Life Is So Complex


News and Site Updates Archive 2008/10/31

Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods.

- Albert Einstein

31 Oct '08 - Accused of contributing to the meltdown, but denying that it was his fault, former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan told a US congressional panel the crisis left him - an unabashed free-market advocate - in a "state of shocked disbelief."  The longtime Fed chief acknowledged under questioning that he had made a "mistake" in believing that banks in operating in their self-interest would be sufficient to protect their shareholders and the equity in their institutions.  Greenspan called it "a flaw in the model that I perceived is the critical functioning structure that defines how the world works."  (Personally, I believe this comment to come from a man who either is senile or else is lying)...  "The economy is not in a recession because of the credit crunch - the economy is going into a recession because of the crash of the housing bubble.  [American] Homeowners are losing on the order of $8 trillion in housing bubble wealth, $110,000 per homeowner.  For most families, this is most of their wealth.  It was this housing bubble wealth that drove consumption and pushed the savings rate to near zero over the last 4 years.  Now this wealth is disappearing and people are cutting back their consumption.  In many cases they no longer have the ability to consume, since many households were borrowing directly against their home equity to finance their consumption.  In other cases, they now realise the need to save, since they are approaching retirement and have nothing to rely upon other than their Social Security." - Dean Baker

      General Nothing-to-Smile-About: Kevin Chilton is commander of US Strategic Command (responsible for maintaining the nation's nuclear war plans).  The US arsenal of nuclear weapons is declining in power and purpose while the military's competence in handling the world's most dangerous arms has eroded.  Current Defense Secretary Robert Gates wants the next president to realise what nuclear middle-age and decline might mean for national security.  (I, for one, don't think the General's smile looks genuine)...  If you belong to a small group of intelligent hominids, all of whom are well-known to each other, you will be rewarded for cooperation and generosity within the group (though this does not stop your group from attacking or exploiting another).  If, on the other hand, you can switch communities at will, travel freely, buy in one country and sell in another, hire strangers then fire them, you will gain more from acting only in your own interest.  Wherever modern humans, living outside the narrow social mores of the clan, are allowed to pursue their genetic interests without constraint, they will hurt other people.  They will grab other people’s resources, they will dump their waste in other people’s habitats, they will cheat, lie, steal and kill.  And if they have power and weapons, no one will be able to stop them except those with more power and better weapons.  Our genetic inheritance makes us smart enough to see that when the old society breaks down, we should appease those who are more powerful than ourselves, and exploit those who are less powerful.  The survival strategies which once ensured cooperation among equals now ensure subservience to those who have broken the social contract.

      In the vast Alaska bush are hundreds of villages peopled by the last hunter and gatherers on the continent.  They look to official state law enforcement from the Department of Public Safety because they can’t afford their own departments.  Troopers usually fly into villages to respond to crime from rural towns.  As non-native cities incorporated and, along with bigger rural towns, hired their own police, the Alaska bush and the few state highways became the trooper’s remaining turf which they jealously guard from interlopers.  What Palin and most urban Alaskans fail to appreciate is that the trooper agency effectively lacks civilian oversight.  Its clients in the rural villages are policed by it as it chooses and, unlike the citizens of a town like Wasilla or at least its political leadership, they have no control over police behaviour and limited authority over abuses.  Hundreds of villages are policed by an Agency which they don’t control, a system of legal colonialism over rural Alaska.  The troopers’ immunity from meaningful civilian review may have surprised Palin, her husband and her family, but thousands of Alaska natives knew it already.  Colonial-style policing, complete with a cadre of Alaska native para-police, akin to Australia’s Aborigine bush trackers of yesteryear, and modelled on the long abandoned Native police in Canada, have been sustained by urban, non-native Alaskan political leaders of both parties for decades...  There are some things money can't buy, but the Governor of Alaska isn't one of them.

