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There are great benefits to connectedness, but we haven't wrapped our minds around the costs.

The Complacency That Breeds Ingenious Chimeras
Topic: Miscellaneous 7:57 am EDT, Jul 23, 2012

Roger Highfield:

The reality is that, despite fears that our children are "pumped full of chemicals", everything is made of chemicals.

Kit Parker, a biophysicist at Harvard University:

Morphologically, we've built a jellyfish. Functionally, we've built a jellyfish. Genetically, this thing is a rat.

Zoe Williams:

How do you persuade people to hate a body part? You have to horse trade with their existing hatred of a different body part. Capitalism really is ingenious.

Tony Dokoupil:

Altogether the digital shifts of the last five years call to mind a horse that has sprinted out from underneath its rider, dragging the person who once held the reins. No one is arguing for some kind of Amish future. But the research is now making it clear that the Internet is not "just" another delivery system. It is creating a whole new mental environment, a digital state of nature where the human mind becomes a spinning instrument panel, and few people will survive unscathed.

All of us, since the relationship with the Internet began, have tended to accept it as is, without much conscious thought about how we want it to be or what we want to avoid. Those days of complacency should end. The Internet is still ours to shape. Our minds are in the balance.

Ashutosh (Ash) Jogalekar:

Much of the modern world as we know it in the form of metals, plastics, fibers, drugs, detergents, pesticides, fuels, medical implants, food and drink is the direct result of chemistry. Pondering just one of chemistry's myriad creations like jet fuel or PVC or aspirin should convince us of its all-pervasive role in human civilization. It would not be a stretch to say that chemistry's influence on our modern way of life and the rise and fall of nations is equal to that of the development of the calculus.

David Golumbia:

For at least one hundred years and probably much longer, modern societies have been built on the assumption that more rationality and more techne (and more capital) are precisely the solutions to the extremely serious problems that beset our world and our human societies. Yet the evidence that this is not the right solution can be found everywhere.

Russell Jacoby:

As the world becomes more threatening, many people seek simple answers, and many Americans conclude that an elite -- from which they are excluded -- must be the source of the ills. They turn on intellectuals, professors, and presumably the specialized knowledge those experts trade in. Instead of resisting that tendency, conservative intellectuals such as Gelernter encourage it. In their flight from elitism, they end up in a populist swamp peopled by autodidacts and fundamentalists. They become cheerleaders for a world without intellectuals, hastening a future in which they themselves will be irrelevant.

Led By The Nose On A Whirlwind Tour Through The Palace Of Notoriety
Topic: Miscellaneous 7:39 am EDT, Jul 12, 2012

Michael Nielsen:

When something doesn't quite match your expectations of how you think the world actually is, people will often build on that, and they will realize that what seems like a minor discrepancy can actually turn into a really, really big thing.

Roger Kimball:

It is worth pausing to consider how much of our cultural life -- even in its most august precincts -- is caught up in the voracious logic of celebrity. It is a logic that builds obsolescence into the banner of achievement and requires that seriousness abdicate before the palace of notoriety and its sound-bite culture.

Simon Kuper:

Anyone who still believes that politics will uplift humanity is considered a crank. Yet the idea of progress hasn't vanished. It has simply been privatised. They don't think the next human generation will be better off, but they are making darned sure their own children will be.

William Saletan:

Romney will always be what he needs to be. Count on it.

Paul Krugman:

Won't Mr. Romney pay a price for running a campaign based entirely on falsehoods? He obviously thinks not, and I'm afraid he may be right.

Joe Nocera:

They just want theirs. That is the culture they have created.

George Packer:

It's easy for most Americans to go days without giving the war a thought.

The military, on its end, seems to want things this way.

What I expect in the next few years is the willful amnesia that always comes with the end of unsuccessful wars.

Charles Simic:

The ideal citizen of a politically corrupt state, such as the one we now have, is a gullible dolt unable to tell truth from bullshit.

An educated, well-informed population, the kind that a functioning democracy requires, would be difficult to lie to, and could not be led by the nose by the various vested interests running amok in this country. Most of our politicians and their political advisers and lobbyists would find themselves unemployed, and so would the gasbags who pass themselves off as our opinion makers. Luckily for them, nothing so catastrophic, even though perfectly well-deserved and widely-welcome, has a remote chance of occurring any time soon. For starters, there's more money to be made from the ignorant than the enlightened, and deceiving Americans is one of the few growing home industries we still have in this country. A truly educated populace would be bad, both for politicians and for business.

Captain America ran the half marathon
Topic: Miscellaneous 7:39 am EDT, Jul 12, 2012

David Ulin:

Is cosmology just a parlor game, in which our only choice is to take a leap of faith?

