aTypical Joe: a gay New Yorker living in the rural South
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Thursday, May 08, 2008
Fake palace boom across Germany
On Marketplace tonight:
A conference center planned for Hanover will look just like the Herrenhausen palace that was wiped out in 1943. In Potsdam, the state parliament just voted to move into a $200 million replica of a baroque palace. Frederick the Great stayed there sometimes. It was also destroyed in the war. Total cost, around $200 million. In Berlin, the government plans to rebuild the decimated former home of Prussia’s royal family. That tab, $700 million. Palace-building hasn’t advanced much in the past couple of hundred years. Stone masons, sculptors, 80 percent of the cost is labor, only now the workers are paid union wages. Why spend this much money to rebuild palaces that few Germans can even remember?
PETER SCHABE: It’s linked to an anxiety about globalization. People want a place to identify with, and they want to create cities that looked like they did a long time ago.
Peter Schabe works for the German Foundation for Historic Preservation. He says a lot of Germans are sick of modern architecture. These new-old buildings remind Germans of their proud past, while conveniently skipping the 20th century. This back-to-the-past movement started in Dresden, which was flattened by Allied firebombing. After Germany reunified in 1990, the city’s famed, domed Frauenkirche was resurrected from a pile of rubble. Today, nearly eight million tourists a year flood the city. Cities without palaces to rebuild, such as Frankfurt, don’t want to be left out. They’re building brand new “historic districts.”
A side-effect of all this? “Money spent creating fake new buildings means less money going to preserve authentic historic buildings.”
Friday, May 02, 2008
What makes a design “Googley”?
A small team gathered to discuss these questions and define the Googley Design Principles:1. Focus on people—their lives, their work, their dreams.
2. Every millisecond counts.
3. Simplicity is powerful.
4. Engage beginners and attract experts.
5. Dare to innovate.
6. Design for the world.
7. Plan for today’s and tomorrow’s business.
8. Delight the eye without distracting the mind.
9. Be worthy of people’s trust.
10. Add a human touch.
Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Colbert on Florida’s Christian license plates
Says Stephen, “They’ll look great with your Shroud of Turin mud flaps.”
Friday, April 18, 2008
Handwriting holds no clues to personality
Remember that pricy personality test I had done by a popular Manhattan handwriting analyst?
Lest there was any doubt science has conclusively proven… [to my satisfaction...] it’s all bunk!
Geoffrey Dean has reviewed two hundred different studies into whether graphology can tell us anything about personality (Dean, 1992). Adding up the effect of each of these studies showed that graphology has a combined power of about...wait for it...zero. Well, not quite zero but still very, very small - so small as to be insignificant.
Tuesday, April 01, 2008
This & That
Giant dome made of hula hoops & cable-ties
CGI girl follows your mouse
Make visits Mad Magazine
Snake made from keyboard keys.
Monday, March 24, 2008
Look out for cyclists
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
On the science of names
I tell the students to call me Joe. I’m not a “doctor” and not fond of “mister.” My brothers are Karl and Kurt, much more interesting names if you ask me.
I like southern names - Satchel, Chance, Chase, Bond, Tyler, Dixon are some of the boys’ names. The NYTimes had a story on the science of names yesterday:
By scouring census records from 1790 to 1930, Mr. Sherrod and Mr. Rayback discovered Garage Empty, Hysteria Johnson, King Arthur, Infinity Hubbard, Please Cope, Major Slaughter, Helen Troy, several Satans and a host of colleagues to the famed Ima Hogg (including Ima Pigg, Ima Muskrat, Ima Nut and Ima Hooker).
The authors also interviewed adults today who had survived names like Candy Stohr, Cash Guy, Mary Christmas, River Jordan and Rasp Berry. All of them, even Happy Day, seemed untraumatized.
