Archive for September 10th, 2007
Countries that do not provide paid leave for new mothers. Of 173 countries, only 4 fail to provide this benefit: Papua New Guinea, Swaziland, Liberia and the U.S.A. More here. (Liberia, you’ll recall, is also tight with the US in not using the metric system.)
Good hobby for young hands: learning to fold napkins to help set the table. Here’s a guide.
Interesting post from Daily Kos:
The deaths this week of former Russian President Boris Yeltsin and renowned Russian cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich reminded us all of the heady days of the collapse of the Soviet Union and its empire. With astonishing abruptness the West had won the Cold War by the end of 1991.
But recalling those exhilarating days also raises a more introspective question: is America in turn now experiencing its own systemic crisis, and is it lurching toward an imminent imperial collapse?
For obvious reasons, scientists long have thought that salt water couldn’t be burned.
So when an Erie man announced he’d ignited salt water with the radio-frequency generator he’d invented, some thought it a was a hoax.
John Kanzius, a Washington County native, tried to desalinate seawater with a generator he developed to treat cancer, and it caused a flash in the test tube.
Within days, he had the salt water in the test tube burning like a candle, as long as it was exposed to radio frequencies.
His discovery has spawned scientific interest in using the world’s most abundant substance as clean fuel, among other uses.
Rustum Roy, a Penn State University chemist, held a demonstration last week at the university’s Materials Research Laboratory in State College, to confirm what he’d witnessed weeks before in an Erie lab.
“It’s true, it works,” Dr. Roy said. “Everyone told me, ‘Rustum, don’t be fooled. He put electrodes in there.’ “
But there are no electrodes and no gimmicks, he said.
Dr. Roy said the salt water isn’t burning per se, despite appearances. The radio frequency actually weakens bonds holding together the constituents of salt water — sodium chloride, hydrogen and oxygen — and releases the hydrogen, which, once ignited, burns continuously when exposed to the RF energy field. Mr. Kanzius said an independent source measured the flame’s temperature, which exceeds 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit, reflecting an enormous energy output.
Gordon makes a case in this thread for sticking with a single razor and brand of blade—and, to a lesser extent to a particular shaving cream or soap and a particular brush. As he says:
A while back, on the shaveblog there was a series of entries whereby Corey used the same kit for one week straight, and, guess what? He discovered what I’d always known; that there was a lot to be said for continuity. I’ve always preached this to newcomers, but not followed it myself, for the last number of years. If your selection of kit is basically sound (for you), you are going to get better shaves generally, if you stick with it, getting to know it inside out, then if you switch around all the time, in search of some magic bullet or Holy Grail.
At the core of this though, I think, is the razor and the blade. Really, really getting to know your razor and how it relates to your skin and beard. There’s more then ample evidence on this board, that razors vary in their head geometry and how exactly they cut, even quite similar seeming models. Likewise for the different brands of blades. Every time that I’ve stuck with one razor/blade for any length of time, my overall shaves have always shown improvement ( provided the razor was simpatico in the first place ). Lately, I’ve been using only my 1958 Gillette SS, and either the Swedes or Israeli Personna blades. And, sure enough, unusually good shaves, even using products that sometimes give me trouble.
As you may have observed, I like to mix it up and use a different combination each morning—not searching for a magic bullet or holy grail, just enjoying the diversity. I’m thinking I might try using the same razor and brand of blade for two weeks, just to see how it goes.
At any rate, the thread inaugurated some good discussion, and I thought you might want to try sticking with one combination for a while and see what it does for your shave.
Interesting idea for a gift, no? (The comments at the link to the left are worth reading, BTW.)
[L]ecturers are chosen on the basis of “teaching awards, published evaluations of professors, newspaper write-ups of the best teachers on campus, and other sources.” Selected professors are invited to give a sample lecture, which is then reviewed by the company’s regular customers. The most favored professors are brought to a special studio near Washington, where their lecture series is recorded and filmed.
It all sounds rather exciting, like the academic equivalent of being discovered in a coffee shop by a Hollywood casting director.
Yes indeed! And there I was, last April, toiling away at Teaching Company World Headquarters in Chantilly, Virginia, to produce a set of lectures on cosmology and particle physics. These are now available as Dark Matter, Dark Energy: The Dark Side of the Universe, a series of 24 half-hour lectures aimed at anyone with a DVD player and a smidgen of curiosity about the natural world. In plenty of time for Christmas, I may add.
Even though the lectures are nominally about dark matter and dark energy, I used them as an excuse to cover lots of fun stuff about general relativity, particle physics within and beyond the Standard Model, and the early universe. Here is the lecture outline:
- Fundamental Building Blocks
- The Smooth, Expanding Universe
- Space, Time, and Gravity
- Cosmology in Einstein’s Universe
- Galaxies and Clusters
- Gravitational Lensing
- Atoms and Particles
- The Standard Model of Particle Physics
- Relic Particles from the Big Bang
- Primordial Nucleosynthesis
- The Cosmic Microwave Background
- Dark Stars and Black Holes
- WIMPs and Supersymmetry
- The Accelerating Universe
- The Geometry of Space
- Smooth Tension and Acceleration
- Vacuum Energy
- Was Einstein Right?
