Staff Picks



    Project Syndicate - Main: The Founding Fathers’ Fiscal Crisis  >>

    Peter Singer, Wednesday, October 02nd 2013
    Americans often speak in reverential tones about “the wisdom of the Founding Fathers” – that is, the men who wrote the US Constitution. But the manner in which the House of Representatives has been able to bring the government to a halt is making the Founding Fathers look rather foolish.


    The Atlantic: Killer Hornets Are Wreaking Havoc in China  >>

    Gwynn Guilford, Friday, September 27th 2013
    (Wikimedia Commons)

    A plague of hornets, each the size of a human thumb, have descended on Shaanxi province this summer—at least 28 have been stung to death, while another 419 have been injured, according to a local news report from China Radio Network (CRN), via the New York Times’ Chris Buckley. The death toll from hornet attacks in Ankang city is more than twice the annual average between 2002 and 2005, say the Ankang police, as the Guardian reports. A local doctor said hospitalizations due to hornet attacks have risen steadily over the years.

    Why the uptick? The population of Asian giant hornets (vespa mandarinia), as they’re known, has surged largely because of climate change, says the Shaanxi Provincial Forestry Department. The average winter temperature in Ankang rose 1.10 ? in the span of a few years alone, allowing more hornets to survive the winter. And it’s not just China; rising temperatures are behind the spread of another deadly Chinese hornets species, vespa velutina, in South Korea and Europe.

    The chief prey of the Chinese hornet? Honeybees. As global warming makes more of the world hospitable to Chinese hornets, more honeybees are dying in the beepocalypse. Areas in Europe where they’re likeliest to invade “hold among the highest densities of bee-hives in Europe,” according to recent research. Here’s a heat map of where Chinese hornets will be able to survive as temperatures rise.

    ?"Climate change increases the risk of invasion by the Yellow-legged hornet." (Barbet-Massin, et al.)

    Japanese honey bees have figured out how to fight back, by cooking hornets. After surrounding a hornet in a spherical formation, Japanese honey bees engage their flight muscles, raising their collective temperature beyond what hornets can withstand.

    European honey bees lack this skill. That’s why bee populations in France, where Chinese hornets arrived via a Chinese pottery shipment in 2005, have already taken a hit. Since then, Chinese hornets have spread at a pace of up to 100 km (62 miles) a year. Within the last three years, they’ve invaded Spain, Portugal and Belgium; soon they’ll arrive in Italy and the UK, says the European Environment Agency.

    But the havoc climate change is wreaking on rural China are more immediate. Being stung feels “like a hot nail through my leg,” as one entomologist put it, and their venom can dissolve skin. They’re fast, too, flying up to 25 miles per hour (41 kilometers an hour). They’re also the largest hornets on the planet, reaching 5.5 centimeters (2.2 inches). Via hornet blogger Kurt Bell, here a look:

    For a sense of scale…Blogger Kurt Bell (

    Here’s a chilling scene that Chen Changlin, an Ankang farmer, witnessed one evening a few days ago. As he harvested rice on evening, hornets swarmed a woman and child working nearby. When they reached Chen, they stung him for three minutes straight. Chen made it; the other two died. “The more you run, the more they want to chase you,” said another victim, whose kidneys were ravaged by the venom. When he was admitted to the hospital, his urine was the color of soy sauce.


    That species hasn’t spread outside of Asia yet, though sightings in the U.S. of giant Asian hornets have been cropping up of late. If the Asian hornet spreads in the U.S., it could be an even bigger threat than the Chinese hornet. They too thrive on killing honey bees. Not only are they five times bigger, but their huge jaws allow them to decapitate bees so quickly that one giant hornet can kill 40 bees a minute. A swarm of fewer than 30 can wipe out a 30,000-strong honeybee colony in just a few hours.



    The New York Review of Books - All: The Shame of Our Prisons: New Evidence  >>

    David Kaiser, Lovisa Stannow, Saturday, October 05th 2013
    David Kaiser and Lovisa Stannow

    Sexual Victimization in Prisons and Jails Reported by Inmates, 2011–12: National Inmate Survey, 2011–12
    by Allen J. Beck and others

    Sexual Victimization in Juvenile Facilities Reported by Youth, 2012: National Survey of Youth in Custody, 2012
    by Allen J. Beck and others

    As recently as five years ago, American corrections officials almost uniformly denied that rape in prison was a widespread problem. When we at Just Detention International—an organization aimed at preventing the sexual abuse of inmates—recounted stories of people we knew who had been raped in prison, we were told either that these men and women were exceptional cases, or simply that they were liars. But all this has changed.

  • - All: Sexual deviancy is normal  >>

    Sunday, October 06th 2013

    While we are dealing here with pain, it is a pain the masochist is capable of transforming into pleasure; a suffering which he, by some secret alchemy he alone possesses, can turn into pure joy.

    —Jean Paulhan, Preface to Pauline Réage’s "The Story of O" (1954)


    If you were to tell me the first thing that comes to your mind when I say “S&M,” there’s a decent chance that it would be the "Fifty Shades" trilogy. Or perhaps you’d describe some sensual scene lit by flickering candles: an ice cube to a perky nipple, wax dripping onto a shivering naked abdomen, a guillotine mask, a pony harness, a strangled scrotum, and a spring-loaded mouth gag . . . well, now you’re just getting carried away, you perv. In any event, this dominant-submissive (or “master-slave”) dynamic is more common than you may be aware. Around 11 percent of us, irrespective of our gender, have had an experience with sadomasochism. Five percent of men and 7 percent of women also report regularly including “verbal humiliation” in their erotic repertoire. And that’s just those who’d ever admit to such things on a survey.

    Continue Reading...



    Blogs - Zero Hedge: Mapping The (Dis)Honesty Of The World  >>

    Tyler Durden, Sunday, September 29th 2013

    Reader's Digest wanted to know how honest world cities are, so it “lost” 192 wallets in 16 cities - that’s 12 wallets in each city - to see how many would be returned. Each wallet contained $50 equivalent of local currency, as well as a name, phone number, family photo, coupons, and business cards. The results, as IBTimes' Lisa Mahapatra illustrates are perhaps surprising. The US ranked well (with 8/12 wallets returned) but the troubled regions of Europe (Spain and Portugal) came a dismal last with only 2 and 1 wallets returned respectively.


    The Wallet Experiment


    by lisamahapatra.
    Explore more infographics like this one on the web's largest information design community - Visually.



    The Atlantic - Full: Five Global Health Concerns  >>

    Emma Green, Saturday, October 05th 2013


    Have you ever imagined what it would be like if villains could email a respiratory virus to the world? Do you drift to sleep at night dreaming of the health crises to come as octogenarians steadily expand their ranks?

    Laurie Garrett has and does. She’s an award-winning journalist and senior scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations, and she’s made it her life’s work to uncover the world’s biggest health threats. In an interview with Atlantic senior editor Corby Kummer at The Atlantic Meets the Pacific on Friday, she calmly outlined several very real threats facing the global population. It’s fitting that she was once a plot consultant in the making for Contagion: Hollywood, pay attention.

    1. SARS, meet the hajj.

    “Quite recently, we’ve had the emergence of another virus: MERS, the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, coming out of Saudi Arabia,” Garrett said. “We’re all very, very nervous about it, because the hajj is coming up next week, and at that time, there will be a few million people pouring into Saudi Arabia, and part of the hajj is to walk around…”

    “To breath on each other?” offered Kummer.

    Garrett laughed — but only a little. “This is a virus, it turns out, probably to come from Egyptian tomb rats, which is very Béla Lugosi, actually. It is very similar to the SARS virus which emerged in China in 2003 and had a very serious outbreak.”

    2. Viruses will be the new, lethal spam mail.

    When 3-D printing becomes “4-D printing,” Garrett argues, people will be able to send self-replicating viruses across the world in seconds.

    “It’s now possible to design your own genomic sequence and to send that sequence to a 3-D printer that is loaded with nucleotides,” she explained. “Some drug companies are already using the 3-D printer mode to transmit necessary information for the production of antigens for vaccines,” she said. “There’s already a phrase in Silicon Valley, '4-D printing,' that refers to creating structures that then self-form once they come out of the 3-D printer. I would argue that in biology, that 4-D printing is self-replication.”

    From a national security standpoint, “it’s about information. I can send a sequence to somebody’s printer thousands of miles away, and that sequence is the key to creating a dangerous organism.”

    3. Vaccines and the health workers who distribute them are being demonized.

    According to Garrett, after the CIA used a fake hepatitis vaccination campaign as a front to try and get into Osama bin Laden’s compound, militant Islamic groups became suspicious of all kinds of vaccination campaigns.

    “They have used that as a way to justify a whole campaign that claims that polio vaccinations have to be stopped, (a) because it’s some kind of CIA plot, and (b)… these guys are saying until you stop all the drone attacks, they will kill polio vaccinators. These are unarmed, mostly female volunteers, all over Pakistan, Somalia, Afghanistan, and they’re being targeted for assassinations, for brutality, in the name of Islam,” she said.

    4. Scientists are producing new airborne viruses, apparently just for the heck of it.

    “The bird flu virus that emerged in 1997 fortunately hasn’t affected many human beings yet, but it has a 66 percent mortality in humans when they do get infected, so it is the single-most lethal virus we have seen in circulation in human beings,” Garrett said.

    “What has happened is that a lot of virologists are now, in the name of public health, [performing] experiments that give circulating viruses a capacity that they don’t have in nature to see ‘what if?’ A Dutch lab that was funded by the NIH turned H5N1 into a virus that spread between ferrets through the air – ferrets as a surrogate for humans. And just a few months ago, a Chinese veterinary lab transformed 127 viruses [into] man-made flu, all H5N1.” Five of those were transformed into airborne viruses, she said.

    “I don’t think there’s any evil here, but I think that there’s a lot of bizarre, misplaced scientific intent.”

    5. Watch out for the octogenarian invasion.

    But those in the Western world need not look far for a more mundane but pressing threat: the aging population. “As people age, every society is getting more cancer, more heart disease, more diabetes, more chronic health problems.”

    The worst part, Garrett says? “We don’t have an architecture of global health that has a clue how to address these issues.”



    The Atlantic: The Power of Sugar  >>

    James Hamblin, Monday, September 23rd 2013
    [IMAGE DESCRIPTION](tomhe/flickr)

    If you start with this:

    Obesity (2009)


    ... And pair with this:


    ... Charts like these paint a correlation that seems to be changing the world. Mexico, for example, is second in the world in adult obesity, first in type II diabetes (the leading cause of death in the country), and fourth in infant obesity. It's also second in added sugar consumption per person, and second in soft drinks consumed per person.

    These illustrations come from a report out this month from the Zurich-based Credit Suisse Research Institute, titled "Sugar Consumption at a Crossroads." In it, researchers start with the basics of nutrition science and question common understanding along the way, and propose their most rational solution. 

    By 2020, they write, the annual cost of obesity to the healthcare system globally is projected to reach $700 billion. The obesity epidemic and associated problems (heart disease, diabetes) result in costs that resonate across industries. That gets the attention of financial institutions, and the result is a look at the role of sugar in various forms in the obesity and diabetes epidemics from this international bank. The researchers break down science and policy from, as best I can tell, the vantage of economists just trying to understand what the science means for markets. The report is full of digestible assertions on contested/misunderstood topics, like:

    Fructose and glucose are essentially same.

    Fructose, also called fruit sugar, is one of three monosaccharides (along with glucose and galactose) that are absorbed during digestion. Fructose is mainly ingested in one of two forms, either sucrose (table sugar) or high-fructose corn syrup (also called high-fructose maize syrup, glucose fructose syrup or glucose/fructose).

    Sucrose consists of equal parts fructose and glucose. High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), on the other hand, usually has 55 percent fructose and 42 percent glucose (in HFCS 55) or 42 percent fructose and 53 percent glucose (in HFCS 42).

    HFCS does have some important commercial advantages over table sugar, and is considerably cheaper, meaning it is now regularly used as the main sweetener in beverages. The temporal relationship between an increase in HFCS consumption (especially in sweetened beverages) and the increase in obesity has also elevated the focus on the potentially unique role that fructose may play in weight gain.

    There have been a number of studies looking for differences in how the body metabolizes fructose compared to glucose. Unfortunately, many have been very short-term or carried out at levels much higher than the concentrations at which either nutrient is typically ingested. In addition, it is rare for either substance to be consumed in isolation in the human diet.

    Our review of the latest literature and our conversations with experts in the field lead us to believe that, in general, the biological impact of fructose is essentially identical to that of glucose at the concentrations at which these nutrients are generally consumed. The American Medical Association has weighed in on the debate and concluded that it does not believe there to be any difference between HFCS and sucrose when it comes to causing or aggravating conditions such as obesity or diabetes type II.

    Expert statements on this vary. Part of that may be due to lack of training in nutrition, despite its clear role in these massive epidemics. The report includes a survey of physicians in the U.S., Europe, and Asia:


    Why is there so much disparity around such important issues that should be cut-and-dry science? The report is long, but its conclusions break down like this:

    In looking at causes of the epidemic, “recent focus – medical, media and regulatory – has converged on the role played by sugar consumption, with soft drinks being the common denominator for all three. Opinions on the effects of sugar range from those who maintain that it is toxic to those who say that it is a natural product and perfectly healthy at current levels of consumption.” (I'm pretty sure the latter are rare.)

    "While the parties on both sides of the debate continue to disagree on a number of important issues, there are several areas where there are few doubts":

    • Consumption of high-fructose corn syrup and added sugar (that which is not contained in natural products like fruit or milk) has increased dramatically over the last few decades. The U.S., Brazil, Argentina, Australia, and Mexico are all at more than double the world average; 40 teaspoons for the USA is the highest, compare that to China's 7 teaspoons. ("A regular can of soda has eight teaspoons of sugar, as does a one cup serving of low-fat granola.")
    • Research has yet to conclusively prove that sugar is the leading cause of obesity and diabetes type II but the balance of medical research is coalescing around this conclusion. A proprietary survey of general practitioners showed that close to 90 percent support that understanding. In addition, there is not a single study showing that added sugar is good for you, which would be expected if the impact of sugar or HFCS was truly neutral. The correlation between obesity and soda consumption across many populations is convincing, and is a particular risk factor for childhood obesity. 
    • Genetic variations in insulin response are an important factor and allow some people to tolerate more sugar than others.
    • Liquid and solid “sugar calories” are handled differently by the body. As the sugar in soda is in a solution, it is easily and completely ingested, giving a large injection of calories without the consequential satiation of appetite. 
    [IMAGE DESCRIPTION](simonq/flickr)

    From there it goes on to make a case for sugar regulation. Here's the percentage of doctors that answered yes to questions of intervention:


    Consumers are increasingly aware of this debate. Within the population, we are already seeing signs of reduction in the consumption of sugar, particularly among the most highly educated. Public opinion asking for some regulation or taxation to limit consumption is growing. ...

    Obesity, as bad as it is, is not the most worrisome issue. Diabetes type II is now affecting close to 370 million people worldwide, with one in ten U.S. adults affected by it. The costs to the global healthcare system are a staggering $470 billion according to the most recent estimates from the International Diabetes Federation, and represent over 10 percent of all healthcare costs. In the USA alone, the healthcare costs tied to diabetes type II are estimated at $140 billion, compared to $90 billion for tobacco-related healthcare costs. Even more worrisome is that these numbers are growing at a rate of 4 percent a year, much faster than for obesity (1 to 2 percent).

    ... Local and national authorities around the globe are beginning to take action, with varying degrees of success. Interventions include anti-soda advertising campaigns, tax levies, removal of vending machines in schools and regulation of portion size. However, as Mayor Bloomberg discovered in New York, when his attempt to limit cup sizes was defeated in court, the combined lobby of the sugar industry – which is a huge employer and therefore has significant voting power and that of the food and beverage manufacturers – makes things much more difficult.

    After balancing arguments in favor and against, we believe that taxation would be the best approach and will provide the best outcome: reducing consumption while helping the public sector deal with the growing social and medical costs.


    But, to be practical:

    Against growing negative public opinion and the threat of regulation or taxation, the food and beverage industry is beginning to take steps toward “self-regulation” and pro-active media campaigns. The beverage industry has also for some time recognized the need to diversify into healthier products, including fruit juices, sports drinks, bottled water and diet soda. However, many of these products are also coming under scrutiny; either as sugar in a healthier guise (fruit juices) or for the inferred disadvantages of artificial sweeteners – particularly Aspartame, whose application was rejected six times by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).


    The experiment of Coca-Cola Life in Argentina (sweetened with half Stevia and half sugar leading to a 50% reduction in calories) is an example of what we expect to see over the next few years.

    [IMAGE DESCRIPTION](Coca-Cola Life)

    The overall conclusion:

    We believe that the “noise” on sugar and its effects on our health will increase rather than decrease. Even well regarded and independent bodies like the World Health Organization (WHO) have to catch up. In all its reports on diabetes, the WHO barely mentions sugar as either a cause or as part of the treatment (i.e. reducing sugar intake). So the most likely outcome over the next five to ten years will be a significant reduction in sugar consumption and a marked increase in the role played by high-intensity natural sweeteners in food and beverages. Soft drink consumption might suffer somewhat in the short term, as it will take some time for companies to successfully establish a new line of “healthier” alternatives.

    So these economists say taxation is the best idea, but since it's difficult to pass legislation, market-driven self-regulation (born of savvy consumers and threats of taxation) is likely what we'll see. That's why these kinds of charts and stats are valuable, in everyone being aware of the scope and nature of these epidemics, and to keep thinking about the changing role of sugar across bodies and cultures.



    Mashable: Amazon Paperwhite Is the Best Digital Reading Experience Money Can Buy  >>

    Lance Ulanoff, Sunday, September 29th 2013

    I don't miss books — not their smell, weight nor feel as I turn the page. This is largely thanks to products like Amazon's Kindle Paperwhite. The ereader and its competitors, including Barnes & Noble's Nook Simple Touch, have continually raised the technological bar, while bringing the ereading experience closer to what feels like perusing an actual book. The new sixth-generation Kindle Paperwhite now nearly matches print tomes for visual clarity and quality, is just as easy to navigate and, of course, does things no physical book could ever do.

    Amazon, which recently unveiled a new collection of full-blown Kindle Fire Tablets that use HD LCD screens, shows no sign of abandoning the E-ink-driven ereader market. Although the 2GB Wi-Fi Kindle Paperwhite costs $119 and an entry-level Kindle Fire HD costs just $139, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos told us that he believes readers should buy both kinds of hand-held products. I tend to agree. (An ereader is primarily a reading device and a tablet is for web browsing, email, games, video, social media and more.) Read more...

    More about Review, Amazon, Kindle, Ereaders, and Ereader


    CNN - Technology: The death of the stereo system  >>

    Friday, September 27th 2013

  • CrossFit is everything that’s wrong with America  >>

    Saturday, September 07th 2013

    The WeeklingsAMERICA is its sports.  That’s a strong claim, but try coming up with a more pervasive, more intrinsic lens through which we see ourselves.  Politics?  Religion?  Check the stats and you’ll find that about 122 million of us voted in the last presidential election and about 129 million of us regularly attend church, but in 2009 the US Census Bureau reported that nearly 270 of the 313.9 million Americans participated in “sports activities.”  That number includes everything from the little leaguers on the ball field to the huffers on the treadmills, with walking, unsurprisingly, as our number one sport.  America is a sporting land.  And that includes the land itself.  Sure, we may officially reside in states and counties, cities and towns, but we live in athletic divisions, regions, and rivalries: home team and visitors, us vs. them.  I’m in Ohio and on any given day I can probably tell you how our baseball and football teams are doing, even though I find both sports snoozers.  Like pop hits or smog, sports is in the air.  We breathe it in at the checkout counter, the water cooler, the bar.  All the more so in an age with an Internet and interstates.  There isn’t a great geographical or cultural difference between Cincinnati and Cleveland, but it sure as shit matters if you’re in Bengals or Browns Country.  Map America, and the Mason-Dixon line looks quaint compared to the scrimmage line.

