"The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the quantity group: fifty pound of pots rated an A, forty pounds a B, and so on. Those being graded on quality, however, needed to produce only one pot—albeit a perfect one—to get an A. Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the quantity group was busily churning out piles of work—and learning from their mistakes—the quality group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay." [David Bayles and Ted Orland: Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking]
"Long before he became chairman of Fox News Channel, Roger Ailes had sketched the limited horizon of campaign journalism: 'There are four things the media are interested in,' he said back in 1988. 'They're interested in polls, they're interested in pictures, they're interested in mistakes, and they're interested in attacks.'" [Salon]
"They had three breakers of water, with enough for the 35 survivors to each have six ounces a day for as many as 10 days. The captain decided to be pessimistic. He rationed two ounces twice a day, served in a pair of enamel cups handed around the boat. … The next day, the survivors in lifeboat No. 4 were found by a British naval ship off the coast of Barbados after 10 days at sea and run-ins with a U-boat and sharks. They were all alive, even the cook, who had tried to drown himself several times during the ordeal (God told him to take his fill of the sea, he explained) and then to hang himself from the lifeboat's mast. ('Aw, it's this damned bastard again,' said the crew member who cut him down.)" [The New York Times: Elizabeth Fowler b. 1908: Lifeboat]
"One of his [Robert Provine, a professor of psychology at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County] experiments involved listening in on public conversations and observing when people laughed. 'Most laughter in everyday life,' he says, 'follows things that aren't funny.' (Just like in a sitcom!) We don't generally laugh for conscious reasons. A list of 25 'typical prelaugh comments' included such corkers as 'I'll see you guys later' and 'It was nice meeting you, too.' Often the person who laughs first is the one who has just spoken—in what might be thought of as an attempt at a laugh track of one. And while many studies have confirmed the rather obvious idea that laughter is contagious, Provine effectively undercut the 'conformity' idea with an experiment. Using a novelty-store gizmo, he simply pressed a button that emitted 19 seconds of laughter, in front of 128 students, in three groups. On the basis of this openly artificial stimulus, more than 90 percent smiled, and nearly half laughed.
Provine speculates about a 'laugh detector' hard-wired in our brains, which simply triggers our own titters and guffaws when we hear someone—anyone—else's. But hard-wiring aside, anyone who has lately sat stone-faced through a ''Green Acres'' rerun can tell you that canned laughter doesn't always work. In his laughing-gizmo experiment, Provine found that his students' reactions to recorded laughter deteriorated quickly; by the 10th laugh blast, some were grimacing." [The New York Times: Charles Douglass, b. 1910: Making Us Laugh]
"The police were called frequently as the relationship turned violent. Renee moved on her own to a small studio in Far Rockaway, Queens. But her husband soon followed, and they divided the space with a curtain so as not to have to look at each other. Year after year, the walls of the space they inhabited seemed to close ever tighter around them. All the elements assumed to constitute a matrimonial bond (love, sex, companionship, cooperation) had long disappeared, if indeed they had ever been present. Yet attempts to leave each other entangled them only further, the tie of their arguments binding them ever closer. Psychologists refer to 'conflict-habituated relationships,' and although the phrase has a misleadingly passive sound, it is usually true that habit plays a role. The Silecchias' relationship was like a case that would never settle but that neither party could bear to drop.
Renee Silecchia, as it turned out, had the last word. On Sept. 12, her husband returned to the apartment in the evening to the usual heated conflict, which climaxed that night in the two hitting each other through the curtain with copper-rimmed baskets. As the argument turned to embers, she went into the bathroom to wash up. When she came out, she made one last remark, but—for the first time in 40 years—Jack Silecchia had no response. She walked to the other side of the curtain and found him lying on the floor of the kitchenette." [The New York Times: Jack Silecchia, b. 1929: Married to Animosity]
"Back in 1937, an economist named Ronald Coase realized something that helped explain the rise of modern corporations—and which just might explain the coming decline of the American two-party political system.
Coase's insight was this: The cost of gathering information determines the size of organizations.
