I always feel like everyone else I know has some great story about going to a corporate retreat--sweat lodges, pontoon boats, severely rustic weekends (a la "Colonial House"). CNNMoney went looking for employee ambivalence to these "offsites" and found it:
A dozen workers at a small international marketing company recently found themselves at a retreat run by experts from an "experiential learning" firm. "They came in talking about the seven cornerstones of teamwork," says one attendee, so each employee... READ ON
Today's John Tierney-authored Findings column discusses the evolution and significance of the upturned palm and its variants--the shrug, the downturned palm, etc:
That simple gesture, the upturned palm, is one of the oldest and most widely understood signals in the world. It's activated by neural circuits inherited from ancient reptiles that abased themselves before larger animals. Chimps and other apes, notably humans, adapted it to ask not just for food, but also for more abstract forms of help,... READ ON
Thank you, Forbes, for your annual reports on the state of the "singles" nation; the 2007 edition is here! If you want to skip the methodology until you're ready to write a defense or indictment of your city, here are the top ten "Best Cities For Singles" (many more cited in the full report):
1. San Francisco-Oakland
2. New York
3. Los Angeles
7. San Diego
9. Dallas-Fort Worth
I have to say: I buy that the top two are... READ ON
In case you're feeling overwhelmed by the unnameable lately, you're in good company. Scientists just discovered a swath of universe in which there's really, well, nothing:
The cosmic blank spot has no stray stars, no galaxies, no sucking black holes, not even mysterious dark matter. It is 1 billion light years across of nothing. That's an expanse of nearly 6 billion trillion miles of emptiness, a University of Minnesota team announced Thursday.
"This is 1,000 times the volume of what we sort of... READ ON
Thank you, Shanghaiist for letting us know what's going on in certain Chinese education circles.
The principal of the 150-student Henan Child Prodigy School (æ²³å—ç¥žç«¥å¦æ ¡), Zhang Xuexin (å¼ å¦æ–°) says he has devised a revolutionary method of training the right brain of children to make them child prodigies. His students can not only memorise their textbooks and ancient poetry, they can actually recite them backwards. Throughout the school and around classrooms, one... READ ON
There's really nothing like a humiliating incident that has oxidized into a funny story. I learned this early on from my father, whose timing and delivery is largely influenced by mid-80s John Candy. During car trips or any other kind of captive audience scenario, we'd beg him to burst into a rendition of "the King Midget story."
The short version is that his father had a brief infatuation with this very special kind of vehicle (the King Midget!), and mortified his children by insisting on driving them... READ ON
In Jonathan Franzen's essay, "Why Bother?" (Harper's, '96), he talks about linguist and MacArthur Fellow Shirley Brice Heath and her research on the reading habits of Americans. Her conclusions led her to believe there are are two kinds of readers:
"modeled-habit" readers: parents instilled this as exercise and necessary badge of class/entitlement; parents read, too.
"social-isolate" readers: surprise--socially isolated (but this, as opposed to antisocial); sublimated this pain into investing in... READ ON
Ira Glass raised this question recently; or, perhaps, not so much raised it as lamented the way in which people retroactively confer "nerd" status upon themselves. As in, "I was such a big nerd in high school." His basic argument was: no you weren't, or: prove it.
He surmised that most people filter their actual popularity, if not their seeded positions on Homecoming Court, through a sentimental lens of nerddom. "Nerds" experience pain, certainly, but just because one experienced pain in adolescence,... READ ON
I'm always happy when novelists can use something other than beverage preference in order to set their characters apart. For instance, when I read that a certain character just love espresso, fine, they love espresso. If they love beer, fine. But what would be more revealing? For me, I like to know what kind of writing utensils a person prefers--mini-pencils, 12-to-a-pack Bics, Bakelites, or what? I usually keep pens in bulk, as they're constantly migrating away from me. Pens and hair ties I would never be... READ ON
I keep running into people talking about the "20% chance we're living in The Matrix thing." The New York Times Science section published something on the Oxford University philosopher touting the theory that it's plausible we're just a function of someone else's simulations:
"This kind of posthuman might have other ways of having fun, like stimulating their pleasure centers directly," Dr. Bostrom says. "Maybe they wouldn't need to do simulations for scientific reasons because... READ ON
Although I haven't done graduate work in the social sciences, I've always been fascinated to learn about the different rituals with which people were raised. I'm weird: I love hearing people's dreams--no matter how seemingly mundane--and I love hearing the bedtime stories people's parents told them (or, I suppose, didn't).