    Continue Reading...



    TED Talks: TED: James Flynn: Why our IQ levels are higher than our grandparents' - James Flynn (2013)  >>

    TEDTalks, Thursday, September 26th 2013
    It's called the "Flynn effect" -- the fact that each generation scores higher on an IQ test than the generation before it. Are we actually getting smarter, or just thinking differently? In this fast-paced spin through the cognitive history of the 20th century, moral philosopher James Flynn suggests that changes in the way we think have had surprising (and not always positive) consequences.


    Car&Driver: Details of Porsche’s Macan Crossover, Upcoming 911, Boxster, and Cayman Models Leak Online  >>

    Alexander Stoklosa, Friday, September 27th 2013

    2015 Porsche Macan

    Earlier today, several presentation slides purported to be from a Porsche dealer meeting were posted by Jalopnik. The grainy images reveal what appear to be official Porsche plans for and details of the 2015 Macan crossover, as well as new 911, Boxster, and Cayman model variations. Here are the goods:

    As we’ve previously reported, the Macan will arrive with two turbocharged V-6 engine choices. The entry-level (for now) Macan S gets a twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V-6 shared with the 2014 Panamera. Interestingly, Jalopnik reports that the dealer slides points to the sportier, upmarket Macan Turbo variation getting a twin-turbocharged 3.6-liter V-6. We classify this news as interesting because a twin-turbo 3.6-liter V-6 doesn’t currently exist in the Porsche-sphere. Regardless, the Macan will bow in production form at this year’s Los Angeles auto show.

    On the new-model-variation front, the Boxster and Cayman twins soon will offer higher-performance GTS iterations. Recall that the GTS treatment—higher horsepower from S models’ naturally aspirated engines with handling and visual upgrades—has been applied to the Panamera, the Cayenne, and the previous-generation 911. (It’ll probably be applied to the current-generation 911, as well, in due time.) Finally, as if no one ever saw this coming, the dealer meeting revealed that a 911 Targa model is coming soon. It will feature some form of an automatically retracting roof panel, which will transform it into the half-convertible the Targa’s been since the body style was first introduced on the 911 back in the 1960s. For the full skinny on the fruit from the leaked info, head on over to Jalopnik’s three individual stories here, here, and here.


    PC World - Latest News: Hilarious comedians killing it on (streaming) TV  >>

    Susie Ochs, Saturday, September 28th 2013
    Ricky Gervais has a new mockumentary on Netflix, and his fellow standups bring the funny too.


    Failblog: The Origin of Idioms  >>

    Sunday, October 06th 2013

    Submitted by: Unknown

Friday, 05/30/2014
Thursday, 05/29/2014


    Economist - United States: Health-care fraud: The $272 billion swindle  >>

    Thursday, May 29th 2014

    INVESTIGATORS in New York were looking for health-care fraud hot-spots. Agents suggested Oceana, a cluster of luxury condos in Brighton Beach. The 865-unit complex had a garage full of Porsches and Aston Martins—and 500 residents claiming Medicaid, which is meant for the poor and disabled. Though many claims had been filed legitimately, some looked iffy. Last August six residents were charged. Within weeks another 150 had stopped claiming assistance, says Robert Byrnes, one of the investigators.Health care is a tempting target for thieves. Medicaid doles out $415 billion a year; Medicare (a federal scheme for the elderly), nearly $600 billion. Total health spending in America is a massive $2.7 trillion, or 17% of GDP. No one knows for sure how much of that is embezzled, but in 2012 Donald Berwick, a former head of the Centres for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), and Andrew Hackbarth of the RAND Corporation, estimated that fraud (and the extra rules and inspections required to fight it) added as much as $98 billion, or roughly 10%, to annual Medicare and Medicaid spending—and up to $272 billion across the entire health system.Federal prosecutors had over 2,000...

Sunday, 12/29/2013
Thursday, 12/19/2013


    The New York Review of Books - All: How Your Data Are Being Deeply Mined  >>

    Alice Marwick, Thursday, December 19th 2013
    Alice E. Marwick

    Using techniques ranging from supermarket loyalty cards to targeted advertising on Facebook, private companies systematically collect very personal information, from who you are, to what you do, to what you buy. Data about your online and offline behavior are combined, analyzed, and sold to marketers, corporations, governments, and even criminals. The scope of this collection, aggregation, and brokering of information is similar to, if not larger than, that of the NSA, yet it is almost entirely unregulated and many of the activities of data-mining and digital marketing firms are not publicly known at all.
Tuesday, 12/03/2013


    Slate: The PISA Puzzle  >>

    Dana Goldstein, Tuesday, December 03rd 2013

    On Tuesday the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development released the 2012 scores for the Program for International Student Assessment, commonly known as PISA, the international reading, math, and science exam of 15-year-olds. The United States did not do well: Compared with their peers in the 33 other OECD nations around the world, American teens ranked 17th in reading, 21st in science, and 26th in math. The top-performing region was Shanghai.


    BBC - Home: Americans see US in decline - survey  >>

    Tuesday, December 03rd 2013
    For the first time in 40 years, a majority of Americans say the US plays a less important and powerful role in the world than it did a decade ago.
Wednesday, 11/27/2013


    The New York Review of Books - All: Mike  >>

    Joyce Carol Oates, Wednesday, November 27th 2013
    Joyce Carol Oates

    Undisputed Truth
    by Mike Tyson with Larry Sloman

    The afterlife of a champion boxer recalls Karl Marx’s remark about history repeating itself first as tragedy, then as farce. Even when the boxer manages to retire before he has been seriously injured, it is not unlikely that repeated blows to the head will have a long-term neurological effect, and the accumulative assaults of arduous training and hard-won fights will precipitate the natural deterioration of aging; it is certainly likely that the boxer has witnessed, or even caused, very ugly incidents in the lives of other boxers. As welterweight champion Fritzie Zivic once said, “You’re boxing, you’re not playing the piano.”

Wednesday, 10/23/2013

  • - All: Weight-loss shocker: Diet books are lying to you  >>

    Wednesday, October 23rd 2013

    Weight-loss diet books continue to occupy the top of the bestseller lists. However, over the past decade there has been a shift in the way these diets are framed, and in the types of scientific claims underpinning the diets.

    A key feature of many popular weight-loss diets since the 1970s has been the claim that the macronutrient ratio—proportion of fat, carbs and protein—is the major determinant of whether a food or dietary pattern promotes weight gain or weight loss. Low-fat, low-carb, high-fat, high-protein—some combination of some of these macronutrient prescriptions—have dominated the weight-loss scene in the late twentieth century.

    In recent years, weight-loss diet books have continued to make reference to the ideal macronutrient profile for weight loss, but with a greater focus on the particular foods to consume or avoid: meat, wheat, grains or sugar. However, these diet books also place greater emphasis on how nutrients and foods affect specific bodily processes and functions related to weight gain and loss. Their focus has shifted down to the cellular and molecular level of our bodies, and onto hormones such as insulin, the control of blood sugar levels, the regulation of fat storage in cells, and brain-satiety signals. Diet book authors now offer precise and definitive scientific explanations of the multiple pathways through which nutrients, foods and dietary patterns affect our metabolism and mediate fat storage, hunger cravings and energy levels.

    Continue Reading...


Tuesday, 10/22/2013


    The New York Review of Books - All: Gambling with Civilization  >>

    Paul Krugman, Tuesday, October 22nd 2013
    Paul Krugman

    The Climate Casino: Risk, Uncertainty, and Economics for a Warming World
    by William D. Nordhaus

    The future is uncertain, a reality acknowledged in the title of William Nordhaus’s new book, The Climate Casino: Risk, Uncertainty, and Economics for a Warming World. Yet decisions must be made taking the future—and sometimes the very long-term future—into account. This is true when it comes to exhaustible resources, where every barrel of oil we burn today is a barrel that won’t be available for future generations. It is all the more true for global warming, where every ton of carbon dioxide we emit today will remain in the atmosphere, changing the world’s climate, for generations to come. And as Nordhaus emphasizes, although perhaps not as strongly as some would like, when it comes to climate change uncertainty strengthens, not weakens, the case for action now.

Friday, 10/18/2013
Thursday, 10/17/2013


    The New York Review of Books - All: Physics: What We Do and Don’t Know  >>

    Steven Weinberg, Thursday, October 17th 2013
    Steven Weinberg

    In the past fifty years two large branches of physical science have each made a historic transition. I recall both cosmology and elementary particle physics in the early 1960s as cacophonies of competing conjectures. By now in each case we have a widely accepted theory, known as a “standard model.”


    Project Syndicate - Main: In Praise of Debt Ceilings  >>

    Hans-Werner Sinn, Thursday, October 17th 2013
    The recent wrangling about raising the US government’s borrowing limit underscores the hazards posed by excessive state indebtedness. Governments nowadays are essentially running gigantic redistribution machines that steer funds from taxpayers to transfer recipients and other beneficiaries of public expenditure.
Wednesday, 10/16/2013


    Car&Driver: U-G-L-Y, They Ain’t Got No Alibi: The 10 Ugliest Cars For Sale Today  >>

    Car and Driver, Wednesday, October 16th 2013

    The 10 Ugliest Cars For Sale Today

    Car buyers today have it made. Most every segment and price point includes vehicles to satisfy not only the driving enthusiast, but also the design aficionado. Indeed, while high-end brands like Audi or Ferrari are well known for winning designs, even mainstream players like Ford and Kia now boast lineups full of attractive and tastefully styled vehicles. But not every automaker is created equal. Any combination of unrestrained creative ambition, manufacturing and/or packaging constraints, and poor executive decision-making can birth an ugly ride. This is our list of today’s worst offenders, ranked in order of onerousness. READ MORE ››

Monday, 10/14/2013
Saturday, 10/12/2013


    Business Insider - The Life: The 30 Smartest Celebrities In Hollywood  >>

    Melia Robinson and Melissa Stanger, Saturday, October 12th 2013

    Quentin Tarantino at the Golden Globes

    Models, actors, and musicians are sometimes perceived as unintelligent because of the characters they play or the stigma of their careers — but there are a number of celebs out there who surprise us with their smarts.

    Many stars possess a certain flair for academia, and are accomplished authors, politicians, scientists, and businesspeople.

    From valedictorians to Ivy Leaguers to MENSA members, these celebrities are certified geniuses in their own rights.

    Natalie Portman has been published twice in scientific journals.

    The "Black Swan" lead has a bachelor's degree from Harvard — making her the first alum to win an Academy Award — and took graduate courses at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. She enrolled at Harvard as Natalie Herschlag, her birth name, for a bit of anonymity, but her professors noted that she was an exceptional student.

    She speaks six languages and has twice been published in scientific journals. As she once told the New York Post, "I'd rather be smart than a movie star."

    Ashton Kutcher anticipated acceptances to both MIT and Purdue to study engineering.

    But the former "Punk'd" host lost his scholarships when he broke into his high school as a prank. He ended up at the University of Iowa, but dropped out at age 19 to pursue modeling. Kutcher now divides his time between acting and smart investing — in companies like Airbnb, Spotify, and Foursquare.

    "The sexiest thing in the entire world is being really smart," Kutcher said at this year's Teen Choice Awards.

    Conan O'Brien graduated magna cum laude from Harvard.

    Conan O'Brien was a history and literature major at Harvard University, where the school newspaper dubbed him the "pre-eminent jokester" of the class of '85. It makes sense, as he was also the president of the Harvard Lampoon, a semi-secret social organization that published a humor magazine.

    His 72-page senior thesis, entitled "The 'Old Child' in Faulkner and O’Connor," argued that "the New South’s emerging identity is manifested in the literature of William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor via the motif of children that age too quickly."

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

Friday, 10/11/2013


    The Atlantic - Full: The Map That Puts China's Incredible Internet Demographics in Context  >>

    Matt Schiavenza, Friday, October 11th 2013
    World Bank

    A lot of commentary on China's Internet, including in this space, focuses on the Beijing's attempt at controlling political content. But it's worth remembering just how many people in China now go online—as well as how many that still do not.

    This map, pulled together in 2011 from the World Bank, measures countries both by the size of their online population as well as by Internet penetration, or the percentage of the actual population that goes online. What do we find? China's online population is still much, much larger than India's, for one, and is larger than all of Africa's. And, according to this map, as recently as two years ago only 20 to 40 percent of China's population used the Internet. 

    Over the next decade, China's size on this map will only grow larger—and redder—which will have a number of consequences for businesses looking to capitalize, as well as on domestic security for the Chinese government.



    Business Insider - The Life: More Teenagers Now Smoke Pot Than Cigarettes  >>

    Henry Blodget, Friday, October 11th 2013

    Michael Scherer of Time just tweeted this chart.

    It's based on data from the 2012 University of Michigan "Monitoring The Future" study.

    It appears the message that it's not cool to smoke cigarettes is making inroads with America's teenagers. The same folks also apparently agree that it's totally cool to smoke pot.

    More Teenagers Smoke Pot Than Cigarettes

    Join the conversation about this story »


Thursday, 10/10/2013


    The Atlantic - Food: This Is the Average Man's Body  >>

    James Hamblin, Thursday, October 10th 2013

    Todd is the most typical of American men. His proportions are based on averages from CDC anthropometric data. As a U.S. male age 30 to 39, his body mass index (BMI) is 29; just one shy of the medical definition of obese. At five-feet-nine-inches tall, his waist is 39 inches.

    Don't let the hyperrealistic toes fool you; Todd is an avatar. I gave Todd his name, and gave his life a narrative arc, but he is actually the child of graphic artist Nickolay Lamm as part of his Body Measurement Project

    Todd would prefer perfection—or at least something superlative, even if it's bad—to being average. But Todd is perfect only in being average. With this perfection comes the privilege of radical singularity, which is visible in his eyes.

    Though in his face this reads lonesome, Todd does have three international guyfriends. They met at a convention for people with perfectly average bodies, where each won the award for most average body in their respective country: U.S., Japan, Netherlands, and France. The others' BMIs, based on data from each country's national health centers, are 23.7, 25.2, and 25.6.

    I named them all Todd, actually, even though it could be confusing, because not everyone's name is a testament to their cultural heritage.


    This is how Lamm made the Todds. It's also what zombie Todds look like.


    And here are Todds from the right.


    Most people look better from their left, but Lamm rendered the Todds from their right, just because he can. To these men, Nickolay is God.

    Avatars of various ethnicities are important, because obesity depends on culture and genetics. The weight of every person's destiny is equal, but some countries are fat, and others are not. The World Health Organization cares about that, because understanding the differences should help to explicate causes.

    [IMAGE DESCRIPTION](World Health Organization; based on 2008 data)

    So does history. Fifty years ago, American Todd would not have been round. The trend is not unique to men, either; Lamm just chose to work with white male renderings. The same CDC data puts the female BMI in this age group at 28.7.

    U.S. Obesity, National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, 1960-2000


    Americans are also losing ground in height. For most of two centuries, until 60 years ago, the U.S. population was the tallest in the world. Now the average American man is three inches shorter than the Dutch man, who averages six feet. Japanese averages are also gaining on Americans'. Anthropologists tie these recent changes primarily to diet and lifestyle, as we've turned habitable wilderness into excess.

    [IMAGE DESCRIPTION](All images by Nickolay Lamm)

    George Maat, a professor emeritus of anthropology at Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands, has said that within another 50 years, the Dutch Todd could be six-foot-three. Several years ago the Netherlands was compelled to increase building code standards for door frames. If in the last half-century the American physical form has been expelled from international imagination as an ideal, we might presently look at the situation not just as failure, but with optimism for what we might become.


Saturday, 10/05/2013
Wednesday, 10/02/2013


    Men's Health - wash: Beat Goliath’s Butt!  >>

    Wednesday, October 02nd 2013

    Photo credit: Bill Wadman
    If the world sometimes has you feeling a little helpless, especially against the reign of giants—be they corporations, the government, banks, or even opposing teams in your work softball league—then bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell (Blink, The Tipping Point) knows exactly what you’re going through.

    In his new book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants (out now), Gladwell weaves together a wildly compelling series of true stories—Hungarian immigrants, civil rights activists, a scrappy girls’ basketball team—to reveal how the little guy is frequently able to topple the leviathans of history and culture.

    Feel like a David? Here, Gladwell offers his advice on how to rise above adversity—and beat your Goliath’s butt.

    Men’s HealthDavid and Goliath began as a magazine piece for The New Yorker, where you’ve worked since 1996, but the timing is perfect for this book, culturally, when so many of us feel so helpless.

    Malcolm Gladwell: I had written that magazine article and then went on with my life, but I kept coming back to the ideas in it for essentially the reasons you’ve just identified: There were issues in that story that felt really current to me. It really felt like this is what people were thinking and worrying about. The book is about lopsided conflicts, and our world is suddenly very filled with lots and lots of them. I always like to tackle topics that I think are kind of central to a broader cultural conversation. This one seemed to fit the bill.

    MH: This is kind of a flipside to your book Outliers, which is about how we can foster and cultivate success in the worldHow do they work as companion pieces, from your point of view?

    Gladwell: That book is kind of interested in broad outlines and general principles of success. But this one is full of quite idiosyncratic stories and very specific individuals and the ways in which they’ve chosen to defy expectations or to stand up to their own destinies or even the ways they’ve chosen to squander their advantages. If Outliers [Ed: which suggested that 10,000 hours of practice could make someone at least reasonably successful at just about anything] is a general kind of manifesto, then this is a very, very deeply personal kind of book.

    MH: All the people in David and Goliath express gratitude for the adversity in their lives—an appreciation somehow of the obstacles they’ve faced. How important is it to have that perspective?

    Gladwell: The thing I discovered is that when you talk to people who have done something meaningful, that’s what they come back to: They grow as much from what didn’t go right as from what did go right, and they seem to have learned more from the obstacles than the advantages. That’s almost a cliché, but it’s true and it’s a source of incredible fascination for me. A positive attitude and an appreciation of one’s underdog status actually can make a difference in who we are and what we do.

    MH: The chapter on the underdog youth basketball team from Silicon Valley that uses the full court press to a league championship is really terrific.

    Gladwell: The point of that story is that what you’re teaching those kids—who were not very tall or very athletic or particularly skilled, and who were, in a traditional basketball game, outmatched in virtually every way, almost all the time—is that they don’t have to passively accept their fates. Just because you’re smaller or less talented, it doesn’t mean you have no options. The refusal to accept the kind of fate that’s been laid out for you? That’s fantastic. Long after those kids forget about lay ups and dribbling, they will remember that point.

    MH: What’s a current David and Goliath tale that may, as you write in the book, “produce greatness and beauty”?

    Gladwell: That’s a very, very difficult question. We almost never know in the moment what’s going to happen. The other thing is: There are only a small number of these exceptional cases, where an underdog really transcends his or her station or fate to become truly great. Most of the time, sadly, that doesn’t happen. I hope it happens more. It’s very hard to know who’s going to come out on top and who isn’t. But people talk a lot about this generation that’s just coming out of college now, with a very, very high unemployment rate. Some part of me thinks that generation’s actually going to turn out okay. This is a generation that grew up very, very privileged—probably more privileged than any other generation in American history—and has been blessed with this moment of technological explosion. They have a little window where they can’t get a job and they’re being forced to sort of rely on their instincts and their wits a bit. Will we look back 25 years from now and say all of this unemployment for that generation was somehow a blessing in disguise? We just might. Great things may come from it.

    MH: What prescription do you have for those of us who feel like Davids in the world? How do we face the giants in our lives more efficiently and confidently?