It sounds abstract, but in the past it meant that complex tasks undertaken on vast scales required organizational behemoths. This was as true for the Democratic and Republican parties as it was for General Motors. Choosing and marketing candidates isn't so different from designing, manufacturing and selling automobiles.
But the Internet has changed all that in one crucial respect that wouldn't surprise Coase one bit. To an economist, the 'trick' of the Internet is that it drives the cost of information down to virtually zero. So according to Coase's theory, smaller information-gathering costs mean smaller organizations. And that's why the Internet has made it easier for small folks, whether small firms or dark-horse candidates such as Howard Dean, to take on the big ones.
Say you want to buy an appliance, or a vacation. You know there are bargains out there, but it takes time and energy to find them. That's what economists call the 'transaction cost' of a purchase. This cost of acquiring information is everywhere: the time it takes to call a friend or to learn something in a newspaper. Or the time and resources it takes a company to find out where to find parts and to make sure they show up at an assembly line on time.
Back when it cost a great deal to learn and know things—when transaction costs were very high—big corporations had to solve the problem of coordinating information, such as what customers wanted to buy, what parts were being produced and shipped, how to make sure prices covered costs, and so on. The advent of mass production and similar 'process' technologies let firms produce and sell things—cars, steel, oil, chemicals, food—on a much larger scale, so there was suddenly much more information to coordinate.
Companies solved this problem by creating massive bureaucratic pyramids … The job of these internal hierarchies is to gather, validate and store the information the company needed to coordinate all its activities. That's what 'middle managers' in marketing, accounting and so on manage—information.
Now, however, with internal communications networks and the speed of the Internet, you don't need a horde of people in a big pyramid to handle all that information. Firms have become 'flatter' and 'faster,' and the 'networked' or 'virtual' company has come into being … [The Washington Post]
A flight in the United States proved lucky for a British woman who suffered a heart attack. Fifteen heart specialists, all bound for a medical conference in Florida, stood up to offer help when a cabin attendant asked, "Is there a doctor on board?"
Dorothy Fletcher, 67, who had been on her way from Britain to her daughter's wedding, said Wednesday that she owed her life to the doctors. [Yahoo News]
"When a honeybee dies it releases a death pheromone, a characteristic odour that signals the survivors to remove it from the hive. The corpse is promptly pushed and tugged out of the hive. The death pheromone is oleic acid. What happens if a live bee is dabbed with a drop of oleic acid? Then no matter how strapping and vigourous it might be, it is carried kicking and screaming out of the hive." [Carl Sagan, "Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors"]
"The trail begins in the tenth century, when a scribe made a unique copy of the most important mathematics that Archimedes ever developed. For 200 years the document survived, but the mathematics in it was so complex that no one paid it any attention. So when one day a monk was looking for some new parchment—an expensive commodity at the time—to write a new prayer book, the answer seemed obvious. He used the Archimedes manuscript. He washed the Greek text off the pages, cut them in half, rebound them, and turned the Archimedes manuscript into an everyday prayer book. As he piously wrote out his prayers, he had no idea of the genius he was obliterating." [BBC]
"Not long after its sale for roughly double the appraised amount in the fall of 1998, the manuscript's anonymous billionaire owner loans it to the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland, where a team of restorers and scholars are cleaning, imaging, and translating the Archimedes palimpsest at last …" [Nova]
"Moore told a story—possibly apocryphal, but wonderful nonetheless—about the early road shows evangelizing the telephone. To demonstrate the new technology, Moore said, the evangelists would unspool some copper wire, stretch it across the stage, connect two phones, and show how two people could talk to one another over the wire. But nobody got it. Any fool could plainly see that those two people could as easily shout across the stage to one another! Who would need a telephone? They didn't get that the wire could also stretch across continents and oceans!" [Jon's Radio]
