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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Google - Promise Or Threat? "On the one hand, Google is cool. On the other hand, Google has the potential to destroy the publishing industry, the newspaper business, high street retailing and our privacy. Not that it will necessarily do any of these things, but for the first time, considered soberly, these things are technologically possible." London Review of Books 01/26/06

Monday, January 30, 2006

Carey: Out! Snooty Arts "What Good Are the Arts?" is an intensely argued polemic against the intellectually supercilious, the snooty rich and the worship of high culture as a secular religion for the spiritually refined and socially heartless. Modern art," writes James Carey, "has become synonymous with money, fashion, celebrity and sensationalism, at any rate in the mind of the man on the Clapham omnibus." Contemporary painting, opera, ballet, most poetry and theater are all removed from the life of ordinary people, being part of a cult available largely to the wealthy and mandarin, where only the elect may worship. Meanwhile, "mass art" -- daytime drama, pop music, Hollywood filmmaking -- is commonly dismissed as mere entertainment for shallow and stupid proles. Washington Post 01/29/06

The People Without Music "Research has shown that some people, termed 'amusic', can neither produce nor perceive music. It isn't a problem of the ears - they can understand other sounds perfectly well - but when it comes to music, all tunes sound the same. It's no surprise, then, that music, which tends to move in small steps, is literally 'lost' on them. Though most amusia sufferers find listening to music pointless, some even find it annoying and unpleasant." BBC 01/30/06

Sunday, January 29, 2006

iPod As Learning Machine Apple is teaming up with universities to offer college lectures for iPods. "Internet access to college lectures is nothing new, but listening to them on portable gadgets is a more recent phenomenon of the digital age, spurred in part by the popularity of podcasts, or downloadable audio files." Yahoo! (AP) 01/29/06

Art & Commerce: An Unholy Alliance? Frank Gehry's much-praised concert hall in Los Angeles is about to become the focal point of a promotional campaign for vodka, and it is hardly the first L.A. structure to have its facade hijacked for commercial purposes. Gehry insists that he's vaguely flattered by the spirit company's interest, but the architect's aquiescence doesn't really alter the larger question: "When a prominent work becomes a backdrop for blouses or set decoration for soda, does commerce dishonor art or can both come out ahead?" Los Angeles Times 01/29/06

A Distinctly French America Ever since Alexis de Toqueville's famous American road trip, French writers have been obsessed with deciphering America. French author Bernard-Henri Lévy has spent much of the past couple of years traveling the U.S. in an effort to get a read on the world's most powerful nation that would ring true to both Americans and Europeans. But one of America's foremost cultural assessors, the author and radio host Garrison Keillor, has some serious bones to pick with Lévy's methods, and with his conclusions. "You meet Sharon Stone and John Kerry and a woman who once weighed 488 pounds and an obese couple carrying rifles, but there's nobody here whom you recognize. [Eventually,] it dawns on you that this is a book about the French." The New York Times 01/29/06

Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Copy Condition (Why Do They Plagiarize?) "Why, given the potential for humiliation, do plagiarists run the risk? Are people doing it more, now? Or is it, rather, now just a matter of more people getting caught?" Anyway, there's new help on the way - a journal devoted to the study of plagiarism. InsideHigherEd 01/25/06

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Is "Anti-Religious" Speech On The Rise? "First there was the controversy provoked by Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ in 2004, and now there is this censorious dismissal of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. Both are testaments to a potent mood of intolerance towards expressions of religious faith in popular culture today. The artistic representation of religious conviction is frequently stigmatised with terms such as 'fundamentalist', 'intolerant', 'dogmatic', 'exclusive', 'irrational' or 'right-wing'. As a secular humanist who is instinctively uncomfortable with zealot-like moralism, I am suspicious of the motives behind these doctrinaire denunciations of films with a religious message." spikes-online 01/24/06

Can Meditation Change Our Brain Structure? "In the traditional view, the brain becomes frozen with the onset of adulthood, after which few new connections form. In the past 20 years, though, scientists have discovered that intensive training can make a difference. For instance, the portion of the brain that corresponds to a string musician's fingering hand grows larger than the part that governs the bow hand - even in musicians who start playing as adults." Wired 01/25/06

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Study: Almost Half Of UK Workforce Fails Basic Reading, Maths "There are about 12 million people in employment with literacy skills and 16 million with numeracy skills at level 1 or below - equivalent to the the levels of 11-year olds and younger, the committee found. The number of people underskilled in both aspects is unknown. The workforce comprises 30 million people, working full-time and part-time." The Guardian (UK) 01/25/06

