Interesting Articles: Nov 22nd-28th 2005

* Lynne Truss Has Another Gripe With You (New York Times). While the first page or two of the article is about her new book on courtesy, the rest is much more interesting: a profile of her. It explores how her personality and life contributed to her books and yet are to some extent at odds with her books.
* This Is Your Brain Under Hypnosis (New York Times). A quite clear study reflecting the existence of hypnosis and hints of its neurological mechanism and effect.
* Light Poles Are Vanishing, and Baltimore's Police Are Baffled (New York Times). How odd.
* Students Ace State Tests, but Earn D's From U.S. (New York Times). A story about the inappropriate incentives for developing tests (by making them too easy) and the need for uniform standards. The article Poor Grades Aside, Athletes Get Into College on a $399 Diploma (New York Times) further emphasizes this need for standards.
* Bring Bridge Back to the Table (New York Times). Ahem.


I spent an unseasonably cold Thanksgiving in Chicago from November 23rd 2005 to November 27th 2005 with my parents and one set of grandparents. I attended a huge (more than two dozen people) and very high quality dinner at the house of one of my distant relatives. With my parents, we explored downtown Chicago, took a neat walking architectural tour from the Chicago Architecture Foundation (I believe this was the "Architecture of Culture and Commerce" tour, chosen mainly due to its convenient start time), wandered through Millennium Park (eh), and drove through IIT (where I first learned Mies van der Rohe architecture generally doesn't appeal to me), University of Chicago, and Northwestern (which has a nice gothic campus). Apparently I visited (or at least drove by) the Baha'i House of Worship, though I have no memory of it. And I worked hard writing a paper due the day I returned to school. Sadly, I never documented my experiences from this trip.

While downtown, we stopped to eat at Russian Tea Time. We shared a classic beef stroganoff, nicely creamy and with good quality meat. Well executed. We also had quite buttery pirogies (technically "dumpling combination" as listed on the menu). And, according to the receipt, we also had some form of meatballs. The restaurant is fairly fancy.

Interesting Articles: Nov 15th-21st 2005

* Tenure, Turnover and the Quality of Teaching (New York Times). An enlightening summary of a study examining these things.
* Why the United States Should Look to Japan for Better Schools (New York Times). I agree. I still don't understand why we don't generally use "best practices" for teaching.

Online Life:
* Online Dating? Thin and Rich Works Here, Too (New York Times). Includes a few neat statistics on how various features effect the amount of interest one gets.
* E-Mail Is So Five Minutes Ago (BusinessWeek). So true. There are better alternatives to e-mail for some tasks.

* Light Field Photography with a Hand-Held Plenoptic Camera (Stanford University Computer Science Tech Report). They've invented a new camera and appropriate algorithms that, given a single exposure, can reconstruct the image with whatever focal length or depth of field you want. Neat. (Infinitely more useful than, say, crummy camera phones.)
* Defense Mechanism: Circumcision averts some HIV infections (Science News). A strikingly strong effect.
* Timid Mice Made Daring by Removing One Gene (New York Times). Every month or two it feels like I post another article demonstrating a simple single-gene control of a complex behavior...
* The 11-Year Quest to Create Disappearing Colored Bubbles (Popular Science). A cool story.
* Study Identifies Heart Patient's Best Friend (New York Times). Not surprising if you think about it -- pets (including dogs) make people relaxed and more comfortable, and that tends to make people healthier.

Language Oddities: (can you believe this gets its own category this week?)
* "Deferred Success" is new term for failure? Cute but strange uses of language.
* 'Literary' texts no more? (CNN). Classic works compressed into text messages, for learning and humor. :)
* One Well-Read Home Has Some New Pets: 1,082 Penguins (New York Times). The goal is laudable: reading every Penguin Classic.

Interesting Articles: Nov 8th-14th 2005

* The End of Pensions (New York Times). An easy to read overview of the state of the pension system, both government and private, and how it got the way it is.
* Oil and Grilling Don't Mix (Washington Post). A neat article, if only for the method by which it references senators.

