January 29, 2010

where do the ducks go in winter?

J. D. Salinger, who was thought at one time to be the most important American writer to emerge since World War II but who then turned his back on success and adulation, becoming the Garbo of letters, famous for not wanting to be famous, died on Wednesday at his home in Cornish, N.H., where he had lived in seclusion for more than 50 years. He was 91. (more here and here)
You can trace the footsteps of Holden Caulfield, his most famous creation, here. And perhaps you, like him, wonder where the ducks go in winter.
I live in New York, and I was thinking about the lagoon in Central Park, down near Central Park South. I was wondering if it would be frozen over when I got home, and if it was, where did the ducks go? I was wondering where the ducks went when the lagoon got all icy and frozen over. I wondered if some guy came in a truck and took them away to a zoo or something. Or if they just flew away.
R.I.P., JDS. You gave the world an unforgettable voice "that skeptically appraised the world and denounced its phonies and hypocrites and bores" and that was a perfect expression of "feelings of teenage angst and vulnerability and anger" (Michiko Kakutani).
What really knocks me out is a book, when you're all done reading it, you wished the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it.
E.T.A: So where do the ducks go in winter? Mostly, they migrate south, but just south enough so that they can find food (they can withstand very cold temperatures, but they need to find food).

January 28, 2010

it's hard to be cool with an uncool name

It's not hard to figure out why Apple's latest temptation is called the "iPad." Or is it?

When Apple announced the name of its tablet computer today — the iPad — my mind immediately went to the feminine hygiene aisle of the drugstore. It turns out I wasn’t alone. The term “iTampon” quickly became a trending topic on Twitter because of Tweets like this one: “Heavy flow? There’s an app for that!” A CNBC anchor, Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, said the iPad was a “terrible name” for the tablet. “It reminds me of feminine products,” she said. “Are there any women in Apple marketing?” asked Brooke Hammerling, founder of Brew Media Relations, a technology public relations firm. “The first impression of every single woman I’ve spoken to is that it’s cringe-inducing. It indicates to me that there wasn’t a lot of testing or feedback.”

Female dog lovers, let's all focus very had and think of another kind of pad:

January 25, 2010

don't leave it to beaver

A Canadian History Magazine changed its name. Too bad that students won't find out about this change through this blog. Why? Because the word "beaver" is blacklisted on school computers.

More here:

OTTAWA — In 1920 when the Hudson's Bay Company began publishing a magazine for its 250th anniversary, The Beaver: A Journal of Progress probably seemed to be a good title. The company, which controlled much of the landmass that is now Western and Northern Canada, owed much of its early fortune to the trade in beaver pelts. The Beaver... evolved into a respected magazine about Canadian history. The Bay, as the company is commonly known, shifted from fur trading to department stores. And last week Canada's National History Society, the nonprofit group that now publishes The Beaver, decided that the Internet required the magazine to undergo a name change. To be more precise, the title was doomed by a vulgar alternative meaning that causes Web filters at schools and junk mail filters in e-mail programs to block access to material containing the magazine’s name..." ‘Beaver’ is one of those key words students are denied access to on the Internet.”

January 15, 2010

Is it better to walk a human or to walk a dog?

Well, it depends on your goals. If you want to increase your fitness, go walk a dog. That seems kind of obvious, but what I find remarkable about the study linked above is that it was based on people who had to take a bus to a shelter to take a dog for a walk.

New research from the University of Missouri has found that people who walk dogs are more consistent about regular exercise and show more improvement in fitness than people who walk with a human companion. In a 12-week study of 54 older adults at an assisted living home, 35 people were assigned to a walking program for five days a week, while the remaining 19 served as a control group. Among the walkers, 23 selected a friend or spouse to serve as a regular walking partner along a trail laid out near the home. Another 12 participants took a bus daily to a local animal shelter where they were assigned a dog to walk.

To the surprise of the researchers, the dog walkers showed a big improvement in fitness, while the human walkers began making excuses to skip the workout. Walking speed among the dog walkers increased by 28 percent, compared with just a 4 percent increase among the human walkers.

January 10, 2010

word of the year: "tweet"

The American Dialect Society voted to tweet as word of the year 2009 and its cousin to google as word of the decade. (The only thing noteworthy about these choices is that they are both verbs. As is yawn.)

“Both words are, in the end, products of the Information Age, where every person has the ability to satisfy curiosity and to broadcast to a select following, both via the Internet.” [ADS member] Barrett said. “I really thought blog would take the honors in the word of the decade category, but more people google than blog, don’t they? Plus, many people think ‘blog’ just sounds ugly. Maybe Google’s trademark lawyers would have preferred it, anyway.”

January 09, 2010

state of the union avoids collision with hydrogen bomb

The premiere of the final season of LOST is near (Feb. 2, 2010). And the show's ratings won't be spoiled by some guy giving some political speech at the same time on some other channel. Or, wait, was it the other way round?

The White House will not say when President Obama's State of the Union Address will be delivered. They did say, however, when it will not be: During the three-hour season premier [sic] of the final season of “Lost” on ABC, which airs on Feb. 2

Polar bears, hatches, hydrogen bombs, room 23, Locke 1 and Locke 2, white flashes, nose bleedings, Jacob and the man in black... in case you need a quick reminder of what happened previously, on Lost:

"The screen goes to white instead of black. Cool!"

January 07, 2010

braille vs. mp3

On the one hand, Braille is hip. There are hundreds of websites, for example, that sell "Braille jewelry", and judging from their appearance, they don't seem to be geared to blind customers only. On the other hand, the iPod is also hip. Fewer and fewer blind people learn to read and write in Braille. Instead, they listen to text recordings on mp3 players and use dictating software.
For much of the past century, blind children attended residential institutions where they learned to read by touching the words. Today, visually impaired children can be well versed in literature without knowing how to read; computer-screen-reading software will even break down each word and read the individual letters aloud. Literacy has become much harder to define, even for educators. “If all you have in the world is what you hear people say, then your mind is limited,” Darrell Shandrow, who runs a blog called Blind Access Journal, told me. “You need written symbols to organize your mind. If you can’t feel or see the word, what does it mean? The substance is gone.”
Shandrow's words can be taken quite literally. Reading Braille is one way for the brain to develop the visual cortex. Listening to recordings cannot have the same effect.
In the 1990s, a series of brain-imaging studies revealed that the visual cortices of the blind are not rendered useless, as previously assumed. When test subjects swept their fingers over a line of Braille, they showed intense activation in the parts of the brain that typically process visual input. These imaging studies have been cited by some educators as proof that Braille is essential for blind children’s cognitive development, as the visual cortex takes more than 20 percent of the brain. Given the brain’s plasticity, it is difficult to make the argument that one kind of reading — whether the information is absorbed by ear, finger or retina — is inherently better than another, at least with regard to cognitive function. The architecture of the brain is not fixed, and without images to process, the visual cortex can reorganize for new functions. ... The activity of reading itself alters the anatomy of the brain.

As a result of the development towards the use of recordings instead of Braille, blind schoolchildren in the US now have lower Braille literacy than schoolchildren in less developed countries, such as Botswana.

January 01, 2010

my dog, the dish-washer

Imagine you live in a 452 square feet yurt in Alaska. What would your life be like? It seems that a dog will come in handy:
With no dishwasher or running water, they sometimes enlist dogs — their family’s and those of the neighbors — to lick plates clean before scrubbing the dishes in hand-drawn well water, which they said saves energy. For pragmatic reasons, Mr. Higman said, “We do have lower standards than a lot of people about how clean things have to be.”