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Sunday, April 30, 2006

Their Message - At Work (Subliminally) "Researchers have shown that if the conditions are right, subliminal advertising to promote a brand can be made to work." And the cumulative effect of ads builds up in our brains. "Earlier this month, the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine published a report showing that for each additional hour per day that a child watched television an average of one additional request was made for an advertised product. The effect of the commercials on children lasted up to 20 weeks." New Scientist 04/28/06

Friday, April 28, 2006

The New Seven Wonders? The list to choose the new seven modern wonders of the world has been narrowed to 21. They include: Acropolis in Athens; the Alhambra in Granada, Spain; Angkor, Cambodia; Chichen Itza, Yucatan, Mexico; Christ Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro; the Colosseum in Rome; Easter Island Statues, Chile; Eiffel Tower, Paris; Great Wall, China; Hagia Sofia, Istanbul; Kyomizu Temple, Kyoto, Japan; Kremlin/St. Basil, Moscow; Machu Picchu, Peru; Neuschwanstein Castle, Füssen, Germany; Petra, Jordan; Pyramids of Giza, Egypt; the Statue of Liberty, New York; Stonehenge, Amesbury, United Kingdom; Sydney Opera House, Australia; the Taj Majal, Agra, India; and Timbuktu, Mali. Discovery 04/27/06

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Blogging Your Way To Better Writing Skills? Good Luck. When blogging first started to become a major online phenomenon, many bloggers were fond of claiming that the medium would lead a resurrection of interest in quality writing. It hasn't happened, of course, as anyone skimming any of the millions of poorly written, grammatically atrocious journals can attest. "Of the 27 million or so "daily diaries" floating like space junk in the blogosphere, there are a handful that aren't bad. Some are well written and insightful. But understand that we're talking about a precious few needles in a mighty big haystack." Wired 04/27/06

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

America By The Numbers The 28.5-pound, $825, five-volume Historical Statistics of the United States, Millennial Edition is out, containing more numbers and comparisons than you can shake a stick at, all purporting to paint a useful picture of America Then & Now. But Joel Garreau says that "what it is, really, is a marvelous walk through a bizarre notion -- that America, our culture and values, indeed our reality -- can be described in numbers." Washington Post 04/26/06

Monday, April 24, 2006

Will Sousa Help Parkinson's Patients? Scientists have discovered that playing music helps Parkinson's patients move better. Now a new study will try to pin down how and what music works. "We will start with metronome patterns and move up to ballet music, marches and popular music that is very dance-oriented and popular music that is not — all those types." Los Angeles Times 04/23/06

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Is Manhattan Still King? Within New York's famously provincial cultural scene, the world has always begun and ended with Manhattan. Good things could happen in the other four boroughs, of course, but until you'd made it in Manhattan, you weren't really going to be taken seriously. So can it really be possible that Manhattan has suddenly become, well... uncool? "Is hipness a zero-sum solution? If Heath Ledger digs Boerum Hill and the Bronx is busy with poetry readings, does that mean Manhattan is becoming the plodding parent to these boisterous boroughs?" New York Daily News 04/23/06

Friday, April 21, 2006

Code Sculptor: Oops, I Made A Mistake? For years cryptographers have been trying to solve the code in a sculpture that sits at CIA headquarters. "But now Jim Sanborn, the artist who created the Kryptos sculpture, says he made a mistake. A previously solved part of the puzzle that sleuths assumed was correct for years isn't. The new information, including what the mistaken text really says, is creating a buzz among enthusiasts who've been obsessed over the sculpture for years." Wired 04/20/06

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Get Smarter With Your Computer Nintendo's Brain Age software promises to make you smarter. "Developed in partnership with Japanese neuroscientist Ryuta Kawashima, the game promises to help you keep your brain in tip-top shape through daily exercise. As you complete the exercises, the game charts your daily progress and calculates how "old" your brain is according to the results." Wired 04/19/06

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Mix Up - The Culture Export "Though the world's diverse societies are continuously interacting, the process is producing a variety of hybrid regimes rather than convergence on a single model. Yet a belief that a universally accepted type of society is emerging continues to shape the way social scientists and public commentators think about the contemporary condition, and it is taken for granted that industrialization enables something like the way of life of rich countries to be reproduced everywhere." New York Review of Books 04/27/06

Monday, April 17, 2006

Think Your Computer Through It Scientists are working on a computer that could be controled by brainwaves. "We are dreaming of something like a baseball cap with electrodes in the cap that can measure the brainwaves. People could just put on the cap and have a wireless connection from these electrodes to a computer and they can play video games." Discovery 04/17/06