The Zen Of Wikipedia "The site, which has more daily visitors than The New York Times and USA Today sites combined, is as much an encyclopedia as a social outlet. Wikipedia has many rules, but they're all highly breakable. (One essay states: 'Ignore all rules.') This philosophy, which some describe as the site's "essence," doesn't always inspire goodwill." Village Voice 01/24/06

The End Of Democratic Information Flow On The Internet? "The telecommunications companies' proposals have the potential, within just a few years, to alter the flow of commerce and information -- and your personal experience -- on the Internet. For the first time, the companies that own the equipment that delivers the Internet to your office, cubicle, den and dorm room could, for a price, give one company priority on their networks over another." Washington Post 01/23/06

Monday, January 23, 2006

Want Success? Stick With It... Is it all-brains-all-the-time that separates achievers from the pack? Or is something else at work? The difference likely is something Angela Lee Duckworth calls "grit," which she defines as "tenaciously pursuing something over the long term." That "something" can't be something easy. To pass the grit test, the thing being chased must be "the highest challenge." It's all about passion. Philadelphia Inquirer 01/23/06

A New Take On Low Tuition And High Standards A study shows that only "3% of the students in America's top colleges come from families in the lowest income quartile and only 10% from the bottom half. Most students are relatively well-off, and their numbers include plenty of racial minorities who receive preferential status independent of their economic circumstances." The City University of New York is trying something new. "For all its imperfections, CUNY's model of low tuition fees and high standards offers a different approach. And its recent history may help to dispel the myth that high academic standards deter students and donors. “Elitism”, Mr Goldstein contends, “is not a dirty word.” The Economist 01/19/06

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Does Science Need A Private I. Corps? Recently, several scientific papers have been exposed for fraud. "In the wake of these and other science scandals in the past several years-ranging from fabricated findings to misleadingly incomplete data-some editors of science publications are rethinking their roles and asking themselves whether they should act more like muckraking investigators than purveyors of scientific discovery..." Boston Globe 01/22/06

What If Laughter Really Is The Best Medicine? A Japanese scientist suspects that laughter may affect the health of genes. "If we prove people can switch genes on and off by an emotion like laughter, it may be the finding of the century which should be worth the Nobel Prize or even go beyond that." Discovery 01/20/06

Friday, January 20, 2006

What Makes Sam-I-Am A Classic? "There are two ways to interpret 'Green Eggs and Ham.' The first--to which I do not subscribe--was suggested to me by a colleague with small children. It is as a terrifying torture-and-kidnap story... The second way to interpret the book is as a celebration, albeit a mischievous one, of two particularly American traits: salesmanship and open-mindedness." OpinionJournal.com 01/18/06

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Quick, Impress Me... Too Late A new study suggests that you and your snappy new website have something on the order of 1/20th of a second to impress the consumers who click on your particular URL. "Researchers discovered that people could rate the visual appeal of sites after seeing them for just one-twentieth of a second... But the results did not show how to win a positive reaction from users." Wired 01/19/06

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

When Technology Substitutes For Going To Class Technology is a great thing for education, right? But teachers are increasingly finding that students who can get lecture notes and course materials online are giving up going to classes. This is good for learning? Los Angeles Times 01/17/06

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Paper-Thin - Computer Screens You Can Roll Up In just a few years we'll be reading on thin flexible paper-like screens. "The display, which currently has the resolution of a normal computer screen — 100 pixels per square inch — and four levels of gray scale, could help usher in durable, paper-like screens that can be attached to small electronic devices such as mobile phones and then rolled up and tucked away when not in use." Discovery 01/17/06

Monday, January 16, 2006

Reordering The Brain (Relax - It Happens All The Time) For centuries, scientists held that the brain was a fixed entity, that it was hard-wired for each individual function, and incapable of reorganizing after injury. In the last half-century, however, new technology and cutting-edge experiments have exploded that dogma, revealing not only that the brain does in fact reorganize and adapt, it does so all the time. 'A large part of our brains is devoted to vision-some estimate more than half. A question we are asking is what happens to that part of the brain when there is no input from the eyes'?" Boston Globe 01/15/06

Is Appreciation Of Art Built Into Our DNA? "The existence of a universal aesthetic psychology has been suggested, not only experimentally, but by the fact that the arts travel outside their local contexts so easily. Displays of virtuosity make audiences' hair stand on end, regardless of their specific cultural context. It's no surprise this is a universal aspect of human nature: over thousands of generations, hunter-gatherer bands that exercised dexterity, and encouraged it by admiring it, would have survived better than their less skilful cousins against predators and the rigours of a hostile environment." The Australian 01/15/06

Psst... The Computer's Listening Speech recognition programs aren't just for recognizing words anymore. They work behind the scenes to analyze the emotional tone of a caller, assist operators, and sort through audio files... Boston Globe 01/16/06

