Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for February 24th, 2008

Intriguing movie: Helvetica

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Helvetica tells the story of the origin, use, and history of Helvetica as the graphic-design pendulum has swung this way and that. Fascinating story behind something you see all around you.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 February 2008 at 4:49 pm

Posted in Movies & TV

Democracies innovate torture

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Darius Rejali is professor of political science at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, and one of the world’s leading experts on modern torture and interrogation. His latest book, Torture and Democracy, was published in December 2007 by Princeton University Press. He was interviewed by New Scientist; here is some of the interview:

You are concerned with “clean torture”. What is it?

These are techniques that involve intense pain but leave little in the way of bruises or other telltale signs. For example, if you hit someone with a whip, there will always be a scar, but if you hit them with the flat of the hand the bruise will clear in one or two weeks. After that it is very difficult to prove that the victim has been beaten.

What kind of techniques are you talking about?

The most famous is electro-torture. What makes it horrible is that electricity seizes you from within; it feels as if it’s attacking your mind. When used properly it will leave very few marks. Other clean methods include beating with instruments such as sand-filled piping. Water tortures such as water-boarding – there’s no question that this has happened in the US. Positional tortures such as forced standing. Choking. The use of drugs. Sleep deprivation. And the use of loud noise.

How common are these methods today?

They have become much more common in democracies since the start of the 1970s with the rise of a human rights monitoring regime. When people are watching, police get sneaky. Electro-torture was relatively rare, then from the 1960s the number of countries using it doubled almost every decade. Once you have a free press, a government that depends on the consent of the people cannot afford to have the kind of bad publicity that comes from scarred victims. It turns to clean techniques.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

24 February 2008 at 11:44 am

Peer-review killing innovation in science?

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Very interesting article. It begins:

Once upon a time, economists thought economic growth came from the holy trinity of capital, resources and labour. Then in the 1950s, the American economist Robert Solow proved that this accounted for only around 10 per cent. The remaining 90 per cent he put down to “technical change” – technological progress and growth in knowledge. Science and technology, in other words. In 1987, he won the Nobel prize in economics for his discovery.

Today we seem to have forgotten Solow’s insight. The key to scientific and technological productivity is to give creativity full rein. The academic research that spawned almost all the major advances of the 20th century, and which in turn fuelled spectacular global economic growth, was largely unmanaged. Yet in the 1970s, things changed. Since then, scientists have had to aim their funding proposals at specific objectives. Peer review, seen as fundamental to scientific progress by too many researchers, has removed all spontaneity from the process of generating ideas. Such policies have led to a glittering profusion of new technologies, but most of them stem from major discoveries made decades ago. We are living off the seed corn.

How did it go so wrong? In some ways the pre-peer-review era was a victim of its own success. As scientific development prospered, demand for funding began to outstrip supply, so that scientists had to market their ideas before they could work on them. It’s all about funding priorities – how to divide resources between, say, health, the environment or defence. How can one spin the arguments by which one’s favourite fields might benefit? Horse-trading and vested interests play major roles, and compromise inevitably decides the outcomes. Yet major-league science – the intense, dispassionate study of profound and difficult problems – cannot tolerate compromise.

Furthermore, the scientific successes of the last century were inspired by a relatively small number of top scientists – around 400, according to my research, roughly the number who won Nobel prizes. These high-flyers – including the likes of Planck, Einstein, Fleming, Avery, Townes, Franklin, Crick and Watson, whom together I call the “Planck club” – thrived in the environment of academic freedom that prevailed and made generic discoveries that opened the way to such wonders as lasers, nuclear power, biotechnology, computers and telecoms. If today’s rigid policies had applied throughout the 20th century, a lot of their key ideas would have got short shrift. No one at the time predicted they would lead to great discoveries, for they challenged consensus and met no perceived need.