     A sunny, gorgeous California day (left) changed in less than 10 minutes to a foggy one.  The setting sun viewed through the fog was caught and reflected by skyscrapers (right) to create something ethereal.  The shimmering moment existed for about a minute, then was gone (via Deputy Dog)...  According to Daniel Dennett in his fascinating book, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, religion may be defined as "social systems whose participants avow belief in a supernatural agent or agents whose approval is to be sought."  Lawyers have a stock Latin phrase, cui bono?, which means "Who benefits from this?"  Dennett is unabashed in his atheism, yet conciliatory in his willingness to learn from people of faith what they derive from their beliefs and rituals.  He is also remorseless in arguing the moral imperative, in a post 9/11 world, for closer examination of religion.  Whatever your religion, more people in the world disagree than agree with you - so why not try understanding the origins and function of those differences?  One of my favourite lines: "Yes, we have a soul; but it's made of lots of tiny robots."

      Spending time in the countryside, hanging out with friends, and hitting the gym all help people relax.  But what if you can't find the time?  Perhaps a 15-minute session in a relax room (soft green lighting, artificial blue skies, the scent of lavender in the breeze and the dulcet tones of a low frequency lullaby) would help to get you through the day...  As Hurricane Ike bore down on Texas in September, employees at the University of Texas Medical Branch – Galveston moved to secure laboratories containing some of the most dangerous germs on the planet (Ebola, anthrax, and hantaviruses).  Workers disinfected research spaces, destroyed active cultures and locked remaining bugs in freezers.  Officials assured the public that none of the labs’ dangerous contents could escape.  The hurricane came and went with no disaster, but all the labs were without power for days, which compromised the critical negative-pressure safety systems.  (They lost negative pressure for 36 hours in a lab holding one of the largest collections of incurable infectious diseases in the world.)  Once again, critics were left scratching their heads over how a barrier island occasionally battered by tropical cyclones became a centre of the post-9/11 boom in biodefense research.  UTMB–Galveston has 2 BioSafety Level 4 (the highest such designation) laboratories and 8 BSL-3s (one of which flooded).  And a 3rd, even larger BSL-4 lab opens in November.

      (McCain appears light-headed)...  Genius, in the popular conception, is inextricably tied up with precocity — doing something truly creative, we’re inclined to think, requires the freshness and exuberance and energy of youth.  But some poets do their best work at the beginning of their careers while others do their best work decades later: 42% of Robert Frost’s anthologised poems were written after the age of 50.  For William Carlos Williams, it’s 44%.  For Wallace Stevens, it’s 49%.  Alfred Hitchcock made Dial M for Murder, Rear Window, To Catch a Thief, The Trouble with Harry, Vertigo, North by Northwest, and Psycho — one of the greatest runs by a director in history — between his 54th and 61st birthdays.  Mark Twain published Adventures of Huckleberry Finn at 49.  Daniel Defoe wrote Robinson Crusoe at 58.  Most of Cézanne's masterpieces were painted at the end of his career.  The Cézannes of the world bloom late not as a result of some defect in character, or distraction, or lack of ambition, but because the kind of creativity that proceeds through trial and error necessarily takes a long time to come to fruition...  What does Sarah Palin believe?  Although there are only 6,000 Jews in Alaska, Governor Palin keeps a flag of Israel in her office and has spoken of her deep, personal, lifelong commitment to the Jewish state.  Not even George W Bush has ever said anything like that.  She attends churches that read the Bible literally, and her former pastor in Wasilla says that her biblical worldview is central to her policies.  Does that contribute to her love of Israel?  Does she believe literally in God's promise to give the entire Holy Land to the Jews, and that Israel fulfills prophecies of Christ's second coming?...  Living in a car isn't something that anyone would recommend.  However, when you get laid off, your emergency fund runs out, your home is foreclosed (or you get an eviction notice) and there's nobody to help, living in your car might be the only choice, especially if you don't feel safe at a local shelter.  Unfortunately, in many places, sleeping in your car is not only frowned upon, but also illegal.  How to get by until something better comes along.

