lead to ours roughly 500 to 700 million years ago—have developed intelligence, emotions, and individual personalities. Their findings are challenging our understanding of consciousness itself. (…)

Another measure of intelligence: you can count neurons. The common octopus has about 130 million of them in its brain. A human has 100 billion. But this is where things get weird. Three-fifths of an octopus’s neurons are not in the brain; they’re in its arms.

“It is as if each arm has a mind of its own,” says Peter Godfrey-Smith, a diver, professor of philosophy at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, and an admirer of octopuses. For example, researchers who cut off an octopus’s arm (which the octopus can regrow) discovered that not only does the arm crawl away on its own, but if the arm meets a food item, it seizes it—and tries to pass it to where the mouth would be if the arm were still connected to its body.

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Artwork: Hokusai, The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife, 1814

DIY Minimal Business Cards on the Go

The ever-clever Mikey Burton has come up with a fun idea that I just may try out. He was asked to participate in the “Designer Challenge” for the October issue of Computer Arts Projects and was tasked to put a new spin on traditional business cards. So his idea was to pare down a card to the absolute essentials: name, website and possibly a stylized bear illustration, and print it in a unique way.

What’s really neat about the cards that Burton made was the tool he used: a 3/4″ inspection stamp. Not exactly a paragon of style and modern design, but it works great for this purpose. Plus, it’s self-inking and it’s small enough to carry around in your pocket or on a keyring, so you can turn any scrap of paper into a minimal DIY business card.


Million Dollar Divers

by Michael Behar, Wired

Not long ago, the toy of choice for the nautically inclined with a few million dollars to spare was an opulent megayacht. Today, it’s a personal submarine.

The dive to the deep is a thrill in itself, but subs also have another advantage over above-water crafts: the ability to just duck out of sight. “Nobody knows where you are or what you are doing,” says Bruce Jones, founder of both US Submarines and Triton Submarines. “You come into port, register with customs, and then disappear.”

The newest subs can go deeper, faster, and farther than their predecessors, thanks to advances in microprocessor design, composite materials, and communications technology. “Electronics and batteries are being adapted for submersibles from more rapidly developing and better-funded communities,” says marine consultant and undersea explorer Don Walsh, an oceanographer who has been plumbing the depths since the days when private submarines were just a figment of the future.

Perhaps the greatest leap forward has been in the glass: Precision molding systems can now fashion massive, flawless spheres thick enough to withstand 16,000 pounds of pressure per square inch—the crushing weight of water at 35,000 feet deep. “Glass gives you an incredible immersive experience,” Jones says. “The refractive index closely approximates seawater, so when you’re inside the sub the boundaries disappear.” And what you’ll encounter below trumps anything you’ll see from the deck of your yacht.

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Cashing In on Your Hit YouTube Video

by Claire Cain Miller, NY Times

Katie Clem posted a video on YouTube this month of her daughter Lily’s poignant and funny reaction to her sixth birthday present, a trip to Disneyland, for her friends and family. Then it went viral.

In three weeks it has been watched more than five million times, and Lily has become a minor Internet celebrity. Of far more importance, at least to Lily’s parents, the video is poised to make enough money from advertisements to send Lily to college.

Creating a video that attracts millions of viewers and becomes a pop culture phenomenon involves an unpredictable cocktail of luck and timing. A dash of cute babies or people acting like idiots can only help. But once a video goes viral, making some cold cash depends on quick action.

Here is some advice on how to take advantage of your 15 minutes of Internet fame from people who did just that.

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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Triticum Fever

by Dr. William Davis, Boing Boing

Quick: Name a common food, consumed every day by most people, that:

• Increases overall calorie consumption by 400 calories per day
• Affects the human brain in much the same way as morphine
• Has a greater impact on blood sugar levels than a candy bar
• Is consumed at the rate of 133 pounds per person per year
• Has been associated with increased Type 1 Diabetes
• Increases both insulin resistance and leptin resistance, conditions that lead to obesity
• Is the only common food with its own mortality rate

If you guessed sugar or high-fructose corn syrup, you're on the right track, but, no, that's not the correct answer.

The true culprit: Triticum aestivum, or modern wheat.

Note that I said "modern" wheat, because I would argue that what we are being sold today in the form of whole grain bread, raisin bagels, blueberry muffins, pizza, ciabatta, bruschetta, and so on is not the same grain our grandparents grew up on. It's not even close.