    Gladwell: It goes back to the idea that there is no reason to passively accept a certain fate. There are enough examples in the world of underdogs who have found a way to triumph that we should not look on these lopsided conflicts as a fait accompli. They’re not. They’re only lopsided on paper. In the real world, all kinds of unexpected shifts and trends can happen. All kinds of things can be learned from diversity. Similarly, all kinds of advantages can prove to be disabling. We just have to have a good deal more skepticism about the notions that these battles are over before they begin.

    MH: Who is your favorite David, or underdog, in the world?

    Gladwell: Well, I’m a big Buffalo Bills fan. I’ve been rooting for underdogs for the last 15 years, with all the suffering one can fancy. [Laughs] It’s been rough going. But anything can happen . . . except for the Bills.

    If you liked this story, you’ll love these:

Sunday, 09/29/2013


    The Next Web: Here are 10 amazingly creative users of Instagram you could learn a thing or two from  >>

    Kaylene Hong, Sunday, September 29th 2013
    146168661 520x245 Here are 10 amazingly creative users of Instagram you could learn a thing or two from

    Instagram has been a huge part of my daily life. There are tons of great photographers out there who post stunning images on the app that get me really hooked, but what I find more amazing is the fact that some people out there have managed to use Instagram for their purposes in a way that goes beyond just photos of daily life (yes, I’m one of the guilty ones who only posts food, coffee and dog pictures).

    Instead, these people have used Instagram to either showcase a meaningful additional layer that exists parallel to what they do in real life outside of the app (this tends to apply to publications), or have used the photo service in a fun way to engage users (this tends to apply to marketers). Some post photos that seem built to exist on Instagram, while others apply creative ideas that make their Instagram photos stand out.

    I know there are plenty of awesome creative Instagram users out there, so if I’ve missed any you think I should include, feel free to leave a comment. In the meantime, here are the ones that have really impressed me.

    Andrew Knapp

    IMG 7180 Here are 10 amazingly creative users of Instagram you could learn a thing or two from

    An interface designer and photographer from Northern Ontario in Canada, Andrew Knapp is one of my favorite Instagram users. Instead of letting Instagram’s smaller pictures (compared to high-resolution photos on the Web) deter him, he has developed an addictive way of engaging people: #findMomo.

    Basically, his photos typically show his dog, a Border Collie named Momo, in various settings where it can’t be seen at first glance. All you do is try to find Momo to feel a sense of personal accomplishment.

    Red Hongyi

    IMG 7179 Here are 10 amazingly creative users of Instagram you could learn a thing or two from

    Malaysian artist Hong Yi, who goes by the nickname ‘Red’, is known as the artist who loves to paint, but not with a paintbrush. Her works have been picked up by media all over the world, and she obviously has a blog. However, she is much more active on Instagram now where she runs mini-projects to display works using a certain medium.

    Her latest project is a 20-day challenge called ‘Make-up meets Chinese art’, where she uses make-up to paint pictures and then snaps them to post up on Instagram.

    Adam Elkins

    IMG 7186 Here are 10 amazingly creative users of Instagram you could learn a thing or two from

    Self-taught photographer Adam Elkins, who is based in Columbus, Ohio, has an obsession with puddles. After starting a hashtag series called #portraitsinpuddles, which was featured on an Instagram blog post, he has now moved on to #puddle_warfare. Elkins takes photos of people or sights that are reflected in bodies of water, creating a beautiful dual image that adds a lot more depth to each and every posting.

    Murad Osmann

    IMG 7182 Here are 10 amazingly creative users of Instagram you could learn a thing or two from

    Russian photographer Murad Osmann made the headlines earlier this year for his unique photo composition on Instagram. His photos are mainly of his girlfriend leading him by the hand in various places all around the world — travel photos with an entirely different spin.

    It helps that the images are extremely beautiful, as he embarks on travel adventures in the most amazing places ever.

    Ryan McGinness

    IMG 7183 Here are 10 amazingly creative users of Instagram you could learn a thing or two from

    American Artist Ryan McGinness has been compared to Andy Warhol and is known for drawing the attention of the art world to the silkscreen, Warhol’s favorite medium.

    On his Instagram feed, McGinness is single-minded: he only features what he calls “grams” — various typography types contained within black circles. According to Art News, the phrases or ideas come from his sketchbooks and they are then paired with a suitable typeface.

    Samantha Lee

    IMG 7184 Here are 10 amazingly creative users of Instagram you could learn a thing or two from

    Playing with food is what Malaysian mum-of-two Samantha Lee is known for — and her Instagram feed is a fun peek into what else food can be used for other than eating. The images seem perfectly suitable for Instagram — they are photos that really don’t need high resolution to be properly appreciated.


    IMG 7181 Here are 10 amazingly creative users of Instagram you could learn a thing or two from

    Heineken’s “Crack the US Open” marketing campaign on Instagram is an amazing way of using the photo app creatively. It makes use of the grid feature and asks users to flip Instagram around for a scavenger hunt to win US Open tickets.

    According to PetaPixel, the competition works this way: Heineken throws down challenges to find specific photos or people within the crowd on the Instagram giant panoramic photo, and people need to leave a comment with the “codeword” and find the next clue.

    Heineken says all contest prizes have been awarded, but it seems like the Instagram account is here to stay.

    Rachel Ryle

    IMG 7190 Here are 10 amazingly creative users of Instagram you could learn a thing or two from

    The video feature on Instagram has given life to stop motion, and illustrator/animator Rachel Ryle has showcased this in her feed perfectly. Her videos are extremely addictive, especially for someone like me who is fascinated by stop motion — an animation technique that can make inanimate objects come to life.

    Ryle’s stop-motion short films are adorable and suited extremely well to Instagram, given that they short and sweet and make use of the photo service’s ability to shoot short bursts of videos at a time and patch them together easily.

    Benny Winfield Jr.

    IMG 7191 Here are 10 amazingly creative users of Instagram you could learn a thing or two from

    Houston native Benny Winfield Jr. only takes close-up selfies which are much removed from the plenty out there which strive to play on angles to look cool, pretty or hot. Or all three. Instead, his selfies are all virtually the same — of him smiling and looking straight into the camera.

    Whether or not you love or hate his feed, it cannot be denied that he has spun an entirely different way of using Instagram, and in the midst of it, gained an impressive 99,000 followers.


    IMG 7192 Here are 10 amazingly creative users of Instagram you could learn a thing or two from

    What better way is there to raise crowdsourced for a movie than via Instagram, which allows teasers of photography and short videos to tempt people? With the tagline “Let’s make the first Instagram funded movie” on director Ravi Vora’s feed, it is clear that he is using Instagram as the main draw for backers of his movie, called ‘Lucid’, which is listed as a Kickstarter project. So far, $4,856 of his $70,000 goal has been raised, with 25 days to go.

    Here we’ve listed just ten of the creative ways that you can use Instagram – other than just taking and posting photos of beautiful things. Basically, Instagram’s power lies in being able to act as a platform; be it for different series of photo projects, to raise funds, or simply to make a statement. The beauty of using Instagram is that it is easily accessible for users to browse daily, and can therefore be a good way to keep people constantly engaged.

    Headline image via Thomas Coes/AFP/Getty Images

  • Autos: Driverless Cars for the Road Ahead  >>

    Sunday, September 29th 2013
    Dan Neil says computer-controlled cars will be a reality. The question isn't "if" but "how" can technology allow humans to take a back seat to the computer.


    Failblog: Infinite Fun  >>

    Sunday, September 29th 2013
    Infinite Fun

    Submitted by: Unknown

    Tagged: gif , leaf blower , whee , funny , failbook , g rated , win
Friday, 09/27/2013


    The Atlantic: Why TV Is Pummeling the Movie Industry  >>

    Emma Green, Friday, September 27th 2013

    Actor Jon Hamm (Reuters)

    Even though he’s been in the industry since he was 19, United Talent Agency CEO Jeremy Zimmer is a little surprised by what’s going on in Hollywood: Television is totally outperforming film.

    Why has this happened? For one thing, writers have found a better gig in television, Zimmer said in an Atlantic interview in Los Angeles on Thursday.

    “There’s been an explosion in appetite for media,” he said. “New players coming in like Amazon and Netflix – people who really believe that in order to drive their technology and drive their online platform, there’s a need for great content.”

    That has created a strong demand for good writing–and better jobs for Hollywood’s formerly starving artists. “A bunch of writers that have been disenfranchised by the movie business have gone into television,” he said.

    Successful shows like Downton Abbey and Breaking Bad have made news for their long story arcs and creative storytelling, and industry analysts have pointed to changes in technology that have allowed television to take on more ambitious stories. While that has created a lot more choices for viewers, it has also left filmmakers scrambling. “We forgot that more people will sit at home and watch a story on a small screen than go out and watch a not-good story on a big screen,” Zimmer said.

    The movie industry has also gotten comfortable with an uncreative business model. Big production companies have increasingly looked to prequels, sequels, and triquels to bring in a reliable flow of cash, but if they want to attract better writers, Zimmer said, that has to change.

    “We’ve reached franchise fatigue, to some degree,” he said. “I think a lot of the big franchises that people have become dependent on have played out. I think there’s skepticism that every cereal box deserves to be a movie.”

    Although moviegoers loved special effects in movies like Inception and Life of Pi, a fixation on technical wizardry has overpowered investments in good movie storytelling, Zimmer thinks. “Technology became the opportunity to do things as a filmmaker with digital technology with CGI, with 3-D. You create this over reliance on scale and hoopla and sound effects and special effects and noise, and you become less dependent on the story.”

    But all of these disadvantages don't mean the movie industry won't recover. Zimmer is optimistic that this season is going to prove that film can still keep up with television – maybe because it’s his job, or maybe just because he’s previewed all of the fall blockbusters already.

    “There is a great crop of movies coming into the theaters right now,” he said. “I think the conversation we’re all going to be having toward the end of this year beginning of next year is, ‘Wow, the movies are back.’”



    Project Syndicate: Don’t Cry for Me, Ben Bernanke  >>

    Simon Johnson, Friday, September 27th 2013
    The Federal Reserve will decide on monetary policy for the US based primarily on US conditions. Economic policymakers elsewhere who are pleading for a postponement of US monetary tightening should understand this hard reality and prepare accordingly.
Monday, 09/23/2013


    The Atlantic: The Most Controversial Laws of the Last 100 Years (The Stimulus and Obamacare Are 1 and 2)  >>

    Derek Thompson, Monday, September 23rd 2013

    "Fund government, not Obamacare," Sen. Ted Cruz tweeted this morning, drawing a distinction where there is no difference, since Obamacare is a part of the government. If the Republican campaign to shut down Washington over  de-funding the Affordable Care Act seems too silly to become reality, consider that Obamacare is no ordinary law -- and this is no ordinary Congress.

    In the last 100 years, no major lasting legislation has passed over 100 percent opposition from the other party. Until Obamacare.

    Maybe you knew that part. But you might not know how it fits in the context of the most important laws of the last century. "In the 21st century, the concept of universal health care occurs just about everywhere in the developed world, and increasingly, in the developing world," writes Michael Cembalest, chairman of market and investment strategy at JP Morgan, in new research note. But in the U.S., Obamacare suffers from an “original sin” problem. Along with the Obama stimulus bill, it is the most divisive legislation in modern history.

    How do you measure most divisive? Cembalest constructed a table (see bottom of post) of the century's major legislation and the percent difference in voting between the two parties. For example, in 1956, 98 percent of House Republicans and 93 percent of House Democrats voted for the Federal Aid Highway Act, which built the interstate highway system. That's a "difference gap" of 5 percent. In the Senate, 100 percent of Republicans and 98 percent of Democrats voted for the bill -- a "difference gap" of just 2 percent.

    Here, in a click-to-expand chart, is the last 100 years of the disagreement gap for the most important pieces of legislation, with each number showing the average of the House and Senate gaps (data via Cembalest):

    Lots to chew on here, but in particular note that polarization took a reprieve in the middle of the 20th century, but huge difference gaps are something old, not something new.

    Here are the most divisive laws of the century, by Cembalest's definition (he doesn't include the 2009 stimulus in his research note, but I've added it). Of perhaps trivial note: No bill between 1931 and 2000 has an average voting gap of more than 50 percentage points.

    Here's the click-to-expand full table from Cembalest's report:


Friday, 09/20/2013


    The Atlantic: When Did Competitive Sports Take Over American Childhood?  >>

    Hilary Levey Friedman, Friday, September 20th 2013
    A boy from Chula Vista, California plays in the 2013 Little League World Series (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)

    American children not only participate in myriad afterschool activities, they also compete. In 2013 7.7 million children played on a high-school sports team, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations. At the same time U.S. Youth Soccer, the national organization that oversees travel soccer, registers more than three million children between the ages of five and 19 who play at a competitive level (not taking into account the thousands of young children who play recreationally each year). Middle-class kids routinely try out for pay-to-play all-star teams, travel to regional and national tournaments, and clear off bookshelves to hold all of the trophies they have won.

    It has not always been this way. About a hundred years ago, it would have been lower-class children competing under non-parental adult supervision while their upper-class counterparts participated in noncompetitive activities like dancing and music lessons, often in their homes. Children’s tournaments, especially athletic ones, came first to poor children—often immigrants—living in big cities.

    Not until after World War II did these competitive endeavors begin to be dominated by children from the middle and upper-middle classes. The forces that have led to increasing inequality in education, the workplace, and other spheres have come to the world of play.

    How did this transformation happen? Things first began to change in the 19th century, with the start of the mandatory-schooling movement. Massachusetts made schooling compulsory in 1852, though it wasn’t until 1917 that the final state, Mississippi, passed a similar law. With the institution of mandatory schooling, children experienced a profound shift in the structure of their daily lives, especially in the social organization of their time. Compulsory education brought leisure time into focus; since “school time” was delineated as obligatory, “free time” could now be identified as well.

    What to do with this free time? The question was on the minds of parents, social workers, and “experts” who doled out advice on child-rearing. The answer lay partly in competitive sports leagues, which started to evolve to hold the interest of children. Urban reformers were particularly preoccupied with poor immigrant boys who, because of overcrowding in tenements, were often on the streets.  Initial efforts focused on the establishment of parks and playgrounds, and powerful, organized playground movements developed in New York City and Boston. But because adults didn’t trust boys to play unsupervised, attention soon shifted to organized sports.

    Sports were seen as important in teaching the “American” values of cooperation, hard work, and respect for authority. According to historian Robert Halpern, progressive reformers thought athletic activities could prepare children for the “new industrial society that was emerging,” which would require them to be physical laborers. Organized youth groups took on the responsibility of providing children with sports activities.

    In 1903 New York City’s Public School Athletic League for Boys was established, and formal contests between children, organized by adults, emerged as a way to keep the boys coming back to activities, clubs, and school. Formal competition ensured the boys’ continued participation since they wanted to defend their team’s record and honor. The Elementary Games Committee of the PSAL organized interschool athletic competition for boys through track and field meets and basketball and baseball contests; in 1914 2040 boys vied for the city championships in track and field held at Madison Square Gardens.

    By 1910 17 other cities across the United States had formed their own competitive athletic leagues modeled after New York City’s PSAL. Settlement houses and ethnic clubs soon followed suit. The number of these boys’ clubs grew rapidly through the 1920s, working in parallel with school leagues.

    But during the Depression many clubs with competitive leagues suffered financially and had to close, so poorer children from urban areas began to lose opportunities for competitive athletic contests organized by adults. Fee-based groups, such as the YMCA, began to fill the void, but usually only middle-class kids could afford to participate. At roughly the same historical moment athletic organizations were founded that would soon formally institute national competitive tournaments for young kids, for a price. For example, national pay-to-play organizations, such as Pop Warner Football came into being in 1929.

    At the same time, many physical-education professionals stopped supporting athletic competition for young children because of worries that leagues supported competition only for the best athletes, leaving the others behind. Concerns about focusing on only the most talented athletes developed into questions about the harmfulness of competition. In the end this meant that much of the organized youth competition left the school system, even to this day, for elementary-school kids (though this isn’t true for high-school sports, as detailed in The Atlantic’s most recent cover story, “The Case Against High-School Sports”).

    But it did not leave American childhood.

    One of the first children’s activities to become nationally organized in a competitive way, and certainly one of the most well-known and successful youth sports programs, is Little League Baseball. After its creation in 1939 the League held its first World Series only a decade later, in 1949. In the ensuing years Little League experienced a big expansion in the number of participants—just a decade later, in 1959, Little League sponsored 5000 leagues each with multiple team rosters organizing 15-20 young boys. As this model of children’s membership in a national league organization developed, fees to play and compete only increased.

    With the success of these fee-based national programs it became more difficult to sustain free programs. Most elementary schools no longer sponsored their own leagues due to concerns over the effects of competition on children, similar to concerns voiced in the 1930s. The desire to dampen overt competition in school classrooms was part of the self-esteem movement that started in the 1960s.

    The self-esteem movement focused on building up children’s confidence and talents without being negative or comparing them to others. As the movement did not reach outside activities, such as sports, private organizations rushed to fill the void. Parents increasingly wanted more competitive opportunities for their children and were willing to pay for it.

    By the 1960s parents and kids spent time together at practices for sports that were part of a national structure: Biddy basketball, Pee Wee hockey, and Pop Warner football. Even non-team sports were growing and developing their own formal, national-level organizations run by adults. For example, Double Dutch jump-roping started on playgrounds in the 1930s; in 1975 the American Double Dutch League was formed to set formal rules and sponsor competitions.

    Historian Peter Stearns writes that the 1960s saw, “a growing competitive frenzy over college admissions as a badge of parental fulfillment.” Parental anxiety reached a new level because the surge in attendance by Boomers had strained college facilities, and it became increasingly clear that the top schools could not keep up with the demand, meaning that students might not be admitted to the level of college they expected, given their class background. This became even more problematic with the rise of coeducation and the nationalization and democratization of the applicant pool, fueled by the GI Bill, recruiting, and technology that produced better information for applicants. In The Game of Life: College Sports and Educational Values, former Princeton University president William Bowen (along with administrator James Shulman) link this parental anxiety to an increased focus on athletics as a protection for kids against getting pushed out of colleges where they “deserved” to earn slots.

    Interestingly, the competitive frenzy over college admissions did not abate in the 1970s and 1980s, when it was actually easier to gain admission to college, given the decline in application numbers after the Baby Boomers. Instead, more aware of the stakes, families became more competitive and even more competitive afterschool activities for kids continued to develop, evolve, and intensify, particularly in the 1990s. For example, in 1995 the Amateur Athletic Union sponsored about 100 national championships for youth athletes; about a decade later that number had grown to over 250.

    I find, along with economists Valerie and Garey Ramey in their work “The Rug Rat Race,” that with the Echo Boom in the late 1990s and early 2000s, it once again became harder to get into a “top” college. It was not just that there was an increase in the college-age population, but also that there were record numbers of applications to the most elite colleges and universities with students applying to many more schools than ever before.

    This reality has created an incredibly competitive atmosphere for families now, as parents start earlier and earlier in their children’s lives on the long march to college admission. In some parts of the country some parents with higher class standing start grooming their children for competitive preschool admissions, setting their children on an Ivy League track from early on.

    Competitive children’s activities have certainly evolved since they began in late 19th-century America. Now there are more activities, a greater number of competitions, and a change in the class backgrounds of competitors. It’s thanks to changes in the 20th-century educational system—like compulsory schooling, the self-esteem movement, and higher-stakes college admissions—that this is how American families are spending leisure time today.



    Men's Health: The Easiest Way to Live Longer  >>

    Friday, September 20th 2013

    The choices you make now can make a lasting difference. People who stick to a healthy lifestyle in middle age are far more likely to see old age, suggests a new Norwegian study.

    Researchers analyzed the fitness habits of men in their 50s, then followed up several decades later and found 37 percent of guys who didn’t smoke at baseline survived to age 85, versus 23 percent of smokers. For non-smokers who regularly broke a sweat, 49 percent reached 85, compared to only 28 percent of men who refrained from puffing but were generally sedentary—even after adjusting for other factors like cholesterol and blood pressure.