During the 1948 Middle Eastern war, precipitated by a UN resolution to partition the British protectorate of Palestine into separate Arab and Israeli states, cartoonist Herb Block took the view that American diplomatic interests were focused on preserving the region's rich oilfields and not its religious sites or antiquities.

Global accounting firm KPMG's Munich office building hosts this circuitous route to nothingness - a philosophical statement? 
As Wall Street investment firms can now verify:
What goes up, must come down.

      Miss Teen Louisiana Lindsey Evans, 18, and 3 of her girlfriends dashed from a restaurant without paying their $46 bill - but Lindsay discovered she had left her purse so she went back to fetch it.  However, the restaurant manager had already found it (with her identification inside) and called police.  Just as officers finished taking a statement from the manager, the group returned and police immediately recognised Lindsey from her driver's licence picture.  Not only were the 4 taken into custody for theft, but in her purse police had discovered Lindsey's stashes of Xanax and marijuana...  Many researchers now believe, to varying degrees, that each of us is a community of competing selves, with the happiness of one often causing the misery of another.  This theory might explain certain puzzles of everyday life, such as why addictions and compulsions are so hard to shake off, and why we insist on spending so much of our lives in worlds ­ like TV shows and novels and virtual-reality experiences — that don’t actually exist.  Within each brain, different selves are continually popping in and out of existence.  They have different desires and they fight for control — bargaining with, deceiving, and plotting against one another.  "Late at night, when deciding not to bother setting up the coffee machine for the next morning, I sometimes think of the man who will wake up as a different person, and wonder, 'What did he ever do for me?'  When I get up and there’s no coffee ready, I curse the lazy bastard who shirked his duties the night before."  This may be one reason why many young people are indifferent about saving for retirement; they feel as if they would be giving up their money to an elderly stranger...  The average couple gives up on romance just 2 years, 6 months and 25 days into a marriage, according to research.  Beyond this point romance, if not dead, is definitely on its sickbed, as husbands give up trying to be tidy, while wives no longer make an effort to look nice for their other half.

      Who is this mystery man?...  New Zealand’s National War Memorial is a campanile (a free-standing bell tower), whose carillon originally contained 49 bells, the smallest weighing 4 kilograms and the largest weighing 5,000.  It was dedicated in 1932 but in 1984 was rebuilt and enlarged and now covers an impressive 6-octave range with its 74 bells, including a bourdon (lowest note) that weighs 12.5 tonnes (the largest in the Southern Hemisphere - the world’s heaviest, at the Riverside Church, New York City, weighs 20 tons).  The carillon originated in Flanders near the end of the 15th century and the art of carillon building reached its height in the Netherlands about 200 years later, when tuning the bells became highly refined.  Playing large instruments — using fists and feet — takes considerable physical exertion, as clappers weighing as much as several hundred pounds must be swung (the heaviest clappers are counterbalanced).  Perhaps not too surprisingly, the carillon fell out of favour and soon no one still knew how to properly tune the bells.  The technique was rediscovered by the end of the 19th century and a resurgence occurred - today, a keyboard is used.  I live about 2 blocks from the War Memorial and have an unobstructed view of the Carillon tower.  At first, I loved listening to the bells play.  Now, I find I don't even notice them.  They could stop playing and I wouldn't even realise it for months.  (Now I feel bad.)  Our carillon is played for 200 hours per year and NZ even has a National Carillonist...  Writing term papers for a term-paper mill is above-board and perfectly legal.  Thanks to the First Amendment, it’s protected speech, right up there with neo-Nazi rallies, tobacco company press releases, and those "9/11 Was An Inside Job" bumper stickers.  It's custom-made Cliff Notes.  Virtually any subject, almost any length, all levels of education — indulgent parents even buy papers for children too young for credit cards of their own.  "Most of the customers just aren't very bright."