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Science - The Trust Problem "We trust it. Should we? John Ioannidis, an epidemiologist, recently concluded that most articles published by biomedical journals are flat-out wrong. The sources of error, he found, are numerous: the small size of many studies, for instance, often leads to mistakes, as does the fact that emerging disciplines, which lately abound, may employ standards and methods that are still evolving. Finally, there is bias, which Ioannidis says he believes to be ubiquitous." New York Times Magazine 01/15/06

More Students Opt For Online Courses Over In-Person "At some schools, online courses -- originally intended for nontraditional students living far from campus -- have proved surprisingly popular with on-campus students. At least 2.3 million people took some kind of online course in 2004, and two-thirds of colleges offering 'face-to-face' courses also offer online ones. But what were once two distinct types of classes are looking more and more alike -- and often dipping into the same pool of students." Wired 01/14/06

If You Tell A Lie And Nobody Cares, Is It Still Wrong? Literary controversies rarely generate much national debate these days, but the dust-up over James Frey's alleged fibbing in his memoir exploded into something larger this week when Oprah Winfrey, who had selected Frey's tome for her famed on-air book club, weighed in with the opinion that Frey's manufactured truth just isn't that big a deal. The controversy is bigger than Frey, of course, and even bigger than Oprah. The issue is that major lies seem to have lost their power to outrage us as a nation. "Are we so used to being duped that over time, our outrage muscles have gone all slack and gooey? ... Softened up by relentless hyperbole and the hot air of advertising, it's easier for us to roll over and play dead when confronted with an actual lie." The Plain Dealer (Cleveland) 01/15/06

Friday, January 13, 2006

Is The Real New Orleans Dead And Buried? A new proposal from the blue-ribbon commission studying ways to rebuild New Orleans has suggested that any low-lying areas of the city which were inundated with floodwaters after the levees on Lake Ponchartrain failed should be abandoned, and Eugene Robinson says that you might as well begin writing the city's obituary. The commission "envisions a city with lots of green space and a new light rail system; it sees revitalized schools and world-class medical research centers, all protected by invincible levees. It might be a nice place to live, but it won't be the old New Orleans. In the old days, at a jazz funeral, the 'second line' of followers would sing and dance the departed to heaven. The music is still playing in New Orleans, but there's nobody to form the second line." Washington Post 01/13/06

The Fabric That Sings To You "Sound and visual artist Alyce Santoro has created Sonic Fabric, a cloth made from pre-recorded, recycled cassette tape combined with other fibers. Using a minimally hacked Walkman, the fabric becomes an audible reminder of its musical past. Sonic Fabric feels a bit like flexible plastic tarp, and is durable and hand-washable." Of course, that's no why it's getting attention: if you run a specially mounted head from a cassette player over the fabric, it will literally play the music embedded in the tape. "[Santoro's] latest creations play 20 tracks at once. She creates sound collages on a four-track, and the reader picks up five strands at a time." Wired 01/13/06

Thursday, January 12, 2006

A Culture Of Prizes And Awards "In the realm of literature and the arts, honors have been pullulating like kudzu. Worldwide, the number of movie prizes handed out each year - about 9,000 - is more than double the number of full-length movies produced, and literary prizes are being hatched at a faster rate than new books. The rise of prizes over the last century, and especially their feverish proliferation in recent decades, is one of the more glaring symptoms of a consumer society run rampant, a society that can conceive of artistic achievement only in terms of stardom and success." Philadelphia Inquirer 01/12/06

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

A Teacher/Student Ant Relationship "Animal behaviourists in the UK believe they have found the first evidence of two-way teacher-pupil communication between ants, suggesting that teaching behaviour may have evolved according to the value of information rather than brain size." New Scientist 01/11/06

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

What Happened To Cantonese? "Cantonese, a sharp, cackling dialect full of slang and exaggerated expressions, was never the dominant language of China. But it came to dominate the Chinatowns of North America because the first immigrants came from the Cantonese-speaking southern province of Guangdong, where China first opened its ports to foreigners centuries ago. But over the last three decades, waves of Mandarin-speaking mainland Chinese and Taiwanese immigrants have diluted the influence of both the Cantonese language and the pioneering Cantonese families who ran Chinatowns for years." Los Angeles Times 01/03/06

Paper Tiger (Reinventing The News) "Newspapers used to have a monopoly on information, and it is taking them a long time to get used to the idea that they have lost it. A century ago, in every American city, various Heralds, Timeses, Tribunes and Gazettes may have competed with each other, but as a mass medium, the newspaper enjoyed total primacy. Everything about newspapering is negotiable these days: who writes, who reads, who pays, what should be covered and how. Even as they shovel the daily quota of prose, editors are pondering existential questions. What gives a newspaper its soul?" Newsday 01/09/06