“They were very proud of their names, almost overly proud,” Mr. Sherrod said. “We asked if that was a reaction to getting pummeled when they were little, but they said they didn’t get that much ribbing. They did get a little tired of hearing the same jokes, but they liked having an unusual name because it made them stand out.”
For a chuckle:
“Today it’s all about individuality,” Mr. Sherrod said. “In the past, there was more of a sense of humor, probably because fathers had more say in the names.” He said the waning influence of fathers might explain why there are no longer so many names like Nice Deal, Butcher Baker, Lotta Beers and Good Bye, although some dads still try.
“I can’t tell you,” Mr. Sherrod said, “how often I’ve heard guys who wanted their kid to be able to say truthfully, â€˜Danger is my middle name.’ But their wives absolutely refused.”
And what about the boy named Sue?
“Researchers have studied men with cross-gender names like Leslie,” Dr. Evans explained. “They haven’t found anything negative - no psychological or social problems - or any correlations with either masculinity or effeminacy. But they have found one major positive factor: a better sense of self-control. It’s not that you fight more, but that you learn how to let stuff roll off your back.”
RELATED: An old Times story says names are prophetic:
Apt names were dubbed aptronyms by the columnist Franklin P. Adams. Once you start collecting them, you can’t stop. Think of baseball’s Cecil Fielder and Rollie Fingers, the news executive Bill Headline, the artist Rembrandt Peale, the poet William Wordsworth, the pathologist (not gynecologist) Zoltan Ovary, the novelist Francine Prose, the poker champion Chris Moneymaker, the musicians Paul Horn and Mickey Bass, the TV weatherman Storm Field, Judge Wisdom, the spokesman Larry Speakes, the dancer Benjamin Millepied, the opera singer Peter Schreier, the British neurologist Lord Brain, the entertainer Tommy Tune, the CBS Television ratings maven David Poltrack...Then there are the names of people who succeeded in their professions despite what might be called their an-aptronyms: Dr. Kwak, Judge Lawless or Orson Swindle, a member of the Federal Trade Commission. Long before Armand Hammer bought Arm & Hammer, the baking soda company, many people assumed he owned it.
Monday, March 10, 2008
Italian Greyhound named “Ugliest Dog”
San Diego crowned its “ugliest dog” Sunday during the 13th annual “Ugly Dog Contest.”
Some say these four-legged furballs are so ugly, they’re cute, but only one dog can walk away the ugliest.
Victoria, an Italian greyhound, won the contest for the second year in a row.
Photo is of our two Italian Greyhounds, Jake & Baci. Do you really think they’re ugly??? Italian Greyhounds Rock!!!
More after the jump.
Sunday, March 09, 2008
Get enough sleep. If not, nap!
Doug’s napping now. I slept in and made up for the lost hour. When I got up I watched a report on sleep on CBS Sunday Morning.
Adults need 7â€“9 hours of sleep. In 1960 we got 8-and-a-half hours of sleep a night; today we get six hours and forty minutes.
We always hear that naps are a good idea. I’m not a big napper, but I am very glad to get this key piece of information on the science of how long to nap:
Researchers have found, though, that there’s a science to naps.
20 to 40 minutes is enough to revitalize you. But after forty minutes, you fall into a deeper sleep. Waking up during that period could actually leave you feeling MORE groggy.
A two-hour nap will allow you to doze through a complete sleep cycle - so that you feel REALLY refreshed.
My take-away is nap 20 to 40 minutes or the full two hours but nothing in between. Maybe the reason I’ve failed at napping is I’ve tried an hour!
And for you parents and teachers, there’s this, “it turns out that teenagers’ body clocks naturally turn them into night-owls, making it difficult for them to get out of bed early.”
So that sleepy-headed kid is doing as God intended. And maybe we ought to do like the Kentucky school in the report and stop blaming the kids and instead start rethinking the school day clock!
Saturday, March 08, 2008
Via Blogs for Democracy, “What would Freud say?”
Thursday, March 06, 2008
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Did you see it?
I fell asleep. Doug says I missed something spectacular.