My own father had a knack for always saying goodnight right after the first or second act of his long-running bedtime series, The Raccoons. It was kind of like Watership Down meets... READ ON
Even though I have a Brita in my home, I still find myself buying too much bottled water. Would this change if I committed to a reusable beverage container? Why not--I'm already Brita groupie. The LA Times has the story on the recent surge of bottled water manufacturers goading each other into going green:
The company that makes Brita water filters teamed up Monday with Nalgene, a manufacturer of reusable beverage containers, to launch the FilterForGood campaign, aimed at weaning people off throwaway... READ ON
Engineers at Stanford have been combing West Coast beaches to show how beach sand is just as capable of passing along harmful bacteria as ocean water.
The study, published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, found that sand at beaches all along the California coast contained some level of fecal indicator bacteria -- 91 percent of the beaches in the study had detectable levels of enterococci and that 62 percent of them had traces of E. coli.
Contaminated beach sands can act as bacteria... READ ON
Wallpapering one's place of business with headshots is not uncommon in LA. My acupuncturist does it, beloved coffee shops and dry cleaning places do it.Â And certainly it's not endemic to LA--not always headshots, but signed portraiture in general seems to lend a credibility and intrigue to, say, an Italian restaurant or donut shop competing with all the others down the strip. The Kermit-at-Sardi's scene in Muppets Take Manhattan proves the excellence and fun of this kind of wall display. I'm sure I've... READ ON
First of all, hooray for the new baby Israel! So wonderful. Also wanted to throw out that I wasn't named at first, either. My parents let me marinate for about three days before they decided on "Rebecca" (of course, never to call me it, and it has now become my "slave name" or a name I must respond to when formally rewarded or punished). Of course, "Becky" soon followed, and my mother stuck with it because she thought, though perhaps slightly campy (come on, other Beckys, you know you've felt the burn), it... READ ON
It's now official: Ridley Scott is doing the Monopoly movie. I'm thinking lots of smoke/dry ice with prodigal/murderous sons. Ridley muses here:
Monopoly is still the most popular board game -- I might be misquoting! -- in the world. So it's really finding the universe for that game. Because clearly it ought to be humorous and for the family -- the funny way it brings out, particularly when your uncle suddenly gets Park Lane and -- in England, we have Park Lane, Mayfair and Barclay Square, what's it in... READ ON
Perhaps redaction is just in the air. At work today, a girl brought her pet capuchin to her audition, a charming three year-old named Chanel who promptly attacked the Wite-Out tape; when she left, the office looked like we'd just held a ticker tape parade. It won't be pretty to clean up, but I do appreciate the monkey's joie de vivre in disassembling our instruments of it-never-happened. And then, driving home, NPR was talking about yard sales, and seller's remorse, and of course it was impossible then not... READ ON
There's a new book out that may make you feel better about your fierce attachment to that Petoskey stone, cocktail napkin, or bottle cap stowed away somewhere. It's called "Taking Things Seriously: 75 Objects with Unexpected Significance," brought to you by Joshua Glenn and Carol Hayes. The team has a fan in the LA Times, who breaks it down thusly:
They asked artists, designers, writers and thinkers to contribute photos of their precious belongings and explain their significance. The result is a... READ ON
Do blue-eyed men truly prefer blue-eyed women? And do brown-eyed men really have no preference? As you might expect, this alleged inclination has to do with securing visible proof of paternity: it's rare for two blue-eyed parents to produce a child with a phenotype of brown eyes (though it can happen). A study published in Norway in 2006 says men with blue-eyes do indeed unconsciously seek out women whose irises are lacking melanin, and explains:
A group of 443 young adults of both sexes and different eye... READ ON
The death of notable filmmakers this week had me restocking my Netflix, which got me thinking about films I'd never seen, and films I wish I'd never seen. I felt guilty for months about the first R-rated film I ever saw--Firestarter, viewed after vowing silence at a friend's house, and the imagery wended its way into my dreams for weeks after. Watcher in the Woods and The Shining are perhaps what I'd term the "scariest" movies I've seen, but there are some movies just so skewed--either by abject gore or... READ ON
