Nothing New Under the Sun
News and Site Updates Archive 2007/10/07 - 2007/12/16
Politics: A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles; the conduct of public affairs for private advantage.
- Ambrose Bierce
16 Dec '07 - Perhaps it was optimistic of me to think that I would soon be updating this site weekly - instead, I have to struggle to get in one good update a month. Moving took vastly more energy and time (and also money!) than I had ever envisioned. I have moved 30 or so times in my life and I don't think all of them added together equal the effort of this (final?) move. One of the reasons is that I almost never moved furniture in the past. I would donate everything to charity if the move was more than just across town and buy new things when I arrived (it isn't like my house was ever filled with heirlooms). This method costs a bit more, but is definitely easier. But this particular move was a company-paid move, done by movers who packed everything, even a stack of old newspapers waiting to be carried to the bin. We ended up in Wellington with a confusing mix of trash, trinkets and treasure that requires a monumental sorting effort. But I now have only 2 boxes left to unpack, some drapes to buy, some pictures to hang, some files to sort through, and an insurance claim to file for the stuff that got damaged. Will I then begin updating weekly? Unlikely. Sadly, there is no income associated with this effort.
From the Let's-Hear-It-for-Food-Dyes Department: Does orange juice taste sweeter if it's a brighter orange? Yes - the colour of a drink can influence how we think it tastes. In fact, researchers found that colour has more influence on how taste is perceived than information about quality or price. Perceptual discrimination is fundamental to rational choice - so if you can't discriminate between two items, the decision as to which to buy then becomes irrational... Parallel universes really do exist, according to a mathematical discovery by Oxford scientists. The parallel universe theory, proposed in 1950 by US physicist Hugh Everett, helps explain some of the mysteries of quantum mechanics. In Everett's "many worlds" universe, every time a new physical possibility is explored, the universe splits. Given a number of possible alternative outcomes, each one is played out - in its own universe. A motorist who has a near miss, for instance, might feel relieved at his lucky escape but in a parallel universe, another version of him will have been killed. Yet another universe will see him recover after treatment in hospital. The number of alternative scenarios is endless - a bizarre idea often dismissed as fanciful. But the new research from Oxford shows that it offers a mathematical answer to quantum conundrums that cannot be dismissed lightly - and suggests that Dr Everett, a Phd student at Princeton University at the time, was on the right track. (My question is: do we have any control over which of those worlds we end up in?)... Patient was a front seat passenger in a car and had right foot on the portion of the dash where the airbag deploys. Car was involved in a low speed (25mph) crash; passenger airbag deployed, tearing the foot from the tibia and grossly dislocating the talus. Driver uninjured. Moral - NEVER ride with your feet on the dash.
A colony of bacteria the size your palm is populated by more citizens than all the human beings who have ever lived - from one to seven trillion. Your body, on the other hand, has a hundred trillion cells - half of those cells are comprised of huge bacterial colonies living in your throat, your gut, and on your skin. Without them you’d be dead. In your gut bacterial colonies take things you can’t digest and finish the digestion process off for you. Their deal is that you feed them their favourite foods and they will munch them, excreting what they can’t digest and their excrement will be on a par with honey and ambrosia to you. They’ll crap out the raw fuels that power you. What’s more, other bacterial colonies in your gut make your vitamin P, your vitamin K, and some of your B vitamins for you. To the bacteria inside of you, you are just a convenient self-guiding transport vehicle, a terrific food-gathering-and-grinding machine... Larry Lessig pins down the key shortcomings of our dusty, pre-digital intellectual property laws, and reveals how bad laws beget bad code. Then, in an homage to cutting-edge artistry, he throws in some of the most hilarious remixes you've ever seen... Textbook disclaimer stickers ("stickers [which] might deter other school districts from using disclaimers to shield children from developing a science-based view of reality")... "We do not know where it is going to go from here," Robert Shiller, Yale University economist said of the US housing market's record decline. "I would hope that it would motivate people to start thinking about hedging their real estate risk." As if they aren't always thinking about it?
Fantastic photos of an aurora in Iceland... If you happen to be reasonably close to one of the Earth's magnetic poles next time there’s a particularly intense aurora, go outside, get as far as you can from sources of noise – traffic, barking dogs, tvs – and listen carefully. If conditions are right, you may hear unusual noises similar to radio static, a small animal rustling through dry grass or the crinkling of a cellophane wrapper. Inuit folklore says it's the sound of the spirits of the dead. It’s the sound of the aurora itself. And the cause is currently unknown... "As a career college teacher, I want to insist yet again that the general education offered by American public high schools and even elite colleges and universities has become blatantly mediocre and not worth the price. Soaring tuition costs are a national scandal that the presidential candidates have failed to systematically address. Families and students themselves have incurred monstrous debts in their deluded search for brand-name cachet, which only marginally relates to a quality education. The college admissions race in the United States is a gigantic marketing scam that most mainstream journalists, desperate to get their kids into the overrated Ivy League, have shamefully neglected." - Camille Paglia (I couldn't agree more.)
US researchers have manipulated neurons in mice to light up in a rainbow of fluorescent hues, creating a powerful tool for mapping out the brain's complicated wiring plan. This Brainbow, as they call it, will allow researchers to trace neurons throughout the nervous system, gaining new understanding of its organisation and function... A computer-generated story from 1987: "Once upon a time…. Joe was in the cave. Irving was in the oak tree. Lucy was in the meadow. The water was in the river. The honey was in the elm tree. The worm was in the ground. The fish was in the river. The hay was in the barn. The berries were in the meadow. Joe was sad. He wanted to become happy. He thought that Lucy liked him. He wanted to persuade her to kiss him. He trusted her. He didn’t like her. He decided that if he gives her the hay then she might kiss him. He wanted to ask her whether if he gives her the hay then she’ll kiss him. He wanted to get near her. He went to the meadow. He asked her, “Will you kiss me if I give you the hay?” She knew that he didn’t trust her. She decided that if he gives her the hay then she’ll tell him that he was stupid. She told him, “If you give me the hay then I’ll kiss you.” He wanted to get the hay. He wanted to get near the hay. He went to the barn. He took the hay. He had the hay. He wanted to get hear her. He went to the meadow. He gave her the hay. She had the hay. He didn’t have the hay. She was hungry. She told him, “You’re stupid.” He didn’t like her. She wanted to satisfy her hunger. She ate the hay. She wasn’t hungry. She didn’t kiss him. He didn’t trust her. He was afraid of her. He couldn’t persuade her to kiss him. He was still sad. The End." (I've read worse)... Best Recipe Error from The Observer (UK): We should clarify that the stir-fried morning glory recipe featured in Observer Food Monthly last week uses an edible morning glory, Ipomoea aquatica, found in south east Asia and also known as water spinach. This should not to be confused with the UK Ipomoea, also known as morning glory, which is poisonous... Currently, 8 out of 10 Italians aged under 30 still live at home, and the average age for moving out is 36.
