Archive for November 2006
Via Lifehacker, these tips on how to find Amazon discounts and deals. I know the Lady of the Lake will in particular find these useful.
UPDATE: Scientific American has more:
The discovery of carvings on a snake-shaped rock along with 70,000-year-old spearheads nearby has dramatically pushed back the earliest evidence for ritual behavior, or what could be called religion. The finding, which researchers have yet to formally publish, comes from a cave hidden in the Tsodilo Hills of Botswana, a mecca of sorts for the local people, who call it the Mountain of the Gods.
“It’s very big news,” says Sheila Coulson, an archaeologist at the University of Oslo in Norway and leader of the study. Prior to the discovery, researchers had identified signs of ritual practice going back at most 40,000 years from sites in Europe.
Researchers believe that anatomically modern humans emerged from East Africa perhaps 120,000 years ago. “The difficulty was always this incredible time lag between that occurrence and any more complex aspect of the culture other than just basic survival,” Coulson says. Although some carved ornaments and wall markings from another African site are as old as the new find, they seem to have had no obvious ritual significance.
A chief of the local San people invited Coulson and her colleagues to study the cave in Tsodilo Hills. They were unprepared for what they found when they entered: a six-meter-long rock that bore a striking resemblance to a snake, including a mouthlike gash at the end. “My first words I remember saying are, ‘My god what is that?'” Coulson says. “I’d never seen anything like it.”
Hundreds of small notches, widely spaced in some places and closer together in others, covered the rock. Entrants to the cave apparently made these markings to enhance the snake illusion by creating the impression of scales and movement [see picture below]. “When flickering light hits it, it very much looks like the snake is flexing,” Coulson says. Snakes feature prominently in the traditions and the mythology of the San, sometimes called the Bushmen.
Although many of the carvings looked old, more reliable markers of the site’s longevity lay buried in rock half a meter beneath the soft cave floor. In a one-meter-wide, two-meter-deep excavation right next to the snake, the researchers uncovered more than 100 multicolored spear points from a total of 13,000 man-made artifacts.
The tips closely resemble those found elsewhere in Africa that researchers have dated at up to 77,000 years old, Coulson says. Judging from the rare colors of the stone points and the pattern of fragments, people from far and wide likely brought them to the cave partially made and finished working them there, she explains.
Some of the stone tips seem to have been burned or smashed in what may have been a type of sacrifice. Of 22 tips made from red stone, all of them show cracks and faults consistent with exposure to high heat, Coulson says, and some were burned white. Other spearheads exhibit chips and marks that suggest someone had struck the finished tips dead-on, something that researchers have observed at sites in Siberia, she notes.
“You put it all together and clearly something very extraordinary is happening,” says archaeologist and prehistoric religion specialist Neil Price, also at the University of Oslo, who was not part of the dig. “You have things occurring over a long period of time that do not have a functional explanation. There must be a whole complex of thinking behind these actions, and that in itself is exciting.”
Interesting speculations: fifty leading scientists guess what the big breakthroughs of the next 50 years will be.
This write-up characterizes Google Checkout as “like PayPal, without the evil.” (After his marijuana bust Robert Mitchum was asked what jail was like, and famously responded, “Like Palm Springs without the riff-raff.”)
Read at the link, watch the video, and decide…
Doing my best—my very best—was once a total mystery to me. I had no idea of how to do it, and really wasn’t even aware that I wasn’t doing it. I coasted through school because coasting (for me, at least) was sufficient. When I did study, it was sporadic rather than sustained.
I did learn how to write a paper, along the way, because a tutor demanded it:
In my sophomore year at St. John’s College (Annapolis MD), I had a tutor, Ford K. Brown, who introduced me to a variation of this (PDF). He asked for a 4-sentence outline of my proposed sophomore essay:
1. The first sentence is what the essays says—not what it’s “about,” but what it says.
2. The next three sentences support and lead to the first sentence—that is, the first sentence logically follows from the next three sentences.
I was not even to start writing the paper until he had approved the four sentences. He had me go away, review my notes, and return a day or two later with 4 sentences. I did, and he read them, handed the slip of paper back to me, and reiterated 1 and 2 above, slowly, carefully, and emphatically.
I went away, read the play again (I was writing an essay on Othello), thought about it, made more notes, reviewed all my notes, and wrote 4 more sentences. This took about a week.
I took the 4 sentences to him, he read them, then he once again handed me back the slip of paper, once more repeating 1 and 2 slowly, carefully, emphatically.
I think this happened once more, and then he said, “I think we’re running out of time. Go ahead and write the paper, but…” and he repeated 1 and 2 once more.
I wrote the paper, and I was astounded. I knew exactly what I wanted to say and where I was going. At one point, I got off track and realized it (never before possible when I was writing—improvising—a paper), excised the digression, and continued. Each of the three sentences became a section of the paper, and the paper really did say what I wanted it to say. It was an eye-opening exercise.
With that exception, I still had no knowledge of doing my best. But in graduate school (at the University of Iowa), I found myself with a new daughter and no job and no money. Desperate, I searched for work, found a job as an apprentice programmer, and started work.
Once again I was coasting—all I knew—and then the Big Boss called in me and two other new programmers and chewed us out. Did he chew our ass out? No, he chewed all around until it fell out. He told us specifically that if we wanted a “9-to-5 dick-around job” to leave now.
Man, I was scared. Just got the job, still with daughter and wife to support, and I was about to lose it. Right then was when I learned how to make a maximum effort—which turned out to require only one thing: to ask myself “Is there anything else I could do or should do?” and if the answer was “Yes,” then to do that thing.
By doing—literally—everything I could think of, I was at least comfortable that, if it didn’t work out, it would not find me saying to myself, “I knew I should have done X.” If I could possibly think of X, I did X. Nothing—nothing—was left undone.
The result was that I did more than I ever thought I could, and better.
So that was how I learned to work—to put forth maximum effort. Some years later, a colleague told me a story about a guy he knew who was working for Henry Kissinger. The guy had to write a report, which he turned in to Kissinger. The next day, Kissinger asked the guy, “Is that the best you can do?”
The guy gulped, asked if he could have the report back, and spent another week on it. He handed it in again, Kissinger kept it overnight, and the next day again asked, “Is that the best you can do?”
The guy took the report back again, spent a solid week on it—researching, rewriting, editing, revising more, condensing, polishing, rereading, and so on—and handed it in one more time.
Kissinger the next day asked the question the guy was dreading: “Is that the best you can do?” The guy swallowed, prepared himself internally for being fired on the spot, looked Kissinger in the eye, and said, “Yes, sir, that is the best I can do.” Whereupon Kissinger put the report under his arm and said, “Good. Now I’ll read it.”