- Strings and Extra Dimensions
- Beyond the Observable Universe
- Future Experiments
- The Past and Future of the Dark Side
The Teaching Company does a great job with production, so there are plenty of riveting graphics along the way. The actual lectures are given in a tiny studio in front of just a couple of people, which is not my preferred mode of speaking; I much prefer to have a real audience that will laugh and furrow their brows in puzzlement, as appropriate. So I don’t think my delivery was as sprightly as it could have been, especially in the first couple of lectures when I was getting used to the process. But there’s always the content, I suppose. And I wear a variety of fetching jackets and ties throughout the lectures, so in addition to deep insights about the workings of the universe, you also get a fashion show.
If cosmology isn’t your thing, the Teaching Company has an impressive array of courses on all sorts of stuff, from ancient history to modern jazz. It’s been getting good reviews, such as a recent Wall Street Journal article that refers to we lecturers as “reputable and often quite talented,” which I think is good. As Benton goes on to say:
Even as more and more people find higher education financially out of reach, or impractical to continue beyond early adulthood, recorded lectures — combined with the increasing availability of online lecture content and Web resources like the Wikipedia and countless blogs — are bringing on the Golden Age of the autodidact. I can’t help thinking that Diderot would approve, and I wish academe would do more to encourage such activities.
I’m sure Diderot would indeed approve, if he could just figure out how to work the remote on the DVD player.
Interesting post from Mind Hacks:
he New York Times has an article on the changing fortunes of the New York Psychoanalytic Institute and why psychoanalysis is being increasingly marginalised in mental health.
Psychoanalysis, the name for both the theory practice of psychological treatment developed by Freud, was once the driving force behind American psychiatry and the only game in town as far as psychological treatment was concerned.
It is now becoming increasingly marginalised, thought of as a bit eccentric, and overtaken by newer cognitive therapies. Some of the reasons for this are undoubtedly to do with the culture of psychoanalysis itself.
A major historical factor has been the long and contentious history of the movement, which has been subject to constant splits, disagreements and factional in-fighting.
Part of the reason for this, perhaps more than for other therapies, is that psychoanalysis involves a much closer relationship between theory and practice.
In this framework, mental illnesses arise from unresolved emotional conflicts that the mind tries to handle by various psychological defences. These defences may fail, or they may be counter-productive in the long-term, supposedly leading to the symptoms of mental disorder.
The goal of psychoanalysis is not necessarily to reduce the symptoms but to resolve the inner conflicts (Freud famously said he wanted to transform “neurotic misery into ordinary unhappiness”).
So, what tells you when the patient is improved? Why psychoanalytic theory of course.
And if you come up with a new theory of a disorder, you are, by definition, suggesting a new form of treatment, and often, new criteria for therapeutic success.
You also might be suggesting that your colleagues’ practice is wrong – hence the infighting and divisions.
In contrast, most other forms of treatment (including drugs and other psychological therapies) rely on descriptive measures of symptom improvement that form of the benchmark of psychiatric outcome studies, so theory and practice are much less intertwined.
Analysts will argue that these other treatments only deal with the surface symptoms and don’t deal with the ‘deeper concerns’, but the same issue arises – what constitutes ‘deep’ in this context is psychoanalytic theory.
In contrast, the development of cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) has seen an opposite pattern. If new innovations work, they are typically re-included under the same CBT banner – giving the impression of a single unified therapy, when in fact, the boundaries are quite loose and determined by what has been shown to be effective in studies.
One of the other quirks of psychoanalysis, is that it’s selective for people who are quite wealthy.
Training as a psychoanalyst takes up to seven years, and requires you are in therapy yourself, usually for five times a week, at a cost of up to £100 ($200) a session. This comes on top of the cost of the training course itself.
For patients, therapy can also take years, and while most analysts will have discounts for the less well off, the costs can be significant. So despite some notable exceptions, it’s mostly the wealthy treating the wealthy – a curious enclave of the upper middle classes.
These factors also mean it’s very difficult to subject psychoanalysis to randomised controlled trials, because it’s so unlike anything else. This has made a new generation of clinicians, brought up with the mantra of ‘evidence based medicine’, suspicious of it.
With great reluctance in some quarters, the principles of psychoanalysis have been shoehorned into a number of briefer versions: psychoanalytic psychotherapy, transference-focused psychotherapy and so on.
Interestingly, symptom outcome studies have found that these can be quite effective, particularly it seems for ‘personality disorders‘ – a group of fairly ill defined diagnoses, but which typically involves destructive mood and relationship problems.
Despite the eccentricities and circular reasoning involved in some aspects of psychoanalysis, 100 years of practice has led to some important insights.
However, only recently has research started to pull out the wheat from the chaff in terms of how it can be applied to the demands of 21st century mental health care.