Monday, January 9, 2006

Why We Yawn "Yawning is an ancient, primitive act. Humans do it even before they're born, opening wide in the womb. Some snakes unhinge their jaws to do it. One species of penguins yawns as part of mating. Only now are researchers beginning to understand why we yawn, when we yawn and why we yawn back." Philadelphia Inquirer 01/09/06

The Magical Healing Powers Of Mozart? "Over the past decade, Mozart has increasingly been placed in a role that is perhaps the most controversial of all: as healer of mind and body. In this New Age interpretation, Mozart is the ultimate composer-therapist whose music can help treat ailments ranging from acne to Alzheimer's disease and even, it is claimed, make you and your kids smarter. Some of these claims are based on science." Time 01/08/06

Sunday, January 8, 2006

We Know What's Real. Don't We? "Virtual reality" has come a long way in the last few years. In fact, it has come so far that most intelligent individuals would be hard put to give you a comprehensive definition of what it means, or to separate the first word from the second. "Right before our eyes, this thing that we call the world has been irrevocably altered, along with the 'reality' we have counted on. Virtual reality is so permeating our lives that one day soon we may find it impossible to distinguish the virtual from the real." The New York Times 01/08/06

Thursday, January 5, 2006

The Machine That Sees Inside Your Head "Functional magnetic resonance imaging - fMRI for short - enables researchers to create maps of the brain's networks in action as they process thoughts, sensations, memories, and motor commands. Since its debut in experimental medicine 10 years ago, functional imaging has opened a window onto the cognitive operations behind such complex and subtle behavior as feeling transported by a piece of music or recognizing the face of a loved one in a crowd. Now fMRI is also poised to transform the security industry, the judicial system, and our fundamental notions of privacy." Wired 01/06

As Usual, We Nominate "ArtsJournal" What word best describes 2005? On-Demand? Podcast? Sudoku? Truthiness? (Yes, Mr. Colbert, we see you waving.) The debate will rage today at the annual gathering of the American Dialect Society, as America's wordsmiths attempt to pinpoint, in a word or two, everything that 2005 was about. "In 2003, the word of the year was metrosexual, which seems to have stuck. The year before, it was weapons of mass destruction, or WMD, or maybe, in retrospect, it wasn't." Nominees for 2005 include "intelligent design," "blogola," and "muffin top." (That last one is the bulge of flesh that results when low-rider jeans are worn by non-rail-thin individuals.) And no, Wonkette fans, "Abramoffakkuh" is not eligible, having emerged after the New Year. Philadelphia Inquirer 01/05/06

Wednesday, January 4, 2006

A World Of Dangerous Ideas Each year John Brockman asks 100+ very smart people a question. This year "what you will find emerging out of the 119 original essays in the 75,000 word document written in response to the 2006 Edge Question — 'What is your dangerous idea?' — are indications of a new natural philosophy, founded on the realization of the import of complexity, of evolution." The Edge 01/06

Mapping The Strange World of American English "Imagine looking at a map of the United States that is divided not into states but into dialects -- a map that doesn't tell you what a state's capital is, but how a region's residents pronounce their vowels." That's the aim of the newly released Atlas of North American English, a hefty tome that also comes with a multimedia CD-ROM and retails for over $600. "The atlas identifies about 16 dialects across the U.S. and southern Canada. Not all of them are unique, but each has distinguishing characteristics. The atlas is a monumental achievement in the already distinguished career of co-author William Labov, who is considered the founder of sociolinguistics, or the study of social influences on language use." Chicago Tribune 01/04/06

Tuesday, January 3, 2006

Movies As Social Activist? (Not Now) "Does political cinema mirror life? How much impact can a movie have on its audience? To what extent is it able to influence the way we think about politics? The relationship between cinema and politics, often troubled, has recently become far too distant." New Statesman 12/19/05

Monday, January 2, 2006

The New Seven Wonders "The Acropolis in Athens made it, as did Angkor Wat temple in Cambodia, China's Great Wall, the Colosseum in Rome, the Inca temple of Machu Picchu in Peru, Stonehenge and the Moai - the Easter Island statues. Less immediately obvious choices in a final shortlist of 21 contenders for the New Seven Wonders of the World, announced in Switzerland yesterday, included the Kremlin in Moscow, the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty." The Guardian (UK) 01/01/06

Why Are British Universities Segregated? "The figures on the ethnicity of students at higher education institutions for 2003-04, provided by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (Hesa), reveal a deeply worrying racial divide among British universities. There are 53 institutions with less than 5% ethnic minority students. About 20 institutions have more than 40%." The Guardian (UK) 01/02/06

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