Friday, October 31, 2008

War of the Worlds

It was the night before Halloween, seventy years ago, when Orson Wells launched his famous radio drama that did more than entertain a great many people. You can read the script plus listen to the original broadcast on Radio Heard Here.

For more information about this famous broadcast, check out our earlier post "War of the Worlds": Behind the 1938 Radio Show Panic.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Tony Hillerman

May 27, 1925 - October 26, 2008

Monday, October 27, 2008

August Strindberg & Helium

Helium is a buoyant pink balloon and his best pal Strindberg is, well . . . Strindberg. As Very Short List puts it, "Strindberg struggles with the hell of daily existence. Helium delivers kisses and cupcakes."

You can watch four short, funny animations featuring the pair at August Strindberg & Helium.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Google Mail Goggles

If your mother was doing her job, she warned you never to send off a scathing letter in the heat of passion. Sure, write it, but then tuck it away in the drawer overnight and then throw it away in the morning.

Reportedly, even Mark Twain didn't send off his angry letters, even though his are a lot funnier than ours, as witness his complaint to the Hartford Gas & Electric Co.:

Some day you will move me almost to the verge of irritation by your chuckle-headed Goddamned fashion of shutting your Goddamned gas off without giving any notice to your Goddamned parishioners. Several times you have come within an ace of smothering half of this household in their beds and blowing up the other half by this idiotic, not to say criminal, custom of yours. And it has happened again today. Haven't you a telephone?

The point is Twain didn't send that letter, and neither should you.

Sadly, email has made it even easier to send indiscreet missives. Having noticed that the email equivalent of drinking & dialing causes untold human misery, Google has come to our rescue with Mail Goggles.

Here's how it works. When enabled on Gmail (Google's email tool), Mail Goggles becomes active late at night on the weekends. When it detects late night email activity, it will test whether you really want to send that email to your, say, ex-boyfriend by asking you first to complete a few math problems. Once the program has verified that you are in your right mind, it will allow you to send the email. Otherwise, it holds it until the next morning and double-checks with you then.

You control the difficulty of the math problems. As the wits on Wait Wait . . . Don't Tell Me!  observed last week, it's too bad Google doesn't have a version for English majors, where--instead of math problems--we would be asked to name the four March sisters in 15 seconds.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

“It ain’t what you don’t know that hurts you. It’s what you know that ain’t so.”

Will Rogers said, "It ain’t what you don’t know that hurts you. It’s what you know that ain’t so." Or maybe it was Mark Twain who said it? Or Sachel Paige? Josh Billings? Yogi Berra?! Whatever. The point stands as a staple of folk wisdom: firmly held and unquestioned beliefs get people into trouble because we're often wrong.

Very Short List: Science calls our attention to an addition to this discussion, Robert Burton's book On Being Certain:

Robert Burton is a neurologist (and novelist) who marshals scientific and psychological arguments and concludes that our strongest convictions can arise just as readily from prelogical processes as from rational thought. Alarmingly, Burton also suggests that our sense of certainty attaches as readily and firmly to false ideas as to true ones — and feels precisely the same whether we’re dead right or totally wrong. (our emphasis)

According to Burton, confidence in our untested beliefs may have given us an evolutionary edge by allowing us to act decisively in moments of crisis . . . but sometimes we assume too much and get ourselves in trouble.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Sorted Books | Revealed Meaning

The Sorted Book Project is a creation of Nina Katchadourian:

The Sorted Books project began in 1993 years ago and is ongoing. The project has taken place in many different places over the years, ranging form private homes to specialized public book collections. The process is the same in every case: culling through a collection of books, pulling particular titles, and eventually grouping the books into clusters so that the titles can be read in sequence, from top to bottom. The final results are shown either as photographs of the book clusters or as the actual stacks themselves, shown on the shelves of the library they were drawn from. Taken as a whole, the clusters from each sorting aim to examine that particular library's focus, idiosyncrasies, and inconsistencies — a cross-section of that library's holdings. At present, the Sorted Books project comprises more than 130 book clusters.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Lying Emails

As if email weren't already tricky enough, now a researcher at Lehigh University has demonstrated that "people using e-mail lied almost 50 percent more often than those using pen-and-paper": 

“There is a growing concern in the workplace over e-mail communications, and it comes down to trust,” says Belkin, an assistant professor of management in the College of Business and Economics. “You’re not afforded the luxury of seeing non-verbal and behavioral cues over e-mail. And in an organizational context, that leaves a lot of room for misinterpretation and, as we saw in our study, intentional deception.”

