Wednesday, May 28, 2008
In the last two weeks, I've been getting calls from these two numbers: 617-830-4620 and 617-245-9602. I don't answer (of course), and I googled each (of course), and lo and behold, the first is some nasty telemarketing company that tells me on its ethics page (a bad sign that it has one at all?) it respects the Direct Marketing Association's Do Not Call List, which uses info from the national Do Not Call list or state ones. My number is on both lists. So WTF?
The second number's source made me sad. From 800notes.com, where I found the numbers:
"I got a call from this number today. It was someone who asked me to donate to Barack Obama's campaign. I said that I was a supporter of Barack Obama, but that I don't give credit card info or money to cold-callers. I offered to donate on the web or at a local campaign office. The person on the other end wouldn't accept this for an answer, and fed me some line about the campaign needing money immediately."
Is it an aggressive Barack campaigner with no skillz, or is it an imposter, trying to steal my money? Probably the latter.
I want to know how my cell phone number leaked into world in the first place. Did Staples or J Crew or Crate and Barrel or the Boston Globe sell it? An idea: Let's boycott these companies! And stop shopping online! And write letters to our congresspeople!
I'm just kidding. My real idea is to never answer the phone again, unless I have a planned phone appointment set up in advance with a trusted friend. That'll show them.
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Monday, May 26, 2008
Sunday, May 25, 2008
As if cupcakes weren't enough to settle the matter, today's New York Times Magazine has a poorly thought out essay on what makes humans unique. Now you might think that it is our superior intelligence that sets us apart from our simian friends. But Michael Tomasello, an evolutionary anthropologist at the Max Planck Institute, is eager to tell us that we'd be wrong. He recounts :
"To test this idea, my colleagues and I recently administered an array of cognitive tests — the equivalent of nonverbal I.Q. tests — to adult chimpanzees and orangutans (two of our closest primate relatives) and to 2-year-old human children. As it turned out, the children were not more skillful overall. They performed about the same as the apes on the tests that measured how well they understood the physical world of space, quantities and causality. The children performed better only on tests that measured social skills: social learning, communicating and reading the intentions of others."
Those "social gifts," he concludes, "make all the difference." The article then drones on about how Romper Room is our natural habitat and, much to my amazement, ends with this howler:
"Human beings have evolved to coordinate complex activities, to gossip and to playact together. It is because they are adapted for such cultural activities — and not because of their cleverness as individuals — that human beings are able to do so many exceptionally complex and impressive things."
I agree fully with Tomasello that humans can be stupid. One need go no further than reading the transcript of any presidential debate. But how does he arrive at sweeping generalizations about human intelligence by testing 2-year-olds and then comparing their scores with chimps? It is as if he concluded all humans were less than three feet tall because he could find no child above that height.
Thursday, May 22, 2008
It is not an original thought, but one I've come to appreciate more and more--that the invention of the cupcake is what makes us uniquely human. The urge to enjoy this delectable, cute, vehemently sweet pastry is pervasive. A recent study from evolutionary psychologists claims the cupcake's hip to cup ratio appeals across all cultures to our innate sense of the Good. I recently witnessed a run on a cupcake store in Los Angeles. Sensational! The line extended all the way down Rodeo Drive. Even so, a good friend, sotto voce, dared to tell me that the cupcakes from Joan's on Third were better than those from Sprinkles.
While the cupcake is ripe for ridicule--it may with good reason be deemed something White People Like--I encourage everyone to indulge in this undeniable thing of goodness. (Please check this gooey center of goodness out!) It binds communities. It is sacrosanct. God almighty, it is good. God almighty it is good.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
a wall-painted animation by Blu
To follow up on my previous post about my love and appreciation of hand drawn illustrations and cartoons, I give you this video. I'm still in amazement. I can not imagine how long it took these guys to make this. Painting and repainting, over and over and over. Instead of 3000 sheets of paper and a few pencils, they probably used 50 gallons of paint, 20 miles of wall, and 250 brushes.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
From the article:
In a 2003 study at Harvard, Dr. Carson and other researchers tested students’ ability to tune out irrelevant information when exposed to a barrage of stimuli. The more creative the students were thought to be, determined by a questionnaire on past achievements, the more trouble they had ignoring the unwanted data. A reduced ability to filter and set priorities, the scientists concluded, could contribute to original thinking.