    What’s more, 46 percent of normal-weight participants made it to 85, while only 29 percent of overweight men reached the mark.

    Besides sticking to an exercise regimen and avoiding cigarettes, remember to log adequate sleep: Clocking 5 hours or less per night is associated with a 12 percent greater risk of death, found a recent Italian study.

    If you liked this story, you’ll love these:

Friday, 09/06/2013


    Failblog: Amazing Child Drummer Puts Adults to shame  >>

    Friday, September 06th 2013

    Submitted by: Unknown


    The Atlantic - Full: The Ambassador to the UN's Case Against the UN  >>

    Garance Franke-Ruta, Friday, September 06th 2013
    Larry Downing/Reuters

    Less than two months after being sworn in as the new U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power stood before a crowd of Washington reporters and members of the international press to deliver a sharp rebuke of the goings-on at the international body that is her new professional home.

    A liberal interventionist whose human rights advocacy helped shape the views of a generation of thinkers, she laid out in fresh detail conflicts within the UN Security Council that have derailed U.S. attempts to use the UN to put pressure on Syria over what she called "the uniquely monstrous crime that has brought us to this crossroads."

    Power's training as journalist and story teller -- she won the Pulitzer for her 2003 book A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, about U.S. inaction in the face of the massacres in Rwanda -- was evident in her speech at the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank and advocacy organization that has close ties to the Obama administration. She used color and detail to make her case for why all other options had been exhausted and a military strike was the only remaining option, bringing in the human interest story of a "father in al-Guta saying goodbye to his two young daughters."

    It felt a little emotionally manipulative. Because ultimately, she was not there to make the case for a humanitarian intervention on behalf of the people of Syria, but to deliver the administration's case for upholding the international norm against chemical weapons by conducting a punitive bombing campaign against targets held by Bashar al-Assad.

    And in that effort, the U.S. has found itself blocked over and over at the UN by Russia, and also China. Below is the section of her speech about the UN:

    Russia, often backed by China, has blocked every relevant action in the Security Council -- even mild condemnations of the use of chemical weapons that did not ascribe blame to any particular party. In Assad's cost-benefit calculus, he must have weighed the military benefits of using this hideous weapon against the recognition that he could get away with it because Russia would have Syria's back in the Security Council. ....

    At this stage, the diplomatic process is stalled because one side has just been gassed on a massive scale and the other side so far feels it has gotten away with it. What would words in the form of belated diplomatic condemnation achieve? What could the international Criminal Court really do, even if Russia or China were to allow a referral? Would a drawn-out legal process really affect the immediate calculus of Assad and those who ordered chemical weapons attacks? We could try again to pursue economic sanctions, but even if Russia budged, would more asset freezes, travel bans and banking restrictions convince Assad not to use chemical weapons again when he has a pipeline to the resources of Hezbollah and Iran? Does anybody really believe that deploying the same approaches we have tried for the last year will suddenly be effective?

    Of course, this isn't the only legitimate question being raised. People are asking, shouldn't the United States work through the Security Council on an issue that so clearly implicates international peace and security? The answer is, of course, yes, we could if we would -- if we could, we would, if we could, but we can't. Every day for the two-and-a-half years of the Syrian conflict, we have shown how seriously we take the UN Security Council and our obligations to enforce international peace and security.

    Since 2011 Russia and China have vetoed three separate Security Council resolutions condemning the Syrian regime's violence or promoting a political solution to the conflict. This year alone Russia has blocked at least three statements expressing humanitarian concern and calling for humanitarian access to besieged cities in Syria. And in the past two months Russia has blocked two resolutions condemning the generic use of chemical weapons and two press statements expressing concern about their use.

    We believe that more than 1,400 people were killed in Damascus on August 21, and the Security Council could not even agree to put out a press statement expressing its disapproval.

    The international system that was founded in 1945, a system we designed specifically to respond to the kinds of horrors we saw play out in World War II, has not lived up to its promise or its responsibilities in the case of Syria. And it is naive to think that Russia is on the verge of changing its position and allowing the UN Security Council to assume its rightful role as the enforcer of international peace and security. In short, the Security Council the world needs to deal with this urgent crisis is not the Security Council we have.


  • - All: Recent US air crashes highlight leading cause of flight deaths  >>

    Friday, September 06th 2013

    An Asian airline’s wide-body slams into a sea wall. A 737 with 150 people aboard hits the runway so hard its nose gear buckles. A cargo plane barely misses houses before plowing into a hillside short of the runway.

    These recent accidents, marking the deadliest period for airlines in the U.S. since 2009, have something in common: had the pilots aborted their landings at the first sign of trouble - - a move known as a go-around -- they might have avoided tragedy.

    “They’d all be walking, talking and alive if they went around,” Patrick Veillette, a pilot who teaches and writes about aviation safety, said in an interview.

    The three U.S. air crashes since July 6, which killed five people, spotlight the difficulty in getting pilots to abort touchdowns if they haven’t made safe approaches to the runway. It’s “the largest, lowest hanging piece of safety fruit” to make flying less hazardous, according to research sponsored by the Alexandria, Virginia-based Flight Safety Foundation.

    Crashes that occur during approach or touchdown are the world’s leading category of aviation mishaps and deaths, according to data compiled by Chicago-based manufacturer Boeing Co. The biggest risk factor for such accidents is failing to approach a runway at the proper speed, altitude and heading, known as an unstabilized approach.

    Continue Reading...


Thursday, 09/05/2013


    The New York Review of Books - All: Egypt: The Misunderstood Agony  >>

    Yasmine El Rashidi, Thursday, September 05th 2013
    Yasmine El Rashidi

    They came to the Cairo morgue looking for bodies. This was nearly a month before the Egyptian police confronted the Muslim Brotherhood on August 14. A woman whose husband hadn’t come home in three days, a couple whose son had been absent for a week, three relatives looking for a man, Karam, who had been missing for nine days. He had last been seen on July 2, on his way to his mother’s apartment. He had taken a taxi there and neighbors saw him get out at the main street. There was fighting in the neighborhood between the residents and members of the Brotherhood, and people cautioned him against entering the alley that turned onto another alley that led to his mother’s building.

Wednesday, 09/04/2013


    The Atlantic: Sleep Deprivation Makes Us Appear Unattractive and Sad  >>

    James Hamblin, Wednesday, September 04th 2013
    [IMAGE DESCRIPTION](junctions/flickr)

    "Only the perishable can be beautiful, which is why we are unmoved by artificial flowers." -Wallace Stevens

    Have you ever wanted to tell someone they look sleep-deprived, but then just before you do, stopped yourself? Because, wait, are they really sleep-deprived? Or is that just how their eyes usually look? Also, remember, not everyone likes to be told they look tired. 

    In 2010, researchers at the University of Stockholm found that people who appear tired are also more likely to be perceived as unhealthy and less attractive. (So, yes, "You look tired" is an unambiguous insult.) The Sweden-based research team published even more specific details in the academic journal Sleep this week to help us sort the inexorable facts on the link between how we sleep and how we appear.

    Doctoral candidate Tina Sundelin and her team photographed research subjects on two separate occasions: Once after eight hearty hours of sleep, and then once after 31 hours awake. Forty people then rated the photographs on scales for fatigue, sadness, and ten metrics of physical appearance.

    The eyes of sleep-deprived individuals bore the greatest burden. Subjects were perceived as having "more hanging eyelids, redder eyes, more swollen eyes and darker circles under the eyes." People also perceived sleep-deprived subjects as being sadder and having paler skin, more wrinkles or fine lines, and "more droopy corners of the mouth."

    Discovery Health recently ran an article called "10 Signs You May Be Deprived of Sleep," which was about what they believe to be 10 signs you may be deprived of sleep. Spoiler: "Mood swings, medical problems, relationship troubles, diminished motor skills, poor decision making, vision problems, increased appetite, inability to concentrate, poor memory, inability to handle stress." So, only those things. That's not very helpful, because it's everything. But this new study from Sweden actually has practical implications.

    "Since faces contain a lot of information on which humans base their interactions with each other, how fatigued a person appears may affect how others behave toward them," Sundelin said in a press release. Is this part of our innate sense of empathy? ("I should go easy on this tired person, or offer them a bed") Or is it part of an innate ability to identify and exploit weakness? ("This person looks tired. Now would be a good time to rob them.")

    [IMAGE DESCRIPTION]Corn dog in repose (ricalamusa1/flickr)

    I asked Sundelin if she wanted to comment on the study beyond the press statement, and she said she didn't have anything to say off-hand, but she offered that she "won't be offended if you say 'Doesn't everyone already know this?'" Which is something I never say. But as she told me, "A friend of a friend's once told me my studies were bullshit research, before she knew I was behind them. That still makes me laugh. I think it's good to scientifically examine what people consider common knowledge since every now and then that common knowledge is dead wrong. Wait, I guess that could be my comment."

    So it is. Testing common knowledge is probably the most important thing science does — right up there with telling us to sleep. Even though the research is not always glamorous and sometimes involves photographing very tired people who, at the time, probably aren't thrilled about being photographed.

    As for the part about wrinkles, which I understand to be of interest to many, Sundelin tells me it's still not well established that sleep deprivation actually causes wrinkles. There was one study, commissioned by Estée Lauder, that says it does; but it was not peer reviewed.

    Apart from concerns of personal vanity, Sundelin says this new research "is relevant not only for private social interactions, but also official ones such as with health care professionals, and in public safety."

    Once I was so tired after a 36-hour ICU shift early in my residency that I almost quit my job because it didn't seem reasonable or safe to work for that long. That's how tired I was. Patients also probably thought I looked unhealthy and unattractive and sad, which they might well have taken as an ill omen. At best it did little to inspire confidence in my abilities. But no one died who wasn't meant to, and eventually I got some much-needed sleep, and now I look sort of normal. 

    So, this is yet another reason to always get eight hours of sleep, especially if appearing beautiful and healthy and happy is tonally consistent with your personal brand. 



    NPR: Bald Eagles Are Back In A Big Way — And The Talons Are Out  >>

    Wednesday, September 04th 2013

    Decimated by hunters, insecticides and other human pressures in the 1960s and 1970s, America's emblematic bird is once again flying high. Roughly 10,000 mated pairs now nest in the continental U.S., up from about 500 in the 1970s. But more birds also means fierce competition for territory and mates.

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Tuesday, 09/03/2013
Monday, 09/02/2013


    Project Syndicate: Are Emerging Markets Submerging?  >>

    Kenneth Rogoff, Monday, September 02nd 2013
    After years of solid output gains since the 2008 financial crisis, the combined effect of decelerating long-term growth in China and a potential end to ultra-easy monetary policies in advanced countries is exposing significant fragilities in emerging markets. Is the inevitable “echo crisis” in these countries already upon us?
Sunday, 09/01/2013


    Slate: It’s a Myth That Entrepreneurs Drive New Technology  >>

    Mariana Mazzucato, Sunday, September 01st 2013

    Images of tech entrepreneurs such as Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs are continually thrown at us by politicians, economists, and the media. The message is that innovation is best left in the hands of these individuals and the wider private sector, and that the state—bureaucratic and sluggish—should keep out. A telling 2012 article in the Economist claimed that, to be innovative, governments must "stick to the basics" such as spending on infrastructure, education, and skills, leaving the rest to the revolutionary garage tinkerers.

Saturday, 08/31/2013
Thursday, 08/29/2013


    The Atlantic: Why China Will Oppose Any Invasion of Syria  >>

    Matt Schiavenza, Thursday, August 29th 2013

    The United States once again seems poised to launch a military strike against a Middle Eastern country, and, once again, China is against it: In a stinging editorial, the China Daily warned that military action against Syria could be "another Iraq" and that it is high time the U.S. "learned from its past mistakes."

    The main rationale for a U.S. strike against Syria is that, by using chemical weapons against Syrians living in an opposition-controlled village, President Bashar al-Assad has violated an international norm and must be punished. In theory, a strike would not only prevent Assad from using these weapons again but also deter embattled governments elsewhere from deploying them. As of this writing, President Obama said he still hasn't made up his mind about going forward with the attack, but no one will be surprised if he gives the order.

    China, like 188 other countries, is a signatory to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and, unlike Russia, has no military relationship with Syria. Yet throughout the more than two-year-old crisis, China has consistently used its veto power to squelch punishment on Damascus, and has continued to offer financial support to the Assad regime. And should Obama go ahead and seek UN authorization for military action against Assad, China has hinted that it will veto that, too.

    What's behind China's position on Syria? One possible explanation is the country's growing energy needs—China is expected to become the world's largest oil consumer within four years and imports nearly 55 percent of this oil from the Middle East. But Syria isn't a major exporter, and China can easily rely on other countries for its oil.

    Instead, these are the actual reasons for China's opposition to an invasion of Syria:

    China and Russia feel burned by what happened in Libya

    On March 17, 2011, the UN Security Council voted 10 to 0 to establish a no-fly zone over Libya in order to protect Benghazi civilians from mass slaughter. Expected to veto the resolution, China and Russia instead abstained, and two days later a Western-led intervention began. When the skirmish eventually brought about the end of  Muammar Gaddafi's presidency, beyond the original mission of the resolution, China made its displeasure known.

    "The Chinese felt that the UN Resolution was essentially used to overthrow Gaddafi, and that it was far more expansive than what they envisioned," said Bonnie Glaser, an East Asia Senior Advisor at Center for Strategic and International Studies. 

    Ever since, it's safe to say that China no longer trusts American intentions in cases of foreign intervention.

    China wants a seat at the table

    Although China's diplomatic profile in the Middle East has grown over the years—the country has a dedicated Middle East envoy and has even floated its own four-point proposal for Israel/Palestine peace—its reach in the region remains limited. However, China has consistently objected to American interventionism overseas.

    "China wants international crises to be resolved in bodies that they have a voice in," says Joel Wuthnow, an Asia analyst in the China Security Affairs Group at CNA. "They prefer forums where they have a veto." 

    China's reticence when it comes to entanglement in the Middle East isn't a universal principle: The country aggressively pursues territorial claims in the South China Sea, an area which China regards as a core national interest. But in respect to crises beyond its periphery, Beijing's strategy is to prevent another Iraq War. Washington's decision, in collusion with London and a few other members of the "coalition of the willing," to attack Iraq in 2003 without the support of the UN Security Council drew sharp condemnation from Beijing.

    China is obsessed with stability—and fears a post-Assad future

    There's really no evidence that China has any special affection for Bashar al-Assad or views him as essential to Syria's future, but Assad is a known element, and China believes that his departure will be chaotic. Syria lacks a unified opposition, a shadow government, or any other institution that could step in should Assad's regime collapse, so a military endeavor that decapitates the government might just make everything a whole lot worse. Plus, Beijing fears that an Islamist movement in Syria may radicalize China's Uighur population, a Sunni Muslim group which occasionally clashes with the Communist Party government.

    What will China do if the U.S. strikes Syria—and how much would an attack damage Sino-American relations? Wuthnow says this depends on how Washington goes about it. If President Obama orders a ground invasion of Syria, China would have serious objections—but a brief round of airstrikes would cause a more muted reaction: "We'd see some rhetorical flourishes from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or in the People's Daily condemning it, but China wouldn't let an airstrike damage their relations with the U.S.," says Wuthnow. Not least because, given its still-modest military strength, China lacks the capacity to intervene even if it wanted to.

    Regardless of what happens, it's safe to say that China, by opposing any military strike, is on the side of the American public. Within the United States, support for invading Syria is infinitesimal, with many hawkish Republicans (even Donald Rumsfeld!) expressing misgivings. And over the years, Chinese warnings about the risks of American intervention have proven remarkably prescient: neither Iraq nor Libya have exactly turned into oases of stability since the overthrow of their strongmen. Whatever China's motivations for opposing an invasion of Syria, its non-interventionist instinct seems to have proven merit.


Tuesday, 08/27/2013


    Car&Driver: 2015 Volkswagen e-Golf: Das (Electric) Auto [2013 Frankfurt Auto Show]  >>

    Alexander Stoklosa, Tuesday, August 27th 2013

    2015 Volkswagen e-Golf

    Volkswagen’s seventh-generation Golf lineup continues to grow in Europe, and now the German automaker has unveiled the car’s latest iteration, the e-Golf, ahead of the 2013 Frankfurt auto show. We Americans, of course, are being forced to wait until late next year for the premium hatchback’s solid goodness, but at least the e-Golf will arrive stateside alongside the standard Golf, the sporty GTI, and the ultra-hot Golf R. And this is a good thing, because the e-Golf looks like it could be a decent contender to the likes of the Nissan Leaf, the Ford Focus Electric, and even the smaller Chevrolet Spark EV, Fiat 500E, and Honda Fit EV. READ MORE ››
    2013 Frankfurt auto show full coverage


    Failblog: At This Point I Assume He Knows His Job Is Over  >>

    Tuesday, August 27th 2013
    At This Point I Assume He Knows His Job Is Over

    Submitted by: Unknown

    Tagged: beer , wreck , truck , funny , after 12 , g rated


    The Atlantic - Full: Do We Judge Music More on Sight Than on Sound?  >>

    Robinson Meyer, Tuesday, August 27th 2013
    Yulianna Avdeeva of Russia, first prize winner, performs during the 2010 Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw. (Reuters)

    Spend any time performing classical music and you are told that appearance matters. A choir can enter a hall and, through their demeanor alone, receive applause. A band strolling on to a darkened stage gets cheers. We live with YouTube music videos as much as we live with invisible MP3s, and what we see prepares us, excites us, primes us, for what we’re about to hear.

    So the results of a University College London study, published last week, seemed intriguing. The psychologist Chia-Jung Tsay showed novice musicians and professional adjudicators different types of media from an international piano competition. She had them only listen to audio, only view silent video, or only watch video clips with sound of the contestants performing. Then she asked them to identify, from experiencing just one of those types of media, which of the contestants had won the competition.

    And, as NPR recently reported:

    "What was surprising was that even though most people will say sound matters the most, it turned out that it was only in the silent videos, the videos without any sound, that participants were able to identify the actual winners," Tsay says.

    Incredibly, the volunteers were better able to identify the winners when they couldn't hear the music at all, compared with when they could only hear the music. In fact, it was even worse than that: When the volunteers could see the musicians and hear the music, they became less accurate in picking the winners compared with when they could only see the performers. The music was actually a distraction.

    At first glance, it looks like a staggering result. The study’s abstract declares: “[T]he findings demonstrate that people actually depend primarily on visual information when making judgments about music performance.”

    But looks can be deceiving. Tom Stafford, a cognitive scientist and author of the book Mind Hacks, found the study, and its coverage, problematic*. The finalists at an international piano competition are some of the finest musicians in the world, and, he writes on his website:

    In all probability there is a minute difference between their performances on any scale of quality. The paper itself admits that the judges themselves often disagree about who the winner is in these competitions.

    The experimental participants were not scored according to some abstract ability to measure playing quality, but according to how well they were able to match real-world competition outcome.

    The experiments show that matching the judges in these competitions can be done based on sight but not on sound. This isn’t because sight reveals playing quality, but because sight gives the experimental participants similar biases to the real judges. The real expert judges are biased by how the performers look – and why not, since there is probably so little to choose between them in terms of how they sound?

    The science blog Arcsecond agrees. If all the players were the best in the world, their auditory performance would be among the best in the world and thus very close, but:

    the variation in how the musicians move and express themselves physically could potentially be large – 50, 70, 90, for example. So even if judges base their scores mostly on the quality of playing, the visual aspect can still dominate the final rankings.

    But how to explain the silent video viewers outperforming the audio-and-video watchers? Perhaps they don’t need to. “[I]t’s not like people with visual information did very well,” writes Arcsecond: “They got to roughly 50% accurate.”