Today I had the good fortune to audition a woman who owns six Southern flying squirrels, one of which she's promising to bring back into the office as soon as its schedule allows. Sadly, the show we're casting isn't about squirrels, though it should involve a fair amount of squirreling. And even though other details of her life might have been bursting with intrigue, as soon as she dropped the squirrel bit, it was all over: we had to know everything. According to this ingenue, flying squirrels can live in... READ ON
Right off the bat, this post is in no way piggybacking on all the obesity-your social circle debate. I've worked in a ton of different workspaces--part of that is the (desultory) nature of my business, part of that I attribute to an especially roiling tween & teendom. But everywhere I've worked, there were always a few people with whom I experienced a workaday yet still severe kind of infatuation--either out of desperation because the job was either scary or boring or actually dangerous, or sometimes... READ ON
July 30--another full moon (and Blue, in some places of the world)--and another happy birthday for Jason. Because I'm a bit Procrustean, and because I have gypsy blood on my mother's side, I have to say I abide by the adage that full moons summon something in people. Crime increases, it's said, but more than that I think people just find themselves out on the streets, blackout-style, drawn like bits of industrial metal to some invisible lodestone. For instance, I've attended the Little Joy Reading Series... READ ON
I'm not sure how many of you out there were proximal to the NYC steam pipe explosion, but I from what I hear it was pretty traumatizing. The damage it effected of course drew morbid parallels to other, premeditated explosions, but since I grew up hearing engine room horror stories, I wasn't surprised to learn the cause attributed directly to a phenomenon I'm sure many of you have heard attacking your household pipes: water hammer. Sprinklers and toilets notoriously suffer from it, but any closed system... READ ON
It's with a fair amount of chagrin that I admit I've never been inside a limo. I've loitered on the hood of one, briefly, for reasons completely devoid of interesting subtext, and I've stopped next to one at a red light, been simultaneously harassed and cajoled by the passengers teeming out of the sunroof. But when I read reports of limos being beached, I'm a) amused, saddened, and, as a fellow driver, empathetic b) plagued with the urge to ride in one already! I missed the boat at my prom--I sailed in on... READ ON
I've always been transfixed by anyone with the surname Blood, and Benjamin Paul Blood (1832-1919) is no exception. A contemporary of William James, he was similarly obsessed with the spectrum of religious experiences. He was particulary fascinated by the study of consciousness and how it was affected by artificial trances, e.g. nitrous oxide and other analgesic gases. In one of his pamphlets he writes about the revelations one can expect to experience upon awakening from the drugged state:
I think most... READ ON
When I was in elementary school, it seemed every other homework project involved making a map--either filling one in (capitals, always capitals), or creating one from scratch. I was thinking of trying to draw a map of the world the other day, and luckily found some handy instruction on "how to draw a nice map" (ok, it's meant for fantasy worlds, really, but I'm sure it would carry over to straight-up phenomenal world cartography). Recently, some Shanghai hoteliers were fined for distributing incomplete... READ ON
When I used to look for summer jobs, I always thought it would be instructive, if not entirely profound, to drive truck. I knew a few kids who had satisfied the CDL paperwork and suddenly boasted routes up and down I-5 transporting garlic and tomatoes. But the convenience of service jobs abounded, and I never got around to climbing aboard a rig; however, the romance of the job lingered until various high school classmates and then a member of my family joined the fleet and could properly devastate my... READ ON
Maybe it's just because I live on the West Coast, but the majority of the offices I've worked in here have been run by people--men and women--who've used feng shui in their offices--and if not the entire office, then definitely at least the desk. Full disclosure: I also feng shui my desk. Partly to avoid Irritable Desk Syndrome. And partly because yes, sometimes I have a sinking feeling that one of my baguas is deficient. Thanks to Mangesh, we know about websites designed in accordance with feng shui, and... READ ON