Animals Inside The Faucets, Chairs, Tables... Wonder how the shapes of everyday objects get their designs? "Once we start to look, we will find no shortage of suggestions of living forms in the furniture and houses around us. There are penguins in our water jugs and stout and self-important personages in our kettles, graceful deer in our desks and oxen in our dining-room tables." The Telegraph (UK) 04/16/06

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Does "Physics For Poets" Kill Students' Appreciation For Science? The classic "Physics for Poets" classes at universities are an attempt to give liberal arts majors a smattering of science. But, writes Edward Morley, "despite the effort we put into providing classes that are both relevant and informative, I am troubled by the subtext of these classes. By their very existence, these classes send two damaging messages to students in other disciplines: first, that science is something alien and difficult, the exclusive province of nerds and geeks; and second, that we will happily accommodate their distaste for science and mathematics, by providing them with special classes that minimize the difficult aspects of the subject." InsideHigherEd.com 04/14/06

Friday, April 14, 2006

Abridged Beethoven? I Don't Think So! "Speed kills. That used to refer to the dangers of driving too fast, and sometimes to the drug. Now it more ominously refers to the unhealthy pace at which we live our lives, coerced by rampaging technology into cramming as much as possible into our waking hours. This isn't good for an individual's well-being. But even if you're indifferent to everyone's need for a little wa, the bean counter in you should appreciate this: It's also counterproductive." Wired 04/13/06

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Is Boredom Good For Kids? Sure, If You're An Adult. "Parents worry a lot about keeping their children entertained. In the holiday season especially, the thought process goes: we are a lot older than their fun little friends, plus we both have a hangover. Must entertain little bleeders. Must entertain and improve. In fact, you could not be more wrong. According to research by Dr Richard Ralley, a psychology lecturer at Edge Hill College in Ormskirk, Lancashire, boredom is valuable for children... What I would say, though, is that boredom is like olives, or antiques, or green vegetables, or black-and-white films. Children might get force-fed with boredom just in the run of things, and it might actively be good for children, but only adults will really appreciate it." The Guardian (UK) 04/14/06

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Need A Second Source? Try Orwell. There are times when a regular observer of journalism wonders what authors ever did before George Orwell came along to provide them with enough platitudes and philosophies to support whatever they happened to be writing about on a given day. Catherine Bennett suggests that Orwell has perhaps surpassed Jesus as everyone's favorite quote machine. "In fact, to look at the places where his wisdom has been invoked recently is to wonder if there is anyone, excepting Stalinists, who would not think better of an opinion knowing it to be one that Orwell endorsed, or would have done had he ever got the chance to hear about it." The Guardian (UK) 04/13/06

The Manhood Problem There was a time when everyone pretty much knew what it meant to be a man, to the extent that anyone even asking the question would probably have earned a quizzical look. These days, manliness is as nebulous as concepts come, and Justin Davidson says that "masculinity is being constantly renegotiated, and men find themselves walking an invisible line, where self-assurance spills into arrogance, aggressiveness into bellicosity, stoic fortitude into cold indifference, sexual assertiveness into rapaciousness." Newsday (New York) 04/13/06

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

They Have Fundamentalist Whackos In Britain, Too! Lest America have the controversy all to itself, Britain's Royal Society, the UK's leading scientific academy, issued a blistering attack on creationism this week. "A leading scientist compared it to the theory that babies are brought by storks," and the Society warned that allowing the teaching of religious beliefs in science classrooms would irreperably harm Britain's youth. The Guardian (UK) 04/12/06

Running With The Crowd The nationwide rallies this week calling for equal rights for immigrants both legal and illegal made for some stunning pictures, as hundreds of thousands of marchers turned out in cities across the US. The experience has Philip Kennicott thinking about the meaning of crowds, and the sometimes contradictory ideas they embody. "The crowd image generally reflects the latent fears inspired by those who have gathered in the streets... Just as the eye scans the multitudes in a Bruegel painting, the lens scans the crowd, and finds it festive or restive, attentive or dull, emotional or over-passionate. But those are really metaphors: The individual stands for the crowd." Washington Post 04/11/06

Sunday, April 9, 2006

Blue Skies Are So Overrated "Spring at last feels sprung, and most Britons are gazing upwards, searching for blue skies. But not all - a growing minority are speaking up in defence of clouds. Cloud lovers now have a spiritual home, the Cloud Appreciation Society, with billowing membership and a UK website that won the recent Yahoo award for Weird and Wonderful Site of the Year." The Observer (UK) 04/09/06