"Gail Thackeray once told me that 15 percent of the population was impeccably honest and would rather starve than steal. And fifteen percent would steal anything not nailed down. And the cause of law enforcement was to establish an atmosphere of deterrence that would win the hearts and minds of the remaining 70 percent." [Bruce Sterling on the Well]
"A young Colombian thief hid in a parcel delivered to a wealthy home but his planned burglary went wrong when suspicious security guards called in bomb disposal experts, police said on Tuesday. Guards at the condominium in the city of Medellin feared the strange, heavy package dropped off by a private vehicle could explode and phoned for help in Monday's incident, a police spokesman said." [Yahoo! News]
Joseph Fouche became Prefect of Police of Paris under Napoleon. 6 days a week, Fouche sent secret reports to Napoleon about the following topics: 1. Palace gossip. 2. Audience reaction to a new play. 3. Stock market prices. 4. Desertions from the army. 5. Arrests of foreign agents. 6. Results of interrogations. 7. News of crime. 8. Offenses by soldiers. 9. Fires. 10. Rebellion against the Gendarmarie. 11. Intercepted correspondence. 12. Visiting personages. 13. Public reception of news of victories. 14. Shipping news. 15. Indiscretions of FouchÃ©'s enemies. 16. Contractor's tenders. 17. Agitation against the draft. 18. Suicides. 19. Prison epidemics. 20. Progress of construction. 21. Unemployment figures. 22. Extracts from inter-ministerial correspondence. 23. Persons detained or under special surveillance [Joseph Fouche]
"Phil Lee, a former construction worker in his 60s, says he'll use some of the nearly $100,000 (US$76,000) he won in the lottery to buy a less than reverent tombstone.
Lee said his headstone will read, 'Been there, done that' and show 'a champagne glass, a royal flush, a slot machine, a nude woman facing backwards and a stick of dynamite with a lit fuse.' …
… Lee said he also would buy a new set of teeth and some good walking shoes, share some of the money with his family and try 'to break the Hollywood Casino' in Prince George." [Seattle Post-Intelligencer]
"Let's start with a very simple white puffy cloud—a cumulus cloud. How much does the water in a cumulus cloud weigh? Peggy LeMone, senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, did the numbers.
'The water in the little cloud weighs about 550 tons,' she calculates. 'Or if you want to convert it to something that might be a little more meaningful … think of elephants.'
Assume an elephant weighs about six tons, she says, that would mean that water inside a typical cumulous cloud would weigh about one hundred elephants.
So how many elephant units of water are inside a big storm cloud Σ 10 times bigger all the way around than the "puffy" cumulus cloud? Again, LeMone did the numbers: About 200,000 elephants.
Now, ratchet up the calculations for a hurricane about the size of Missouri and the figures get really massive. …
The result? Forty million elephants. That means the water in one hurricane weighs more than all the elephants on the planet. Perhaps even more than all the elephants that have ever lived on the planet." [ABC News]
"Rambling Rudy Phillips, who spent his teenage years hopping freight trains to everywhere and nowhere and lived to become one of America's last and best-known Depression-era hobos, died on Jan. 9 in Harrisburg, Ill.
He was 92 when he caught 'the westbound to heaven,' in the time-honored hobo saying …
In 1986, Mr. Phillips was crowned King of the Hobos at the National Hobo Convention in Britt, Iowa, an event that began in 1900 when a group of hobos from Chicago who called themselves Tourists Union No. 63 began convening there. …
He was married seven times, experiences he described to The Post-Dispatch as shipwrecks on the Sea of Matrimony.
'He told me once that he went to the bank in Shawneetown and told the banker he needed $4,000 to pay off wife No. 3, divorce wife No. 4 and marry wife No. 5,' his son said." [The New York Times (25 January 2004): 24]
"A postcard mailed to a 7-year-old girl in a hospital has arrived—almost 48 years after she died of an inoperable brain tumor.
Marilyn DeVrieze said her niece, Sharon Kaye Thiele, treasured a special pair of red shoes and was even photographed for a newspaper story with the shoes when she spent about 3 months in Moline Public Hospital in 1956-57 before she died of the tumor.
People from across America mailed cards to the youngster when she was a patient at the hospital, DeVrieze of Rock Island, Ill., said. …
One of those cards addressed to the eldest daughter of Vernon and Lois Thiele of Moline, Ill., mailed Nov. 6, 1956, from Portland, Ore., arrived Tuesday, nearly 48 years too late.