Modern wheat is the altered offspring of thousands of genetic manipulations, crude and sometimes bizarre techniques that pre-date the age of genetic modification. The result: a high-yield, 2-foot tall "semi-dwarf" plant that no more resembles the wheat consumed by our ancestors than a chimpanzee (which shares 99% of the same genes that we do) resembles a human. I trust that you can tell the difference that 1% makes.

The obvious outward differences are accompanied by biochemical differences. The gluten proteins in modern wheat, for instance, differ from the gluten proteins found in wheat as recently as 1960. This likely explains why the incidence of celiac disease, the devastating intestinal condition caused by gluten, has quadrupled in the past 40 years. Furthermore, a whole range of inflammatory diseases, from rheumatoid arthritis to inflammatory bowel disease, are also on the rise. Humans haven't changed -- but the wheat we consume has changed considerably.

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[ed. Cute.  But I suspect many might think the location of the perforation is a bit more fluid than this - unless you're talking about attorney fees, of course.]

h/t: TYWKIWDBI via snuh

Lawren Harris: Clouds, Lake Superior, 1923 - Oil on canvas (Winnipeg Art Gallery)

One Google Books To Rule Them All?

by Maria Bustillos, The Awl

Hellzapoppin' in the world of intellectual property rights these days. Lawsuits, corporate flim-flamming, the claims of far-sighted academics and developers, furious authors and artists and the conflicting demands of a sprawling Internet culture have created a gargantuan, multi-directional tug-of-war that will inevitably affect what and how we will be able to read online in the future. Recent developments indicate, amazingly, that there are grounds for hope that the public will in time benefit from the results of this epic tussle.

In 2002, Google began scanning the world's 130 million or so books in preparation for the "secret 'books' project" that eventually became Google Books. In 2004, they began offering access to these scans, displaying the irritatingly-named "snippets" of books in their search results. And in no time at all, they were getting sued by the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers for copyright infringement. These lawsuits, plus two more that were filed subsequently against Google, resulted in a six-year rollercoaster ride that, like all good roller coasters, exhilarated, terrified and rattled all the participants, and ended by thumping their quaking bods to a halt, last March, in very nearly the same place from which they'd started out. But during that time the world had changed, and an altogether new way of bringing printed books into the digital commons had emerged. Enter the nonprofit alternative for bringing the world's books online for all readers: the newly-funded Digital Public Library of America.

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The Civil Wars

[ed.  I don't think a cover song could be any more unrecognizable than this.  I like this version better.]

Happy Birthday, Patriot Act

How Symphonies Grew Strong Audiences By Killing The Myth Of The Average Consumer

by Adrian Slywotzky, Fast Company

Marketing managers for major orchestras had always assumed that convincing people to give the symphony a try was the key to gaining subscribers. "Get people through the doors!" was their mantra, assuming that the sheer beauty of the music would lure them back.

But when they actually studied the numbers, they discovered that getting new people wasn't the problem. They weren't passing the audition. Customer churn was killing these orchestras.

It turns out the secret to unlocking demand for classical music--as for most products--is discarding the Myth of the Average Customer. Designing a product offer to appeal to one archetypal customer is always wasteful--one size fits few, not all. Instead, demand creators have to constantly focus on demand variation, asking how customers differ from one another and how those differences impact demand. This process of "de-averaging" can be complex, but it offers huge opportunities.

In 2007, several orchestra managers joined forces to analyze their collective marketing challenge. A pro bono third-party study by Oliver Wyman (Audience Growth Initiative) found that on average, symphonies lost 55% of their customers each year; churn among first-time concert-goers was 91%! The study also confirmed that the solution to churn was to move beyond "averages" and to begin looking at the wide variations between starkly different customer groups.

The symphony audience was divided into a core audience, trialists (first-time concert-goers), non-committed (a few concerts a year), special occasion attendees, snackers (people who purchase small subscriptions for years), and high potentials (frequent attendees who haven't bought a subscription). In Boston, for example, members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) core audience represented just 26% of the customer base but bought 56% of the tickets. Trialists composed 37% of the base, but bought only 11% of the tickets. In monetary terms, core audience members had a 5-year value close to $5,000; trialists, just $199. With that data, the orchestras' new mission became more targeted. The goal wasn't broadly to reduce churn but to convert trialists into steady customers.

The symphonies compiled a list of 78 attributes of the classical music experience, from the architecture of the hall to the service at the bar to the availability of information on the Internet. Using online surveys and other techniques, the list was whittled down to 16 factors with the greatest impact on attendance.

Horns and strings! It turns out the quality of the orchestra, magnificence of the hall, and virtuosity of the conductor were not particularly important attributes. What was? Drum roll!  It was...

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Image: Flickr user trp0