Jonathan Moreno, a professor of bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania:

Scientists often fail to foresee where their research is headed.

Greg Sandoval:

Even visionaries can misread their customers when they are blinded by their past success.

David Simon:

Nobody knows what anyone's building until it's built.

Dexter Filkins:

Largely prohibited from venturing outside their compounds, many American officials exhibit little knowledge of events beyond the barricades. They often appear to occupy themselves with irrelevant activities such as filling out paperwork and writing cables to their superiors in the United States. Some of them send tweets -- in English, in a largely illiterate country, with limited Internet usage. "Captain America ran the half marathon," a recent Embassy tweet said, referring to a sporting event that took place within the Embassy's protected area. In the early years of the war, diplomats were encouraged to leave their compounds and meet ordinary Afghans. In recent years, personal safety has come to overshadow all other concerns.

It may be that American officers, after eleven years of doing almost everything themselves, have created such a sense of dependency in the Afghan government and military that they must now see if their charges will stand on their own. And maybe they will. But the American strategy appears to be an enormous gamble, propelled by a sense of political and economic fatigue.

Jessica Goodell:

There was an irony of sorts shaping the dynamic between our yellow ribbon decal supporters and us. They were uninformed but good people, the kind whose respect we would welcome -- if it were based upon something true. It was when we were around them that we had to hide the actual truth most consciously.

Chris Hedges:

When Geoff Millard told his mother he wanted to be a Marine, she pleaded with him to consider the National Guard. He agreed to meet with the Guard recruiter, whose pitch was effective and simple: "If you come here, you get to blow shit up."

"I was just like, oh, I get to blow up stuff! I signed up right then and there on the spot. But the interesting thing he didn't tell me was that the 'shit' that he referred to would be kids."

War is about barbarity, perversion, and pain. Human decency and tenderness are crushed, and people become objects to use or kill. The noise, the stench, the fear, the scenes of eviscerated bodies and bloated corpses, the cries of the wounded all combine to spin those in combat into another universe. In this moral void, naively blessed by secular and religious institutions at home, the hypocrisy of our social conventions, our strict adherence to moral precepts, becomes stark. War, for all its horror, has the power to strip away the trivial and the banal, the empty chatter and foolish obsessions that fill our days. It might let us see, although the cost is tremendous.

The Tyranny Of Time
Topic: Miscellaneous 7:06 am EDT, Jul 11, 2012

A thought:

Once upon a time, only a wealthy man could afford to carry time in his pocket.

Later, "clocking in" became a symbol of the working class.

Now, synchrony is out of favor.

And Yet. And Yet.

Billy Hoffman:

Your Time is the most valuable thing that you have. There is nothing more important than how you spend your time.

Colin McSwiggen:

If you want to sit healthily, you'll have to take matters into your own hands; the best habit to develop is not to stay seated for more than ten minutes at a time.

Dexter Filkins:

After eleven years, nearly two thousand Americans killed, sixteen thousand Americans wounded, nearly four hundred billion dollars spent, and more than twelve thousand Afghan civilians dead since 2007, the war in Afghanistan has come to this: the United States is leaving, mission not accomplished. Objectives once deemed indispensable, such as nation-building and counterinsurgency, have been abandoned or downgraded, either because they haven't worked or because there's no longer enough time to achieve them.

Nir Rosen:

"You Westerners have your watches," the leader observed. "But we Taliban have time."

Penelope Trunk:

Stop talking about time like you need to save it. You just need to use it better.

Sherry Turkle:

We don't want to intrude on each other, so instead we constantly intrude on each other, but not in 'real time.'

Matt Richtel:

As access to devices has spread, children in poorer families are spending considerably more time than children from more well-off families using their television and gadgets to watch shows and videos, play games and connect on social networking sites, studies show.

This growing time-wasting gap, policy makers and researchers say, is more a reflection of the ability of parents to monitor and limit how children use technology than of access to it.

Steven Kurutz:

What emerges over time, for those who live alone, is an at-home self that is markedly different -- in ways big and small -- from the self they present to the world. We all have private selves, of course, but people who live alone spend a good deal more time exploring them.

How To Make Good On Your Plan To Make Good Use Of Your Time, In Five Minutes Or Less
Topic: Miscellaneous 7:06 am EDT, Jul 11, 2012

David Eagleman:

When we examine the problem closely, we find that "time" is not the unitary phenomenon we may have supposed it to be.

Joel Spolsky:

Backlogs make everyone feel good. The trouble is that 90% of the things in the feature backlog will never get implemented, ever. So every minute you spent writing down, designing, thinking about, or discussing features that are never going to get implemented is just time wasted.

Eric Allman:

There is a saying to the effect that there are three variables in engineering: time, functionality, and resources -- pick two. In fact, there is a fourth variable: debt.

