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Archive for the ‘General Interest’ Category

Weekend Reading, Volume 15

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I haven’t posted a collection of links in awhile.  I’ve just been too fixated on the Phillies, I guess.  No—wait!—it’s not even possible to be too fixated on the Phillies.  Anyway, I haven’t stopped wasting spending time on the web, so there’s quite a backlog.

  • What’s the best thing in this week’s New York Times Magazine?  I think it has to be this piece on doughnuts, which, among other things, has Washington Irving saying that a New Amsterdam table “was always sure to boast an enormous dish of balls of sweetened dough, fried in hog’s fat and called dough nuts.”  Be sure to check out Stephen Lewis’s accompanying photographs, too.  They’re amazing.  (That’s not one of Lewis’s above.  Sadly, I can’t afford food porn of that quality.)
  • I’m becoming a big fan of “The Wild Side,” evolutionary biologist Olivia Judson’s NYT blog.  A few weeks ago, Judson blogged about a gene variation in men that was associated, in a Swedish study, with an inability to maintain long-term monogamous relationships.  The very next week, she wrote about the evolution of male-only asexual reproduction in a few unusual species.  It’s good to be reminded just how freaky nature truly is.
  • It’s certainly been a long time—too long—since my last date, but I’m not ready to resort to a cuddle party to get some basic human contact.  Bizarrely, the local paper, The Inky, devoted many, many column inches to the topic.  The article just made me want to buy gallon after gallon of Lysol, hand sanitizer, and various other cootie-killers.  Ewwww.
  • Americans can get married nearly anywhere they want—the backyard, Las Vegas, the halftime of an Oklahoma City Thunder game.  It seems like a basic human right, doesn’t it?  (For straight people only.  Hmmm.)  It’s not that way everywhere, of course.  In England, the rules have loosened up just a little bit, but there’s a long way to go.
  • Pop or soda?  Or just coke? As I’m sure you know, what we Americans call our, um, soft drinks varies pretty dramatically from region to region.  In the Midwest, it’s pop.  In the northeast and California, it’s soda.  In the South, it’s coke.  Strange Maps recently featured a great map that shows off this regional variation.  I grew up in Oklahoma, which, as you’ll see, is one of the places where pop and coke collide.  I grew up with “pop,” in one of those counties in northeastern Oklahoma where 50-80% of the population prefers that term.  But it’s not what I say anymore.  After a decade-plus in Philly, I’ve converted to “soda.”  I’m a traitor.
  • Speaking of great maps, I enjoyed the NYT‘s interactive map showing how well nations have done at the Summer Olympics over the years.  Now is a good time, of course, to get a good view of how the Beijing Games played out.
  • Like any good devotee of Belgian beer, I’ve been closely following the political upheaval between the country’s Flemish and Walloon populations—and just hoping it doesn’t mess up the beer.  If you haven’t been following the steady slide toward devolution, here’s a good primer from BBC News as well as an article on political unhappiness in Flanders.
  • Etan Horowitz, who writes for the Orlando Sentinel and who happens to be one of my “buddies” on Twitter, explains how to change your email address as painlessly as possible.  This is something I need to get my parents—who insist on sharing an email address provided by their small-town ISP—to read.  Horowitz, by the way, is a fan of Gmail.  Me, too.

Written by Jay

October 4th, 2008 at 8:39 pm

Weekend Reading, Volume 14

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My allergies were acting up last weekend—I’m feeling much better now, thanks!—so this is a jumbo, post-sickness edition.  Here’s some of what I’ve been interested in the past two weeks.