Monday, February 18, 2008
Brits, strippers, hookers & financial distress
The UK Insolvency Helpline recently reported that a quarter of its users admitted to having paid money for sex/porn in getting into financial distress. Here’s a British article on the report here. I’m just going to let that sink in on its own. It does, however, make me wonder about the applicability of the adjective “sub-prime” in this context.
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
AquaDom: the world’s largest cylinder aquarium (reprise)
For some reason this old post is getting a lot of traffic so I figured I’d push it back up to the top...
Placed at the lobby of the Radisson SAS Hotel in Berlin, the 25 meters high AquaDom is the largest cylindrical aquarium ever built. Filled with about 900,000 liters of seawater, it contains some 2600 fish of 56 species… Guests and visitors are able to travel through the aquarium in a glass-enclosed elevator to reach a sightseeing point and restaurant under the glass roof. Two full-time divers are responsible for the care and feeding of the fish and maintenance of the aquarium.
Here’s a Lucite press release that describes how it was made.
Saturday, February 02, 2008
You may recall that we have my nephew, TJ, living with us. Our house is small by American standards (1,450 square feet) but now Doug wants to put a tiny house out in the backyard for TJâ€¦
Sunday, December 16, 2007
Hallelujah Chorus Nuns
Thursday, December 13, 2007
The the ex-husband of Tina Turner has died. They were a staple of the outdoor concert scene of my youth.
Saturday, December 08, 2007
Pre-paid funeral scams; I’ll be giving my body to science
In 1975 Audrey and Carl Brewer purchased what they thought was peace of mind-both for themselves and their family-when they bought two pre-paid funeral plans from Forest Hill South, a mortuary and cemetery in Memphis. [...]
The Brewers had no reason to question the honesty of Forest Hill… Then in July 2006, one of Forest Hill’s new owners, Oklahoma oilman Clayton Smart, called a press conference to announce he was invalidating 13,500 pre-paid funeral contracts, including the Brewers’. While police stood by to prevent a customer riot, Smart explained that any contract holder who wanted to use his or her pre-need policy would have to pay an additional $4,000, more or less, at the time of death, even if the plan was already paid in full. “Obviously, things were a lot cheaper in 1965,” Smart explained. “I wouldn’t have bought the business if I thought I’d have to honor those contracts.”
Officials with the Tennessee attorney general’s office offer a different explanation for why Smart wasn’t honoring the contracts. They allege Smart and his partner, attorney Stephen Smith, drained the company’s pre-need trust funds of $20 million shortly after they purchased Forest Hill in 2004.
An AARP survey found 23% of those of us over 50 have signed up for one of these. Meanwhile:
The only federal agency currently concerned with protecting pre-need customers is the Federal Trade Commission. And it’s not doing much. The FTC focuses mainly on funeral homes’ compliance in providing itemized price lists to customers. But price lists can’t protect customers against pre-need fraud: “At this very moment some cash-strapped funeral director is diverting pre-need funds for his personal use,Ã¢â‚¬Â� declared the industry newsletter Funeral Monitor in April 2007. FTC attorney Monica Vaca says the agency is privately reviewing possible rule changes.
Via Pam Spaulding:
My mom wanted immediate cremation, no urn, no plot, no service. She didn’t believe in handing over cash to the death merchants. When she passed away in 1997, I followed her written wishes (though we had discussed it many times and was clear on what she wanted). A few days later the Cremation Society of the Carolinas sent me a plastic box containing a plastic bag with her ashes. I think the whole cost was around $500.
Daniel Gross had a recent piece in Slate on how cremation is impacting the death business:
Cremation is, well, on fire. The cremation rate rose from roughly 15 percent in 1985 to 27 percent in 2001, and to about a third of all deaths (PDF) in 2005 and 2006, according to the Cremation Association of North America.