The cost of paying back technical debt comes in the form of the engineering time it takes to rewrite or refactor the code or otherwise fix the problem. If the interest you ultimately accrue is less than the cost of paying back the debt, there is no point in paying it back in the first place. The problem is that it can be difficult to know in advance which debts will ultimately have the highest cost.

Daniel Kahneman:

Human beings cannot comprehend very large or very small numbers. It would be useful for us to acknowledge that fact.

It's Only Natural
Topic: Miscellaneous 5:58 am EDT, Jul 10, 2012

Alison Gopnik:

Wide-ranging, flexible and broad learning, the kind we encourage in high-school and college, may actually be in tension with the ability to develop finely-honed, controlled, focused expertise in a particular skill, the kind of learning that once routinely took place in human societies. For most of our history, children have started their internships when they were seven, not 27.

Aaron Lake Smith:

Youth culture, and the parameters of cultural rebellion, have always been defined by market forces. The lush alternative landscape of the mid and late '90s, fed by the tech boom and Clinton surplus cash, was like a historical indolent child, at liberty to rebel because it had been given everything. The early '90s depicted in Slacker feel closer to our current epoch -- the recession-tainted youth aimlessly wandering the streets, emailing their resumes into the void.

Bryan Formhals:

The open road impulse, along with a resurgence of the lo-fi film aesthetic has spawned endless blogs, Tumblrs and Flickr streams dedicated to documenting the carefree existence of pretty naked young people who are too busy dreaming to care how boring they look.

W. David Marx:

As with all post-industrial societies, young people were not interested in following their parents' footsteps in the hard work of high-quality manufacturing. Thus, most small artisanal factories have closed, with the remaining few headed in that very direction.

Ironically, Japan's young brands all understand the value of locally hand-sewn clothing, but due to the nation's youth's refusal to take up artisanal crafts, these workspaces will be closed within a decade.

Jessica Grose:

People seem to like the fact that a female bear can kill someone while protecting her cubs and be acquitted of the crime. They want grizzlies to have the benefit of the doubt.

The zero-tolerance policy for man-eating bears invites an obvious question, though. Once a bear kills someone, whether it's out of some wild-animal psychopathy or a natural inclination to defend her young, why wouldn't she eat the corpse? Everyone agrees that it's natural for grizzlies to eat carrion -- they're scavengers, after all.

Brian Vastag:

There are too many laboratory scientists for too few jobs.

Obama has made science education a priority, launching a White House science fair to get young people interested in the field.

But it's questionable whether those youths will be able to find work when they get a PhD. Although jobs in some high-tech areas, especially computer and petroleum engineering, seem to be booming, the market is much tighter for lab-bound scientists -- those seeking new discoveries in biology, chemistry and medicine.

Marge Simpson:

Bart, don't make fun of grad students! They just made a terrible life choice.

Not Clean, But Clean In Principle
Topic: Miscellaneous 5:58 am EDT, Jul 10, 2012

David Cay Johnston:

National income gained overall in 2010, but all of the gains were among the top 10%. Even within those 15.6 million households, the gains were extraordinarily concentrated among the super-rich, the top 1% of the top 1%.

Just 15,600 super-rich households pocketed an astonishing 37% of the entire national gain.


In theory, LIBOR is supposed to be a pretty honest number because it is assumed, for a start, that banks play by the rules and give truthful estimates. The market is also sufficiently small that most banks are presumed to know what the others are doing. In reality, the system is rotten.

"I would sort of express us maybe as not clean, but clean in principle," one Barclays manager apparently said ...

Bill Clinton:

I don't think we ought to get into the position where we say "This is bad work. This is good work."

Robin Nagle:

You can understand the entire cosmos of a culture by looking at its definitions of dirty and clean, and acceptable versus unacceptable, the profane and the sacred. You can start with something as humble as dirt and read it out to an entire worldview.


You want to begin in a place that's clean and you make it grow.

Malcolm Gladwell:

The visionary starts with a clean sheet of paper, and re-imagines the world. The tweaker inherits things as they are, and has to push and pull them toward some more nearly perfect solution.

Venkatesh Rao:

Unless you are a professional investor (and probably even then), places to store surplus capital today where it will even be safe and/or not depreciate too fast (let alone generate a return) are getting incredibly hard to find.

But there is one safe haven, if you know how to invest in it: software developers.

Mark Cuban:

The only certainty in the software world is that there is no such thing as bug-free software. When software programs are trying to outsmart other software programs and hack the world's trading platforms, that is a recipe for disaster.


Don't stop us now -- we're just getting started!