Bromides! Whether in the chemical or the cliche form, life isn't as savory or functional without them. But contrary to where this post might seem headed, I'm not going to poll you about your favorite bromides (David's already done that, anyway). Bromide--or 'mine--was discovered by a 23 year-old French chemist in 1826; it resembled chlorine and iodine, but was neither; it smelled terrible, thus the Greek bromos, meaning stench. As it evolved, it was used to treat "hystericals" of all sorts, usually in a... READ ON
It's been awhile since a psychic has tried to flag me down, and it's been awhile since any of my friends have subjected me to new ways of discerning my character flaws/intellectual capacity via my appendages, moles, et al. But I'm currently reading about infamous editor Max Perkins and how he clung to the blueprints offered by phrenology (the theory, not the excellent Roots album). I'm not sure whether he had a set of calipers and some string in his desk during his Scribner's reign, but he wasn't the only... READ ON
Burrhus Frederic Skinner never quite escaped the lingering plaque from misinformation unleashed with the invention of his "Baby Tender" (aka "Heir Conditioner" or "Aircrib"). It all started with a 1945 article in Ladies' Home Journal showing his infant daughter, Deborah, encased in a chamber that was a kind of crib nouveau--part incubator, part my-first-loft; it was heated and humidified, with an enclosed upper portion that could open and double as a changing table. In Skinner's own words:
Toward the end... READ ON
Here's another how-my-stuff-was-confiscated post. Ok, not really, but kind of. I was doing errands of the red tape variety that necessitated I pass through metal detection when the guard took issue with a particular item--or fob--on my keychain. I like to think of myself as someone who carries mace, but the reality is that no, it's just pepper spray. It was a sudden and charged farewell, but I complied without spectacle and dropped it into the weapons-'n-such utility tub that would now be my sweet mace's... READ ON
I love you, Wikipedia. The reasons are just...manifold. In a book I was recently reading, I came to a passage in which a character suddenly dons a balaclava helmet. I was at a loss. Baklava? Chef hats? What? So when I ran crying to Wikipedia, I was immediately supplied with an image, shown, that was graceful and bizarre and immediately comforting to my ignorance. This, Becky, is a balaclava helmet. You might know it as a ski mask. Its more formal name comes from the Crimean town of, yes, Balaclava, and the... READ ON
Ok so, all this talk of baby name consultants makes me wonder about the boat-naming industry. Since boat names are generally longer, and often complete phrases, maybe people actually invest as much time naming boats as naming children...?
My father, a sailor, always talked about this boat named Rebecca Lynn and then one day he finally sent me a picture of it: well wouldn't you know. And then when I was in college my dad let me name his fishing boat: Get me away from here I'm dying, after a Belle and... READ ON
"Keytar" is just about my favorite portmanteau (shout-out to "cybernetics" and "ginormous"--which i must also welcome to the dictionary). The keytar's existence is credited to composer and guitarist Steve Masakowski, and the inaugural keytar, Moog Liberation, was released in 1980. After it gained exposure thanks to bands like Devo, Flock of Seagulls, Poison, and Van Halen, it was semi-superannuated. But keytars could be making a comeback. A friend of mine who wants to bring keytars back recently purchased... READ ON
If you haven't heard--or didn't read when we first reported--"about 50" cats live in Ernest Hemingway's former Key West home. Papa's cats are special--all descendants of a cat named Snow White he was gifted in 1935, they each have the "sixth toe gene" and they've now also successfully dodged the law; though it's illegal in Key West to have more than four cats per household, city officials stepped in to exempt the house from such a regulation.
The new ordinance reads in part, "The cats reside on the... READ ON
For years, the low gravity of Canada seemed just another benefit of its hard-to-pinpoint, happy-go-lucky image; however, scientists have recently gone public with an explanation of why, why Canada, do you boast lower gravity than the U.S.?