      Potenco designs human-powered pull-cord generators (PCGs) that can generate energy when and where needed, providing independence from traditional power sources.  The company has 2 models: the smaller one is held in the hand and a pull-cord allows energy to be stored in an internal battery for use with portable powered devices (such as a mobile phone).  The larger uses a 12V deep cycle battery and has 2 pull-cords (one for each hand) that are pulled alternately.  This can power much larger devices (lights, portable computer).  The pull-cord is designed to give users maximum flexibility and range of motion - a hand crank primarily uses weak wrist muscles while the PCG employs a variety of muscle groups to generate considerably more power without user fatigue.  Unfortunately, for the moment these are not available for purchase while the company attempts to raise a round of funding that will allow them to go into production...  At the University of Alberta school of Medicine & Dentistry, surgeons (in consultation with the patient when possible) mark the site of surgery with a marking pen beforehand as a precaution.  But concern that germs would spread from one patient to another led them to throw away the marker each time, costing thousands of dollars a year.  But there turns out to be a sensible solution.

      As Barcelona runs out of water, Spain has been forced to consider importing water from France by boat.  Climatologists predict that certain regions, the Mediterranean basin among them, will increasingly suffer from water shortages as global temperatures are pushed up by greenhouse gas emissions.  Combined with reports that water scarcity can escalate conflicts, the forecasts have raised fears that climate change could bring about water wars.  Will you be affected?  Check out this map of aquifer water resources around the world (a rather large pdf )...  You might think it’s illegal to buy or sell an endangered tiger cub in Texas, but it isn’t.  For $500, you can buy an orange Bengal tiger and tie it up in your yard, no questions asked.  (A white tiger will, however, cost you $5,000.)  It’s all perfectly legal in Texas, which has almost no regulation of exotic animals, making the exotic animal trade a billion-dollar industry there.  With such little oversight, animal experts and law enforcement officials say, the breeding and smuggling of exotic animals — tigers in particular — are booming there.  It’s nearly impossible to know how many tigers and other exotic animals live in Texas because no state or federal agency tracks the number of animals in private ownership.  Some animal experts estimate that there are at least 3,000 privately-owned tigers in the Lone Star State (with 2,000 more in the other 49 states combined).  That means more captive tigers live in Texas than prowl in the wild in India.


      I don't want to come across as scatological, but a couple of things in an article about water-saving toilets caught my attention.  First, notice that the 2 toilets shown are subtly different: the left one is an Ozzy toilet while the right one is American.  Why the difference?  Though I didn't find the reason for that exact detail (perhaps it is for nothing more than being able to tell them apart at a glance), I did discover a morass of regulations in this area and have no doubt there are numerous differences invisible to a casual glance.  Apparently the US has regulations as to the height of the bowl, for example.  I suppose different water systems could have different pressure safety requirements - but the cost to global manufacturers makes one wonder whether some standards (like half-flushes and basic dimensions) couldn't be made (nearly) universal (highly unlikely).  The other thing is the inherent awkwardness of using a spigot located over the tank.  Why must the sink bowl be attached?  As long as it is close (roll over the right photo for an example) and high enough to drain into the bowl, wouldn't that work?  And as long as we're on the subject, the world's toilet's with the best vistas...  Our built-in dopamine-reward system makes instant gratification highly desirable and makes the future difficult to balance with the present.  This worked fine on the savanna but not the suburbs: We gorge on fatty foods and use credit cards to buy luxuries we can't actually afford.  And then, overworked, underslept, and overdrawn, we find ourselves anxious and depressed.  Credit cards promise you can have what you want now and postpone payment until later.  Buying feels good, in a biological sense — and that instant reward outweighs the threat of future bills.  Once upon a time, this economic system worked - but for the invisible hand of the free market to function, it needs to be balanced - and that balance is gone.