When spun up to very high speeds, a flywheel becomes a reservoir for a massive amount of kinetic energy, which can be stored or drawn back out at will. It becomes, in effect, an electromechanical battery. The capabilities of such a device are extraordinary. A traditional lead-acid cell stores energy at a density of 30 - 40 watt-hours per kilogram (enough to power a 100-watt bulb for about 20 minutes). A flywheel-based battery, on the other hand, can reach energy densities 3 - 4 times higher (at around 100 - 130 watt-hours per kilogram). Unlike the battery, the flywheel can store and discharge all that energy rapidly without being damaged, meaning it can charge up to full capacity within minutes instead of hours and deliver up to 100 times more power than a conventional battery. It is unaffected by extreme temperatures, boasts an efficiency of 85 - 95%, and has a lifespan measured in decades rather than years... Salespeople - you can have the world at your fingertips because when people trust you they want to buy from you. Singles - it's easy to meet new people when you have the power of Trust. Managers and employees - if you have the confidence of the people you work with you will earn more and get ahead faster. Don't believe me? Oxytocin increases sensitivity to touch and encourages grooming and cuddling in both sexes. It reduces stress-causing hormones in the body and influences bonding between adults (friends as well). It peaks during orgasm and (for women) during childbirth and breastfeeding. It keeps relationships together after phenylethylamine has decayed. "Touch deprivation" depletes the supply and sends people running to their hairdresser or masseuse. Consuming several alcoholic drinks can decrease it. Stimulating oxytocin levels generates affection. One study showed people who have sex at least 3 times per week appear up to 10 years younger than their actual age. Oxytocin and its role in affection is one reason for such youthfulness... The 20 worst venture capital investments of all time (via RobotWisdom Auxiliary)... Interior tour of the new A380 showing its luxury features.
Is it ethical to erase a bad memory? Can you say, "I'd rather not know that" and actually forget completely? Maybe - but then you'll lose any lessons the experience of knowing may have brought you. And what if someone else makes that decision for you?... A person with alexithymia may be unable to identify his feelings - and if he can't distinguish his own feelings, empathy is difficult. Though he may experience an outburst of grief or rage, he may not know the cause. It's hard for the alexithymic individual to determine just why he is experiencing these bodily sensations of emotional arousal that he feels. Consequently, he may have difficulty describing his mood to other people. He may always be looking outward rather than inward and his consciousness may need a jump-start, a stimulus, in order to kick his thought processes into high gear. But alexithymia is not a mental disorder, it is a personality trait... Google is preparing a service that will let users store on its computers essentially all of the files they might keep on their personal-computer hard drives - such as word-processing documents, digital music, video clips and images. The service could let users access their files via the Internet from different computers and mobile devices when they sign on with a password. It could be released as early as a few months from now. Some storage will be free, with additional storage allotments available for a fee... Why does the full moon sometimes look a lot larger than at other times? Is this merely an optical illusion? No. There is a perfectly logical - even scientific - explanation. The largest full moon of 2007 occurred on 26 October.
If contrasting immune systems (information about which is carried on the breeze to each other) is the secret to romantic attraction, why not look at DNA, let a computer decide who would find whom to have the right smell (and would thus be attracting), and set compatible pairs up with dates? A Florida company is doing just that - using the secrets in genes to determine preferences people might not even know they have. Will the dating service tell its participants to skip deodorants and colognes at the first meeting? (Cheaters in that regard may skew success/failure rates unpredictably.) Woman who take birth control pills, use hormone patches/implants are not good candidates because these modify the attraction mechanism, leading to different outcomes. So does Viagra in men. The service costs about $2k - but this includes background checks for participants' safety... When a female is attracted to a male, entire suites of genes in her brain are turned on, but a still-larger number of genes are turned off. When the males whom she considers to be the most attractive are around, the greatest down regulation [turning off] of genes occurs. It’s possible that this leads to a release of inhibition, a transition making her more receptive to mating. The same genes that turn on when the female is with attractive males turns off when she is with other females and vice versa. This information resulted from one of few studies to link changes in the expression of genes with changes in an individual’s behaviour in different social situations... With 5 times as many locations worldwide as McDonald's, Starbucks, Burger King and Wal-Mart combined, Western Union is the lone behemoth among hundreds of money transfer companies. Last year migrants from poor countries sent home $300 billion, nearly three times the world’s foreign aid budgets combined (via Marginal Revolution).
The development of a truly identical twins versus mirror image twins comes down to timing. A single sperm will fertilise a single egg and begins development by splitting into more cells. If this group of cells, now called a blastocyst, splits into two separate parts in the first 9 - 12 days, identical twins will be born. But if the split occurs after that, they will be mirror-images of each other... In the past 5,000 years, genetic change has occurred at a rate roughly 100 times higher than any other period. "Genes are evolving fast in Europe, Asia and Africa, but almost all of these are unique to their continent of origin. We are getting less alike, not merging into a single, mixed humanity." - Henry Harpending, author of a study from the U of Utah (via Neatorama)... The video-sharing Web site YouTube (owned by Google) has suspended the account of a prominent Egyptian anti-torture activist who posted videos of what he said was brutal behaviour by some Egyptian policemen. Wael Abbas said close to 100 images he had sent to YouTube were no longer accessible, including clips depicting purported voting irregularities and anti-government demonstrations. YouTube forbids "graphic or gratuitous violence" and said there had been complaints. Rights activists say YouTube is closing a significant portal for information on human rights abuses in Egypt just as Cairo escalates a crackdown on independent journalists... Instead of adopting a "sour grapes" mindset and deluding themselves that what is unattainable isn't as great as what it looks, people divert their focus to the merits of options that are attainable to them. From an evolutionary perspective, motivated changes such as this in one's dating preferences can increase the pool of potential mates, reducing the likelihood that physically unattractive people end up without partners, and supporting assortative mating.