What can we do to put things right?…

Written by LeisureGuy

24 February 2008 at 11:41 am

Posted in Science

Top 5 musical illusions

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The latest issue of New Scientist is devoted to music, with several interesting articles. Let me excerpt only this sidebar:

In piano works such as Chopin’s Fantasy-Impromptu in C-sharp Minor, opus 66, or Sinding’s The Rustle of Spring, the notes go by so quickly that an illusory melody emerges. When the notes are close enough together in time, the melody “pops out” because the perceptual system binds them together, giving an emergent impression of tunefulness. Play the tune slowly and this disappears.

In a Sardinian style of a cappella singing studied by Bernard Lortat-Jacob at the Musée de l’Homme in Paris, a fifth female voice called the quintina (literally “fifth one” in Sardinian) emerges from four male voices when their harmony and timbres are just right. The voice is said to be that of the Virgin Mary coming to reward the singers for their piety, but in fact it is simply a misperception of the chord and its harmonics.

The Eagles’ song, One of These Nights, opens with a pattern played by bass and guitar that sounds like one instrument. The bass plays a single note, and the guitar adds a glissando, but the perceptual effect is of the bass sliding due to the gestalt principle of good continuation, which binds together two objects when the trajectory of one implies the continued trajectory of another.

Jazz pianist George Shearing created a new timbral effect by having a guitar (or in some cases, vibraphone) precisely match what he was playing on the piano. Listeners come away wondering, “What is that new instrument?”, when in reality it is two separate instruments whose sounds have perceptually fused. [Slam Stewart would also hum along with the bass line he was bowing, producing a trademark sound. And Duke Ellington was well known for combining instrumental timbres in pleasing and unexpected ways—for the example, the clarinet, muted trumpet, and muted trombone in one version of “Mood Indigo.” – LG]

In Lady Madonna, the Beatles sing into their cupped hands during an instrumental break and we could swear that there are saxophones playing. This perception is based on the unusual timbre they achieve, coupled with our expectation that saxophones should be playing in a song of this genre. (This is not to be confused with the actual saxophone solo that occurs in the song.)

Written by LeisureGuy

24 February 2008 at 11:37 am

Posted in Music

Cool shelving

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Take a look (photo at link).

Make/Shift is a flexible shelving system that can be arranged to fill spaces of varying sizes and between walls or even pillars. The interlocking wedge shape of the units allows them to “expand” or “contract” within a space: a single pair may be used for small gaps, or multiple modules may be linked together to make larger units.

Conceived by Peter Marigold, Make/Shift was designed for frequent movers who often encounter difficulties adapting their existing furniture to new settings. The shelves easily conform to any space larger than 19 7/32 inches (the width of a single module). Make/Shift units may also be assembled into freestanding units using the clips provided.

Make/Shift is fabricated in black, white, and pink Arpro expanded polypropylene (EPP), which is a lightweight, steam-cleanable foam that is stronger and more resilient than expanded polystyrene (EPS). Arpro also recycles the CO2 emitted in the manufacture of the material, which may also be recycled at the end of its life. Make/Shift is available from Movisi. [Contact: Peter Marigold, London, UK.]

Written by LeisureGuy

24 February 2008 at 11:30 am

Posted in Daily life

Another group opposed to arbitration

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Who doesn’t like binding mandatory arbitration?  In addition to Comcast customers, KBR employees, car dealerships, and credit card holders, now public investors have voiced their opposition.

According to a recent survey by the Securities Industry Conference on Arbitration (SICA), participants in the NASD and NYSE arbitrations overwhelming felt they were unfair and were dissatisfied with the outcome.  The North American Securities Administrators Association offers a glimpse into why–

Currently, almost every broker-dealer includes in their customer agreements a predispute arbitration provision that forces public investors to submit all disputes that they may have with the firm and/or its associates to mandatory arbitration. Securities arbitration cases are heard by a three-member panel that includes one “non-public” or securities industry member, and two “public” members, who may have worked in the industry. Neither of the public arbitrators is required to be an investor advocate, even though the non-public arbitrator is required to be an industry representative.

It’s no wonder that many investors could feel “trapped.”