      Popcorning v. A chain reaction in which the accidental explosion of one nuclear warhead causes others in the vicinity to detonate, releasing lethal radiation for miles in every direction.  Newly declassified documents reveal that dropping a Trident missile while loading it onto a submarine could ignite a Jiffy Pop Nagasaki (via Wired)...  One of the most bomb-contaminated regions in Europe is the state of Brandenburg surrounding Berlin.  In Brandenburg alone, an average of 631 tons of old munitions from the two world wars and from Soviet army exercises in East Germany are found every year by builders, bomb location squads or children playing.  In the whole of Germany, more than 2,000 tons of American and British aerial bombs and all sorts of munitions ranging from German hand grenades and tank mines to Russian artillery shells are recovered each year.  Barely a week goes by without a city street or motorway being cordoned off or even evacuated throughout Germany due to an unexploded bomb being discovered.  It will take at least another 20 years before Brandenburg's bombs are cleared; it is particularly contaminated with American delay-action bombs which have become so unstable that it will soon be impossible to defuse them safely.  The bombs are on a hair trigger because they contain a vial of acetone which was intended to burst on impact, trickle down, and dissolve a celluloid disk that keeps back the cocked firing pin.  Their chemical detonators have been worn down by acetone vapours as they have lain in the ground for over 60 years.

      Nearly 7 million Americans abused prescription drugs in 2007 - more than cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens, Ecstasy and marijuana combined.  The figure is up 80% since 2000.  Definitions of abuse vary but refer typically to nonmedical use of prescription drugs.  The number of Americans treated for abuse of painkillers surged 321% from 1995 to 2005 - a trend some health experts link to another stunning figure: the 180 million prescriptions dispensed legally by US pharmacies each year for pain...  Proof-That-Smoking-Marijuana-Can-Make-You-Die: The pain is debilitating.  The only option: smoking medical marijuana.  That's the reality for many hepatitis C patients whose road to health includes a liver transplant.  Although Canadian transplant centres are more willing than those in the US, not everyone says yes to liver patients who smoke marijuana (though neither alcoholics nor those with HIV are automatically excluded)...  A type of brain receptor known as an "a6-containing nicotinic acetylcholine receptor" is sensitive to both nicotine and acetylcholine (one of the brain's neurotransmitters).  The receptor is found primarily on neurons producing the neurotransmitter dopamine.  When kicked into action by the presence of either nicotine or acetylcholine - two of the keys that fit its biochemical lock - the receptors prompt their neurons to begin pumping out dopamine.  Revved up by even low doses of nicotine, neurons then let loose with a flood.  Because dopamine plays an important role in movement, mice given nicotine become quickly and significantly hyperactive.  Looking more closely at this phenomenon could be useful in understanding the causes of human hyperactivity such as that observed in ADHD.

      Finding a way to bury the dead has been a concern since the dawn of humanity.  Some people would prefer a simpler way, which brings alternative burial possibilities to light, including the latest idea: dissolving bodies with lye.  The process is called alkaline hydrolysis and was developed in the US 16 years ago for animal carcasses.  It uses lye, 300°F heat and 60 pounds of pressure per square inch to destroy bodies in big stainless-steel cylinders similar to pressure cookers.  No funeral homes anywhere in the world (as far as the equipment manufacturer knows) offer this at this time.  In fact, only two US medical centres use it on human bodies, and only on cadavers donated for research.  But because of its environmental advantages, some in the funeral industry say it could someday rival burial and cremation.  In addition to the liquid, the process leaves a dry bone residue similar in appearance and volume to cremated remains.  It could be returned to the family in an urn or buried in a cemetery.  The rest, a coffee-coloured liquid with the consistency of motor oil and a strong ammonia smell, is sterile and can, in most cases, be safely poured down the drain.  This would certainly make getting rid of the body much easier for murderers, however...   Half of all American doctors responding to a nationwide survey say they regularly prescribe placebos to patients.  The study involved 679 internists and rheumatologists chosen randomly from a national list.  In response to questions included as part of a larger survey, about half reported recommending placebos regularly.  Surveys in Denmark, Israel, Britain, Sweden and New Zealand have found similar results.  The most common placebos the American doctors reported using were headache pills and vitamins, but a significant number also reported prescribing antibiotics and sedatives.  Although these drugs, contrary to the usual definition of placebos, are not inert, doctors reported using them for their effect on patients’ psyches, not their bodies.  “Everyone comes out happy: the doctor is happy, the patient is happy,” said one doctor, chairman of a health institute bioethics department.  (But epidemiologists are not happy.)