Some of the most unusual books in the world (via Information Junk)... When a person is scared, a brain area called the amygdala becomes more active, laying down an extra set of memories that go along with those normally taken care of by other parts of the brain. In this way, frightening events are associated with richer and denser memories. The more memory you have of an event, the longer you believe it took. This illusion is related to the phenomenon that time seems to speed up as you grow older. When you’re a child, you lay down rich memories for all your experiences; when you’re older, you’ve seen it all before and lay down fewer memories. Therefore, when a child looks back at the end of a summer, it seems to have lasted forever; adults think it zoomed by (via Neatorama)... Experts say having a gnome in your garden can knock hundreds of dollars off the price of your home... A Reason to Leave the US to Go Live in NZ: 82% of adult Americans believe in God and a slightly smaller percentage - 79% - believe in miracles. More than 70% of the 2,455 adults surveyed say they believe in heaven and angels, while more than 6 in 10 say they believe in hell and the devil. Almost equal numbers say they believe in Darwin's theory of evolution (42%) - the belief that populations evolve over time through natural selection - and creationism (39%) - the theory that God created humankind; 1/3 also say they believe in UFOs, witches and astrology... Humans are now a force of nature rivaling climate and geology in shaping the terrestrial biosphere and its processes. As a result, the vegetation forms predicted by conventional biome systems are now rarely observed across large areas of Earth's land surface (also view a PowerPoint presentation).
Have you always wanted a dog, but are too lazy to get off the couch to go for a walk with it? What you really want is an inflatable dog... I recently received an email in Spanish. My two semesters of university Spanish weren't really too useful, so I turned to Babelfish, who returned the following translation to me: "Viviamos in Mexico of 1954 until 1966. When I arrived the city tapeworm approx 4 Million. Now or it is made me are ten times but or at least 30 Million. I am 84 years old. When I die to me, surely that is going to be 40 million. Thanks for the photos. Todavia I have friends by there. If, many already they died. But always contact exists." Any ideas on what this reader was trying to say? (That he speaks to the dead?)... One hazy morning in 1917 the senior mistress of Bournemouth High School For Girls stood up in front of the assembled 6th form and announced to her hushed audience: "I have come to tell you a terrible fact. Only 1 out of 10 of you girls can ever hope to marry. This is not a guess of mine. It is a statistical fact. Nearly all the men who might have married you have been killed. You will have to make your way in the world as best you can..." According to new research, there may be a generosity gene. A scientific study reveals that those who have the gene could be almost 50% more likely to give away money than those without it. Those with certain variants of a gene called AVPR1a are more likely to give money away - the first evidence for a relationship between DNA and human altruism or generosity... Linda Katz started her online business, the Prairie Tumbleweed Farm, as a joke. It was 1994 and she wanted to teach herself how to design a website. Since she lived on the prairie in southwest Kansas, where rolling tumbleweeds are sometimes the only dynamic feature of an endless flat horizon, she invented a farm that sold tumbleweeds, listing prices at $15 for a small one, $20 for a medium and $25 for large. Lucky for her, some people didn’t get the joke - people emailed the site wanting to buy them. She now makes over US$40k/yr... Cat lovers in Tokyo who are unable to own pets because of housing regulations can rent one instead - 800 yen an hour or 2,000 yen for three hours in a big room where 14 well-brushed and shampooed cats hang out.
Understanding fingernails... How much you’re willing to spend is influenced by whether you think about a larger pool of resources (such as your bank account) or a smaller pool (the cash in your wallet). For example, when dieting, you’re more likely to eat that slice of cake if you think about how many calories you have allotted for the week, rather than just for the day; thinking of large resource accounts makes the objective cost of an item seem subjectively less expensive by comparison, thereby increasing the likelihood of consumption. In other words, instead of using your debit card for individual purchases throughout the week (where each amount spent would be viewed relative to your total account balance), you would likely spend less if you get cash for the week and spend that - then each purchase will be evaluated in relation to the weekly allotment of cash that you have remaining in your pocket... Ozone Hole Watch - check on the latest status of the ozone layer over the South Pole... The Yellowstone “supervolcano” has been rising at a record rate since mid-2004. "There is no evidence of an imminent volcanic eruption or hydrothermal explosion. That’s the bottom line," says seismologist Robert B Smith. However, confusingly, he adds this comment: "Our best evidence is that the crustal magma chamber is filling with molten rock. But we have no idea how long this process goes on before there either is an eruption or the inflow of molten rock stops and the caldera deflates again...” What beautiful HTML code looks like... "Hedge funds make their returns at the expense of other investors. The more money taken by the hedge fund boys and girls, the less for everyone else. Understand grasshopper?" - Economist Dean Baker
9 Nov '07 - I really hadn't anticipated how difficult moving back to NZ would be in terms of the time and energy required to unpack and absorb the contents of 230 packing boxes. But I'm almost done - I haven't hung any pictures and I have several items that just didn't fit in anywhere that I'll donate to Salvation Army - and then I'll have the disposable time to update this site weekly. Thanks for your patience...