Frontline had a moving episode recently on a family funeral home:
Thomas Lynch, 58, is a writer and a poet. He’s also a funeral director in a small town in central Michigan where he and his family have cared for the dead—and the living—for three generations. For the first time, Lynch agreed to allow cameras inside Lynch & Sons, giving FRONTLINE producers Miri Navasky and Karen O’Connor rare, behind-the-scenes access—from funeral arrangements to the embalming room—to the Lynches’ world for this film, The Undertaking.
You can watch online.
My parents have given their bodies to science. When they die the bodies will immediately be taken. We will have no role, no say, about anything that comes next. I always supported their decision and said I’d do that, too.
Hearing Lynch on the Frontline piece - “Funerals are the way we close the gap between the death that happens and the death that matters… A good funeral gets the dead where they need to go and the living where they need to be.” - made me rethink for a time.
AARP’s piece hints that I should go back to it.
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
Too tired to blog… Here’s some cool clapping…
Monday, December 03, 2007
Also from On The Media last week, a disquisition on calling Hillary Hillary:
BOB GARFIELD: This is On the Media. I’m Bob Garfield. Edwards, Obama, Hillary, Giuliani, Romney. Notice anything odd there? I referred to one - and only one - of those candidates by first name. And we’ve gotten some mail about this.
And off we go! Now this is not the first story of its kind I’ve come across. And I have to tell you I never really get it. It sounded more odd to me to hear Garfield say Giuliani rather than Rudy.
From this week’s New York Magazine, Rudy Has Seen the Enemy and He Is...Us:
America’s Mayor has just climbed onstage. Rudy Giuliani peels off his navy suit jacket and rolls up his shirtsleeves, grinning so wide that every one of his suspiciously white teeth is visible. Six years of nearly nonstop speechifying, selling either his own book or George W. Bush, have made Giuliani a masterful campaigner… They sure think so out here in the real America: The chants of “Roo-dee! Roo-dee!” are drowning out Giuliani’s final words, and women are elbowing one another in pursuit of his autograph.
While on Rudy, he was in Georgia yesterday where he was “effectively drown[ed] out” by a young crowd of Ron Paul supporters, then dissed by Johnny Isakson, “We’ve got a lot of great candidates...and I’m for the Republican candidate.”
Saturday, November 24, 2007
Taking science on faith
When I was a student, the laws of physics were regarded as completely off limits. The job of the scientist, we were told, is to discover the laws and apply them, not inquire into their provenance. The laws were treated as “given” - imprinted on the universe like a maker’s mark at the moment of cosmic birth - and fixed forevermore. Therefore, to be a scientist, you had to have faith that the universe is governed by dependable, immutable, absolute, universal, mathematical laws of an unspecified origin. You’ve got to believe that these laws won’t fail, that we won’t wake up tomorrow to find heat flowing from cold to hot, or the speed of light changing by the hour.
Over the years I have often asked my physicist colleagues why the laws of physics are what they are. The answers vary from “that’s not a scientific question” to “nobody knows.” The favorite reply is, “There is no reason they are what they are - they just are.” The idea that the laws exist reasonlessly is deeply anti-rational. After all, the very essence of a scientific explanation of some phenomenon is that the world is ordered logically and that there are reasons things are as they are. If one traces these reasons all the way down to the bedrock of reality - the laws of physics - only to find that reason then deserts us, it makes a mockery of science. [...]
Clearly, then, both religion and science are founded on faith - namely, on belief in the existence of something outside the universe, like an unexplained God or an unexplained set of physical laws, maybe even a huge ensemble of unseen universes, too. For that reason, both monotheistic religion and orthodox science fail to provide a complete account of physical existence. [...]
It seems to me there is no hope of ever explaining why the physical universe is as it is so long as we are fixated on immutable laws or meta-laws that exist reasonlessly or are imposed by divine providence. The alternative is to regard the laws of physics and the universe they govern as part and parcel of a unitary system, and to be incorporated together within a common explanatory scheme.