But the Times article wasn't written to help me rationalize my disorganization, although I do plan to refer to it in excuses and probably in general conversation as well. No, it was really about the brains of old people. It turns out that like younger, creative types, old folks have a hard time tuning out extra information (and conversely, a harder time focusing on specific details), which actually gives them access to a broad range of knowledge. The upshot: collecting all that information makes the 60+ crowd appear to be wise.
From the article:
...in studies where subjects are asked to read passages that are interrupted with unexpected words or phrases, adults 60 and older work much more slowly than college students. Although the students plow through the texts at a consistent speed regardless of what the out-of-place words mean, older people slow down even more when the words are related to the topic at hand. That indicates that they are not just stumbling over the extra information, but are taking it in and processing it.
When both groups were later asked questions for which the out-of-place words might be answers, the older adults responded much better than the students.
“For the young people, it’s as if the distraction never happened,” said an author of the review, Lynn Hasher, a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto and a senior scientist at the Rotman Research Institute. “But for older adults, because they’ve retained all this extra data, they’re now suddenly the better problem solvers. They can transfer the information they’ve soaked up from one situation to another.”
Such tendencies can yield big advantages in the real world, where it is not always clear what information is important, or will become important. A seemingly irrelevant point or suggestion in a memo can take on new meaning if the original plan changes. Or extra details that stole your attention, like others’ yawning and fidgeting, may help you assess the speaker’s real impact.
“A broad attention span may enable older adults to ultimately know more about a situation and the indirect message of what’s going on than their younger peers,” Dr. Hasher said. “We believe that this characteristic may play a significant role in why we think of older people as wiser.”
So what's happening in the brain? According to the researchers, decreased activity in the prefrontal cortex from an injury is linked to an increase in creativity. But there was no mention in the article if the same is true of old-person wisdom.
Monday, May 19, 2008
Of course, he's Canadian, so he doesn't even get a vote. (Would that I were so lucky! Instead, I have to have a 30 minute conversation with people on why I don't vote (because I'm an agnostic anarchist) and perhaps why they shouldn't vote either (because they're most likely misguided, uninformed and irrational). But I digress. Twice.)
Politics aside, what's not to love about sans serif chalkboard rhetoric? Especially when the message is...has Obama slapped a copyright on this?....dum dum dum: hope.
The nugget Coupland elaborates on--that it is uniquely human to have a sense of time--impressed me when he first broached the thought in the best novel I've ever read involving office humor, start-ups, Microsoft, two dimensional food, emoticons, obsolescence and Legos. (Microserfs, you'll laugh and laugh. I promise.)
His character, Karla, makes an interesting point on this: how would we know we've grown at all if the past has been forgotten?
Sunday, May 18, 2008
Flairs-Better than Prince
Flairs, a French electro-pop guy, makes some pretty bold statements in his song. Eat more stuff than Prince? Really?
The video was directed by Jonas & Francois, the guys that brought you the fun Justice "D.A.N.C.E." video with those animated t-shirts. They also codirected Kanye's "Good Life" and a Madonna video. I love all the bright animation with the black and white video. Working on a computer all day makes me really appreciate anything hand-drawn (or at least anything giving the appearance of being done by hand). For the Flairs video the animators used over 3000 sheets of paper, multiple black pencils, and a scanner. Well done.
Saturday, May 17, 2008
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Can we know something is true but not be able to prove it? And what would that mean to how we conceive the world? Here's a puzzle I've been pondering over the last week. It's Raymond Smullyan's variation on Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem. Mull it over for at least three shakes of a cat's tail. I'll write the answer in the comments. Here goes:
Let us define a logician to be accurate if everything he can prove is true; he never proves anything false.