America's Ghost State Grandiose pronouncements about the glory of the great open West aside, there really aren't many places in America anymore that could truly be considered underpopulated. And when desolation does exist, it is rarely that poetic type of desolation described in flowery novels. More often, it is the quietly desperate solitude of a place like North Dakota, which has been losing people for decades, and may be on the verge of becoming America's first wholly forsaken state. "But even as the American small town continues what often seems like an irresistible decline, some in northwest North Dakota are mounting a resistance, an organized effort to draw people — new people, young people, families — to their small towns." New York Times Magazine 04/09/06

When The Arcane Becomes Essential We all know someone who insists on buying all his new recordings on vinyl rather than CD, or banging out correspondence on some ancient typewriter long after everyone switched over to the latest version of Word. The technical term for these people is "pretentious Luddites." But as Philip Marchand demonstrates, there is still great value in supposedly obsolete technologies, and for those interested in certain types of art, literature, and music, older may be the best, if not the only, option left. Toronto Star 04/08/06

The World's Funniest Archive (They Hope) Humor is universal, so they say, but quantifying it can be awfully difficult. For anyone to attempt to archive the history of American comedy, for instance, might seem like the ultimate quixotic mission. But Boston's Emerson College is attempting exactly that: "The archive's centerpiece is an oral history collection, which so far consists of videotaped interviews with 51 comedy professionals... Whatever their value to scholars, the interviews have a lot to offer anyone thinking about pursuing a career in comedy." The New York Times 04/09/06

Wednesday, April 5, 2006

From Bombs To Music: A Kurdish Life By the time Serwan Serini was 30, he had founded the Kurdistan National Symphony Orchestra despite a near-total lack of arts infrastructure in his homeland in the north of Iraq. He had dreams of using his love of music and art to help craft a true national identity for his people. But the endless cycle of violence in Iraq drove him to the U.S., and now, from his home base in the Twin Cities, "[he] has a new dream -- to open a school to give Kurdish children a chance to learn music in ways he couldn't." Minneapolis Star Tribune 04/05/06

How Do Our Bodies Respond To Music? Scientists are trying to measure it in an experiment with the Boston Pops. "Instead of his usual suit jacket or tuxedo, conductor Keith Lockhart will wear an armband and a black Lycra top that looks more like a biking jersey. They will both be wired with a series of sensors that will measure his heart rate, movements, muscle tension, and other physiological evidence of emotion. Five musicians will be similarly wired to measure how they react to his conducting and to playing the music. In the audience, some children and adults will wear these same sensors on their arms and fingers, allowing their bodies to tell the scientists what kinds of emotional intensity they are feeling." Boston Globe 04/05/06

Tuesday, April 4, 2006

A Unique Time In Human History "Late tonight -- specifically, 123 seconds after 1:00 a.m. -- the time and date, for the first time in all of humanity, will be 01:02:03 04/05/06." Wired 04/04/06

So What? As Long As They're Talking About You... General Motors launches a website where visitors can make their own ads for an SUV. Of course many of the ads ridicule the vehicle. Think GM's mad? Hardly. 'We're engaging consumers in this two-way discussion. It's creating buzz and people are learning about the product.' In just two weeks, more than 21,000 ads have been created. Visitors have emailed them to others 41,000 times. There have been 250,000 unique visitors to the site and over 2.4 million page views." Toronto Star 04/04/06

Monday, April 3, 2006

Think it? Write It "Brain-wave typing could become reality in just a few years. It would open up a world of communication with caregivers and loved ones for people disabled by ALS, cerebral palsy or high-level spinal-cord injuries. With little or no muscle control, communicating clearly, or even at all is difficult, if not impossible. Researchers in the brain-computer interface, or BCI, Group at New York State Public Health Department's Wadsworth Center are enrolling patients in trials of a system that could enable them to send e-mail and communicate using their brain waves." Wired 04/03/06

Prehistoric - Teenage Boys And Their Graffiti Who drew most of the prehistoric cave paintings that have been discovered? Teen age boys. "The theory contradicts the idea that adult, tribal shaman spiritual leaders and healers produced virtually all cave art. It also explains why many of the images drawn in caves during the Pleistocene, between 10,000 and 35,000 years ago, somewhat mirror today's artwork and graffiti that are produced by adolescent males." Discovery 04/03/06

Sunday, April 2, 2006

All Directions At Once "Electronic multitasking isn't entirely new: we've been driving while listening to car radios since they became popular in the 1930s. But there is no doubt that the phenomenon has reached a kind of warp speed in the era of Web-enabled computers, when it has become routine to conduct six IM conversations, watch American Idol on TV and Google the names of last season's finalists all at once. That level of multiprocessing and interpersonal connectivity is now so commonplace that it's easy to forget how quickly it came about." Time 04/01/06

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