Some interesting numbers:

  • Nearly half of the customers who expressed their views believed their arbitration panel was biased;
  • 62 percent believed the arbitration process was unfair;
  • 70 percent were dissatisfied with the outcome;
  • 49 percent stated that the arbitration process was too expensive, and;
  • A striking 75 percent of customers who compared their arbitration process to their civil litigation process indicated that arbitration was “very unfair” or “somewhat unfair” compared to court.

Download the full report.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 February 2008 at 9:54 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

When galaxies fight

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Take a look.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 February 2008 at 9:48 am

Posted in Science

What we will see in the campaign

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Glenn Greenwald:

On MSBNC’s home page right now, this is the garbage that is prominently displayed:


“Questions on Patriotism! Is he exposed?” “Exposed” as what?

The headline leads to an Associated Press “news article” by the always-odious Nedra Pickler that packs every reprehensible and irresponsible journalistic device into one article. The headline: “Obama may face grilling on patriotism.”

The article contains one quote after the next from right-wing polemicists accusing Obama of being unpatriotic. Josh Marshall noted last night that the article prominently features disgraced GOP operative Roger Stone as one of the central accusers, but just as bad, if not worse, it then goes on to quote this repulsive dialogue from Fox News’ Fox and Friends:

“First he kicked his American flag pin to the curb. Now Barack Obama has a new round of patriotism problems. Wait until you hear what the White House hopeful didn’t do during the singing of the national anthem,” said Steve Doocy, co-host of “Fox and Friends” on the Fox News Channel.”He felt it OK to come out of the closet as the domestic insurgent he is,” former radio host Mark Williams said on Fox.

This is a “news article.” And Pickler and AP wrote it by sitting in front of Fox News, writing down the most baseless and reckless accusations from the worst morons, and then turning it into a “news story” along the lines of: “Conservatives accuse Obama of X.” That’s how Drudge rules their world. He posts some completely irresponsible and scurrilous rumor; they then write a news story about how the rumors are circulating, and it then becomes mainstreamed.Thus: some attention-seeking right-wing talk radio host on Fox News labels Obama a “domestic insurgent” and the Fox host suggests Obama is unpatriotic. Pickler writes it all down, gets some confirming quotes from GOP operatives, and then files a “news article” based on it. And now MSNBC, on its front page, is heralding the vital question: “Is he exposed?” For all the attention the dubious NYT story about McCain received, those tactics, and far worse, are par for the course in how “reporters” like Pickler demonize Democratic candidates in every national election. That a Democratic candidate is accused of being an unpatriotic subversive Terrorist by Fox News and the Roger Stones of the world isn’t exactly “news.”

UPDATE: Josh Marshall notes:

Does Obama have a patriotism problem?

The AP’s Nedra Pickler asks disgraced Republican dirty-trickster Roger Stone for his opinion. Stone you’ll remember is the guy who got caught making threatening phone calls to New York Gov. Spitzer’s (D-NY) elderly father and last month set up an anti-Hillary group with the acronym C-U-N-T.

Surprisingly enough, Stone thinks the answer is yes.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 February 2008 at 9:39 am

Posted in Democrats, Election, Media

Watch “60 Minutes” tonight

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Glenn Greenwald:

For months, Harper‘s Scott Horton has been following and reporting on the story of Karl Rove’s limitless crusade to destroy Democratic Gov. Don Siegelman of Alabama about as closely as anyone can follow a story. Yesterday, Scott emailed to say:

You should alert your readers to watch 60 Minutes on Sunday for an extremely important piece. They will learn how at the instigation of Karl Rove, the Justice Department was turned into a political hit machine to destroy the reputation and ultimately imprison AL governor Don Siegelman on accusations which do not constitute, no matter how you parse it, a crime. . . . It’s an extraordinary, deep peek into a hopelessly corrupt Justice Department. They’ve been struggling to keep the lid on this story for two years. And on Sunday it is going to blow.