* Got 2 Extra Hours for Your E-Mail? (New York Times). Right on.

* Early Stress in Rats Bites Memory Later On: Inadequate care to young animals delivers delayed hit to the brain (Science News). In short, rats abused when kids look fine psychologically as young adults but show memory and other cognitive issues in middle age. If you can't read the Science News article, check the original source: Mechanisms of Late-Onset Cognitive Decline after Early-Life Stress (Journal of Neuroscience).
* Cool Birds: How can emperor penguins live like that? (Science News). While not deep or surprising in any way, the article is an entertaining and very well written overview of penguin life.
* High Times for Brain Growth: Marijuana-like drug multiplies neurons (Science News). I wonder if this research could have been done in the U.S.?

* An Organic Cash Cow (New York Times). An overview of the organic milk industry. Posted due to its relevance to my milk taste test. Actually, that probably makes the New York Times' companion article (its taste test), Bottle of White, more fitting than the article linked above.
* The Literary Darwinists (New York Times). Literary Darwinism is the study of behavior in humans as displayed through literature and how such behavior could be seen as adaptive (or non-adaptive) in the Darwinism sense. It sounds like a backwater field. Frankly, I'd hoped based upon the phrase that it was a study of how the popularity of various types of literature evolve over time.

Scharffen Berger Chocolate Factory Tour

On Saturday, November 5th 2005, some of us converged on Scharffen Berger, the gourmet chocolate producer, in Berkeley for a tour of its factory and a little poking around the gift shop. Since this was one of my dining club's outings, I wrote up the trip elsewhere.

Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Festival

On Sunday October 16th 2005, I spent most of the day either at the Art & Pumpkin Festival or sitting in traffic en route to Half Moon Bay for the festival. Despite all the traffic, the festival was worth it.

And others apparently also knew this fact: it was packed, much more so than any other festival I've been to.

Whenever I saw a piece of artwork that really impressed me (or I otherwise thought was neat), I took a photograph of it. These pictures are available. View the pictures now, before reading onward. After this paragraph all I have to discuss are a random disorganized selection of things that weren't worthy of (or weren't appropriate for) pictures.

Taking highway 92 there was stupid. I think it took me close to two hours to get there from Berkeley. But one nice effect of it was that I got to drive by the loads and loads of pumpkin farms just south of Half Moon Bay.

The pumpkin that won the heaviest pumpkin contest was enormous, weighting 1,229 pounds and was probably over a meter in diameter. They let kids sit on it. On one hand, this seems to disrespect it. On the other hand, it's just a pumpkin. I wonder what they do with it at the end of the year when there are no longer any fairs with pumpkin-weighing contests.

I stuck with the pumpkin theme for all the food I bought throughout the afternoon. Started with an okay chicken pumpkin sausage, which was disappointing because it didn't have much distinctive pumpkin flavor. Then split a very good pumpkin cheesecake with some friends: very rich and fairly light, with a subtle pumpkin flavor in the cheesecake itself and a much denser flavor in the few stripes that segmented the cake. Also split some pumpkin ice cream which was even better; it was only split because I couldn't finish it because it was so rich. Bought a pumpkin muffin for breakfast the next morning. Humongous and moist, it didn't need any butter. I think I'll cook pumpkin muffins or bread sometime soon; they're good! I missed only a few pumpkin containing items, including the most obvious: pumpkin pie. (I figured I could get that anywhere.)

Downtown Half Moon Bay is nice; Main Street is long, only moderately packed with businesses, and has wide sidewalks, all of which remind me a bit of Solano Avenue in Berkeley.

As a promotion, a cruise ship company parked a truck just off main street that included a miniature cruise ship. They had tours of the ship, showing off buffets and shuffleboard and all that kind of stuff that people do on cruise ships. (I didn't take a tour. But it was an impressively large cruise-ship-like truck and relatively funny to see people walking up the gangplank.)

One street performer swallowed fire.