. . .  “It’s not just that e-mailers were more deceptive,” Belkin says. “It’s that the magnitude by which they lied was significantly greater.”

You can read a press release on the study here.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Banned Book Week Display

We're shame-faced to say we missed Banned Books Week this year (September 27 - October 4). Luckily Boing Boing caught wind of how the event was celebrated at Twin Hickory Area Library in Glen Allen, Virginia. The library created a window display (above) and enlisted volunteers to sit there and read banned and challenged books.

For more on Banned Books Week, see the American Library Association .

Friday, October 17, 2008

"Why can't a woman be more like a man?" . . . and Vice Versa?

In My Fair Lady, Professor Higgins asks, "Why can't a woman be more like a man?"

The BBC's Science & Nature web page says, "Some researchers say that men can have 'women's brains' and that women can think more like men." And the BBC invites you to learn more about brain sex differences by taking their online Sex ID test, designed to test whether your brain is more typically male or female.

We scored a zero on the quiz. No, that score doesn't mean we failed the Sex ID test; it just means our brain is exactly halfway between male and female.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Everything You Need to Know . . .

The Money Meltdown
. . . is a web site put together by an online journalist to provide "useful, authoritative, and comprehensive information about our current financial crisis in an accessible way." Think of it as a crib sheet for understanding what happened, how it happened, how it compares to bailouts of the past, and how to visualize $700 billion.

On a single webpage , you'll find a link of the day and a collection of useful links pertaining to
  1. Background
  2. Key Facts
  3. What's Next
  4. Your Money
  5. Catharsis (the Jon Stewart clip is especially good!)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Umbrella Today?

Just enter your zip code at and get the world's simplest weather report. The nifty part is that you can sign up for Umbrella Today? alerts to your cell phone, thus making sure that you're never caught unawares when you leave the house.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

48 Years of Presidential Debates: "The visual medium of television shades reality"

Debating our Destiny is "A look at the pivotal moments from the last 48 years of presidential debates through the eyes of those who were there. . . . On this website, visitors can take a closer look behind the past 48 years of presidential debates by reading background essays, viewing video clips of these meetings, and also by watching the documentary in its entirety."

Think you're up on your presidential debate history? Try the fun Debate Quotes quiz on the site's homepage.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Science Tattoo Emporium

Who knew that science geeks had tatts? Well, they do. Representations of uranium atoms on ribcages, molecular structures on arms, dinosaurs creeping up legs, the web of life covering backs, and Darwin's influence everywhere. Below are a few samples, but you should look at all the inspired tattoos at the Science Tattoo Emporium.

Einstein v. Newton, on the arms of a physics major:

A carbon tattoo with Jetsons-inspired coloration celebrates graduate work in organic chemistry:

The owner of a double helix (received on the occasion of the submission of his PhD thesis) poses with James Watson, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA:

Friday, October 10, 2008

University of Wyoming's Digital Initiative

From the UW Digital Iniitiative web site:

Since 2002 the Initiative has collaborated to build digital collections of scholarly and general interest with other partners from across campus, the state of Wyoming, and the region. The Initiative is a member of the Collaborative Digitization Program and is a member of several CDP working groups to establish best practices and projects, including Western Trails, the Rocky Mountain Online Archive (RMOA), and Sound Model. Other Initiative projects include establishing the Wyoming Memory Portal, a gateway to Wyoming’s primary resources; and a collaborative digitization project with the Rocky Mountain Herbarium.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Sticks and Stones . . . and Sweetie-Pie

OAP - Old Angry Person
Originally uploaded by Jack.ed
Turns out that "elderspeak" irritates many older people so much that it can actually make them sick.

Elderspeak describes the belittling form of address to older people which includes sprinkling in pseudo-endearments ("Sweetie," "Dear"), speaking in a louder than normal voice, and assuming the person is not competent (about computers, to order food, etc.). Today's New York Times reports that "Those little insults can lead to more negative images of aging . . .. And those who have more negative images of aging have worse functional health over time, including lower rates of survival.”

Health care workers, apparently, are the worse offenders, putting people in nursing homes in a precarious situation. Tolerate the elderspeak, and they may fume. Speak out against it aggressively, and they may receive less care.

You can read the whole article at "In ‘Sweetie’ and ‘Dear,’ a Hurt for the Elderly."

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Basic Computer Tips | Clip 'n' Save!