More details and background on tonight’s 60 Minutes story are here. Scott is a very smart and savvy commentator, not prone to hyperbole, so this piece will undoubtedly be worth watching. Scott’s latest post on the Siegelman/60 Minutes matter is here.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 February 2008 at 9:33 am

A conversation with a Columbine survivor

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The traumatic effects really redirected some lives. The conversation begins:

Marjorie Lindholm is a survivor of the 1999 school shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo. Lindholm, who wrote a book titled A Columbine Survivor’s Story, spoke with WebMD about her experiences and shares her advice for school shooting survivors and their loved ones.

How are you doing? It’s been years now since Columbine, but it was such a huge event. I imagine you never really get over it, or do you?
I haven’t. I think some people may be able to. I think with Columbine, people don’t really realize, it’s kind of where you were at the school. If somebody was at the far end of it and ran out of the school right away, I don’t think they were as traumatized as someone who was stuck in the library or the science room or saw someone shot. So I think there were lots of different levels of trauma that occurred with Columbine.

And you were in one of the rooms just down from the library, is that right?
Right. I was trapped in the room with the teacher who was killed. We were giving him first aid for the entire time, like four or five hours, until we were able to get out with the SWAT team.

When another school shooting happens, how do you deal with days like that?
Not really well, actually. I dropped out of high school, and it took a lot of years to get courage to go to college, and I still can’t do it. I was trying to do [a] biology major, but you have to go to the classroom, and last semester I quit going again because there’s been so many shootings on the news, and every time you read the news and something like that happens, you kind of relive what you lived through. So I switched to an online degree, so that I don’t have to walk into a classroom anymore for the remainder of my bachelor’s.

How’s that working out?
[It’s going] well, so far, other than I don’t really like the subject matter anymore because it’s sociology instead of biology. But you’ve kind of got to go with the flow and do what you can. But it’s just really hard because my life was school right now and every time I hear about this, it brings up all of my issues. And then in another sense, you see all the victims on TV — or even the kids who kind of witness things on TV or on the news — and you know what they’re going to go through because it’s what I went through for the past nine years … and I feel so bad for them and there’s nothing anyone can do.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 February 2008 at 9:14 am

Omega-3 from diet, not fish-oil capsules?

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This is interesting: a recent study indicated that fish-oil capsules did not offer protection against stroke and did not influence lipid levels:

Results shows that the supplements had no effect on any of the parameters measured, including total cholesterol, LDL “bad” cholesterol, HDL “good” cholesterol, and other lipid levels. There was no change in markers of the tendency of blood to clot and no evidence of an anti-inflammatory effect. Inflammation of the blood vessels may play a role on causing stroke.

The study was based on 102 men and women, all of whom had already suffered a stroke.

I don’t plan to discontinue my own fish-oil capsule supplements, but I certainly will also eat more fish high in omega-3. The table below gives an idea of the amounts of omega-3. Note that Atlantic Salmon is farmed (and artificially colored); Pacific wild salmon has more omega-3.

Amount of Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Selected Fish and Seafood
Fish Serving Size Omega-3 Fat
Atlantic Salmon or Herring 3 ounces cooked 1.9 grams
Blue Fin Tuna 3 ounces cooked 1.5 grams
Sardines, canned 3 oz. in tomato sauce 1.5 grams
Anchovies, canned 2 ounces drained 1.2 grams
Atlantic Mackerel 3 ounces cooked 1.15 grams
Salmon, canned 3 ounces drained 1.0 gram
Swordfish 3 ounces cooked 0.9. gram
Sea Bass (mixed species) 3 ounces cooked 0.65 gram
Tuna, white meat canned 3 ounces drained 0.5 gram
Sole, Flounder, Mussels 3 ounces cooked 0.4 gram
Wild Catfish, crabmeat, clams 3 ounces cooked/steamed 0.3 gram
Prawns (jumbo shrimp) 6 pieces 0.15 gram
Atlantic Cod, Lobster 3 ounces cooked/steamed 0.15 gram
Trout, Orange roughy 3 ounces cooked <0.1 gram

Written by LeisureGuy

24 February 2008 at 9:09 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health, Medical

Food-blog search

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This is quite handy: a search that covers lots of food blogs.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 February 2008 at 8:57 am

Posted in Food, Recipes

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