      Philippe Pot was Grand Senechal of Burgundy, then Chamberlain to the King of France; he died in 1495 and was fortunate enough to have sculptor Antoine Le Moiturier immortalise him forever in gilded and painted stone in the Louvre in Paris.  (This near-life-size piece was probably my favourite sculpture there.)  Click image for larger view...  The formula for acceptable waiting times can be expressed as: S = P – E where S stands for satisfaction, P for perception and E for expectation.  If you expect a certain level of service, and perceive the service reviewed to be higher, you are a satisfied client.  If you perceive the same level as before, but expected higher, you are disappointed and, consequently, a dissatisfied client.  Both the perception and the expectation are psychological.  Service managers should pay attention to 3 things: what was actually done to or for the client, what was perceived by the client, and what the client expected.  All 3 can be managed.  A well-known hotel group received complaints from guests about excessive waiting times for elevators.  After an analysis of how elevator service might be improved, it was suggested that mirrors be installed near where guests waited for the elevators.  The natural tendency of people to check their personal appearance substantially reduced complaints, although the actual wait for the elevators was unchanged.  Some restaurants follow the practice of promising guests a waiting time in excess of the actual expected time.  If people are willing to agree to wait this length of time, they are quite pleased to be seated earlier, thus starting the meal with a more positive feeling.

      Of these 126 freeze-frame photos, almost half involve water and many are sports shots or pets jumping or falling (too many of these - especially ones that certainly result in injury).  But a few are arresting...  Financial institutions should revisit the balance of basic salary and bonus.  Increasing basic salary may appear counter-intuitive.  Performance-related pay was supposed to align employees’ interests with those of shareholders.  But the approach of putting pay on autopilot through the mechanism of performance-related bonuses turns out to be open to abuse.  Loading the bulk of an employee’s anticipated pay packet into a bonus dependent on performance creates an incentive on the employee to take unnecessary risks and oversell results.  It also produces moral hazard for management and shareholders who may consider that they have less need to supervise those whose cost to the firm in the event of poor performance is only the relatively low amount of their basic salary.  Increasing the relative proportion of fixed salary would address these problems at source.  If the end result is that total pay packages are brought down, as firms strive to obtain better value for money for the fixed component of a remuneration package, that should satisfy public perceptions without abandoning ordinary principles of an open market...  In humans, binge drinking is defined as a woman having at least 4 drinks or a man having at least 5 drinks in 2 hours.  Binge drinking can decrease bone mass and bone strength, increasing the risk of developing osteoporosis.

     Opened in 1829, Eastern State in Philadelphia is considered to be the world's first true penitentiary.  Its system of incarceration originated and encouraged solitary confinement as a form of rehabilitation in the hope that it would move the criminal toward spiritual reflection and change.  The method was a Quaker-inspired system of isolation from other prisoners, with labour.  The early system was strict: to prevent distraction, knowledge of the building, and even mild interaction with guards, inmates were hooded whenever they were outside their cells.  Proponents of this system believed that isolating the criminal from his surroundings in such a manner forced him to think of the ugliness of his crimes and as a result would inspire him to become genuinely penitent, hence the term "penitentiary".  By 1913, Eastern State officially abandoned the solitary system and operated as a congregate prison until it closed in 1970.  One of its more famous inmates was Al Capone (who lived in a cell that borders on the plush).  It also boasts a pair of my favourite gargoyles over the entrance...  "The problem with financial institution balance sheets is that on the left hand side nothing is right and on the right hand side nothing is left." - London Banker via Corpus Callosum...  France holds the title for the longest traffic jam ever.  On 16 February 1980, from Lyon to Paris (return from the skiing holidays), due to "many" cars and bad weather, the congestion was 176 kilometres long (109 miles)...  Students in a Harvard English 101 class were asked to write a concise essay containing four elements: religion, royalty, sex and mystery.  The only A+ in the class read: "'My God,' said the Queen, 'I'm pregnant!  I wonder who did it.'"