    And on top of all this: None of the clips that subjects watched or heard — silent or sound, video or audio — were longer than six seconds*. Subjects were attempting to simulate professional results with almost no information. Contra Arcsecond, great performances of the same work can sound very different from each other, but, regardless, six seconds is not long enough to judge a musician’s holistic interpretation. And as musicians sometimes lose competitions by fudging a single note, a six second sample could easily deceive a listener.

    So are those staggering results entirely moot? Can we retire to Spotify, safe in the very auditoryness of listening?

    Perhaps. Arcsecond guesses that “the conclusions of the paper are probably true,” but says that’s based on an understanding of how human beings work (i.e., we’re biased toward the visual), not on the study’s evidence.

    Classical music organizations know this, too. Many high-profile instrumental auditions are blind: The judges don't know the name, gender or age of the musician auditioning on the other side of the curtain. Orchestras take measures like those, though, to counteract more than visual bias: They’re meant to hinder sexism or favoritism of a former student.

    Even if we’re not adjudicating an international competition, we’d be wise as listeners to heed what most musicians -- and every elementary school music teacher -- already know: that sight shapes and casts what we hear, and that appearance can separate a tremendous performer from a merely pleasant one.

    Via Ed Yong.

    Update, 6pm: The plot thickens! Tsay has emailed me about the study to clarify two things:

    First, sound clips alone did allow for differentiation between the performers. It was possible to distinguish between two performances based off their sound alone: “Participants who were randomly assigned to receive sound-only recordings were able to choose one performer over the other two performers in each trial,” writes Tsay.

    Second, the clips weren’t only six seconds long! This assertion, repeated among science bloggers, was incorrect. The length of the clips -- audio and visual -- ranged from 1 second to 1 minute, and, in them, says Tsay, “the pattern held.” 

    So the clips were neither indistinguishable on an auditory basis, nor too short to allow for some kind of artistic adjudication. This, needless to say, strengthens the study's original findings. 



    The Atlantic: How Saudi Arabia and Qatar are the Tortoise and the Hare of the Middle East  >>

    Jonathan Schanzer and David Andrew Weinberg, Tuesday, August 27th 2013
    Saudi Arabia has made strategic gains on its regional rival, Qatar. (Michael Dalder/Reuters)

    The toppling of Mohammed Morsi in Egypt was a major setback for Qatar. The uber-wealthy Gulf emirate had pumped billions of dollars into Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood government, only to watch it fall to the Egyptian military seemingly overnight. Within days, Qatar's Saudi rivals swooped in, declaring support for the military's fight against "terrorism and extremism" and pledging $5 billion in aid.

    The Saudis are the Gulf's traditional power brokers, and they have been waiting for this moment. They were left in the dust in 2011, when their longtime ally Hosni Mubarak was toppled. Qatar, a country with longstanding antipathy for the Saudis, gave the Brotherhood a seemingly endless line of credit to inflate Morsi's popularity and let him ignore the need for economic reforms that would have prompted unpopular austerity measures. When Brotherhood movements began rising across the region, the Saudis appeared to have lost the race.

    But Saudi patience has paid off. In a Middle Eastern version of Aesop's fable The Tortoise and the Hare, the Saudis have regained regional influence while the ambitious Qataris overextended themselves and then lost steam.  

    Qatar's brief stint as the patron of Egypt was a blow to the Saudis, who have worked hard to cultivate good ties with Cairo over the years. As wards of U.S. policy in the region after the Cold War, relations between the two states blossomed. Between 2004 and 2009, trade between the two Arab powers increased some 350 percent. In 2008 alone, Egypt imported approximately $1.3 billion worth of goods from Saudi Arabia.

    Once regional rivals, Saudi Arabia and Egypt had found common cause against the Muslim Brotherhood in recent decades. In Egypt, the Brotherhood threatened Mubarak's secular government, Egypt's alliance with Washington, and the peace treaty with Israel. The Brotherhood's mixture of politics and religion also threatened the Saudi system, which claims a religious mandate and discourages political activism among its subjects. The Kingdom's longtime minister of the interior, the late Prince Nayef, famously declared in 2002 that, "our problems, all of them, came from the direction of the Muslim Brotherhood."

    Thus, when protests erupted against the Mubarak regime in 2011, Saudi Arabia was one of the few countries that stood by the longtime leader. But the Saudis could do little to save their ally; they watched with horror as Washington abandoned him. To add insult to injury, the Muslim Brotherhood filled the vacuum Mubarak's demise left.

    Qatar, a global financial backer of the Brotherhood, quickly began drawing up plans to reinforce the organization's gains. In August 2012, the Gulf power gave $2 billion to Egypt. Then in January 2013, Qatar provided Egypt with $2.5 billion more. In April, it pledged an additional $3 billion.

    Doha had also proposed a number of lucrative investments in Egypt. For example, in January 2013, Egypt's prime minister said that Qatar was interested in plowing $18 billion into projects in East Port Said and the North Coast. Additional reports in September 2012 suggested that Qatar was looking to invest in a $3.7 billion oil refinery project in Egypt.

    With Morsi's ouster, Qatar has suffered painful setbacks. Qatar now finds itself in the embarrassing position of having to deliver several more shipments of free natural gas just to save face and retain a modicum of influence. Egyptian officials, meanwhile, say they have frozen a deal to buy additional Qatari gas because of Doha's political baggage.

    The Saudis have regained their position of prominence in Egypt now that Qatar has flamed out. But that's not where the race ends. Saudi Arabia also now outpaces Qatar's influence among the political and military opposition in Syria.

    Qatar was an enthusiastic backer of the Syrian National Council founded in late 2011. The Muslim Brotherhood's dominance of the SNC made Riyadh and a number of Western capitals queasy. As the war has dragged on, however, the Saudis began to gain the upper hand. By November 2012, the composition of the political opposition shifted more to Saudi Arabia's liking. Saudi officials engineered the Brotherhood's further diminution by expanding the Syrian Opposition Coalition to allow for greater representation of "liberals" and the Free Syrian Army. Saudi pressure forced the resignation of Qatar's man Ghassan Hitto as prime minister of the Coalition, and Riyadh has installed an ally as the Coalition's new president.

    Similarly, Qatar has lost ground to the Saudis on the battlefields of Syria in recent months. The Saudis have stepped up their involvement in directing the rebellion against Assad. Syrian opposition sources reported in May that Qatar has taken a step back on the military file, yielding more and more to the Saudis.

    With its influence cut down to size, Doha has now agreed to distribute all military assistance via the opposition's Supreme Military Command (SMC). Meanwhile, the Saudis are sending more heavy weaponry to the rebels and expand the geographic scope of their efforts to include Qatar's former strongholds in northern Syria.

    Qatar clearly continues to maintain a leadership role in supporting the Syrian opposition. And Doha has made it clear that influencing the events in Syria will remain a top priority. This means that Qatari cash and other support will continue to flow.

    Similarly, Qatar has not given up on Egypt. Notably, the Qatar-sponsored Al-Jazeera television network continues to play a significant -- and controversial role -- by hammering the military junta that displaced Qatar's Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood clients.

    However, with the resurgence of Saudi Arabia, it is now clear that Qatar, the undersized Gulf emirate with outsized pockets, may have run too fast over the last year or two. Doha believed that it could overtake its slower and more conservative rival with rapid-fire spending, but the Saudis just kept methodically doing what they have always done: quietly buying influence to secure the old order. 



    Failblog: Aaaaaaaand Nope!  >>

    Tuesday, August 27th 2013
    Aaaaaaaand Nope!

    Submitted by: Unknown

Monday, 08/26/2013


    PaidContent: Feedly dominating the post-Reader world, and other web-publishing insights from  >>

    Derrick Harris, Monday, August 26th 2013, the web-publishing analytics startup that launched in early 2012, has released the first edition of what’s expected to be a monthly look into the top sources driving traffic to publishers’ sites. The first edition of the Authority Report, as has dubbed it, covers July 2013 and shows — among other insights — Feedly crushing other RSS readers in the first month sans Google Reader. also announced on Monday that it has raised a $5 million Series A venture capital round. Grotech Ventures led the round with participation from Blumberg Capital, ff Venture Capital, and FundersClub. I happen to think the report is the interesting part, but the fact that is able to raise money — and to do it so late after launching — underscores the value of its data. Its customer base isn’t indicative of the entirety of the web, but it does generate a whole lot of page views across a whole lot of coverage areas. draws its report data from a veritable who’s who list of web-publisher customers that includes Atlantic Media, Ars Technica, Mashable, Meredith Publishing, Spin Media, Talking Points Memo, The Next Web and Reuters, among others. When I first spoke with CEO Sachin Kamdar in February 2012, the company was processing about 700 million page views per month for its users; today that number is up to 5 billion page views a month across about 160 million unique readers (a somewhat conservative estimate, Kamdar said in a call this morning). Its revenue has also grown 500 percent in the past year.

    A screenshot of how breaks down traffic by topics.

    A screenshot of how breaks down traffic by topics.

    Here are some of the things its report shows:

    • Feedly is crushing everyone else trying to filling the gaping void left after Google killed its Reader product. It’s also becoming a signficant driver of traffic overall, ranking No. 14 in’s top 30 list and producing more than 7 million page views.


    • News sites drive a lot of traffic to other news sites. actually breaks its rankings down into “ sites” and other “news sites,” but notes the two combined for nearly 60 million page views last month and, combined, would be the third largest source of traffic.
    • Google was No. 1 with some off-the-chart number (more than 300 million views), while Facebook was No. 2. with just more than 73 million views.
    • Outbrain’s content-recommendation service was responsible for more than 50 million page views, while MSN and the Drudge Report (at about 16 million and 14 million views, respectively) were both responsible for more traffic than Reddit and Digg combined.

    parsely1Kamdar said is planning to do some deeper dives into the various segments of traffic (e.g., aggregators) for further reports, and also hopes its reports spur some demand for custom reports by its customers interested in how their traffic stacks up against the competition. “There are so many ways you could squeeze this data to glean insights,” he said, “that internally we haven’t even thought of them all.”

    One interesting footnote for the infrastructure geeks out there is that’s rapid growth means it’s no longer a cloud-only operation. The company’s Dash service used to run entirely on Amazon Web Services, but AWS now handles only minimal workload. hosts its metadata analysis with Rackspace, and hosts its customer-facing analytics tools on its own servers that are “jacked up” with memory to provide a fast user experience.


Sunday, 08/25/2013


    World of Psychology: Are We Medicating Normalcy?  >>

    Therese J. Borchard, Sunday, August 25th 2013

    Are We Medicating Normalcy?You’ve heard it all at dinner parties, graduations, school fundraisers, and family cookouts… At least, I have, and it goes something like this:

    “Psychiatry is a business that is medicating every normal syndrome out there: Too shy to ask a girl to prom? Take Zoloft for Social Anxiety Disorder…. Grieving the loss of a spouse a year after he passed away? Try Prozac for Major Depressive Disorder…. Feeling a little hyper and can’t concentrate? You need Adderall for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

    “Doctors are greedy experts that are too lazy to get to the core problem and will medicate any person for any reason. They are essentially poisoning the population with this pill-popping philosophy.”

    Now I know that there is a bit of truth to this… So it led to me to wonder, are we medicating normalcy?

    I was under the care of one doctor who had me taking something like 23 different capsules a day. I was somewhat alarmed when my daily regimen didn’t fit inside that plastic medication planner designed for elderly folks. A few weeks of that medication cocktail and I passed out into my cereal bowl. After a nice stay at the closest psych ward, I sought out a second opinion.

    However, to say that the whole field of psychiatry is run by Satan, which I have heard from a number of well-educated, insightful, and otherwise-nuanced people, is a tad unfair and untrue.

    Ron Pies, M.D. responds to the indictment of psychiatry in his article, “The Myth of Medicalization”:

    In my view, the medicalization narrative contains some kernels of truth, and many defenders of the term proceed from honorable and well-intentioned motives; for example, the wish to reduce unnecessary use of psychotropic medication — and who could be opposed to that?

    But on the whole, I believe the medicalization narrative is philosophically naive and clinically unhelpful. On close examination, the term “medicalization” proves to be largely a rhetorical device, aimed at ginning up popular opposition to psychiatric diagnosis. It not only stigmatizes the field of psychiatry and those who practice in it, but it also undermines our ability to provide the best care to our patients, by spuriously normalizing their suffering and incapacity.

    He then describes the primary role of psychiatry today, which is rather simple: to relieve suffering and incapacity in whatever way is possible. “So long as the patient is experiencing a substantial or enduring state of suffering and incapacity, the patient has disease (dis-ease).” That mission, asserts Pies, is not to medicalize normality. It is an ethical imperative. He writes:

    Physicians, fundamentally, are not philosophers or evolutionary biologists. We do not, as a matter of daily routine, entertain metaphysical and semantic questions, such as “What is truly normal for the human species?”

    Rather, physicians have a general concept of what constitutes health, and a general concept of enduring and significant departures from health. We find ourselves faced with a waiting room full of distressed and often incapacitated human beings who, in ordinary circumstances, are voluntarily seeking our help. We do our best to respond to them not as specimens of abnormality, but as suffering individuals — and as fellow human beings.

    Originally published on Sanity Break at Everyday Health.

    Photo credit:

Friday, 08/23/2013
Thursday, 08/22/2013

  • - All: This month, Yahoo was more popular than Google  >>

    Thursday, August 22nd 2013

    In the perennial battle between the two biggest web giants, Yahoo and Google, the latter has been dominating the opposition for quite some time. Ever since Yahoo’s business problems began, many people (myself included) assumed that Yahoo was stuck in second place from that point forward. Turns out I was wrong, and the changes Marissa Mayer has enacted are doing some good for Yahoo. ComScore reports this morning that Yahoo has beaten Google in the latest monthly report.

    Yahoo on Top

    According to Todd Wasserman at Mashable, this month is “the first time Yahoo has bested Google in this measure since April 2011.” How much did Yahoo beat Google by over the past month? Not a great deal. Yahoo came in at roughly 196 million unique visitors while Google only managed 192 million unique visitors.

    Continue Reading...



    The Atlantic - Full: How to Make Perfect Coffee  >>

    Michael Haft and Harrison Suarez, Thursday, August 22nd 2013

    Coffee has become recognized as a human necessity. It is no longer a luxury or an indulgence; it is a corollary of human energy and human efficiency.

    - William H. Ukers, All About Coffee (1922)

    It was November 23, 2010. We were in Surf City, North Carolina, getting ready to fortify ourselves before another grueling day. As the thin, black liquid oozed into the stained carafe, we stood bleary-eyed.

    We were roommates, Marine infantry officers, perpetually sleep-deprived from the training, the planning, the preparations for war. Back then coffee was little more than a bitter, caffeine-delivery system. It was just what we needed to stay awake.

    We were missing so much.

    Fast-forward a few years. We've hung up our uniforms, we're in the kitchen, and we're making coffee. Great coffee. The kind that reminds you first thing in the morning of everything else you appreciate in life. It's about the art, the ritual, and the moments shared across a table.

    And yet, if you're like us, no one ever taught you how to make coffee properly. Or how to appreciate it. When you stop in at your local coffee shop, everything is hidden away behind the counter, too far removed for you to understand. That was us not too long ago. But through trial and errorand an absurd amount of mistakeswe've managed to learn. It's a shame to waste these moments on bad coffee, and if you're going to drink it every day, or if you're going to serve it to other people, it may as well be good, right?

    Actually, it should be better than good. It should be perfect.

    What is Good Coffee?

    To understand good coffee, we have to start with how the coffee world measures its brews. After all, if you're trying categorize your coffee, it helps if you have a benchmark.

    Measuring the quality of coffee goes back to the 1950s, when MIT chemistry professor E. E. Lockhart conducted a series of surveys to determine American preferences. Basically, he surveyed a lot of coffee drinkers and asked them what they liked.

    Lockhart published his findings in the form of the Coffee Brewing Control Chart, a graphical representation of what Americans at the time considered to be the best coffee. In the years since, the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) has confirmed that American tastes haven't changed all that much. Perfection, at least to Americans, is a coffee that falls in the range of 18 to 22 percent Extraction with a brew strength between 1.15 and 1.35 percent Total Dissolved Solids.

    Confused by the jargon? Don't be. 

    The Percentage Extraction is the amount of coffee particles extracted from the original dry grounds. The Percentage of Total Dissolved Solids is the percentage of coffee solids actually in your cup of coffee (commonly known as "brew strength"). When you correlate these, the result is a Coffee Brewing Control Chart, with a target area in the center that highlights the optimal brew strength and extraction percentage.

    When you're brewing coffee, the goal is to get into that center square of perfection. Everyone seems to advocate their own sort of mystical process for achieving the right extraction, but we're here to tell you it's not that crazy.

    Instead, the key is to start with the Golden Ratio of 17.42 units of water to 1 unit of coffee. The ratio will get you into that optimal zone, plus it is unit-less, which means you can use grams, ounces, pounds, stones, even tons if that's your thing. So if you're hoping for a 20 percent extraction against 1.28 percent Total Dissolved Solids, you can start with 30 grams of dry coffee grounds, 523 grams of water, and then adjust from there.

    Meanwhile, a common mistake is to mix up Percentage Extraction with Total Dissolved Solids. It's important to understand the difference.

    Strength refers to the solids that have dissolved in your coffee. Percentage Extraction refers to the amount that you removed from the dry grounds. The point is that strong coffee has almost nothing to do with bitterness, caffeine content, or the roast profile, and everything to do with the ratio of coffee to water in your cup.

    The great innovation in measuring all this stuff came about in 2008, when a company called Voice Systems Technology decided to use a refractometera device that bounces light waves off of particlesin conjunction with a program they developed called ExtractMojo.

    The device allows you to get an accurate reading on Total Dissolved Solids and then compare your brews to the Coffee Brewing Control Chart. In this way, you can refine your results based on science as well as taste.

    Some purists chafe against the idea of introducing a device like this to measure the quality of a cup of coffee. As former Marines, it reminds us of a similar debate on the topic of gun control.

    Are guns the problem, or is it how people use them?

    Are refractometers the problem, or is it how people use them?

    These are hotly debated issues and for good reason. But both are tools, and just like any other, they can be misused.

    We prefer to think of it like castle doctrine; use your refractometer in the privacy of your own home.

    The Principles of How to Make Coffee?

    Once you understand what good coffee actually is, and once you understand how people measure it, it's much easier to learn how to make coffee.

    The six fundamental principles are:

    1. Buy good coffee beans: They should be whole beans, sustainably farmed, and roasted within the past few weeks. Plus, if you want to take part in the "third wave" coffee renaissance currently sweeping America, they should be a lighter roast so you can actually taste the flavorsthe terroirof the coffee. With darker roasts, you're missing out. We know it's a weird analogy, but a dark roast is just like taking a nice steak and charring it beyond recognition.

    2. Grind your coffee just before brewing: Roasted coffee is very delicate and perishable. Coffee has many more flavor compounds than wine, but those compounds deteriorate quickly when exposed to oxygen. Grinding your coffee just before you brew it keeps those compounds intact, and it's the number one thing you can do to improve your coffee at home.

    3. Store your coffee properly: Beans which you aren't using immediately should be kept in an airtight container and away from sunlight. A major point of debate in the coffee world is whether to freeze or not freeze your coffee. We fall somewhere in between. If it's going to be more than two weeks before brewing, we freeze our coffee. Otherwise, we avoid it.

    4. Use the right proportion of coffee to water: A major error people make is not using enough coffee. We empathizeit almost seems wasteful to add that extra scoop. But the Golden Ratio we mentioned earlier really is a great starting point and the simplest way to get into that perfect zone.

    5. Focus on technique: It's beyond the scope of this guide to go through step-by-step instructions for every method, but underlying all of them is the fact that brewing great coffee is about precision and consistency. Each brewing method has its own particular techniques, but by doing the same thing over and over you fix your mistakes and improve incrementally.