Researchers have puzzled for years over whether this was due to the crust there rebounding slowly after the end of the last ice age or a deeper issue involving convection in the Earth's mantle "“ or some combination of the two. Now, ultra-precise measurements... READ ON
I'm currently proximal to cherry orchards--and all the wondrous equipment therein, including the cherry-shaking machines. It's riveting to watch: trees shedding their fruit via whiplash. I was thinking about this when someone showed me a link to a Power Plates Vibration Machine. While standing on a platform and gripping handles, you're supposed to do simple squats and stretches while an intense vibration transits yourbody. Rumored benefits include increased metabolism, concentration, circulation,... READ ON
If I'm to believe my parents, it appears that "liquid" was my first word. Sentimentality aside, I've always accepted that liquids would be instrumental in my life. But I was never sure how...I'm quite certain that everyone in this country is painfully aware of the apparently infinite guises of liquids-that-must-not-pass-airline-security. And it's possible that at one point or another, some of you have been informed of the necessity of a plastic baggie. Now, I'm so completely fine complying with federal... READ ON
If you're feeling an urge to regress--past latency, even!--perhaps you should consider a system called BabyPlus, where you can hear what babies hear during varying stages of development. And once the womb-world crossover is complete, this "Authentic Prenatal Sound Teddy Bear" will give babies more of what they were used to hearing in utero. So as not to foster an addiction to bygone, prenatal days, the bearÂ also produces "five other five other soothing sounds, including white noise, lullaby, ocean, car... READ ON
I'm visiting my parents, so naturally if I feel ill I must turn to the apothecary products that have lurked in their cupboard since I graduated high school. Growing up, there was no ailment that could not be remedied by a swift and hearty administration of Vicks VapoRub and a shot of Pepto-Bismol. Surely, within days of being home, I felt ill; I suspected the very ferric water was not being completely reformed by the stealthy Brita, so it was in the spirit of nostalgia and also, to a degree, desperation,... READ ON
Over the years, a significant portion of my friends have been helpless to resist the charms of New Zealand. The ones who returned only did so due to capitalist obligations from which they could not be released. But! It was still within their power to spread the Zealand pollen stateside, and a watchful tourist's LCD seems to be an encounter with the Maori people--specifically, Maori healers who invoke a technique called Te Oomai Reia. From what I've read, it appears similar to Reiki (the transfer of energy)... READ ON
The bedrooms of children have always provided a kind of sabbatical for horror story/fairy tale aggressors, so it shouldn't be surprising that someone finally manufactures a night light designed to legitimize children's fears; enter the Blue Moon Night Light. For $29.95 it comes rigged with "14 super bright LEDs" and will make it appear as though your mattress is slightly radioactive. Well, then! I wonder what an all-child focus group would have to say about this product; it seems to me the worst thing... READ ON
Trader Joe's recently peddled me a very attractive assortment of vitamin supplements, and in each self-contained valentine of pills were all the usual suspects reassuringly packaged together. The tiny ruby of the group, I thought, had to be something special, and indeed it was an old vitamin fave: Vitamin A. As a nearly legally blind person (but lively & w/excellent hearing!), I've always been after any talisman claiming to benefit one's eyes--even though I wasn't sure how much use I'd be able to get out... READ ON
One would be Gordon Bell, a Microsoft research scientist who's been doing a darn good job at living a relentlessly documented, paperless life. He's been deemed the guinea pig for the MS lifeblogging project, MyLifeBits. The Bits software enables users to save every email, IM transcript, phone call, a new jpg every 30 seconds--basically all your lovely ephemera; as ars technica explains:
Bell generates 1GB of data each month, and says that having a computer store this much information frees his mind for... READ ON
This is an emissions-free, human powered forklift, made by green-forward Soceadth. Sometimes those spinning classes are just too much, right? Sometimes one needs to see those joules of energy really produce! This wondrous Japanese invention will set you back about $1615, but still better than a real, new one (they hover around the $20k range), but you can get a used one for $3k! When you finally have your dream lift (and you're certified, of course), then you can wear those "Have You Hugged a Forklift... READ ON
Financing one's education can be a frustrating nexus of half and full nelsons. If you're lucky, you'll graduate hungover and delivered into the patient, staid lap of Ms. Sallie Mae. But maybe you won't owe Ms. Mae and her general aegis as much if you can just score one of these unusual scholarships. When I was mired in high school, I never qualified for the ones that were offered to me as an afterthought in my father's employee benefits manual (i.e. I wasn't quite callused or left-brained enough for... READ ON
Drinking bleach used to be a much-beloved threat I'd whip at my parents or caretakers. I wasn't macabre so much as really just fascinated with the chemistry set that existed under our kitchen sink--the Pledge, the Comet, the Arm & Hammer whatever;Â these chemical weapons all seemedÂ so dangerously conspicuous--when the liquor cabinet was locked, why wasn't the chemical bunker beneath the sink? But why, other than self-mutilation, would someone drink bleach?Â Thanks to the insidious work of some urban... READ ON
As a longtime fan of the Baby Be of Use series, I was glad to see a baby finally stepping up to the plate--by monitoring a NASA space mission. Ok, via the baby monitor, but still. It's not shocking, of course, since it's really a radio transmitter like any other--but it'sÂ something to think about that yourÂ baby could, just as likely, be viewed remotely byÂ other transmitters.Â If you don't have such a hypersensitive baby monitor but you still want to keep current as the Atlantis crew repairs... READ ON
Michael Jackson wanted to do a Harry Potter musical. J.K. Rowling said no.