Archive for February 2011
John Moe’s story about teenage girls may surprise you.
I was there for a parent-teacher conference a few months ago, I noticed the older girls traveling in packs, whispering, laughing with mockery at whichever poor victim they were savaging at the time. I didn’t know these girls, but I didn’t like them.
(@matthewbaldwin deserves a shout out, though I always read & love Lives)
Another in the large pile of “most things about wine are bullshit” stories. This author did a statistical analysis:
Using descriptions of 3,000 bottles, ranging from $5 to $200 in price from an online aggregator of reviews, I first derived a weight for every word, based on the frequency with which it appeared on cheap versus expensive bottles. I then looked at the combination of words used for each bottle, and calculated the probability that the wine would fall into a given price range. The result was, essentially, a Bayesian classifier for wine.
(via more of what i like)
Timothy Snyder offers some new details on the age old question of “who was worse?” Doing the morbid calculus with new data leads to a result that turns the conventional wisdom — Hilter the eviler, Stalin the deadlier — on it’s head (I wouldn’t pull this but that I understand that not everyone likes to read NYRB articles):
All in all, the Germans deliberately killed about 11 million noncombatants, a figure that rises to more than 12 million if foreseeable deaths from deportation, hunger, and sentences in concentration camps are included. For the Soviets during the Stalin period, the analogous figures are approximately six million and nine million. These figures are of course subject to revision, but it is very unlikely that the consensus will change again as radically as it has since the opening of Eastern European archives in the 1990s.
Adam Gopnik does a laudatory job cataloging and categorizing the works of those who aim to explain our current relationship to technology. Offering blows against both the unbridled pessimism of Nick Carr (a “better-never” in Gopnik’s words), and the unbridled optimism of Clay Shirky (a “never-better”), he gives the critical distance all great literary reviews should. The third group Gopnik names, the “ever-wasers”, are the most interesting and least discussed. Consider this point:
Everything that is said about the Internet’s destruction of “interiority” was said for decades about television, and just as loudly.
(via Austin Kleon)
Phil Dingra offers some personal testimony to the growing consensus that mindfulness meditation is a very good practice for your life.
Every year, I can tell Mad Men is back on the air by a small spike in traffic to this post. Daniel Mendelsohn’s take on the show is more thorough, and more mixed, but this paragraph nails why I stopped watching:
Worst of all—in a drama with aspirations to treating social and historical “issues”—the show is melodramatic rather than dramatic. By this I mean that it proceeds, for the most part, like a soap opera, serially (and often unbelievably) generating, and then resolving, successive personal crises (adulteries, abortions, premarital pregnancies, interracial affairs, alcoholism and drug addiction, etc.), rather than exploring, by means of believable conflicts between personality and situation, the contemporary social and cultural phenomena it regards with such fascination: sexism, misogyny, social hypocrisy, racism, the counterculture, and so forth.
Oliver Burkeman discusses the poorly named but interesting idea of “kakonomics”:
it suggests – against conventional wisdom – that we often tacitly want the organisations we work for, along with our friends and even partners, to be mediocre and not deliver what they promise.
A charming little piece.
(via The Browser)
Don’t read this story for tips to become a memory champ — it’s that same “memory palace” idea you’ve heard before and ignored — read it for the story, admire the time someone took to style the page, and enjoy the tidbits like this:
True, what I hoped for before I started hadn’t come to pass: these techniques didn’t improve my underlying memory (the “hardware” of “Rhetorica ad Herennium”). I still lost my car keys. And I was hardly a fount of poetry. Even once I was able to squirrel away more than 30 digits a minute in memory palaces, I seldom memorized the phone numbers of people I actually wanted to call. It was easier to punch them into my cellphone. The techniques worked; I just didn’t always use them. Why bother when there’s paper, a computer or a cellphone to remember for you?
A charming essay by Ken Jennings:
Indeed, playing against Watson turned out to be a lot like any other Jeopardy! game, though out of the corner of my eye I could see that the middle player had a plasma screen for a face. Watson has lots in common with a top-ranked human Jeopardy! player: It’s very smart, very fast, speaks in an uneven monotone, and has never known the touch of a woman.