On his blog Pogue'sPosts , David Pogue of The New York Times's has posted the most useful Tech Tips for the Basic Computer User. We reproduce the tips the most useful for word processing here:
  • You can double-click a word to highlight it in any document, e-mail or Web page.
  • When you get an e-mail message from eBay or your bank, claiming that you have an account problem or a question from a buyer, it’s probably a “phishing scam” intended to trick you into typing your password. Don’t click the link in the message. If in doubt, go into your browser and type “” (or whatever) manually.
  • Nobody, but nobody, is going to give you half of $80 million to help them liberate the funds of a deceased millionaire…from Nigeria or anywhere else.
  • You can hide all windows, revealing only what’s on the computer desktop, with one keystroke: hit the Windows key and “D” simultaneously in Windows, or press F11 on Macs (on recent Mac laptops, Command+F3; Command is the key with the cloverleaf logo). That’s great when you want examine or delete something you’ve just downloaded to the desktop, for example. Press the keystroke again to return to what you were doing.
  • You can enlarge the text on any Web page. In Windows, press Ctrl and the plus or minus keys (for bigger or smaller fonts); on the Mac, it’s the Command key and plus or minus.
  • You can also enlarge the entire Web page or document by pressing the Control key as you turn the wheel on top of your mouse. On the Mac, this enlarges the entire screen image.
. . . .
  • When someone sends you some shocking e-mail and suggests that you pass it on, don’t. At least not until you’ve first confirmed its truth at, the Internet’s authority on e-mailed myths. This includes get-rich schemes, Microsoft/AOL cash giveaways, and–especially lately–nutty scare-tactic messages about our Presidential candidates.
  • You can tap the Space bar to scroll down on a Web page one screenful. Add the Shift key to scroll back up.
  • When you’re filling in the boxes on a Web page (like City, State, Zip), you can press the Tab key to jump from box to box, rather than clicking. Add the Shift key to jump through the boxes backwards.
. . . . .
  • When you’re searching for something on the Web using, say, Google, put quotes around phrases that must be searched together. For example, if you put quotes around “electric curtains,” Google won’t waste your time finding one set of Web pages containing the word “electric” and another set containing the word “curtains.”
  • You can use Google to do math for you. Just type the equation, like 23*7+15/3=, and hit Enter.
  • Oh, yeah: on the computer,* means “times” and / means “divided by.”
  • If you can’t find some obvious command, like Delete in a photo program, try clicking using the right-side mouse button. (On the Mac, you can Control-click instead.)
  • Google is also a units-of-measurement and currency converter. Type “teaspoons in 1.3 gallons,” for example, or “euros in 17 dollars.” Click Search to see the answer.
  • You can open the Start menu by tapping the key with the Windows logo on it.
  • You can switch from one open program to the next by pressing Alt+Tab (Windows) or Command-Tab (Mac).
  • You generally can’t send someone more than a couple of full-size digital photos as an e-mail attachment; those files are too big, and they’ll bounce back to you. (Instead, use iPhoto or Picasa–photo-organizing programs that can automatically scale down photos in the process of e-mailing them.)
. . . . .
  • Just putting something into the Trash or the Recycle Bin doesn’t actually delete it. You then have to *empty* the Trash or Recycle Bin. (Once a year, I hear about somebody whose hard drive is full, despite having practically no files. It’s because over the years, they’ve put 79 gigabytes’ worth of stuff in the Recycle Bin and never emptied it.)
  • You don’t have to type “http://www” into your Web browser. Just type the remainder: “” or “,” for example. (In the Safari browser, you can even leave off the “.com” part.)
. . . . .
  • Come up with an automated backup system for your computer. There’s no misery quite like the sick feeling of having lost chunks of your life because you didn’t have a safety copy.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Beauty Surrounds Us

National Museum of the American Indian presents an online version of the exhibit Beauty Surrounds Us which presents a range of objects and activities divided into categories such as "Nurturing Identity," "Elegance of Presentation," and "Power of Transformation." The beautiful objects originate with Native peoples of both North and South America and include traditional materials and contemporary media.

Picture below, Kayapó  man's headdress (Gorotire, Brazil, Cordage, feathers, wool yarn, cotton twine, 25/4894):

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Colors of the Night

"It often seems to me that the night is much more alive and richly coloured than the day." (Vincent van Gogh, Arles, 8 September 1888)

Van Gogh and the Colors of the Night is a beautiful online exhibit from MoMA featuring works depicting night and twilight. (Above, The Sower, 1888, a twilight picture.) The exhibit includes commentary, audio clips, sketches, pages from Van Gogh's journals, and gorgeous web representations of the paintings.