Stuff from July, 2010

This is the archive of tumbledry happenings that occurred on July, 2010.

Examining life

Accelerating hard up the dark streets from the Ford Parkway Lifetime toward my apartment near I94, life felt perfect. I had just wrapped up another hard workout, and I was headed home to spend a lovely summer evening with my fiancée. It was late July, 2008. I remember the song I was listening to as the cool air whipped through the car: Cellophane Girl, by Graham Colton.


Van Allen

In 1958, just after James Van Allen discovered his eponymous radiation belt about the earth, he agreed to work with the US military to attempt to disrupt it. More details at NPR, Exploding H-Bombs In Space:

In any case, says the science history professor, “this is the first occasion I’ve ever discovered where someone discovered something and immediately decided to blow it up.”

Equal Temperament

The centuries-old struggle to play in tune, by Jan Swafford:

There have been some 150 tuning systems put forth over the centuries, none of them pure. There is no perfection, only varying tastes in corruption. If you want your fifths nicely in tune, the thirds can’t be; if you want pure thirds, you have to put up with impure fifths. And no scale on a keyboard, not even good old C major, can be perfectly in tune.


Choking versus Panicking

In 2000, Malcolm Gladwell wrote a great piece for the New Yorker called “The Art of Failure — Why some people choke and others panic.” The thesis here is that choking is a reversion to basic instruction — the mechanical, poorly-coordinated, unadaptable precepts from one’s basic instruction in a skill. Sports is a great example: as one choke’s, one shows less and less of the practiced grace that come with experience and more and more of the mechanical, simplistic movement characteristic of the novice. The second part of the thesis is this: panicking is a reversion not to basic instruction but to basic instinct. A panic surpasses all training and heads right into lizard-brain survival territory. Here’s a great quote:


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The Facts of Democracy

How facts backfire - The Boston Globe, by Joe Keohane:

Studies by other researchers have observed similar phenomena when addressing education, health care reform, immigration, affirmative action, gun control, and other issues that tend to attract strong partisan opinion. Kuklinski calls this sort of response the “I know I’m right” syndrome, and considers it a “potentially formidable problem” in a democratic system. “It implies not only that most people will resist correcting their factual beliefs,” he wrote, “but also that the very people who most need to correct them will be least likely to do so.”


Write Like

Using the statistical writing analysis tool, “I Write Like”, I found out that I write like David Foster Wallace. However, Stephen King also showed up when I pasted a different piece of my writing. Interesting.

Leaders and Solitude

I don’t really have the time to fully parse out “Solitude and Leadership” by William Deresiewicz at The American Scholar, but holy cow are there some good quotes in there. I’ll follow one of his trains of thought:


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Ring Scare

I hopped on my bike to ride home on from school on this gorgeous evening. The sun illuminated everything in front of me, casting my shadow far in front of me along the bumpy pavement of Washington Avenue. I glided by Punch Pizza with its garage door up, looking at the people who were looking back at me, they dining halfway al fresco, me wishing I were dining on something. Snapping out of my reverie, I went through my compulsive check. See, ever since I began dental school, I walk out of the house the exact same way each day — wallet in my left pocket, keys in my right, phone in the change pocket on the right. I will do this check when walking, when idle, or when I’m leaving for anywhere. Turns out I unconsciously added a wedding ring check to the list.


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Will I?

The Willpower Paradox: Scientific American says that asking yourself whether you will do something results in a more open mind that can accomplish more… getting you closer to your goal. Forcing yourself doesn’t work as well as asking of yourself:


All Joy and No Fun

Why Parents Hate Parenting — New York Magazine is a great summary of the research findings that having kids makes people less happy. However, it teases out exactly what that means. For example, it’s the moment-to-moment happiness that people lose out on when they have kids. They have less freedom to do what they did before. “Small cracks” in their relationship with their spouse (which is integral to happiness) become “huge gulfs” under the pressure of children. What’s more, the later people wait in life, the more autonomy and enjoyment they have experienced from working and socializing, and therefore the more they give up when they do have children. My favorite part, however, was the idea that it isn’t so simple as moment to moment happiness… there’s a larger factor, one of purpose, to consider:


Conversational Rules

Implicature is when you suggest an idea by what you say, but your words don’t have to be taken that way. And, well, I guess there’s a whole field of linguistics where people structure how we talk with one another into ordered rules. For example, Gricean maxims deal with assumptions about your conversational partner: that their contributions are relevant, clear, true, and that they aren’t too long-winded in responses. However, the rules still work when we choose to break (flout) them:


Banana Equivalent Dose

Banana equivalent dose - Wikipedia:

A banana equivalent dose is a concept occasionally used by nuclear proponents to place in scale the dangers of radiation by comparing exposures to the radiation generated by a common banana.


Denmark Taxes

I’ve been thinking about this one for SEVEN MONTHS, and finally decided stopped being lazy enough to post it. Denmark Thrives Despite High Taxes:

Mr. PETERSEN: Yeah, there’s a kind of slack in the system.

KESTENBAUM: Denmark has an interesting kind of hybrid economy. It has this huge welfare state, but it has also fiercely embraced a lot of free market ideas. The unemployment benefits are generous, but it’s also very easy to fire people. That makes the economy nimble. Employers can get rid of workers when they dont need them and hire them back quickly when they do. Petersen says losing your job here is just not that big a deal.

Now, all countries face choices like this: How do you want to set up your economy? Those decisions shape how you live and your psychology. In Denmark, for instance, there aren’t severe class distinctions because the poor get helped, the rich get taxed, so everyone gets squashed into a big, fat middle class.

One economist told me: Look, we dont have any geniuses and we dont have the best pro athletes - they leave because of the high taxes - but overall we’re doing well.


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On Conversation

When I was little young fellow, I loved to go to the car wash with my Dad. On bitterly cold days, we’d sit in the line-up for a car wash, listening to Car Talk on NPR. At the high-intensity air-dryer at the end of the wash, I looked at the windshield wipers fluttering in the wind. I still my remember my stupid little joke that I thought was so funny at 7 years old: “It looks just like a nervous bride on her wedding day!”


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