The card was discovered by Trinity Medical Center employees, and DeVrieze picked it up Wednesday when she learned it existed." [Boston.com]
"Lysenkoism refers to an episode in Russian science featuring a non-scientific peasant plant-breeder named Trofim Denisovich Lysenko [1898-1976]. Lysenko was the leading proponent of Michurianism during the Lenin/Stalin years. …
When the rest of the scientific world were pursuing the ideas of Mendel and developing the new science of genetics, Russia led the way in the effort to prevent the new science from being developed in the Soviet Union. Thus, while the rest of the scientific world could not conceive of understanding evolution without genetics, the Soviet Union used its political power to make sure that none of their scientists would advocate a genetic role in evolution.
It was due to Lysenko's efforts that many real scientists, those who were geneticists or who rejected Lamarckism in favor of natural selection, were sent to the gulags or simply disappeared from the USSR. …
Under Lysenko's guidance, science was guided not by the most likely theories, backed by appropriately controlled experiments, but by the desired ideology. Science was practiced in the service of the State, or more precisely, in the service of ideology. The results were predictable: the steady deterioration of Soviet biology." [Lysenkoism]
"Even tourists to Alexandria could not escape the voracious appetite of the Library. Upon entering the city, their books were confiscated and taken to the scribes. The books were copied so that while the original was donated to the Library, a duplicate could graciously be given to the original owner." [Simon Singh's Fermat's Enigma]
"A note sent aloft on a green balloon 20 years ago by an elementary school student was returned to him this week by someone who lives halfway across the state.
Shane Fleeger, now 30, received the laminated note he had sent out as a fourth-grader at Connoquenessing Elementary School in Butler. The note, which arrived Tuesday to the school office, had asked the receiver to please send it back.
Somehow, the note made its way about 170 miles southeast to Robert Brindle's farm in St. Thomas, Franklin County, about an hour south of Harrisburg.
Brindle, 49, said he thinks he found the note about 15 years ago, but doesn't remember exactly when he found it, only how." [AP]
"A Jordanian woman has received formal divorce papers 42 years after her husband left, and long after she remarried and had children, the official Petra news agency says.
The 68-year-old man divorced his wife verbally in 1962, but only registered his new marital status two weeks ago, when he needed to apply for an official identity card, Petra said." [Reuters]
"Postmortem Divorce: A phenomenon among Japanese women who, unhappy in their marriages, secretly arrange to have themselves buried anywhere but beside their husbands." [Wired]
"In North America, the inhabitants were nomadic, living off the abundant wildlife. Evidence shows that about A.D. 800, agriculture began in earnest as the population increased. Interestingly enough, tribal wars did not begin to any real degree until then. Apparently the investment of work in the land gave the feeling of proprietorship, and aroused feelings of competition between the different tribes." [miraclestories.org]
"The decomposed body of a man dressed in pajamas was discovered in an abandoned Tokyo apartment building 20 years after he is believed to have died, police said Thursday.
A Tokyo Metropolitan Police official said construction workers were preparing to tear down the building earlier this month when they found the man's skeletal remains laying face-up on a mattress on the tatami reed mat floor of a second-floor room.
The morning edition of a newspaper dated Feb. 20, 1984 was on a table nearby and a calendar, opened to the same month, hung on the wall, said the official, who refused to be identified. …
The man, identified only as former worker of the company that built the apartments, was in his mid-50s when he divorced his wife, left home and moved into the building in the early 1980s, the official said.
Police believe the man had been unable to repay bank loans and had stopped showing up for work, according to the newspaper reports.
But nobody noticed his death because the real estate agency managing the property went out of business after the building was completed in 1973 without ever having found renters, he said. The building had been unoccupied since it was completed." [Yahoo News]
"… the sentence that you need to master in order to become a real ventriloquist is 'Who dared to put wet fruit bat poo in our dead mummy's bed; was that you, Verity?'" [Neil Gaiman's blog]