Michael Lopp:

When an engineer becomes a lead or a manager, they create a professional satisfaction gap. They've observed this gap long before they became a lead with the question: "What does my boss do all day? I see him running around like something is on fire, but ... what does he actually do?" The question gets personal when the now freshly minted manager begins to understand that life as a lead is an endless list of little things that collectively keep you busy, but, in aggregate, don't feel much like progress.

... There You Are
Topic: Miscellaneous 7:53 am EDT, Jul  9, 2012

Steven Weinberg:

The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless.


The bigger the lie, the more they believe.


No matter who you are, you have the potential to be so very much less.

David Albert:

Is there some point at which the possibility of asking any further such questions somehow definitively comes to an end? How would that work? What would that be like?

Charles Simic:

It took years of indifference and stupidity to make us as ignorant as we are today.

No doubt, the Internet and cable television have allowed various political and corporate interests to spread disinformation on a scale that was not possible before, but to have it believed requires a badly educated population unaccustomed to verifying things they are being told.

John Givings:

Plenty of people are onto the emptiness, but it takes real guts to see the hopelessness.

Use Your Delusion
Topic: Miscellaneous 7:53 am EDT, Jul  9, 2012

Derek Thompson:

If you can't sell a product, try putting something nearly identical, but twice as expensive, next to it.

Even the most useless junk in the world is appealing if the price feels like a steal.

We're not stupid. Just susceptible.

A 1902 issue of The Sphinx, via Diana Kimball:

The times have bred a race of shop magicians who, having acquired the necessary digital skill to handle a few simple tricks, set themselves up in business and look to magical dealers to keep them supplied with an occasional new trick. Half of the regular outfits are simply professional models of tricks that in cheaper form are sold in the toy shops for the personal entertainment of the youth of our land, and there are hundreds of boys 12 years old who are as well posted on the methods of manipulation as are the magicians themselves.

Daniel Kahneman:

After a crisis we tell ourselves we understand why it happened and maintain the illusion that the world is understandable. In fact, we should accept the world is incomprehensible much of the time.

Investment bankers believe in what they do. They don't want to hear that their decisions are no better than chance. The rest of us pay for their delusions.

Jonathan Lethem:

A lot of us want to be fooled at the same time we get angry that we're fooled.

Martin Wolf:

Banks, as presently constituted and managed, cannot be trusted to perform any publicly important function, against the perceived interests of their staff. Today's banks represent the incarnation of profit-seeking behavior taken to its logical limits, in which the only question asked by senior staff is not what is their duty or their responsibility, but what can they get away with.

A final thought from the bankers:

Revolutionize your heart out. We'll still have this country by the balls.

There's No Such Thing As Too Much Energy
Topic: Miscellaneous 9:52 am EDT, Jul  7, 2012

Andrew Grant:

In a billion years the sun will unleash 10 percent more energy than it does now, inducing an irrefutable case of global warming here on Earth. The oceans will boil away and the atmosphere will dry out as water vapor leaks into space, and temperatures will soar past 700 degrees Fahrenheit, all of which will transform our planet into a Venusian hell-scape choked with thick clouds of sulfur and carbon dioxide. Bacteria might temporarily persist in tiny pockets of liquid water deep beneath the surface, but humanity's run in these parts would be over.

If the human population can successfully colonize planets orbiting Proxima Centauri or another red dwarf, we can enjoy trillions of years of calamity-free living. Says University of California, Santa Cruz, astronomer Greg Laughlin, "The future lies with red dwarfs."

That is, until the red dwarfs die.

Michael Specter:

One cubic mile of oil would fill a pool that was a mile long, a mile wide, and a mile deep. Today, it takes three cubic miles' worth of fossil fuels to power the world for a year. That's a trillion gallons of gas. To replace just one of those cubic miles with a source of energy that will not add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere--nuclear power, for instance--would require the construction of a new atomic plant every week for fifty years; to switch to wind power would mean erecting thousands of windmills each month. It is hard to conceive of a way to replace that much energy with less dramatic alternatives. It is also impossible to talk seriously about climate change without talking about economic development. Climate experts have argued that we ought to stop emitting greenhouse gases within fifty years, but by then the demand for energy could easily be three times what it is today: nine cubic miles of oil.

Brad Plumer on the work of Marc G. Millis, a former NASA expert on breakthrough propulsion:

We probably won't be ready to travel to other stars for at least another two to five centuries. Even if we do invent faster, niftier spaceships, there may not be enough energy available to reach other stars anytime soon.

No matter when we launch the first interstellar probe, it'll take a long time to reach its destination. Which means it's quite plausible that we'll later invent a newer, faster interstellar probe that gets to the star even sooner, with more modern equipment. Which raises the question of why we even bothered to launch that first probe.

Abdul Nasir:

I've worked with the Afghan Army. They get tired making TV commercials!

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