  • We all know, of course, that flying isn’t as glamorous as it once was.  Or at all.  A NYT columnist, Michelle Higgins, served as a flight attendant on a busy day; the resulting piece is a must-read for frequent air travelers.  Also, spare a thought for the veteran flight attendant.  Says one: [W]e used to serve omelets and crepes for breakfast, and now it’s ‘Would you like to buy stackable chips or a big chocolate chip cookie for $3?’ (Be sure to check out the slideshow and first-person audio narrative that accompany the piece, too).
  • French researchers claim that the spread of the Roman Empire helps explain why persons in some regions are more vulnerable today to HIV.  According to the researchers, Roman soldiers probably carried a disease that was especially potent to persons carrying a particular gene, the CCR5-Delta32 variant.  Today, ironically, that gene variant is known to provide some protection against HIV.  In areas that were within the Empire for the longest time, the frequency of the gene is now only 0-6%.  In areas at the fringes of the Empire, the frequency is 8-11.8%.  And in areas outside the Empire, the frequency is still higher.
  • Where are all the fireflies going? Their numbers seem to be decreasing around the world.  How depressing!  I’m a big fan.  In the summer, my grandparents’ house would sometimes just be swimming in lightning bugs, and the grandkids, including me, would run around among them.  Many years later, when I was a poor grad student in Ohio, I’d pass the summer evenings by sitting on my second-floor balcony, watching all the fireflies.  It was so peaceful.
  • A British supermarket chain is giving into some cranky wordsmiths: It’s changing its express-aisle “10 items or less” signs to “10 items or fewer” notices.  I don’t think there’s much difference here in the States anymore between the two constructions.  But if you want to be fussy, here’s a primer.
  • Chrome, Google’s new browser, debuted on September 2, and I was immediately smitten.  The NYT had a good early review.  I especially like Chrome’s minimalist look and the way it allows me to visit my favorite sites by simply clicking on a thumbprint when the browser opens.  I’m pretty committed to Firefox, but Chrome may give it a run for my loyalty.  I’m probably apt to go with the one that uses the least of my precious memory….
  • You’d think a NYT article headlined “Vanishing Barns Signal a Changing Iowa” would actually contain more news and photos of old barns!  But the article is much more interested in detailing the rural-to-urban shift in Iowa.  I enjoyed the article, but I really want to know about the barns.  (The article did lead me to the website for the National Barn Alliance, which seems to be a worthy cause.)
  • Some silly ads in Vogue India depict the poorest of people carrying seriously high-end accessories.  Ugh.

Written by Jay

September 14th, 2008 at 4:01 pm

Labor Day Weekend Reading

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I’m seriously bored boring this Labor Day weekend.  Thank goodness there’s U.S. Open tennis on TV to keep me sorta halfway entertained.  If you need something to get you going, maybe one of these links will help.

  • A British cartographer thinks internet mapping is destroying history by leaving out local landmarks.  “We’re in real danger of losing what makes maps so unique,” she says.
  • One of the most stunning, exciting upsets of the Beijing Olympics was Matthew Mitcham’s win in platform diving.  In the last round, his nearly perfect dive allowed him to overtake China’s Zhou Luxin, who’d led from the very start of the finals.  Bafflingly, NBC—which spent an amazing amount of time discussing and detailing the friends and families of other divers—never mentioned that Mitcham, whose partner was in the stands, was one of the handful of openly gay men in the Games.  Later, NBC both defended and apologized for its decision.  (As always, Outsports is the place to look for news of interest to gay sports fans.)
  • In other news Olympic sports news, a United States archery coach faced criticism that his religious proselytizing crossed ethical boundaries.  In this NYT article, the coach, Kisik Lee, said archers needed an empty mind and that he wasn’t sure whether non-Christians could achieve that.  (None of the American archers earned medals in Beijing.)
  • The death of Dave Freeman, the man who wrote 100 Things to Do Before You Die, caused BBC News Magazine to ask why ‘before you die’ books are popular.  I own only one, 1001 Paintings You Must See Before You Die, but it’s just something I browse through once in awhile; it’s no life mission for me.  Are people really looking for life missions in checklist form?
  • In a fascinating Q&A in Salon, historian of religion James P. Carse, author of The Religious Case Against Belief, disputes the idea that the world’s great religions have any underlying unity at all.  Transcendence, for instance, is a Christian/Western notion, he says, one that’s difficult to find in Buddhism and not a real emphasis of Judaism.  Carse also argues that poets inspired religion.  I’m not entirely sure I fully understand Carse’s central thesis, but I’m putting The Religious Case into my to-be-read pile.

Written by Jay

August 30th, 2008 at 9:55 pm