The Swiss franc, like the yen a source of low-yielding funds for foreign-exchange punters, is overvalued by half. The franc's recent fall is a rare example of carry traders moving a currency's value. That is because it is borrowed and sold to buy high-yielding investments in rich countries such as NZ and Britain, whose currencies look dear against benchmarks. Brazil and Turkey, two emerging economies favoured by speculators, have also been pushed around... 5 expenses you shouldn't incur if you have credit card debt: cable, eating out, recreational shopping, gym membership, expensive car. If you have $10,000 in credit card debt and your current minimum payment is $250, at 18% with a minimum payment of 2.5% it will take you 382 months to be rid of your debt (almost 32 years). In that time, you will pay $14,615.49 in interest. If you continued to pay a fixed payment of $250 dollars each month however, it would take you only 62 months to be rid of your debt (slightly over 5 years). In that time, you would pay a mere $5,386.23 in interest. If you manage to cut expenses by $200 a month and apply that amount to your current minimum payment thus paying $450, it would only take you 28 months to be rid of your debt and you would pay only $2,255.56 in interest. (But don't despair! Think of this: If America pays off her national debt at one billion dollars per day, it will take over 3,000 years to pay it off.)
A ghostbike is a junker bike that has been painted stark white and affixed to the site where a cyclist has been killed by a car driver. Ghostbikes are intended to be memorials for the fallen and reminders to everyone to share the road... "I swear to God, they wouldn't pay me if they knew how much fun this was," the doomed plane's cockpit voice recorder captured the pilot saying shortly before the 27 November 2004 crash... Participants were shown a series of photos, each containing a pair of faces, and asked to choose, based purely on gut feeling, which face they felt displayed more competence. What was unknown to the participants was that the image pairs were actually photographs of two frontrunner candidates for a major election being held somewhere in the US during the time of the experiment in late 2006. The races were either for state governor or for a seat in the US Senate. In cases where an observer recognised a face, the researchers removed that selection from the data. Two weeks later elections were held, and the competency judgements were compared with the election results. The judgements predicted the winners more than 70% of the time... For some reason, this photo of a prairie dog really impressed me... 2.6 billion people worldwide lack toilet facilities.
Hamburger dress... Democracy is a form of government that is not attached to any pre-given political or ideological ends, but allows ends to be chosen by the majority vote of free citizens. It is the only form of government that, at least theoretically, contemplates its own demise with equanimity. Democratic elections do not guarantee that the victors will be democratically inclined, and it is always possible that those who gain control of the legislative process will pass laws that erode or even repeal the rights - of property, free expression and free movement - that distinguish democracies from theocracies and monarchies. (Some would say that this is exactly what has been happening in the past 6 years.) - Stanley Fish... Apparently humans have 5 genetically-based moral systems that protect us and predispose us as children to learn certain virtues. These innate psychological mechanisms include: preventing harm to ourselves, reciprocating and dealing fairly with others, being loyal to our in-group, respecting authority and acknowledging hierarchy, and realising that purity (controlling selfish desires / acting in an approved way) or worthiness of respect can have value. Morality's central role is to restrain selfishness. - Jonathan Haidt... Suppose you could drill a hole through the Earth and then drop into it. How long would it take you to pop up on the other side? A little more than 42 minutes... James Strickland has written an interesting article entitled "Energy Efficiency of Different Modes of Transportation", an important topic considering the fact that the price of crude oil has tripled in the past 4 years. His conclusion? "Governments should stop building highway expansions which compete with rail service. Actually, governments should stop expanding roads, period. Road subsidies should stop. Public transit must be a viable (convenient, comfortable, safe) alternative for a far greater portion of the population than is currently the case." (I couldn't agree more.) Also see here.
Could shoemakers be responsible for the increasing number of cases of schizophrenia, which only appeared after heeled shoes were introduced into a population? The oldest heeled shoe known, made over 1,000 years ago, comes from Mesopotamia — the same area where the first institutions dealing with mental disorders appeared. As industrialisation of shoe production spread from North America to Western Europe, there was a remarkable rise in cases of schizophrenia. In England, the heeled shoe emerged at the start of the 17th century, and a large increase in the number of mental illness cases followed. This compares with Native Americans, who wear flat moccasins and have a relatively low frequency of schizophrenia. While correlation does not prove causation, there is a possible scientific explanation: When we walk, the movement stimulates receptors in the lower extremities which increase activity in brain cells. Wearing heeled shoes weakens the lengthening contractions in the lower leg and foot, so the receptors are stimulated less. This drop in stimulation leads to changes in the dopamine system in the brain. Schizophrenics' brains produce more dopamine. From that same site: Chronic rhinosinusitis can cause a blocked nose, breathing difficulties and a reduced sense of smell. Nasal fungus could be to blame. In an attempt to zap it, the immune system triggers an inflammatory response causing a runny nose, cough, sore throat, pain in the teeth and headache. One treatment is nitric oxide, toxic to bacteria and fungi, that is naturally released in the human respiratory tract. Curiously, humming increases the amount released by 20-fold. Done at low frequency — around 130 Hz — and at regular intervals, it apparently produces the greatest amount of nitric oxide. Hum strongly for 1 hour at 18 hums a minute at bedtime the 1st night and strongly at low pitch 60 - 120 times, 3x a day, for 4 days to increase nasal vibrations (may couse slight dizziness). May also help colds... 56 different trials looked at NSAID painkillers: drugs like ibuprofen, diclofenac and so on. People often invent new versions of these drugs in the hope that they might have fewer side effects, or be stronger. These were trials in which one painkiller was compared against another, rather than against a placebo (people in pain tend to look at you a bit impatiently when you offer them a placebo). In every single trial, the sponsoring manufacturer's drug came out as better than, or equal to, the others in the trial. On no single occasion did the manufacturer's drug come out worse.