    6. Use quality tools: You're going to get better results from high quality tools than you will with junk from the bargain bin. Yes, it's more of an upfront investment, but in the long run it's worth it. Good tools last longer and make the entire brewing process much easier.

    Classic Methods and Fine Tuning

    With these principles in mind, pick a preparation method. These lie along a spectrum: Body on one end, flavor clarity on the other, with variations in between. The balance between body and flavor clarity is determined by the parts of the coffee bean that make it into your cup.

    Unfortunately, way back at the beginning of our journey when this was all foreign to us, no one ever explained why a French press had so much body or why a pour over had such articulate flavors. It was all shrouded in secrecy. So we took these mysteries at face value and filed our questions away.

    Eventually, we discovered that the answer lay in chemistry, which divides the world into soluble and insoluble compounds. Soluble particles are extracted from the coffee grounds and contribute to flavor and aroma, while insoluble particles primarily contribute to the body of coffee. Since a roasted coffee bean is made up of both types of particles, the way you balance those during the extraction process determines the resulting character of your cup.

    Do you prefer a richer, grittier cup of coffee? Try a French press. Looking for a cleaner cup that can highlight citrus notes from South America or berry flavors from Africa? Check out the pour over. Everyone's preferences vary, but once you select a method, you can further fine tune your coffee by adjusting these variables:

    1. The grind size of your coffee beans: Grind size affects the extraction rate because it affects surface area. Beans that are coarsely ground have less surface area than the same amount of finely ground beans, making it more difficult for the water to penetrate and extract the coffee solids. A uniform grind size means that the extraction rate of the oils and acids in the coffee will be consistent. You won't have large pieces that under-extract and small pieces that over-extract. It's for this reason that you'll often hear coffee experts exhorting people to invest in a good burr grinder. And guess what? They're right.

    2. The temperature of your water: Temperature affects extraction rate because solids dissolve more quickly at higher temperatures. Temperature also affects flavor because it determines which solids get dissolved. Using water that's too hot will lead to sour coffee since it releases unpleasant acids from the coffee beans. For this reason, we recommend brewing with water between 195 and 202 degrees. And remember, measure the water actually in the coffee and not just what you're pouring. There's often a difference.

    3. The amount you agitate your coffee grounds during brewing: You can further manipulate the brewing process by agitating the coffee grounds as the water passes through them. Agitation works because it accelerates the spread of dissolved coffee solids throughout the water, exposing the coffee grounds to fresher water more quickly. But agitation also has the effect of cooling the water, which we know can affect the process. In the end, it's just one of those things that you learn through trial and error.

    4. The ratio of water to coffee: Strange how it keeps coming back to this, right? The key difference here is that when you're fine tuning, you aren't sticking strictly to the Golden Ratio. Instead, you're adjusting to taste. To make adjustments more easily, invest in a scale. You can be more precise by using weightinstead of volumeto measure your coffee and water.

    One final point. As any good barista will tell you, make sure to adjust only one variable at a time so you can accurately track results. Changing two variables at a time confounds the outcome, and you won't know whether it was because you changed variable X or variable Y.

    This Isn't Rocket Science

    For all our talk of chemistry, particles, molecules, and extraction percentages, brewing great coffee is much less about science and much more about art. Once you learn the principles that underly the brewing process, you can develop a routine which suits you perfectly.

    And that's the beauty of coffee. When we first started our journey, we were embarrassingly ignorant about the most basic aspects. The choices, the culture, the equipmentit was all so overwhelming that we had no clue where to begin.

    But pretty quickly we found ourselves climbing the coffee learning curve. Learning to brew great coffee didn't have to take forever. It was a hobby that you could pick up on a Saturday morning and feel good about.

    As we explored, there were good moments and bad ones, and stretches where it felt as if we couldn't do anything right. We wasted a ton of time. We destroyed a lot of coffee. And although we read as much as we could, there were occasions when we were as stubborn as we were ignorant, days when we had to learn from our own mistakes because we didn't understand or didn't listen to what we had been taught.

    But each mistake also meant progress. We had discovered one more thing which didn't work. There was always something new to try, and in this haphazard fashion, we grew.

    For us, this was the enduring lesson, that learning is continuous, that there is always room to improve, to explore, and to innovate.

    And while much of the knowledge already existed, and although the modern exploration of coffee has been going on for at least a hundred years, through this journey, it was our turn to participate.

    And now it's yours.

    This post is adapted from Michael Haft and Harrison Suarez's Perfect Coffee at Home.


Sunday, 08/18/2013

  • The truth stings: Still no answers for collapsing bee colonies  >>

    Sunday, August 18th 2013

    OnEarth In 2006, long before I worked at this magazine, OnEarth contributing editor Sharon Levy visited a farm in California’s Sierra foothills and let honeybees swarm all over her body. Wearing the distinctive white coveralls and veiled helmet that serve as a beekeeper’s protective gear, she sat on a rural roadside embankment and, as she describes it, watched as a throng of bees alighted en masse on her arms and legs.

    Levy’s discomfort was in the service of an important story. She was one of the first journalists to report on a mysterious global honeybee die-off that jeopardizes billions of dollars in agriculture, including much of the American food supply. Staple crops like apples, blueberries, peaches, almonds, and cucumbers are pollinated by commercial honeybee colonies that travel from field to field throughout growing season; without those bees, much of U.S. agriculture would falter and fail.

    Continue Reading...


Friday, 08/16/2013
Thursday, 08/15/2013


    The Atlantic: Why Shipwrecks in Antarctica Are Well-Preserved  >>

    Svati Kirsten Narula, Thursday, August 15th 2013
    endurance banner three.jpgThe Endurance and its crew became stuck among the ice floes of the Weddell Sea in the Southern Ocean in 1914. (Library of Congress)

    If the wreck of the Endurance, the ship abandoned nearly 100 years ago by Ernest Shackleton and his crew in one of history's greatest sagas of polar exploration, were to be found today beneath the icy waters of Antarctica, it might be in surprisingly pristine condition. The ship is one of several wooden vessels presumed to be lying untouched on the Southern Ocean's floor.

    "Untouched" and "wooden" are words rarely used to describe the same shipwreck -- sea worms and other creatures usually bore into the wood with such vigor that by the time archaeologists discover the remnants, the ship's skeleton has often completely disintegrated. But now, researchers from the Royal Society in London have discovered that there are virtually no wood-threatening organisms in Antarctic waters.

    The findings, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Science, come from the first study ever to compare the decay of whale bones and wood pieces on the Antarctic seafloor. Turns out that in this particular underwater realm, ship skeletons outlast whale skeletons.

    Previous studies in other oceans have shown that two types of deep-sea worms normally colonize sunken remains: Osedax, which bore into bone, and Xylophaga, which bore into wood. After excavating samples of wood and whale bones they had deployed in the Southern Ocean, the Royal Society scientists found plenty of bone-eating worms, but no wood-eating ones. They had expected as much. Trees haven't grown on the Antarctic continent for 30 million years, but whales and other marine vertebrates are abundant in the Southern Ocean.

    How well a shipwreck holds up under water depends on a variety of factors, like weather, water salinity, pH, temperature, and depth. Portions buried in sand or silt tend to fare better than those that are exposed.

    One of the oldest and best-preserved salvaged wooden ships is the Vasa, which sank in Stockholm, Sweden in 1628 and was recovered in 1961. The ship's hull was mostly intact -- shipworms were spooked away by the Baltic Sea's pollution, acidity, and cold temperatures, archaeologists note. (As global warming continues, though, conditions there might not be so preservation-friendly for long).

    Archaeologists may eventually find the Endurance or other polar-exploration relics in even better condition. The U.K. firm Blue Water Recoveries has been looking for support to mount a search for the 100-year anniversary of the Endurance's sinking. If they do, they might be pleasantly surprised to find it looking much like Shackleton left it.



    Collosal: The Geometric Artwork of Andy Gilmore  >>

    Christopher Jobson, Thursday, August 15th 2013

    The Geometric Artwork of Andy Gilmore geometry

    The Geometric Artwork of Andy Gilmore geometry

    The Geometric Artwork of Andy Gilmore geometry

    The Geometric Artwork of Andy Gilmore geometry

    The Geometric Artwork of Andy Gilmore geometry

    The Geometric Artwork of Andy Gilmore geometry

    The Geometric Artwork of Andy Gilmore geometry

    Rochester-based artist Andy Gilmore turns math into art, creating hypnotizing and kaledscopic patterns that are heavily influenced by patterns he encounters in nature as well as music. The prolific artist has numerous commercial clients including Wired, Nike, and the New York Times, but has also released his own visual compositions through Ghostly International Editions since 2010. Gilmore just released a new body of work and sat down with Ghostly in the video above to talk about his process and influence. (via Colossal Submissions, and thnx Steve!)


    Project Syndicate - Main: Test-Driving Driverless Cars  >>

    Lawrence D. Burns, Thursday, August 15th 2013
    An integrated network of communal, driverless vehicles is needed to transform today's unsustainable, dangerous, and inconvenient road-transportation system. The task now is to establish prototype networks to test what is possible, find out consumers’ preferences, and identify attractive business models.
Wednesday, 08/14/2013


    Collosal: Manifest Station: A Transparent Utility Box Painted by Mona Caron  >>

    Christopher Jobson, Wednesday, August 14th 2013

    Manifest Station: A Transparent Utility Box Painted by Mona Caron street art painting optical illusion murals

    This fun piece was painted by illustrator and muralist Mona Caron on Duboce Avenue at Church Street in San Francisco. Titled Manifest Station, the small mural was painted on a standard utility box and has to be viewed from a specific spot so that the horizon lines of the artwork match those of the actual intersection. As an added bonus, a mural in the background which was repainted in part on the utility box is actually an older piece by the same artist. Caron is currently working on a surprisngly great series of weeds and just painted a giant wildflower in Union City. (via CJWHO)


    TED Talks - Video: TED: Russell Foster: Why do we sleep? - Russell Foster (2013)  >>

    TEDTalks, Wednesday, August 14th 2013
    Russell Foster is a circadian neuroscientist: He studies the sleep cycles of the brain. And he asks: What do we know about sleep? Not a lot, it turns out, for something we do with one-third of our lives. In this talk, Foster shares three popular theories about why we sleep, busts some myths about how much sleep we need at different ages -- and hints at some bold new uses of sleep as a predictor of mental health.
Saturday, 08/10/2013

  • - All: TED talks are the worst  >>

    Saturday, August 10th 2013

    The Daily DotWhen I got my first office job, I was psyched. I was so, so done with college: I wanted to be out in the real world—and that real world, for me, was an office.

    It’d be like the first day of school, but every day. New pens! New clothes! Fresh notebooks! Stacks of paper cooked by the copier!

    And then I sat through meetings. A lot of meetings.

    Meetings in weak-tabled conference rooms, where people talked over each other like some horrific philosophy seminar where your grade depended on how often inane bullshit unspooled from your hung-over, unwashed pie hole. One-on-one (or 1:1, even worse) meetings with bosses, which always made me think of George Michael. And impromptu meetings: stopped in a hallway, talking about how to do the things when I only wanted to go back to my office—so I could do the things. 

    The biggest, most grotesque form of meetings is...conferences.

    With PowerPoint presentations.

    PowerPoint is built of broken dreams.

    Continue Reading...


  • - All: Richard Dawkins does it again: New Atheism’s Islamophobia problem  >>

    Saturday, August 10th 2013

    Richard Dawkins is at it again. And by “it,” I mean simple-minded anti-Muslim Twitter trolling. On Thursday, the professor and provocateur raised eyebrows when he wrote that, “All the world's Muslims have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge. They did great things in the Middle Ages, though.”

    You could almost hear the 72-year-old biologist exhale a sigh of pity as he fired off the Tweet. Oh, those poor Muslims. How great they once were!  Now, well, not so much. “A simple statement of fact is not bigotry,” he added.

    Yes, the truth is that Muslims have received fewer Nobel Prizes than the sophisticated academic specialists at Trinity. But who in the hell cares apart from people like Dawkins who hope either to embarrass or discredit the faith group by pointing out such arbitrary things?

    Continue Reading...


Friday, 08/09/2013


    Car&Driver: 2015 BMW i8 Prototype Drive: Quick, Sexy, and Brimming with Tech  >>

    Csaba Csere, Friday, August 09th 2013

    Some cars defy easy classification. BMW has referred to its i8 as “the most progressive sports car of our time,” extending “sustainability to a new vehicle segment.” BMW North America CEO Ludwig Willisch has said that the i8 “will compete with supercars with its looks and driving performance.” At the same time, BMW claims that this plug-in hybrid will be able to drive as far as 22 miles on electric power alone and will achieve about 95 mpg—at least on the European test cycle, which provides an advantage to the electric side of the ledger (as does the EPA test). Our admittedly spitballed estimates—there really isn’t a commensurate plug-in for which we have data—for real-world combined-system driving are 40 mpg city and 45 mpg highway. READ MORE ››


    Men's Health: The Herb That Fights Cancer  >>

    Friday, August 09th 2013

    Dragon breath may help you breathe easy. Eating raw garlic at least twice a week could cut your risk of lung cancer by 44 percent, according to new Chinese research.

    The spicy herb is packed with volatile organosulfur phytochemicals (responsible for the taste that lingers in your mouth) that may help prevent gene mutations, the spread of cancer cells, and tumor growth, the researchers say. The compounds also sop up free radicals that can damage cells and lead to cancer.

    People in the study ate 33 grams of garlic a week, or about 11 cloves. (11 cloves!) While that’s far more than most people will eat in a week, it does serve as a reminder of how beneficial plant foods can be for your health.

    Just make sure that no study finding convinces you to focus on a single so-called “superfood.” Instead, you should mix it up. Colorado State University researchers found that despite eating one serving less a day, people who ate a wider variety of produce reaped more health benefits than those who chose from a smaller assortment of fruits and vegetables. The likely reason: The disease-fighting phytochemicals in plants vary from one botanical family to another. So the greater the variety of vegetables you eat, the more types of healthy phytochemicals you consume.

    If you liked this story, you’ll love these:

Thursday, 08/08/2013
Monday, 08/05/2013


    Blogs - Paul Krugman: What Killed Theory? (Wonkish)  >>

    By PAUL KRUGMAN, Monday, August 05th 2013
    Memories, from trade and macro.

  • Vermeer, coming to a theater near you  >>

    Monday, August 05th 2013


    The painter Johannes Vermeer is known for his incredible treatment of light and the near-photorealism of his 17th-century scenes. How did he do it without the use of a camera, which was invented some 150 years later? That was the question driving art layman and Texan entrepreneur Tim Jenison when he went on a quest to understand the artist and his art. Jenison’s journey was captured on film by Teller, of the magic act Penn & Teller, and will be released as a documentary next year by Sony Pictures Classics, Deadline reports.

    Continue Reading...


  • - All: Rich people have different toxins than the rest of us  >>

    Monday, August 05th 2013

    Americans living below the poverty line are more likely to smoke, finds a U.K. study that examined Americans' bodily toxins as a function of their income. Ergo, their blood and urine usually contain higher levels of lead and cadmium than the body fluids of those in higher socioeconomic groups. And in a finding that reeks of environmental injustice, they also tend to have higher levels of BPA, which lines cans and leaches from some plastics.

    But rich people have their problems, too. Quartz explains:

    Continue Reading...



    The Atlantic - Full: Can Advertising Change India's Obsession with Fair Skin?  >>

    Elizabeth Segran, Monday, August 05th 2013
    Zyada, the fairness skincare product (Emami ad screenshot)

    In India, a country where the majority of the population is dark-skinned, there is a widely held belief that dark complexions are inferior to fair ones. This prejudice manifests itself in everything from hiring practices that favor light-skinned employees to matrimonial ads that list fairness as a non-negotiable characteristic of the future bride or groom. In the media, light-skinned actors and models are in high demand, while dark-skinned performers are rarely seen on screen. The message is clear: fair skin represents beauty and success, and as a result Indians are keen consumers of products that promise to lighten skin.

    While racism runs deep in India's history, its roots intertwined with caste and colonialism, in today's India, it finds expression in consumer behavior and corporate advertising.

    This uncomfortable fact has spawned dueling ad campaigns on the skin-bleaching front. In March of this year, an organization called Women of Worth launched a "Dark is Beautiful" campaign to draw attention to the effects of racial prejudice in India. The print ad features the actress Nandita Das urging women to throw out their fairness creams and abandon the belief that dark skin is ugly. Meanwhile, in early July, the cosmetics company Emami released a competing television ad starring Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan. In the ad, Khan tosses a tube of fairness cream to a young fan, telling him that fairness is the secret to success in life. In response, the "Dark is Beautiful" campaign filed a petition on asking Emami to suspend the ad on the grounds that it is discriminatory.

    The advertising war over discrimination highlights the distinctly modern way that racism is unfolding in India. While racism runs deep in India's history, its roots intertwined with caste and colonialism, in today's India, it finds expression in consumer behavior and corporate advertising. When I spoke to Nandita Das last week, she argued that India's history of racism is not central to the discussion, because the prejudice against dark skin has taken on new forms in the modern world. "I don't believe we have to keep going back into history," says Das. "We're not just a product of our traditions: we're also part of the globalized world. Today, the fact that such discrimination continues to exist is a function of consumerism. The market is waiting to cash in on people's hidden aspirations."

    As India's economy continues to boom, the market appears to be a driving force behind the discrimination against dark skin. The fairness industry first evolved as a response to consumer demand. For centuries Indians used natural ingredients, such as lemon or turmeric, to lighten their skin. In 1975, Unilever launched a commercial skin lightening cream called "Fair and Lovely," and other companies quickly followed suit with their own products. The creams were originally targeted at women, but over time products emerged for men as well. In 2005, Emami launched the "Fair and Handsome" cream with Shah Rukh Khan as its brand ambassador and it is now a market leader. Fairness products are sold at every price point, from inexpensive packets of lotion to high-end luxury creams, making them accessible to every socioeconomic class. Today, their sale generates over $400 million in revenue a year in India, which is more than all other skincare products combined. In fact, the sale of fairness products surpasses the sale of Coca-Cola and tea in India.

    While fairness creams were developed to fill a specific demand in the Indian market, the survival of the industry now depends on ensuring that consumers continue to want fair skin. This means perpetuating the belief that fair skin is desirable and that dark skin is a problem to be corrected, a message the advertising industry has effectively been able to broadcast. Cosmetic companies also amplify this sentiment by enlisting India's most popular actors as spokespeople for their fairness products.

    On television and film sets, there is already an explicit preference for light-skinned actors, so the partnership between the cosmetics and entertainment industries comes naturally. Nandita Das, who has starred in over 30 movies, has been repeatedly asked to alter her dark skin. "When I am on a film set playing an educated upper-middle-class character, the crew will tell me, 'I know you don't like to wear makeup to lighten your skin, but this is an educated girl you are playing, so it would be appropriate for you to look fair,' But what does that say about me?" Das asks. "I'm educated and I'm dark." It is as if filmmakers cannot wrap their heads around the possibility that dark skin can be associated with success, even when it is embodied for them in the very person with whom they are speaking.

    Nandita Das (Vidhi Thakur)

    Yet, Das does not think that directors and producers have a racist agenda. "I cannot believe that they are not aware of the repercussions of what they are doing," says Das, "but I don't think it is personal. They are not horrible to me because I am dark. It just has to do with what works. People prefer fair skin. It is an unspoken understanding." In other words, filmmakers simply feature the kind of actors that audiences want to see, again reflecting consumer demand.

    What will it take to change India's aesthetic sensibilities? There needs to be an alternative stream of messaging in the Indian media that associates dark skin with notions of beauty, strength and success. Activists have tried to do this with campaigns like "Dark is Beautiful," but they face a herculean task because their efforts are not backed by the advertising budgets of the cosmetics and film industries. The ad featuring Nandita Das has appeared in print and has been shared widely on Facebook and Twitter, but it will never be as visible as the ads for fairness creams that literally surround the Indian population in magazines, billboards, web banners, and on television.