In other words, the laws should have an explanation from within the universe and not involve appealing to an external agency. The specifics of that explanation are a matter for future research. But until science comes up with a testable theory of the laws of the universe, its claim to be free of faith is manifestly bogus.
I was looking for this argument - and making my way vaguely in its direction - two years ago when I wrote my when being right is wrong post. Then I was grappling with some poll (the link is now dead) that found only 35% of Americans believe in evolution.
I happened to have had the opportunity to ask Eugenia Scott of the National Center for Science Education about America’s antipathy towards evolution. I wanted to know what we could do to change that fact and I was dissatisfied with her “we have the facts on our side” answer. We need something more than we’re right and they’re wrong!
My issue is that I believe in science (my scientist friends object to that terminology but in light of the title and tone of Davies’ piece I stand by it). Like any good believer I want others to believe along with me. Still, a majority of them don’t. We need a better argument. Understanding Davies’ point as a necessary precondition to finding it.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
NYTimes new building reviewed
Writing about your employer’s new building is a tricky task. If I love it, the reader will suspect that I’m currying favor with the man who signs my checks. If I hate it, I’m just flaunting my independence.
So let me get this out of the way: As an employee, I’m enchanted with our new building on Eighth Avenue. The grand old 18-story neo-Gothic structure on 43rd Street, home to The New York Times for nearly a century, had its sentimental charms. But it was a depressing place to work. Its labyrinthine warren of desks and piles of yellowing newspapers were redolent of tradition but also seemed an anachronism.
The new 52-story building between 40th and 41st Streets, designed by the Italian architect Renzo Piano, is a paradise by comparison. A towering composition of glass and steel clad in a veil of ceramic rods, it delivers on Modernism’s age-old promise to drag us - in this case, The Times - out of the Dark Ages.
I enjoy gazing up at the building’s sharp edges and clean lines when I emerge from the subway exit at 40th Street and Seventh Avenue in the morning. I love being greeted by the cluster of silvery birch trees in the lobby atrium, their crooked trunks sprouting from a soft blanket of moss. I even like my fourth-floor cubicle, an oasis of calm overlooking the third-floor newsroom.
Says my nephew after watching the multimedia tour of the tower, “I want to work in a cubicle in a building like that one day.”
It made me homesick.
Monday, November 05, 2007
The Hedunit as party trick.
In his New Yorker piece on FBI profilers this week, Malcolm Gladwell observes that “Profiling stories aren’t Whodunits; they’re Hedunits:”
In the Hedunit, the profiler does not catch the criminal. That’s for local law enforcement. He takes the meeting. Often, he doesn’t write down his predictions. It’s up to the visiting police officers to take notes. He does not feel the need to involve himself in the subsequent investigation, or even, it turns out, to justify his predictions.
Apparently the F.B.I.’s approach to criminal profiling has quite a reputation. So how do the profiles work?
The answer, he suspected, lay in the way the profiles were written, and, sure enough, when he broke down the rooftop-killer analysis, sentence by sentence, he found that it was so full of unverifiable and contradictory and ambiguous language that it could support virtually any interpretation.
Astrologers and psychics have known these tricks for years. The magician Ian Rowland, in his classic “The Full Facts Book of Cold Reading,” itemizes them one by one, in what could easily serve as a manual for the beginner profiler. First is the Rainbow Ruse-the “statement which credits the client with both a personality trait and its opposite.” ("I would say that on the whole you can be rather a quiet, self effacing type, but when the circumstances are right, you can be quite the life and soul of the party if the mood strikes you.") The Jacques Statement, named for the character in “As You Like ItÃ¢â‚¬Â� who gives the Seven Ages of Man speech, tailors the prediction to the age of the subject. To someone in his late thirties or early forties, for example, the psychic says, “If you are honest about it, you often get to wondering what happened to all those dreams you had when you were younger.” There is the Barnum Statement, the assertion so general that anyone would agree, and the Fuzzy Fact, the seemingly factual statement couched in a way that “leaves plenty of scope to be developed into something more specific.Ã¢â‚¬Â� ("I can see a connection with Europe, possibly Britain, or it could be the warmer, Mediterranean part?") And that’s only the start: there is the Greener Grass technique, the Diverted Question, the Russian Doll, Sugar Lumps, not to mention Forking and the Good Chance Guess-all of which, when put together in skillful combination, can convince even the most skeptical observer that he or she is in the presence of real insight.