Annie Lebovitz' fantastic fantasy photos... Virginia Postrel writes: "In 2000, my husband and I moved from our mid-1970s 3-bedroom town house in Los Angeles and into a brand-new 3-bedroom town house in Uptown Dallas. At the time, the two were worth about the same, but the Dallas place was 1,000 square feet bigger. We’ve moved back to LA and we’re glad we kept our old house. Over the past 7 years, its value has roughly doubled. By contrast, we sold our Dallas place for $6,500 less than we paid for it. It’s not that we bought into a declining neighbourhood - but the supply of housing in Dallas is elastic - when demand increases because of growing population or rising incomes, so does the amount of housing; prices stay roughly the same. That’s true not only in outlying suburbs, but also in old neighbourhoods, where dense clusters of town houses and multistory apartment buildings replace single-family homes. It’s easy to build new housing in Dallas. Not so in LA. There, increased demand generates little new supply. Even within zoning rules, it’s hard to get permission to build. When a local developer bought 3 small 1920s duplexes on our block, planning to replace them with a condo building, neighbours campaigned to stop the project. The city declared the charming but architecturally undistinguished buildings historic landmarks, blocking demolition. The developer gave up. In LA, when demand for housing increases, prices rise..." Consider two ways of computing the price of a ¼ acre of land. You can compare the value of a house on ½ acre with that of a similar house on ¼ acre. Or you can take the price of a house on ¼ acre and subtract the cost of the house itself - the price of construction. Either way, you get the value of an empty ¼ acre. The 2 numbers should be roughly the same - but they aren’t. The 2nd one is always bigger, because it includes not just the property but the right to build. Expanding your ¼-acre lot to ½ acre doesn’t give you permission to add a 2nd house. Using 1999 data, in Los Angeles, an extra ¼ acre cost about $28,000 - the pure price of land. But the cost of empty land isn’t the whole story, or even most of it. A ¼-acre lot minus the cost of the house came out to about $331,000 - nearly 12 times as much as the extra ¼ acre. The difference between the 1st and second prices, around $303,000, was what LA home buyers paid for local land-use controls in bureaucratic delays, density restrictions, fees, political contributions. That’s the cost of the right to build.
45% of normal adults snore at least occasionally, and 25% are habitual snorers. Problem snoring is more frequent in males and overweight persons, and usually grows worse with age. Adults who suffer from mild or occasional snoring can try these self-help remedies: ó Adopt a healthy and athletic lifestyle to develop good muscle tone and lose weight. ó Avoid tranquilizers, sleeping pills, and antihistamines before bedtime. ó Avoid alcohol for at least 4 hours and heavy meals or snacks for 3 hours before retiring. ó Establish regular sleeping patterns. ó Sleep on your side rather than your back. ó Tilt the head of your bed upwards four inches. Snoring means obstructed breathing, and obstruction can be serious - but it's not hopeless... Thomas Gilovich in a classic experiment took basketball fans and showed them a random sequence of X's and O's - telling them they represented hits and misses in a basketball game - and then asked if they thought the sequences demonstrated streak shooting. The subjects in the experiment, when shown entirely random sequences, were convinced they exemplified "streak shooting", or "runs of luck". Why is this important? Because it shows our intuitions about the most basic observation of all, from which all others follow - our abilities to distinguish an actual pattern from mere background noise - are deeply flawed... Tell the truth - have you ever wondered what breast milk tastes like, but couldn't overcome your squeamishness to find out? I ran across a clever site recently, Squeeze ("half 'zine, half blog, half not good with fractions") which has a column called "Steve don't eat it." Steve samples various marginal foods (even including dog treats) and reports on their palatability (the breast milk is #5)... Godwin's law states that "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one." Godwin's Law is often cited in online discussions as a caution against the use of inflammatory rhetoric or exaggerated comparisons. There is a tradition in many newsgroups and other Internet discussion forums that once such a comparison is made, the thread is finished and whoever mentioned the Nazis has automatically "lost" whatever debate was in progress... Time-lapse Soho observations of the sun's outer atmosphere, including side-by-side comparisons of the sun from Dec 1996 and Jan 2000 which show the incredible difference in the sun between a solar minimum and a solar maximum.
Say goodbye to plastic cutlery and hello to SpudWare — cutlery made from 80% potato starch and 20% soy oil. It's as heat resistant and as strong as plastic cutlery but, once discarded, will biodegrade 6 months. It can be also be washed and reused. Eat your potatoes with potatoes?... John Tyler was the 10th president of the US, serving in office from 1841 to 1845. In 1853, at age 63, he fathered a son named Lyon Tyler. At age 75, Lyon Tyler fathered Harrison Tyler, born in 1928. Therefore, the grandson of a US president born in 1790 is still alive today (via Neatorama)... Using a screensaver with a flat panel or LCD screen instead of powering down the screen can actually reduce the lifetime of the display, since the fluorescent backlight remains lit and ages faster than it would if the screen were turned off completely. As fluorescent tubes age they grow progressively dimmer and can be expensive or difficult to replace. A typical LCD screen loses about 50% of its brightness during a normal product lifetime if left on continuously. Thus the term "screen saver" is, in most cases, a misnomer - the best way to save the screen (and also save electricity) would simply be to have the computer turn off the monitor... Our cells are constantly being replaced in vast numbers: the human body typically contains about 100 trillion cells; many billions are shed and replaced every day. You'd think that, having done the job once, our bodies would replace cells when required by the simplest means possible. Oddly, they don't. Our tissues don't renew themselves by mere copying, with old skin cells dividing into new skin cells and so forth. Instead, they keep repeating the labourious process of starting each cell from scratch. Why? it could be nature's way of making sure that we don't evolve as we grow older.