    Ultimately, significant change will only occur when these powerful industries feel pressure to present more inclusive notions of beauty in their advertising, thereby helping to recalibrate consumer preferences from the top down. The current "Dark is Beautiful" petition against Emami is a small step in this direction. However, while the petition has garnered thousands of signatures in a matter of days, it is unlikely to convince Emami to withdraw its ad or change its approach.

    Nonetheless, Das' campaign has made progress in other ways. It has given people a platform to vent their frustrations. On the "Dark is Beautiful" blog, women have started to openly discuss how they feel when their fathers put pressure on them to lighten their skin or when colleagues think it is acceptable to call them names like "blacky." Men have started to contribute to the discussion as well, expressing the need for dark-skinned role models who represent success and masculinity. Several actors and directors have even come forward to show Das their support.

    Das acknowledges her uphill battle, and she worries that the effects of the campaign will be short-lived. "I don't want to be cynical but I know that the media just wants new things to talk about," she says. "I have doubts about whether this interest will be sustained or whether the campaign will have a significant impact. But at the same time, I want to believe that every little drop fills the ocean. At the very least, this campaign is triggering some thought."



    The New Yorker: James Surowiecki: Why do so many jobs pay so little?  >>

    Monday, August 05th 2013
    A few weeks ago, Washington, D.C., passed a living-wage bill designed to make Walmart pay its workers a minimum of $12.50 an hour. Then President Obama called on Congress to raise the federal minimum wage (which is currently $7.25 an hour). McDonald’s was widely derided . . .
Sunday, 08/04/2013


    World of Psychology: 3 Techniques to Boost Your Confidence  >>

    Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S., Sunday, August 04th 2013

    3 Techniques to Boost Your ConfidenceThe way we feel about ourselves greatly influences how we live.

    For instance, if you’re self-confident, you probably spend time with and connect with others. If you’re drowning in self-doubt, you might withdraw and isolate yourself.

    You also might hyper-focus on your flaws and avoid going after a promotion. You convince yourself you’re simply not qualified or good enough.

    If you’re self-confident, however, instead of dwelling on your supposed deficiencies, you might use that energy to pursue the higher-level position, prepare for it and possibly get it. If you don’t, you simply move on to the next opportunity.

    Self-confidence “helps us engage fully with life,” said Mary Welford, DClinPsy, a clinical psychologist in the South West of England and author of the new book The Power of Self-Compassion: Using Compassion-Focused Therapy To End Self-Criticism and Build Self-Confidence.

    It also helps us realize that “we will be OK regardless of the ups and downs we have in life.”

    One powerful way to build confidence is by practicing self-compassion. “Self-compassion means we have our own best interests at heart,” Welford said. “We learn to support ourselves in the same way that we would support a friend or relative.”

    But this might sound utterly impossible to you, especially if you’re more used to beating yourself up. Many of us treat ourselves like the enemy. We regularly judge, criticize and condemn ourselves.

    Fortunately, self-compassion can be learned. Here’s how.

    Self-Compassionate Techniques

    There are many exercises for practicing self-compassion. “We are all different and what is important is to find something that works for you,” Welford said. Here are several techniques to try.

    1. Write a compassionate letter to yourself.

    When doing this exercise, Welford shares several guidelines in her book, including: Validate your feelings and the reasons you’re struggling; remember that millions of people struggle with their self-confidence; remember that everyone struggles, in general (it simply means being human); and try to be understanding, accepting and nonjudgmental.

    Write a supportive letter to yourself from the perspective of a compassionate person (someone who has your best interests and well-being at heart). You can start the letter with this sentence: “I am sorry that you are having a difficult time at the moment and are struggling to build your self-confidence.”

    Another option is to “write a letter to yourself from an older, wiser, compassionate you. What would you say to yourself now, and what would a compassionate future look like?” Welford writes.

    2. Focus on your well-being.

    For Welford this exercise is most helpful. First, she engages in “soothing breathing,” an exercise that “aims to bring calmness and a sense of inner warmth and well-being to the mind and body.”

    According to Welford, it involves: finding a place that’s distraction-free; sitting in a relaxed “yet alert posture;” and closing your eyes or lowering your gaze. “Rather than counting your inhalations and exhalations, let your body find a breathing rhythm that is soothing for it.” When your mind naturally wanders, gently bring it back to your practice.

    Then Welford asks herself: “What can I do for myself today that will make tomorrow a better day?” For instance, instead of mindlessly watching TV, she might go for a walk or call a friend.

    3. Take action.

    As you build your self-confidence, what are your goals? What would you like to work on? Welford has worked with individuals who’ve set such goals as: meeting new people, speaking in public, asking for help, stopping needless apologizing, expressing their emotions to others and saying yes (or no).

    Once you have your goals, break them down into small, specific steps in increasing difficulty. Next, brainstorm how you can prepare for the situation, such as practicing soothing breathing and writing a compassionate letter to yourself; the obstacles that might come up; and how you’ll navigate those obstacles.

    Also, include things that might be helpful for you to keep in mind before, during and after the situation. For instance, Welford gives this example in the book: “This is going to help me learn about myself; whichever way it goes, it will help me develop my self-confidence because I will know more at the end of it.”

    Remember to pick goals that are beneficial for you, not goals that you should or have to do, Welford writes.

    Self-compassion “gives us the courage and strength to build our self-confidence,” she said. It also supports, encourages and empowers us to do what’s in our best interests. In her book Welford tells the story of Helen, a woman who’d been struggling with agoraphobia for over 10 years.

    …Developing self-compassion did not involve her saying There, there, never mind to herself and then surfing the Net to buy lots of lovely things to compensate. Developing self-compassion in Helen’s case meant warmly acknowledging that, in her own best interest, things needed to change. Self-compassion then involved her taking courageous steps to build her self-confidence until, despite feeling intense fear, she eventually opened her front door and stepped out onto the street. Self-compassion for her meant that she reassured herself when things went wrong, recognized the difficult steps she was taking, and then courageously continued toward her goal.

    Give yourself the opportunity to practice self-compassion. And when doubts arise, read this. What do you have to lose?

Saturday, 08/03/2013


    Business Insider - The Life: 50 Foods You Avoid That Are Actually Good For You  >>

    Patrick Owen, Saturday, August 03rd 2013


    Our food choices are influenced by age, gender, friends, family, cultural background and where we live.

    Early childhood experiences with food can be traumatizing (who liked liver and onions as a kid?), but if you decided never to try something again as an adult, then you might be missing out on some truly nutritious and, perhaps, delicious items.

    We avoid certain foods for a number of reasons, but sometimes it’s for the wrong reasons.

    Science may have given it a bad rap (we already went through the ups-and-downs with butter, wine and chocolate), or it may taste or look gross (the thought of eating insects might repulse most North Americans, but in some cultures, they are considered delicacies). But it's time to put your prejudices aside, have an open mind and give these 50 healthy foods a chance.

    1. Red Meat

    Why we avoid it: Over the last 30 years, red meat has been blamed for everything from heart disease to cancer. Researchers thought that this was due to the meat’s saturated fat and cholesterol content, as well as the sodium and nitrates in processed deli meats. Bolstered by alarmist newspaper and magazine headlines, people tossed the red meat out of their diets, afraid of turning their stomach into meat repositories.

    Why we should eat it: The meat controversy arose from observational studies that are always plagued with confounding variables. Take, for instance, the “healthy user bias.” Folks who are health-conscious and have listened to the mainstream press and vilified red meat are also the same who are likely to refrain from refined sugar, trans fats and processed foods. On the other side of the spectrum, heavy meat eaters tend to be older guys who are very fond of alcohol and cigarettes, don’t eat enough fruits or vegetables, are very sedentary and tend to have other health problems that may or may not stem from their carnivorous habits.

    No matter how good you are as a statistician, there are too many factors to consider when studying humans in their natural, complicating habitat. Recent reviews find that the evidence gathered so far is insufficient to support a clear positive correlation between red meat consumption and colorectal cancer, heart disease, stroke or death. And despite claims to the contrary, there’s no consistent evidence demonstrating that the saturated fat in meat significantly raises cholesterol levels.

    In fact, a large study with almost 60,000 Japanese women found the opposite: The more saturated fat they ate, the lower their risk of stroke. Red meat has been unfairly blamed for the ills of our society. Red meat haters are missing out on an excellent source of heme iron, a form that is absorbed and utilized much more effectively than the non-heme iron found in vegetables. If there’s not enough fish or sunlight in your life, then red meat can contribute significantly to your overall vitamin D intake. This form of vitamin D is absorbed more quickly and easily than other dietary forms.

    Zinc is also easily absorbed from meat and is a very important source in our diets, especially if we don’t eat enough organ meats and shellfish. Zinc is essential for many physiological functions and forms part of the structure for many proteins and enzymes. The fat of red meat is usually equal parts saturated and monounsaturated fat, with only a small amount of polyunsaturated fat. Grass-fed beef is highly recommended because of the higher content of conjugated linoleic acid, a compound that seems to aid fat loss, and a healthier omega-6:omega-3 ratio. If you were scared of red meat before, fear no more! Eat that (grass-fed) steak guilt free.

    2. Bacon

    Why we avoid it: The iconic American food is avoided because it is ultra greasy and ultra salty, making it enemy No. 1 for most cardiologists and high blood-pressure patients.

    Why we should eat it: Bacon was once vilified because of its saturated fat and cholesterol content, but we now know that these aren’t all that bad for us. Dietary cholesterol has minimal effects on blood cholesterol levels and isn’t going to give you a heart attack. As for saturated fat, recent long-term studies haven’t found an association with high blood cholesterol levels or heart disease.

    In fact, a Japanese prospective study that followed 58,000 men for about 14 years actually found an inverse association between saturated fat intake and stroke. The salt, however, is a problem. With about 1 gram of salt per 3.5 oz serving, bacon can be an issue depending on your size, blood pressure and physical tolerance. If you refrain from abusing the salt shaker and stay away from obscene salt bombs like movie popcorn and processed foods, then bacon can be a welcome addition to your healthy diet. If possible, choose organic or pastured pork that’s antibiotic and hormone-free.

    3. Coffee

    Why we avoid it: Caffeine is the world’s favorite legal drug, but it can become addictive, cause anxiety, restlessness, irritability, insomnia, headaches, heart palpitations and withdrawal symptoms. Some people just don’t feel normal without coffee, and that’s not normal. Former coffee drinkers often report that they have more energy, not less, when they eventually make it through the nightmare of kicking the habit.

    Why we should eat it: The key to keeping coffee healthy is to eschew the large triple latte and limit your coffee intake to 1-2 cups a day. Not everyone responds to coffee the same way. Some have one cup in the morning and can’t sleep for days, and others can have a triple espresso after dinner and fall asleep as soon as they hit the pillow. Figure out where you fit, drink sensibly and get ready to reap the benefits of the black gold. First, coffee can make you smarter. Caffeine blocks an inhibitor in the brain, causing an increase in the release of several neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine. Studies showed that caffeine improves mood, reaction time, memory, vigilance and general cognitive function.

    Secondly, coffee can help you burn fat by stimulating your central nervous system, boosting your metabolism and increasing the oxidation of fatty acids from your fat stores. Thirdly, coffee consumption has been associated with decrease risk of type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, depression, heart attacks and stroke. In fact, drinking coffee has even been suggested to increase your life span. Additionally, the benefits of java extend far beyond the abundance of studies that support its health benefits. For millions of people, coffee has an important psychological, societal and cultural significance that can make dragging yourself out of bed and commuting to work a little bit more bearable and, perhaps, a little more enjoyable.

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider


    The Atlantic - Full: Forget 'Fabulous Fab': Here's Why Wall Street's Biggest Fish Always Slip Away  >>

    James Kwak, Saturday, August 03rd 2013

    800 tourre.jpg


    This week, a jury found Fabrice Tourre, the Goldman Sachs vice president who put together ABACUS 2007-AC1, a synthetic CDO, liable for securities fraud. This was one of the most famous cases stemming from the financial crisis. In April 2010, the SEC sued Goldman over the deal, and the bank soon agreed to a carefully worded $550 million settlement: it admitted a "mistake" in the marketing materials for the deal while refusing to admit the SEC's allegations.

    The SEC pursued its case against Tourre--the only individual charged--and yesterday it got its man. In short, the jury found that Tourre misled investors in ABACUS by leading them to believe that John Paulson's hedge fund would be buying the equity in the deal, which is usually (but not always) an indication that he believed the underlying securities would hold their value. (The equity investor is paid only after all the bond investors, and so is the first to lose money if the securities from which the deal is constructed go into default.) In fact, no one bought the equity: in the actual deal structure, certain tranches were issued "as if" the other tranches existed.

    Hooray for the SEC and the jury. If the evidence that has surfaced is accurate, Tourre does appear to have defrauded other participants in the deal. He sent an email saying that a sale of the equity was "precommitted"; he called Paulson the "transaction sponsor," which implies an equity investment; and he knew that ACA (the party that was chosen to sort-of select the CDO portfolio, and also sort-of insured the portfolio*) believed Paulson was the equity investor, and did nothing to correct them.

    But anyone who has followed the financial crisis for the past six years must have the nagging feeling that the SEC got the wrong guy. Sure, Tourre screwed up, and he was unlucky enough to have left a few damning emails behind. But ultimately, he was just a cog in the machine, a highly-paid cubicle jockey who was just trying to do what he thought his bosses wanted him to do (which was probably the same as what they actually wanted him to do).

    Matt Levine, reading the testimony, thinks that Tourre just wanted to get the deal done, one way or another. This is how dealmakers usually are, especially when they are playing with other people's money. In this case, Tourre seems to have tried to get Goldman--his own bank--to take the long position on the deal, opposite Paulson, because he was afraid the whole transaction might evaporate, leaving him with nothing. People desperate to get deals done are often willing to cut corners. Tourre was undoubtedly similar to hundreds of other people on Wall Street doing the same thing.

    Tourre is occasionally made out to be a Goldman "executive," which makes him sound more important (and makes the SEC's victory seem more meaningful). But at the time he was a "vice president" in an industry where title inflation is rampant. Vice president is the level below director (or senior vice president), which is the level below managing director, which is the level below partner--and Goldman named 70 new partners last November.

    Working at Goldman, in an intense, performance-driven, numbers-focused culture, Tourre knew that his job was to get deals done. When you tell smart, ambitious people that their job is to produce, they will produce, no matter what it takes. And I don't mean this is in an evil, Tony Soprano, "fix the problem" sort of way. Even if you shade the truth a bit, you're not committing murder. There's a lot to take comfort in: You're dealing with supposedly sophisticated professionals, it's all other people's money (the nice fund investor you're talking to isn't betting his house), and it's quite possible the deal will turn out fine (for the person you're defrauding) anyway.

    For the real executives, the optimal strategy is simple: hire people whose ambition outweighs their scrupulousness, measure them by results, and let incentives take care of the rest. Oh, and give them the best securities regulation training money can buy, from the most reputable law firm around, so that you can't be sued for negligent supervision down the line. If things blow up and you're ever summoned to Congress, just say you put your clients' interests first and you had no idea that people were breaking the law.

    Because you really didn't know--not for sure, at least. All you did was put them in a position where, you knew, it was likely that some were breaking the law. And you can take that plausible deniability to the bank.

    * Sort of, because Paulson suggested most of the bonds to include in the portfolio, and the real insurer was ABN Amro, which stood behind ACA, and was itself acquired by RBS before the deal blew up.


    Friday, 08/02/2013
    Thursday, 08/01/2013


      Economist - United States: Justice: Locked in  >>

      Thursday, August 01st 2013

      SINCE 1994 Tracey Aldridge has been arrested 100 times, jailed 27 times for more than 1,000 days and spent a total of eight years in prison. Most of her arrests have been for trivia: trespassing, prostitution, drugs, disorderly conduct, petty theft or drinking in public, all typical of the mentally ill. Ms Aldridge is so impaired that one jail needed special arm coverings for her, like full-length oven gloves, to prevent her from ripping her veins out with her teeth. More recently, in prison, Ms Aldridge ate her protective gauntlets.

      Thomas Dart, the sheriff of Cook County jail, knows Ms Aldridge will end up back in his cells soon because there is nowhere else for her to go. She is sentenced, like so many seriously mentally ill people in America, to rotate in and out of correctional facilities until she dies. Prisons and jails are the main mental-health facilities in the country, something Sheriff Dart describes as an “abomination”. He is also angry about how fiscally reckless it is. At only 42, Ms Aldridge has already cost taxpayers $719,436 for her arrests and incarcerations.She is not alone. Depending on how you measure it, Sheriff Dart’s jail is either the...


      Blogs - Freakonomics: Do Baby Girls Cause Divorce? A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast  >>

      Suzie Lechtenberg, Thursday, August 01st 2013

      (Photo: Marie Smith)

      Our latest Freakonomics Radio podcast is called “Do Baby Girls Cause Divorce?” (You can subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript below; it includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.)  

      This episode was inspired by a question from a reader named John Dolan-Heitlinger, who wrote the following: 

      My wife has observed that in marriages where there is a son there is less chance of the husband leaving the marriage.  

      I wonder if that is true.  

      Thanks for your consideration. 

      Mr. Dolan-Heitlinger asks, and we deliver. And his wife, as it turns out, is right. In a paper called “The Demand for Sons,” the economists Enrico Moretti and Gordon B. Dahl examined differences in marital rates based on whether a first-born child is a son or daughter. Here are some of their findings:

      • Couples who conceive a child out of wedlock and find out that it will be a boy are more likely to marry before the birth of their baby.
      • Parents who have first-born girls are significantly more likely to be divorced.
      • Fathers are significantly less likely to be living with their children if they have daughters versus sons.
      • In any given year, roughly 52,000 first-born daughters younger than 12 years (and all their siblings) would have had a resident father if they had been boys.
      • Divorced fathers are much more likely to obtain custody of sons compared to daughters. 

      “Son preference” is not new, of course (and we’ve dealt with a different version before on this show). Gallup has been polling on this question since 1941, and the results have barely budged. In 2011, 40 percent preferred sons and 28 percent daughters; the rest stated no preference or opinion. (In 1941 the margin was 38 percent to 24 percent.)

      In this podcast, Stephen Dubner talks with Enrico Moretti about the research itself and the broader economic implications of so many girls living without their dads. 

      MORETTI: For children and families with absentee fathers due to a first-born daughter, family income is reduced by about 50 percent and poverty rates are increased by about 30 percent. So these are economically important effects. 

      Thanks again to John Dolan-Heitlinger for the question that sparked this discussion. Please keep your good questions coming! 

    Tuesday, 07/30/2013


      Blogs - Grumpy Econom.: On Au  >>

      John H. Cochrane, Tuesday, July 30th 2013
      Greg Mankiw has a cool New York Times article and blog post, "On Au" analyzing the case to be made for gold in a portfolio, including a cute problem set. (Picture at left from Greg's website. I need to get Sally painting some gold pictures!)

      I think Greg made two basic mistakes in analysis.

      First, he assumed that returns (gold, bonds, stocks) are independent over time, so that one-period mean-variance analysis is the appropriate way to look at investments. Such analysis already makes it hard to understand why people hold so many long-term bonds. They don't earn much more than short term bonds, and have a lot more variance. But long-term bonds have a magic property: When the price goes down -- bad return today -- the yield goes up -- better returns tomorrow. Thus, because of their dynamic property (negative autocorrelation), long term bonds are risk free to long term investors even though their short-term mean-variance properties look awful.

      Gold likely has a similar profile. Gold prices go up and down in the short run. But relative prices mean-revert in the long run, so the long run risk and short run risk are likely quite different.