      At least once, the sun setting on the island of Madeira (in the Atlantic Ocean) did something really unusual (click image for a larger version).  This photo can be found at the bottom of this page and you'll go through some impressive temples and lighting effects to get there...  In a recent issue of the liberal magazine The American Prospect, the editors write, “Today Islamist terrorists with global reach pose the greatest immediate threat to our lives and liberties.  When facing a substantial, immediate, and provable threat, the United States has both the right and the obligation to strike preemptively and, if need be, unilaterally against terrorists or states that support them.”  Preemptively and, if need be, unilaterally; and against “states that support” terrorists, not just terrorists themselves.  Those are large steps in the direction of the Bush doctrine, though the editors do qualify their support for preemption by adding that the threat must be “substantial, immediate, and provable.”  But when intellectuals endorse abstract principles, even with qualifications, they need to keep in mind that the principles will be applied by the people who run the US government.  This is all the more important to keep in mind when the abstract principle is about the use of violence by the state — in fact, about preemptively initiating the use of violence...  "Tourism is just national prostitution." - 87-year-old Prince Philip in Slovenia.  (Actually, I can see his point.)  When the 36-year-old professor to whom he was speaking told him her group had proposed meeting points in cities for people to discuss ideas, he replied: "They call those supermarkets, don’t they?"

      Razavi Khorasan Province is located in northeastern Iran, where Neyshābūr County is located.  Neyshābūr is a city situated in a fertile plain at the foot of the Binalud Mountains.  It occupies an important strategic position astride the old Silk Road that linked Anatolia and the Mediterranean with China.  This city contains the mausoleum of poet, astronomer and mathematician Omar Khayyám.  Nearby are the turquoise mines that supplied the world with turquoise for at least 2,000 years.  For a time Neyshābūr rivaled Baghdad or Cairo and was among the 10 largest cities on earth in the year 1000CE.  After the husband of Genghis Khan's daughter was killed at Neyshābūr in 1221, she ordered the death of all in the city (approximately 1.7 million people).  The Mongols left the heads of the men, women, and children piled into pyramids.  (US band Santana released an instrumental track entitled "Incident at Neshabur" on their 1970 LP release, Abraxas.)  The Wooden Village, an area of Neyshābūr, constains houses, shops, library and mosque of great beauty and intricate detail.  It is good to occasionally consider Iran's positive characteristics...  The usual appearance of bananas is mainly the result of carotenoids.  Under normal light, these natural pigments appear yellow.  Under UV light, known to partygoers as black light, ripening bananas appear bright blue instead.  In contrast to humans, many of the animals that eat bananas can see light in the UV range. The blue luminescence of the banana fruit could give them a distinct signal that the fruit is ripe.