Tristan de Cunha is the remotest group of inhabited islands in the world, thousands of miles from South America and South Africa deep in the Atlantic Ocean. Only 272 people live there. They had no access to sugar before it was discovered by the West and until then, had perfect dental health... Every morning after Udo Wächter got out of the shower, he put on a wide beige belt lined with 13 vibrating pads (just like those that make a cell phone vibrate). On the outside of the belt were a power supply and sensor that detected earth's magnetic field. Whichever buzzer was pointing north would go off. Constantly. Deep into the experiment, Wächter says, "I suddenly realised that my perception had shifted. I had some kind of internal map of the city in my head. I could always find my way home. Eventually, I felt I couldn't get lost, even in a completely new place..." Nearly 1 in 5 adult Americans admit they or a family member have fallen victim to a financial scam of some sort, including fake cheque schemes ranging from fake lotteries to work-at-home offers and and business offers from abroad where a person is asked to help move large sums of money. Victims typically lose between US$3,000 and US$4,000... Once in a "blue sun" would mean every 50 or 60 years... A revolutionary new hammer design, the split-head hammer offers many new features never seen before in the industry such as integrated overstrike plates, modular head construction, and elastomeric shockgaskets just to name a few - besides, it's pretty (via J-Walk)... “If anything characterises the 21st century, it’s our inability to restrain ourselves for the benefit of other people.” - James Katz, director of the Center for Mobile Communication Studies at Rutgers
Bizarre scientific experiments: A fake female turkey was dismantled limb by limb to find minimum that a male turkey would mate with. Conclusion: Male turkeys are aroused by a head on a stick, but not a headless body. To ascertain the effects of LSD on elephants, a zoo animal was given a dose 3,000 times larger than a human would take. The animal died within minutes... Your mechanic has a poster of a half-dressed woman on the wall. His vocabulary only reaches 100 words and cant use ¾ of them in front of a woman. Still, he knows how to make your car start again. And you, a Phd, know that if your car stops, you will have to call the dropout you despise because you don't even know where the brake release is located. His knowledge is wider than yours and more useful but of low status. That which can't be expressed in words is still knowledge. Of course, as an aristocrat that never worked in his life, Wittestein knew nothing about this (11 October 2007 10:43am post)... "Since the 1990s the policies of the three major players (Taiwan, China, and the United States) have become unstable in many ways. The possibility of a miscalculation by any participant with respect to the two others is quite high. China thinks that Washington will not sacrifice Los Angeles for Taiwan, the US that Beijing will not sacrifice 20 or 30 years of development for Taipei, and Taiwan that it can confront Beijing with a fait accompli and not suffer the consequences. Those are three dangerous mistakes." - Therese Delpech writing in Savage Century: Back to Barbarism
World internet connection density... Astronaut Major-General Michael Collins was pilot of the Apollo 11 mission to the moon. In an interview for a new documentary, In the Shadow of the Moon, he says, "We were meeting people like the Queen of England and the Emperor of Japan. The thing I think that surprised me the most was that wherever we went people, instead of saying 'Well, you Americans did it,' they said 'We did it' – we humankind, we the human race, we people did it. I thought that was a wonderful thing, ephemeral but wonderful"... A Chinese menu translated into not-quite-English... Like horror movies? Take the quiz... The 10 best movie endings... 25 photos taken at exactly the right time... The combined weight of the earth's ants outweighs that of humans, and they have the highest population of any animal on earth. They can lift 20 times their own body weight. They have two stomachs: one for their own food, and one for food to share with other ants in the colony... The value of Iraqi oil, largely light crude with low production costs, is of the order of $30 trillion at today’s prices. For purposes of comparison, the projected total cost of the US invasion/occupation is around $1 trillion. How will the US maintain hegemony over Iraqi oil? By establishing permanent military bases in Iraq. Five self-sufficient "super-bases" are in various stages of completion. All are well away from the urban areas where most casualties have occurred. There has been little reporting on these bases in the American press.
7 Oct '07 - I didn't get something ready to post nearly as fast as I had thought I could. I now live in Wellington again and that's wonderful. But our household goods are coming by boat and don't get here for another week or two. I do have a computer and a mattress a friend lent me and the items I brought with me in my suitcase and those things I've bought since our arrival - but mostly it's been sort of like camping out. The stress doesn't come from that, though - it comes from a combination of other things: moving to a new house in a new country means all the routines you've worked out that are performed mindlessly by your subconscious (like making coffee and getting dressed) now have to be thought about. I have to locate a new doctor, cleaners, plumber, et cetera. I have to decide how my old life maps onto the new one. Then there's the hundreds and hundreds of dollars required to be spent that one doesn't always think about: welcome mats for muddy feet because you go from the end of summer to the end of winter overnight; a new vacuum cleaner because getting a used one through customs is a nightmare; electric tools, personal appliances, et cetera that no longer work because the power has gone from 110V 60 cycle to 220V 50 cycle; a ream of A4 paper to buy; a garage-sale desk and chair so that I don't have to use my computer sitting on the floor until our furniture arrives; a case of light bulbs and a tall ladder because the ceilings here are much higher than I'm used to. There's lots more - despite the fact that I've been through this already when we moved to NZ the first time. But I don't mean to whinge - it is WORTH IT - but I did want to apologise for being so late - and to thank Gerry Mosby for his email that motivated me to get back to work on this. So...
Good news first: John Kanzius tried to desalinate seawater with a radio-frequency generator he had developed to treat cancer. He found that as long as the salt water was exposed to the radio frequencies, it would burn. Could this mean that salt water, the most abundant resource on earth, can be used as fuel? Radio frequencies act to weaken bonds between elements that make up salt water, releasing hydrogen. Once ignited, hydrogen burns as long as it is exposed to those frequencies. Scientists intend to determine whether the energy output from burning hydrogen - more than 3,000° F - is enough to power a car or other heavy machinery... Now you can tell time accurate to within one hour just like the ancient Druids! Famous circle of giant stones faithfully reproduced to scale on the inside of this elegant pocket watch... The Chathams are located 800 kilometres east of Christchurch, NZ. Two of the 10 islands are inhabited - Chatham has slightly more than 700 inhabitants while Pitt has about 50. The islands are exposed (being out in the Pacific) but still temperate - rainfall is approximately 900mm a year and temperatures 15 - 24° C (58 - 75° F) in summer (December to February) and 6 - 10° C (11 - 50° F) in winter. September - March are best to visit. Oddly, time there is 45 minutes ahead of mainland New Zealand; Pitt Island is the first inhabited land in the world to see the sunrise each day.
Every brick in a building requires the burning of fossil fuel in its manufacture and every piece of lumber is cut and transported using energy. As long as the building stands, that energy is there, serving a useful purpose. Trash a building and you trash its embodied energy too. Furthermore, we burn new fuel to replace the structure. It has been estimated that the embodied energy that is lost with the demolition of a typical small urban house is equivalent to the energy saved by recycling 1.34 million aluminium cans... We tend to stick by what we already have when both options are “good” or risk-free, but research shows that when faced with two “bad” choices, we are likely to do the opposite: opt to get rid of what we already have. In one experiment, researcher had one group choose between going to traffic school or paying a fine. In two other groups, members were assigned a penalty then given the option to trade for the alternative penalty. Regardless of the penalty assigned, a larger percentage of participants were willing to trade than were willing to keep what they were given, indicating that giving up a penalty is more attractive than receiving it is unpleasant... Unusual cat photo (photo.net's photo of the week)... Researchers find that consumers evaluate the price of a lock-picking service as a better value when the service takes longer than when the lock is picked faster. Introducing a dollar amount allows consumers to make a price-per-minute assessment – and leads many consumers to prefer the longer session, even when there is no benefit to taking more time... An impressive illusion via NASA.