Here’s is a nice collection of little tools for Windows, some of which look quite handy indeed. Free, of course.
Reading has always been a key component of my life, and because of that (in part) my kids all grew up to be readers. Lifehack has some good tips on building a reading family:
With so many distractions available to them — cable TV, DVDs, MP3 players, PlayStations, MySpace, and the vastness of the Internet — it’s getting harder and harder to turn children on to reading. The idea of sitting down with a good book and losing yourself in it seems to be a casualty of today’s instant-on, entertainment-saturated culture.
It’s not just reading skills that are being lost. It’s possible that, adding together all the webpages, advertisements, in-game storyboards, and other bits and pieces of text that surround us, kids are reading as much as or even more than they were in the pre-digital era. But with reading, it’s not just raw figures that counts: it’s the quality of experience that’s being missed out on. Reading books teaches comprehension and vocabulary, certainly, but it also teaches the pleasures of slowly-building anticipation, the importance of lingering and reviewing to draw new meanings and connections, the projection of self into imagined worlds of our own making.
So how do we get kids interested in reading? As all parents know, children usually aren’t swayed by the “try this, it’s good for you” argument. Although none of the children in my family read as much as I do, I have had more than a little success getting them to read — and perhaps more important, to like reading. Here are a few ideas I’ve come up with:
We all use grocery lists, don’t we? How else do you remember what you went to the store to get? Here’s a pre-made grocery list (PDF file): just go through and check the items you need. It’s good as a reminder list when you start to plan the shopping, too: by seeing the full list in front of you, you will probably realize some things on the list that you need but had not thought of. This comes via gezellig-girl.
And, speaking of PDF files, you should definitely try Foxit instead of Adobe Reader for PDF reading and manipulation: much cleaner design, very simple interface, smaller footprint, and altogether nicer. Foxit Reader is free. Foxit Reader Pro is not ($39 for single user), but does include some nice tools. I use plain old (free) Foxit Reader.
To protect your Moleskine notebook, slip it into one of these covers:
I have used Moleskine journals for years, but more often than not, by the time I’ve filled a journal, the spine is torn and in tatters. And because I write the journal number and date on the spine before putting my filled journals on my library shelf, this is a problem. The obvious solution is a nice leather slip-on cover, but I couldn’t find one that met my specs. In particular, I wanted a cover that wouldn’t interfere with use of the signature Moleskine elastic band or rear ticket pocket. And above all, it had to be sturdy and elegant, just like my otherwise-stout Moleskine. So I turned to Steve Derricott at Gfeller Casemakers, who made me a custom cover that works great, and now Gfeller is offering a slip-on cover that meets my high specs and more (note: I have NO financial interest in any of this, of course). The cover is made with the attention to detail that has made Gfeller a legend among geologists and field scientists for their extraordinary leather field cases. It is hand-cut and sewn with waxed Egyptian cotton thread, which is tap-set so that it will never, ever break. Steve makes the covers in English Kip leather, the same leather used in his field cases. Kip is a pale tan when new, but over time, exposure to light and the oils from your hand will cause it to darken. The process starts almost immediately, but continues over many years, all the while the cover gets darker and richer in tone, until in a decade or so, it will be a deep rich, mahogany. Because it has no dyed surface, the Kip cover will wear better than, say, a black dyed cover. Scratches and bumps will soften into the overall patina of the cover, adding to its character and giving it a wonderful feel like a fine old saddle — or of course one of Gfeller’s field cases after years of use in the field. (He does offer other leathers as an option, but I recommend sticking with Kip). Steve is stamping a serial number in each cover beneath the Gfeller cartouche, a reminder that one is not merely buying a journal cover but also an heirloom in the making. – Paul Saffo
Moleskine Notebook Cover $40 (stock #: MC.LN)
Available from Gfeller Casemakers (click link at upper left)
Gfeller Casemakers says this about the cover:
An interesting article in Business Week on how Shimano took the initiative to increase unit sales of bicycles (and thus of Shimano components) by creating a new species of bicycle that will attract the non-geek bicycle market.
The problem was that bicycle industry revenues were doing fine, but under the cover what was happening was fewer but more expensive bicycles were being sold. This does not help Shimano, nor does it bode well for the future.
Here’s a slideshow of the design process (which involved the perennial-prize-winning firm IDEO), and here’s the story from the software company they used in their work on the Trek Coaster, one of the resulting bicycles.
I used the Simpsons Commodore X3 (Best) this morning. What a great little stubby, scrubby brush. It has a short loft, but still manages to hold a lot of lather. And the lather it produced from the QED Mocha-Java shave stick was wonderfully dense.
The Gillette Fat Boy set at 5, together with a Feather blade that was probably past its prime, gave me a very smooth and close shave. The “past its prime” aspect was that it did not cut so easily and smoothly as a Feather normally does, but the final result was a BBS shave anyway. (But the blade is now at rest in the blade safe.)
Aftershave was 4711.
For those hankering for a new brush, take a look at the Plisson horn section.