One day, an accurate logician visited the Island of Knights and Knaves, in which each inhabitant is either a knight or a knave, and knights make only true statements and knaves make only false ones. The logician met a native who made a statement from which it follows that the native must be a knight, but the logician can never prove he is!
Question: what statement would work?
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
I recently visited Paris for the first time. I absolutely fell in love with the city. One of the main reasons was the food. Everything was delicious, including my breakfast pictured above. We ate in a park with a beautiful view of the Eiffel Tower, and had lunch (a fresh baguette with mozzarella, tomato, and basil) later that day behind Notre Dame. Life doesn't get much better.
Monday, May 12, 2008
I was reading my daily dose of web comics, one of which will soon cease to be We The Robots, and I got a little bit disgusted. I love this comic's cut-out, textured art and the jaunty hand-lettering (or the digital approximations of these things). I love the little deedle-bop antennas on top of the robots' heads. I love the flashing pixels when you mouse over the comic's name at the top of the page.
Thursday, May 8, 2008
Who is Ceccaldi? Houellebecq's mom!!
Le jour de la mère heureuse!
Sunday, May 4, 2008
Saturday, May 3, 2008
At the precise magnetic location of the South Pole, at the end of a long rectangle of a tunnel carved through the ice, is a frozen sturgeon. In his new documentary Encounters at the End of the World, Werner Herzog shows us this fish, noting that the -70 degree temperatures in the tunnel may preserve the sturgeon for future alien archaeologists after other vestiges of long-past human civilization have crumbled. What will they make of us? What drives people to plant flags in the last, remote areas of the Earth? And do penguins go insane?
Herzog, director of Grizzly Man, narrates his surprise that the National Science Foundation funded his rare trip to Antarctica, even though he let them know these were the kinds of questions he was interested in asking. I saw the film a few days ago, when it closed out the Independent Film Festival Boston, so I warn that my recollection of certain details is hazy. The film has the same beauty and some of the same bleakness as Grizzly Man. I have only seen these two movies of Herzog's, both of which show a complicated vision of man's place in nature (a word Herzog would pronounce with some German-accented scare-quotes).
On the one hand, Antarctica is a world of magical, inhuman beauty. He shows us a scuba diver's bubble trail coalescing where ocean meets ice; a lone, deranged penguin waddling down the ice not towards food but towards the mountains, where Herzog assures us it will meet certain death; an unnamed, jelly-like, luminescent tube pulsating through the water. We hear the creaking of the ice and the clicking, whirring underwater noises of seals, which a researcher can only compare to Pink Floyd.
On the other hand, Herzog implies, we have made Antarctica into yet another stage for acting out our own absurd geopolitical and personal farces. Spliced in with his footage of the drifters, scientists, and drifter-scientists populating the south pole are a few minutes of footage of a man who's trying to break a world record on every continent by somersaulting or walking miles with a glass bottle on his head. Herzog is dismayed by the construction sites at the big base on the continent. The romantic in him wishes there were still someplace left on the Earth that remained unsullied by our antics and unspeared by our flags.
The dinosaurs' time was limited, and so will be ours. Mankind, he intones, is one of a series of catastrophes upon the Earth.
But in Herzog's vision of Antarctica, where there's death, there's life--and art. While people may be absurd, down way south, every construction worker is a dreamer, every scientist an artist. (Just as the cliché holds that the waiters in Los Angeles all dream of being actors, in Herzog's Antarctica, everyone is an amateur philosopher.) Herzog talks to a researcher who studies the movements of the sea ice that will melt as a result of cataclysmic climate change--and also to a diver-biologist looking for the origins of life itself. The biologist shows video of single-celled organisms that encase themselves in beautiful branching structures made from particles they pluck from the water, seeming to choose grains purposefully. A nice metaphor for the artist.
Towards the end of the film, one of the continent's many philosophers, a sparkle in his eye, quotes Alan Watts. (I may have that name wrong.) Through us, he said, the universe observes itself. Herzog does not answer his question about what drives us to plant flags. Perhaps more satisfyingly, he closes with a collage of beautiful, strange sounds and images, including a glimpse from under water up at hole in the ice that suggests both the camera lens and the universe's eye.