An Austin-based startup called EEStor promises "technologies for replacement of electrochemical batteries," meaning a motorist could plug in a car for 5 minutes and drive 500 miles roundtrip between Dallas and Houston without gasoline. This technology also could help invigorate the renewable-energy sector by providing efficient, lightning-fast storage for solar power or on a small scale, a flash-charge for cell phones and laptops. Skeptics, though, fear the claims stretch the bounds of existing technology to the point of alchemy... Very strange (but original) film (though I think the editing could be tightened a bit)... Forbes list of the 100 most powerful women in the world... Consider this question: What % of our ancestors were women? It’s not a trick question and it’s not 50%. True, about half the people who ever lived were women, but that’s not the question. What % of all the people who ever lived have a descendant alive today? Put another way, every baby has both a mother and a father, but some of those parents had children with multiple partners. Recent research using DNA analysis shows that today’s human population descended from twice as many women as men. To get that kind of difference means that throughout the entire history of the human race, approximately 80% of women but only 40% of men reproduced. Most men who ever lived do NOT have descendants alive today. (Wars would certainly be one significant reason.)
A miracle material can protect your home against bomb blasts or mop up lead, mercury or oil spills; it can filter polluted water or insulate spacesuits against extreme temperatures. Aerogel, the world’s lightest solid, can withstand a direct blast of 1kg of dynamite. It can protect against heat from a blowtorch at more than 1,300° C. Nicknamed “frozen smoke”, it is made by extracting water from silica gel and replacing it with a gas such as CO2. It was invented by an American chemist in 1931 to win a bet - but early versions were brittle and costly; largely consigned to the lab until a decade ago, NASA has put it to practical use catching dust from a comet's tail. It is being developed as a lining in space suits for the first manned mission to Mars. A range of squash and tennis rackets strengthened with it can deliver more power (2 grams can support a brick - see photo at right). Everest climbers use it for insulation in boots and sleeping bags. It can insulate houses (though it has proven "too hot" for normal clothing). I wonder: why is it not used to protect supply vehicles in war?... Domestic refuse in Britain in 1976 averaged 159 kg (250 pounds) per person per year and consisted of paper, rags, metal, glass bottles, and plastic. In 2004/05 on average each person in the UK produced 517kg of waste, of which 78% was not recycled. More than 3 times the trash in a single generation? Is this a trend? However, here are 21 things you didn't know you can recycle (this applies to the US, but perhaps resourceful people can find similar outlets elsewhere)... Amusing insurance commercial about acupuncture... The most unusual restaurants in the world - at some, the guests decide how much to pay, some are staffed by dwarves or twins or prisoners or the homeless or the blind - well, you get the idea.
The curious photos of Chema Madoz... The Economist's democracy index... On Saturday 13 October 9:00am (EDT), a list of elements — special props, dialogue, settings — will be posted here. Choose any 3, then you and your team write, cast, shoot, edit, score, and upload a 3-minute masterpiece utilising those 3 elements - by 14 Oct 9:00am (EDT). Films submitted will be available online for voting. The 25 entries with the highest rating on 9 November at 12:00am (EST) will be screened by industry professionals, including Barry Sonnenfeld, James Mangold, and Nora Ephron. If your film is the biggest hit with either public or pros, each team member will receive a host of prizes, including a MacBook Pro... That Craigslist ad (the one posted by the enterprising young woman) and the businessman's well-constructed though dispassionate response... A silly experiment in having random customers in a shop see the grim reaper reflected in a mirror - which resolves itself into an old man with a scythe when they turn around to look directly - but remains the grim reaper in the mirror when they turn back around again. The only reason I recommend this is because the expressions of the victims interestingly reveal their inner beliefs... The end of the world has already begun in Lusk, Wyoming with the appearance of an absolutely impossible cloud... This was unexpected, but is just waiting for a commercial application - a restaurant in Japan has a goldfish tank - in their deep fryer. "Why?" you may wonder. The fish live "anywhere from 10 years to 10 seconds, depending on how foolish they are"... A common amino acid, available as a health food supplement, may help curb pathological gamblers’ addiction. In a recent trial, 60% of people given increasing doses of the amino acid N-acetyl cysteine (which impacts the chemical glutamate often associated with reward in the brain) reported fewer urges to gamble. Similar studies using N-acetyl cysteine have shown its ability to curb drug addictions.
A wolf fishes among the bears at Brooks Falls at Katmai National Park, Alaska. He (she?) caught 15 salmon in 62 minutes... Scientists have found indications for an association between swimming in the first year of life and an increased frequency of ear and gut infections. Allowing babies to swim is possibly not completely harmless... Some 600,000 years ago a supervolcano exploded with such violence that it left an ash layer almost 10 feet deep 1,000 miles away, killing all plant life and covering almost all of the US west of the Mississippi. Modern geological surveys have shown that this supervolcano erupts cataclysmically every 600,000 years meaning it may be due soon. The place where the supervolcano is located is in what the Blackfoot Indians call the Land of Evil Spirits - what is today called Yellowstone National Park, a 2.2-million-acre caldera that caps a seething magma chamber 45 miles across - the size of Rhode Island - and 8 miles thick. The hot molten rock rises up 125 miles from the direction of the earth's core and satellite technologies have detected an uplift in the caldera which is "scientifically interesting and will continue to be monitored closely"... The United States has the highest level of income inequality among all rich nations. For example, low-income households, or those at the 10th percentile of the income distribution, spend approximately $8,900 per year per child, while high-income families, or those at the 90th percentile, spend $50,000 per child. (On what?)