I should emphasize again how much art there was. Lots and lots! Some quite good. The music -at least the bands I heard- weren't to my tastes. If it were slightly less crowded and had better music, it might have been a better festival than my current Bay Area gold standard, North Berkeley Spice of Life. (The Pumpkin festival had comparable food selection and more and better artwork, although certainly smaller wine tastings and beer gardens (and more crowds and much worse music).)

Near the end of the festival we tried to stop by the haunted house, but it was already closed.

After the festival and parting with my friends, I decided to avoid traffic and simply sat around and read (for pleasure). When it got cold, I moved into the car and continued. By the time I started driving back, the pumpkin festival had been over for at least two hours. Yet it still took me over an hour to return to Berkeley, despite using highway one (which I thought would be less crowded than 92).

Interesting Articles: Nov 1st-7th 2005

Business and Economics:
* Why Vote? (New York Times). The Freakonomics guys provide a short overview of the economic analysis of voting.
* How to Build a Breakaway Brand (Fortune). Filed here simply because of all the examples. If I have to write a paper at some point and need some branding examples, I'll know where to look.

* 'The Chosen': Getting In (New York Times). Although technically a book review, provides an intriguing picture of how scholarly merit and leadership skills have been valued over the years (as displayed through college admission standards).

* Court Choice Is Conservative by Nature, Not Ideology (New York Times). An affectionate portrait of Alito's life and training.
* Every State Left Behind (New York Times). In addition to the complaints leveled in the opinion piece, having each state have its own tests and testing standards is more expensive (lacking economies of scale) and indirectly prevents unified curriculums, preventing acquiring wide-scale best practices in teaching.

* Science Journal: Brains strive to see the good, leading to god (The Wall Street Journal). This piece starts with a simple psychological phenomenon involving rationalization (in psychology terms, cognitive dissonance) and stretches it to an (absurd?) degree, relating it to how people view fate, God, and religion.

* Beware Your Trail of Digital Fingerprints (New York Times). A number of tales about why one should beware of (or, be aware of) document meta-data. The article could also be subtitled, "Or, why plain text and printed out documents are better."
* Artificial Artificial Intelligence (Amazon Web Services). What a neat idea! Amazon is trying to be a broker for tasks that humans can do trivially but computers cannot do (e.g., is there a pizza parlor in this picture?).

Interesting Articles: Oct 25th-31st 2005

* Parents Fret That Dialing Up Interferes With Growing Up (New York Times). A neat story about the difference between (parents') perceptions about how technology effects social behavior versus the reality of it.
* For Some College Graduates, a Fanciful Detour (or Two) Before Their Careers Begin (New York Times). What can I say? A detour seems like fun; maybe I should've done one. (I don't know what I would've done at that time, though...)
* Some Uncomfortable Findings for Wal-Mart (Business Week). A brief synopsis of the results of an academic conference devoted simply to studying the effects of Wal-Mart.
* Bringing Out the Absurdity of the News (New York Times). A nice review of The Daily Show's spin-off, The Colbert Report. It's a decent show, much of it a parody of Fox News and the O'Reilly Factor. I really enjoy the feature "The Word" and the textual commentary that accompanies it. And although Colbert gets good guests, the interviews seem forced, as if he's simultaneously trying to do a good interview while staying in character.
* Benched Science (Science News). The article summarizes a fact I hadn't realized, that judges in the last decade have gained increasing discretion on what types of scientific evidence (expert testimony) to admit into court.
* Vitamin C may treat cancer after all (Science News). Vitamin C has a storied history. First people proclaim it helps fight colds and other diseases. Then people show it doesn't, at least with some diseases or some ways of taking it or in some dosages. Then more people proclaim it does. And so on. This Science News article describes some fairly solid evidence that taking Vitamin C intravenously may help fight cancer. If you can't read the article, glance at the abstract of the original report, Pharmacologic ascorbic acid concentrations selectively kill cancer cells (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences). Note that one cannot achieve this blood level of Vitamin C simply by oral supplements.
* EFF reveals codes in Xerox printers (Associated Press via Information Week). Troubling. (Actually, I'm more bothered by the lack of disclosure that they do this than the fact that they do it.)