      Twisted balloon sculptures by Jason Hackenwerth (they tend to look like sea creatures or insects with lots of legs or larvae, but they're impressive nonetheless)...  Decision-making is a complex process, involving both intuition and analysis: analysis involves computation and more "rational" thought, but is slower; intuition, by contrast, is much faster, but less accurate, relying on heuristics, or "gut instincts".  Our response to a problem depends on how the problem is posed – the so called "framing effect".  A surgeon who tells a patient that there is an 80% chance of surviving an operation is more likely to gain consent than one who tells the patient there is a 20% chance of dying, even though statistically these mean the same thing.  People with autism-related disorders are less likely to make irrational decisions, and are less influenced by gut instincts - they are less likely to be guided by their emotions into making inconsistent or irrational choices, their greater attention to detail perhaps helping them avoid being swayed by their emotions...  Medical researchers have long suspected an association between allergies and cancer, but extensive study on the subject has yielded mixed, and often contradictory, results.  Many studies have found inverse associations between the two, meaning cancer patients tended to have fewer allergies in their medical history.  Other studies have found positive associations, and still others found no association at all.  In an attempt to explain these contradictions, nearly 650 previous studies from the past 5 decades were re-examined.  Inverse allergy-cancer associations are far more common with cancers of organ systems that come in direct contact with matter from the external environment — the mouth and throat, colon and rectum, skin, cervix, pancreas and glial brain cells.  Allergies associated with tissues directly exposed to environmental assaults — eczema, hives, hay fever and animal and food allergies — likewise show an inverse relationships to cancers in their hosts (a consolation prize, perhaps?).

      Fish are steeped in social intelligence; they pursue Machiavellian strategies of manipulation, punishment and reconciliation; they exhibit stable cultural traditions; they co-operate to inspect predators and catch food.  Fish recognise individual "shoal mates", achieve social prestige and even track relationships.  Scientists also have observed them using tools, building complex nests and exhibiting long-term memories...  In May 2007 the creators of Big Brother announced a new show called The Big Donor Show in which a terminally ill woman would select one of 3 patients to receive her kidneys live on tv.  Obviously the public thought this was a step too far and went mental.  It was quickly all over the worldwide news with members of every possible government condemning the programme.  However, the programme went ahead and in a twist at the end the host revealed the participants to be actors, the idea being to highlight the growing shortage of organ donors throughout the world...  I found this to be an amazing video on the atmosphere - it's less than 5 minutes long - why not watch?  (Especially see the last 2 minutes)...  People appear to trust others more while they are experiencing physical warmth themselves.  In fact, simply handling a hot cup of coffee can change one's attitude toward a stranger.  This has implications for marketing - giving potential customers a cup of hot cider and a warm cookie could be a smart investment.

      In an appeal for new voters from the Y-generation voting block, Barack Obama forged new ground by tapping into an advertising medium appealing to this demographic - advertising in video games.  The idea of temporarily embedding advertising inside video games began fairly recently; Obama is the first presidential candidate to buy space, according to Electronic Arts, whose company features the ads.  Video games are mainly played by a well-defined demographic - young, mostly male, age 15 - 35.  Where tv and radio interrupt the program for an ad, in-game advertising puts the promotion directly into the content, streaming ads onto billboards that players see.  This type of advertising can be directed to particular geographical areas through IP addresses...  Each cell contains about 40,000 genes.  The only reason a skin cell becomes a skin cell as opposed to a heart cell is because only a fraction of the genes are being expressed, and the other genes not being expressed are shut down by the genetic process of DNA methylation.  The rate of methylation in the brains of people who have died via suicide is nearly 10 times that of a control group.  The gene being shut down is a neurotransmitter receptor that plays a major role in regulating behaviour...  The always-interesting Dark Roasted Blend site has a page on caves around the world featuring striking photos...  "Legislation was repeatedly brought forth to Congress over the past 8 years, which would have reined in the predatory lending practices of now mostly-defunct institutions.  These institutions regularly filled the coffers of both parties in return for voting down all of this legislation designed to protect the common citizen.  This is an outrage, yet no one seems to know or care about it." - retiring hedge fund manager Andrew Lahde

      Diligent, industrious and emotionally stable people live up to 4 years longer than those who are slapdash and complacent.  These individuals are hardworking, resourceful, confident and ambitious; these life patterns may be more stable and less stressful than other sets of traits.

No one can be good for long if goodness is not in demand.

- Bertolt Brecht

For other updates click "Back" (for newer) or "Next" (for older) below

Back Home Up Next