Children in West Africa are often raised by people who are not their parents. In some communities, more than half of all children spend much of their youth away from their parents, often living with close kin but sometimes with adults who are not related to them at all. This practice is called "fostering," in some ways similar to the English practice, going back to the Middle Ages, of sending children away as apprentices. Fostering in West Africa is a centuries-old tradition occurring for many reasons - mostly because one parent is dead or missing. If the husband is dead, the mother may find it difficult to remarry, especially if she tries to bring another man’s child into the new household. But sometimes fostering occurs when both parents are alive and at home because they think it is in the child’s best interests: He or she will learn new skills and find new opportunities. Whatever the motives, many West Africans regard fosterage as a perfectly acceptable means of raising children. Families there approve of delegating parental roles to other people, often beginning at a quite early age, especially if the mother is unmarried... The sight of an old man being hit by a truck in Arizona touched off a feeding frenzy among witnesses who allegedly stole the dying victim's groceries. Not only were the man's groceries taken, but the only person who tried to help him also had his own bags stolen... Regarding US airport screening: Privacy advocates obtained database records showing that the government routinely records the race of people pulled aside for extra screening as they enter the country, along with cursory answers given to US border inspectors about their purpose in travelling. In one case, the records note the passenger's choice of reading material, and worry over the number of small flashlights he'd packed for the trip... 10 ways your resume could irk a hiring manager.
Twice a year you can see the sunset in Manhattan... On September 16 a heavily armed State Department convoy guarded by Blackwater USA was whizzing down the wrong side of the road near Nisour Square in the congested Mansour neighbourhood in the Iraqi capital. Iraqi police scrambled to block off traffic to allow the convoy to pass. In the chaos, an Iraqi vehicle entered the square, reportedly failing to heed a policeman's warning fast enough. The Blackwater operatives, protecting their American principal, a senior State Department official, opened fire on the vehicle, killing the driver then launched a grenade at the car, setting it ablaze. But inside the vehicle was not the "armed insurgents" Blackwater described killing in its official statement on the incident but a young Iraqi family - man, woman and baby - whose crime appeared to be panicking in a chaotic traffic situation. Whereas a top Army sergeant is paid $51,100 to $69,350 a year in salary, housing and other benefits, a Blackwater contractor (often a retired sergeant) receives 6 to 9 times as much. The US government pays Blackwater $1,222 per day for one Blackwater "Protective Security Specialist," which, the Congressional report notes, "amounts to $445,891 per contractor" per year. Blackwater officials admitted 195 shooting incidents have occurred in the past two years, incidents in which 84% of the time Blackwater contractors fired first. Iraqis lack the authority to prosecute American mercenaries occupying their country because of a law pushed through by then-US proconsul Paul Bremer (himself guarded by Blackwater personnel)... 2,600 members of the Minnesota National Guard recently ended a 22-month tour of duty in Iraq, the longest deployment of any ground-combat unit in the Armed Forces. Many of its members returned home, looking forward to using education benefits under the GI bill. It’s not working that way. The Guard troops have been told that in order to be eligible for the education benefits they expected, they had to serve 730 days in Iraq. They served 729.
The brand-new 55-foot Carver Marquis – baseline price $1.2 million, and closer to $2 million out the door – was being off-loaded for delivery to its new owner in Dubai's Port Jbel. But the boat, about 4 stories up over roughly 45 feet of water, began slipping from the rear strap due to "wind and water action" - the straps around the bow and stern of the boat were not tied together, though this is common practice when unloading yachts. The boat nose-dived bow-first into the water with two crewmen aboard... "My wife and I wanted to put an addition on our house here in the City of Los Angeles. Our general contractor told us the first thing we had to do was get up-to-date zoning and property information from the Building Permits Department - that was 2 months ago. Today, we were informed by the city zoning department that they could not give us the necessary zoning information - because, according to zoning records, our house does not exist! On top of which, the zoning folks also had no record of the street on which we live. I was speechless until it occurred to me to ask why, if our house doesn't exist, we have to pay property taxes and so on. The answer? "That's another department." Back to being speechless. I then recovered enough to ask what we had to do to have the existence of our house established, which I thought would be a simple process - after all, you can see it on Google Earth. I was told we would first have to have a hearing to determine whether the street that runs in front of our house is a public street or private road - given the backlog, it would be about a year before that process could be completed. Then we'd have to have another hearing to establish the existence of our house. Then we'd have to apply for a building permit, geological inspection, et cetera et cetera - at which point, I gave up in despair..." - UCLA law professor Steve Bainbridge
A customer trying to call a British telecoms operator BT Group helpline after a BT engineer failed to turn up to install a telephone line at her new flat - was left hanging on the telephone for a total of 20 hours. For 8 hours in a row, Hannah King endured the sound of piped music. She gave up and tried again the next day - and waited another 8 hours before putting the phone down. The following day, she spent a further 4 hours on hold before hanging up. In a statement, BT blamed long response times on a "new customer management system"... US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson had told Congress the government would hit the current debt ceiling on 1 October. The limit was $8.965 trillion, and unless Congress voted to raise it, the country would be unable to borrow more money to keep itself operating and pay debt obligations that came due. The country has hit this ceiling 5 times since Bush took office in 2001. The national debt is the total accumulation of annual budget deficits, which must be financed with borrowed money. The US Senate approved a bill to raise the national debt limit by US$850 billion to $9.815 trillion... From their camp on remote Melville Island in the northwest Arctic last July, Canadian researchers recorded air temperatures over 20º C (in an area with July temperatures that average 5º C). The team watched in amazement as water from melting permafrost a metre below ground lubricated the topsoil, causing it to slide down slopes, clearing everything in its path and thrusting up ridges at the valley bottom "that piled up like a rug." The landscape was torn to pieces, literally before their eyes. A major river was dammed by a slide along a 200-metre length of the channel. "River flow will be changed for years, if not decades to come."
My links are slowly becoming more negative. I guess it's time to stop for now.
A flourishing, morally credible media is a vital component in the maintenance of genuinely public talk, argument about common good.
- Rowan D Williams
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