      Second, deeper, Greg forgot the average investor theorem. The average investor holds the value-weighted portfolio of all assets. And all deviations from market weights are a zero sum game. I can only earn positive alpha if someone else earns negative alpha. That's not a theorem, it's an identity. You should only hold something different than market weights if you are identifiably different than the market average investor. If, for example, you are a tenured professor, then your income stream is less sensitive to stock market fluctuations than other people, and that might bias you toward more stocks.

      So, how does Greg analyze the demand for gold, and decide if he should hold more or less than market average weights? With mean-variance analysis. That's an instance of the answer, "I diverge from market weights because I'm smarter and better informed than the average investor." Now Greg surely is smarter than the average investor. But everyone else thinks they're smarter than average, and half of them are deluded.

      In any case, Greg isn't smarter because he knows mean-variance analysis. In fact, sadly, the opposite is true. The first problem set you do in any MBA class (well, mine!) makes clear that plugging historical means and variance into a mean-variance optimizer and implementing its portfolio advice is a terrible guide to investing. Practically anything does better. 1/N does better. Means and variances are poorly estimated (Greg, how about a standard error?) and the calculation is quite unstable to inputs.

      In any case, Greg shouldn't have phrased the question, "how much gold should I hold according to mean variance analysis, presuming I'm smarter than everyone else and can profit at their expense by looking in this crystal ball?" He should have phrased the question, "how much more or less than the market average should I hold?" And "what makes me different from average to do it?"

      That's especially true of a New York Times op-ed, which offers investment advice to everyone. By definition, we can't all hold more or less gold than average! If you offer advice that A should buy, and hold more than average, you need to offer advice that B should sell, and hold less than average.

      I don't come down to a substantially different answer though. As Greg points out, gold is a tiny fraction of wealth. So it should be at most a tiny fraction of a portfolio.

      There is all this bit about gold, guns, ammo and cans of beans. If you think about gold that way, you're thinking about gold as an out of the money put option on calamitous social disruption, including destruction of the entire financial and monetary system. That might justify a different answer. And it makes a bit of sense why gold prices are up while TIPS indicate little expected inflation. But you don't value such options by one-period means and variances. And you still have to think why this option is more valuable to you than it is to everyone else.


      Project Syndicate - Main: Death by Masculinity  >>

      Sarah Hawkes, Tuesday, July 30th 2013
      Despite overwhelming evidence that gender norms can adversely affect men's health, international health organizations continue to limit gender-specific efforts to women. A new approach is needed that aims to offset the negative impact that socially dictated – and commercially reinforced – gender norms have on men's health.


      Slate: The Most Beautiful Melody in the World  >>

      Jan Swafford, Tuesday, July 30th 2013

      OK, I'm not actually proposing to name the most beautiful melody in the world—I'm not that arrogant or that dumb (though I do have some thoughts on the matter, which I’ll share below). For now, I want to offer a small tour of some of the most beautiful and enduring melodies I happen to know, and talk about what makes them that way. Will we thereby find the eternal secret of great melody? Well, no. But it's one of those questions that can get you somewhere if you don't take it too seriously.


      Slate: Stop #Slatepitching Insider Trading!  >>

      Matthew Yglesias, Tuesday, July 30th 2013

      With the government pursuing a securities fraud case against Steve Cohen’s SAC Capital—though not, strikingly, against its founder and sole owner personally—the contrarians are coming out of the woodwork. From to Wonkblog, people are asking: Why ban insider trading in the first place? The great wheel of conventional wisdom appears to have turned, leaving Slate to state the obvious: The ban on insider trading does no harm, repealing it would solve nothing, and legalization could exacerbate the most dysfunctional tendencies in corporate America.


      The Atlantic - Full: 'There Are No Fat People in Paris'  >>

      Ta-Nehisi Coates, Tuesday, July 30th 2013
      Two Saturdays ago, I visited the venerable bookstore Shakespeare and Company. It was a hot day. The store was small and stifling. A woman walked around handing out watermelon. I picked up a copy of Eric Hobsbawm's The Age of Revolution and Primo Levi's If This Is A Man. I went upstairs, sat in a room with view of the street and I think even the river. Two things happened while I sat there. First, I fell in love with Primo Levi, an unoriginal event which nevertheless deserves (and shall receive) elaboration. Second, I decided that this room was perfect. 

      Paris requires effort. There are stairs everywhere and the stairs are all but mandatory. In America the stairs are off to the side, and the elevator is prominent. Often, it's the reverse here -- the stairs are out front and often beautifully wrought. It almost feels sinful to take an elevator. There's a strong culture of pedestrianism. The streets belong to the people, and that encourages walking. On a normal day, I can end up walking for an hour or more. There's so much to see. And those who don't walk use the public bike share.

      There is almost no air conditioning -- not in the homes, not in the offices, not on 99 percent of the subway trains. The windows are actually open on the subways. There's no ice in the water or in any of the drinks and I don't ask for any. Travel isn't colonization. I think that discomfort is life unbound. But because of that discomfort, that constant sheen of sweat, finding a naturally cool place is a divine experience. That day when I stumbled into Shakespeare and Company's reading room, it was like stumbling into an undiscovered oasis, like finding lost treasure.

      Despite all the extra effort, I find that I consume less energy. I don't know that I eat any "healthier" in the sense of what "health" tends to mean back home. There are fat and carbs all around me. There's butter in most of the dishes. It's nothing see a Parisian walking the street while inhaling a long baguette. Bread is served with every meal, but oddly enough, without butter, which leads me to believe that they think of butter as something to be put in things, not on them. 

      I eat my fries with mayonnaise. I now find ketchup to be too sweet. Without exception I eat dessert -- preferably something with chocolate. I eat a panini or a sandwich every day, but I don't eat any chips. You can find junk-food here, but you have to be looking for it. I don't really order out. I've stopped drinking Diet Coke. In general I eat a lot less, and I drink a lot more -- a half a bottle of wine every night. But I don't think I've been drunk once since I've been here. I feel a lot better--more energy, lighter on my feet, a clearer head.

      Before I came here, so many people told me, "There are no fat people in Paris." But I think this misses something more telling. There are "no" stunningly athletic people either. There just doesn't seem to be much gusto for spending two hours in the gym here. The people don't seem very prone to our extremes. And they are not, to my eyes, particularly thin. They look like how I remember people looking in 1983. I suspect they look this way because of some things that strike me -- the constant movement, the diet, the natural discomfort -- are part of their culture.

      I don't know how much of this I can take back home with me. My sense is that I am reacting to my context. I am conflicted about all of this. In many ways, America feels like a much "freer" place. There's more choice, and a strong desire to deliver that choice at the lowest cost possible. There's no sense in France that "the customer is always right." This city is very old -- Point Neuf is older than America itself. The Merovingian Clovis who reigned 1500 years ago is buried just outside the city. My home of New York is one of the oldest cities in America, but by the ancient standards of Paris, it is still a baby.

      With that age comes a great dose of tradition, and a sense of the conservative. Things are done at a certain way. You don't just roll up on someone and say "Excusez-moi..." and then proceed into your query. You had better start with a "Bonjour" or a "Bonsoir."  The specifics of their language means much more to them then it means to us. I think actually all of this suits me better. I love old things, and I loved old Europe before I ever bore witness. I wanted to study Charlemagne in high school. I didn't really know how. And I am terrorized by choice back home--by the take-out menus, the calorie counts, the organic, the local, the low-fat. By the end of the day, my brain is mush. I can't regulate.

      We talk about culture as a way of establishing hierarchies -- as though a hammer could, somehow, be innately better than a hacksaw. I believe that cultures take shape for actual reasons, responding to real environments. If Americans love choice, if we love our air-conditioning, and our ice, if we love our comforts, and our elevators, the question should not be, "How do we change?" for that too is a kind of colonization. Better to ask "Why do we love those things? How do they profit us? What we do we stand to lose should we abandon them?" 

      I love the tradition of low architecture here. But I also wonder how that tradition affects the cost of living for actual people. And so this is the other thing about culture. It tends to be an interlocking network, a machine of related gears, pulleys and levers. The thing you find so valuable may well be related to something else which you find utterly objectionable. I suspect that the instinct toward ensuring an abundance of fresh, high-quality food is not so distant from the instinct to ban the hijab burka.
      There is surely some knowledge to be taken back home. But in thinking about myself and my country, and "cultural" change, I find that I am more reformist than revolutionary. We are who we are. Our unchanging acre is forever our own.


    Monday, 07/29/2013
    Sunday, 07/28/2013


      Techcrunch: Review: Google Chromecast  >>

      Greg Kumparak, Sunday, July 28th 2013
      chrome 1

      “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

      -Sir Arthur C. Clarke

      It’s probably the most overused quote in tech writing… which sucks, because I’d really like to use it to describe how I feel about the Chromecast.

      The Chromecast is deceptively simple: you plug it into your TV, then stream video and music to it from apps running on your iPhone, Android device, or laptop. The Chromecast itself has no remote; whatever device you’re streaming from is the remote. The Chromecast has next to no user interface of its own, either; it’s got a single screen that shows the time and whether or not it’s connected to your WiFi that appears when nothing is being streamed, but again, the device you’re streaming from largely acts as the interface. The Chromecast is a wireless portal to your TV, and doesn’t try to be anything more.

      A Box Full Of Surprises

      I’ve been thinking about it all night, and I don’t think I’ve ever been as surprised by a device as I am by the Chromecast.

      The price? Surprise! It’s $35. Are you kidding me? According to Google, they’re not selling them at a loss. Even after accounting for the Wi-Fi chip, the CPU, 2GB of flash memory, the RAM, licensing the right to use HDMI, assembly, packaging, and shipping them to the states, they’re somehow making money selling these things for thirty five dollars. Sure, their profit margin is probably like, four cents — but that they’re not selling these at a loss at that price point is kind of absurd.

      The setup? Surprise! It’s ridiculously easy. Plug it into HDMI, give it some juice (through USB, which most new TVs have, or a standard wallwart), then run the Chromecast app on a laptop to tell it what Wi-Fi network to connect to. Done.

      App compatibility? Surprise! It’s already there on day one in some of the most notable online video apps, including Netflix and YouTube. I didn’t even have to update the apps — I just launched ‘em on my phone and the Chromecast button was sitting there waiting for me. They’ve even already built an extension for Chrome that drastically expands the functionality of the device (though, in its beta state, it’s a bit buggy — more on that later).

      Hell, even the very announcement of the Chromecast was a bit of a surprise. Google somehow managed to keep the Chromecast a secret until right before its intended debut, even with a bunch of outside parties involved. Netflix, Pandora, teams from all over Google, everyone involved in the manufacturing process — all of them were in the loop, yet nothing leaked until someone accidentally published a support page a few hours too early.

      Now, none of that is to suggest that the Chromecast is perfect. It’s not! Not yet, at least. But its biggest issues are quite fixable, assuming that Google doesn’t look at the “overwhelming” sales of the Chromecast and say ‘Oh, well, screw this thing.’ And for just $35, the few blemishes it has are pretty easy to overlook.

      Taking The Bad With The Good:

      Video streaming quality is quite good (on par with what I get on my Xbox 360 or my Apple TV, at least) particularly when pulling from an app or website that’s been tailored for compatibility — so Netflix, Youtube, or Google Play, at the moment.

      If you’re using the Chromecast extension for Chrome on your laptop to project an otherwise incompatible video site (like Hulu or HBOGO), however, video quality can dump quite a bit depending on your setup. It’s using your laptop as a middle man to encode the video signal and broadcast it to the Chromecast, whereas the aforementioned compatible sites just send video straight to the dongle, mostly removing your laptop from the mix. When casting video tabs on a 2012 MacBook Air running on an 802.11n network, the framerate was noticeably lower and there were occasional audio syncing issues.

      While we’re on the topic, the Chrome extension packs a bit of an easter egg: the ability to stream local videos from your laptop to the Chromecast. Just drag a video into Chrome, and it’ll start playing in a new tab. Use the Chrome extension to cast that tab, and ta da! You’re streaming your (totally legitimate, not-at-all-pirated-am-i-right) videos without bringing any other software into the mix. I tried it with a bunch of video formats (AVIs, MOVs, MKVs), and they all seemed to work quite well, albeit with the lowered framerate I mentioned earlier.

      Even within the apps that have already been tweaked for Chromecast compatibility, there are some day one bugs. Sometimes videos don’t play the first time you ask them to, instead dropping you into a never-ending loading screen. Other times, the video’s audio will start playing on top of a black screen. These bugs aren’t painfully common, but they’re not rare, either.

      Fortunately, it’s mostly all good — and it can only get better

      Even with a bug or two rearing its head, the Chromecast is easily worth its $35 price tag.

      Remember, this thing just launched, and it came mostly out of nowhere. Those bugs? They’ll get patched away. The sometimes-iffy framerate on projected tabs? It’ll almost certainly get better, as the Chromecast extension comes out of beta.

      Pitted against the AppleTV — or, in a fairer comparison, against the AppleTV’s built-in AirPlay streaming feature — the Chromecast’s biggest strength is in its cross-platform compatibility. Whereas AirPlay is limited to iOS devices and Macs (with limited support for Windows through iTunes), Chromecast will play friendly with any iOS, Android, Mac, or Windows app that integrates Googles Cast SDK. Having just launched, the Cast protocol obviously isn’t nearly as ubiquitous as AirPlay, either in terms of Apps that support it or in terms of other devices (like wireless speakers) that utilize it — but assuming that developers embrace the format (and really, they should), both of those things could quickly change. If developers support the protocol, Google could quite feasibly open it up to third parties to be integrated directly into TVs, speakers, and other types of gadgets. If that happens, AirPlay could be in trouble.

      On the topic of its cross-platform compatibility: the experience on Android is a slightly better than it is on iOS, as Google has considerably more freedom on the platform; for example, apps that use Chromecast can take priority over the lockscreen, allowing the user to play/pause/skip a video without having to fully unlock their Android device. That’s just icing on the cake, though; for the most part, all of the primary features work just as well on iOS as they do on Android.


      It’s one of the easiest recommendations I’ve ever made: If the Chromecast sounds like something you’d want, buy it. It’s easily worth $35 as it stands, and it’s bound to only get better as time goes on, the bugs get ironed out, and more apps come to support it.

      [Disclosure: Google loaned me this Chomecast for me to tinker with, but it goes back as soon as my review is done. With that said, I liked it enough that I've already ordered one of my own.]


      Failblog: Way to Take One for the Team, Cows  >>

      Sunday, July 28th 2013
      Way to Take One for the Team, Cows

      Submitted by: Unknown

      Tagged: sign , restaurant , vegan , funny , g rated , win
    Saturday, 07/27/2013
    Friday, 07/26/2013


      Failblog: What is This, Mind Control?  >>

      Friday, July 26th 2013
      What is This, Mind Control?

      Submitted by: Unknown (via Reddit)


      Blogs - Freakonomics: No Online Sex Please, We’re British  >>

      Stephen J. Dubner, Friday, July 26th 2013

      (Photo: Tactical Technology Collective)

      According to a BBC News report:

      Most households in the U.K. will have pornography blocked by their internet provider unless they choose to receive it, David Cameron has announced. …

      Mr Cameron warned in a speech that access to online pornography was “corroding childhood.”

      The new measures will apply to both existing and new customers.

      Mr Cameron also called for some “horrific” internet search terms to be “blacklisted,” meaning they would automatically bring up no results on websites such as Google or Bing.

      You could spend a week reading the comments, which are quite heterogeneous.


      HBR: The Art of Irresistible Email  >>

      Katie Smith Milway, Friday, July 26th 2013

      Virginia was ready to pull out her hair. Why wasn't anyone responding to her email?

      As the director of training for a global professional services firm, she'd recently sent out a note explaining important changes to the summer training schedule and asking office directors to respond with their preferred locations. But only a few had done so. Training was a huge priority for her firm, so why were they ignoring her request?

      Corporate employees receive and send more than 100 emails a day on average, according to tracking sites like Pingdom and Radicati. Competition for attention is fierce. So, no matter your title or department, you need to master electronic messaging to get your job done.

      Luckily, crafting emails in a way that encourages people to read and act on them is relatively easy. You just have to apply some age-old techniques of persuasion.

      Before you start typing, consider:

      The objective. What do you want to achieve with this email? Is your purpose to inform? Request input? Ask for help?

      What-who-when. Your objective will inform the message, including what to write, who should receive it and when to send it. Also think about whether it should come from you, or someone with more seniority.

      Visual logic. Clear structure and typographical signalling will boost the odds that your reader will get your message quickly and respond in ways that meet your goal.

      Let's look at Virginia's original, unrequited email.

      To: Blue Corp Office Directors
      From: Virginia Brown, Training Director
      Date: Friday, May 30, 2013
      Time: 5 p.m.
      Subject: New Hire Training

      Dear Colleagues,

      I'm writing to let you know about significant changes to our new hire training schedule. Instead of running training from August 15 - 20th at our New York location, we'll be hosting regional trainings in New York, San Francisco and Cincinnati on three different dates. And we'll be bringing our best trainers to every location. For those office directors with new hires, we'd like to hear which training location you prefer and how many new hires you'll be sending. If for some reason the timing, which will be August 10-14th in NYC, 15-19th in SF and 20-24th in Cincinnati, doesn't work, please contact my assistant, Francine Nordell at x2345, and we'll see if there is enough demand for a make-up session. We need to put the calendar for training together by June 30th, so please get back to me by June 15th. I think you'll be pleased with our new approach and your new hires will benefit tremendously from getting to know a smaller group of colleagues as they participate in the training.


      Virginia's message isn't long, but it's a muddle of mixed signals. Her opening line sounds like her goal is to inform office directors of a new approach to training. But in reality she's requesting input: preferred training locations. That's hard to quickly recognize, and the urgency isn't clear.

      There are several things she can do to better telegraph her intent, thereby prompting a better response:

      1. Put the subject line to work. Most of us already use our subject line to predict the "what," e.g. "Re monthly financials." But it's also the place to build a personal bridge: "Re monthly financials, per Peter's request," and to indicate urgency: "Re monthly financials, per Peter's request. Need feedback by Tuesday."
      2. Visually highlight the key message. Structure your email so the most important request or information is at the top, then put it in bold. This may seem like a, "duh," but people often "bury the lede", as journalists like to say, several paragraphs down. If you are sending to multiple readers, also bold the names of anyone you address directly, so they immediately connect to content that's relevant to them. If you're making multiple points, use indentations and numbers or bullets.
      3. Use links to go deep; voting buttons to get answers. If you want someone to act on your email then make it concise and jargon-free. Use links to let readers go deeper or access forms, and voting buttons to get folks to sign up.
      4. Time the delivery for maximum impact. Never send an email at the end of the day or the start of a weekend. Make sure people are opening it at a time when they're at their desks and have time to read it.
      5. Add clout by having a superior co-sign. We may be moving into a less hierarchical work world, but the boss's name still gets attention. If you need help, ask for it.
      6. Leave the ball in the reader's court. If you want people to get back to you or take action, make sure you put the request in bold as well. Make clear what you need from them.

      Let's apply this to Virginia's email.

      To: Blue Corp Office Directors
      From: Gordon Boss, SVP Human Resources and Virginia Brown, Training Director
      Date: Thursday, May 29, 2013
      Time: 9 a.m.
      Subject: Need Your Site Registration for New Hire Training by June 15th

      Dear Colleagues,

      We are converting from national to regional sites for our new-hire training and offering three dates. We need you to register your trainees for a venue by June 15th to accommodate all. Please click on one of the following sites to register and enter the number of trainees.

      New York: August 10-14
      San Francisco: August 15-19
      Cincinnati: August 20-24

      If the timing doesn't work, please contact my assistant, Francine Nordell at x2345, who will gauge demand for a make-up session.

      We'll be sending our best trainers to all locations. We anticipate that getting to know a smaller group of colleagues will strengthen relationships and spark collaboration.
      Thanks in advance for registering.


      What are your challenges in email communication? And what tactics have you found to be irresistible?

    Thursday, 07/25/2013