Glad to have you back Malcolm!
Pit Bulls are dangerous
Malcolm Gladwell is back. And
this is how he starts his story in somehow I got this February 2006 story on what pit bulls can teach us about profiling confused with his story in this week’s New Yorker on FBI serial killer profiling:
One afternoon last February, Guy Clairoux picked up his two-and-a half-year-old son, Jayden, from day care and walked him back to their house in the west end of Ottawa, Ontario. They were almost home. Jayden was straggling behind, and, as his father’s back was turned, a pit bull jumped over a back-yard fence and lunged at Jayden. “The dog had his head in its mouth and started to do this shake,” Clairoux’s wife, JoAnn Hartley, said later. As she watched in horror, two more pit bulls jumped over the fence, joining in the assault. She and Clairoux came running, and he punched the first of the dogs in the head, until it dropped Jayden, and then he threw the boy toward his mother. Hartley fell on her son, protecting him with her body. “JoAnn!” Clairoux cried out, as all three dogs descended on his wife. “Cover your neck, cover your neck.” A neighbor, sitting by her window, screamed for help. Her partner and a friend, Mario Gauthier, ran outside. A neighborhood boy grabbed his hockey stick and threw it to Gauthier. He began hitting one of the dogs over the head, until the stick broke. “They wouldn’t stop,” Gauthier said. “As soon as you’d stop, they’d attack again. I’ve never seen a dog go so crazy. They were like Tasmanian devils.Ã¢â‚¬Â� The police came. The dogs were pulled away, and the Clairouxes and one of the rescuers were taken to the hospital. Five days later, the Ontario legislature banned the ownership of pit bulls. “Just as we wouldn’t let a great white shark in a swimming pool,” the province’s attorney general, Michael Bryant, had said, “maybe we shouldn’t have these animals on the civilized streets.”
Pit bulls, descendants of the bulldogs used in the nineteenth century for bull baiting and dogfighting, have been bred for “gameness,” and thus a lowered inhibition to aggression. Most dogs fight as a last resort, when staring and growling fail. A pit bull is willing to fight with little or no provocation. Pit bulls seem to have a high tolerance for pain, making it possible for them to fight to the point of exhaustion. Whereas guard dogs like German shepherds usually attempt to restrain those they perceive to be threats by biting and holding, pit bulls try to inflict the maximum amount of damage on an opponent. They bite, hold, shake, and tear. They don’t growl or assume an aggressive facial expression as warning. They just attack. “They are often insensitive to behaviors that usually stop aggression,” one scientific review of the breed states. “For example, dogs not bred for fighting usually display defeat in combat by rolling over and exposing a light underside. On several occasions, pit bulls have been reported to disembowel dogs offering this signal of submission.” In epidemiological studies of dog bites, the pit bull is overrepresented among dogs known to have seriously injured or killed human beings, and, as a result, pit bulls have been banned or restricted in several Western European countries, China, and numerous cities and municipalities across North America. Pit bulls are dangerous.
Now that I’ve read about pit bulls I’m off to read about serial killers....
BTW, Gladwell concludes that banning the breed is easier but wrong! Aggressive dog bites usually result from “a perfect storm of bad human-canine interactions-the wrong dog, the wrong background, the wrong history in the hands of the wrong person in the wrong environmental situation.”
What we need is “a generalization based not on breed but on the known and meaningful connection between dangerous dogs and negligent owners.”