I hate talking about myself, but I like blogging. So I compromise and talk about the things that I do/like/dislike instead.
Why Digital Books Won’t Diminish Connections | Dear Author: Romance Novel Reviews, Industry News, and Commentary
In the Globe and Mail, Russell Smith lamented the effect of e-books on personal book collections, writing in part:
“So we lose forever the pleasure known to humanity for 500 years of taking a stroll up and down the aisles of someone else’s brain by perusing their bookshelves. Gone will be the guilty joy of spending a rainy afternoon at a cottage with the remnants of someone else’s childhood: their Nancy Drews, their 1970s National Geographics. Without bookshelves, you will never know the warning signs contained in the e-reader of your handsome date–you will not know for months that he is reading The Secret and Feng Shui for Dummies, even if you stay over. You will never be able to ask, as casually as you can, ‘Did you like this?’ as you pull down, as if fascinated, Patrick Swayze’s autobiography.”
I’ve seen this position expressed a number of times. Digital books and the loss of the public nature of the physical artifact will result in the loss of culture, the loss of something important, goes the argument.
This reminds me of this UK survey that says 65% of people have lied about reading a particular book. As if people haven’t placed books on their shelves that they’ve never read, just for the prestige of it.
I remember caring about what people knew I read and I read classics. Everything from Beowulf to Odyssey, from Anna Karenina to Vanity Fair. I’ve read everything written by Ayn Rand. I’ve read the Grapes of Wrath (and Lisa Valdez has nothing on Steinbeck’s breastfeeding scenes :shudder:). I used to be a big poetry fan, buying collections of Tennyson, Browning, Wordsworth.
And I still have these books but what do they tell people about me? Because all it really means is that I went through a phase where I wanted to appear well read and read and bought books that made me look erudite. Those books are but a tiny portion of my life. I don’t think I have been greatly influenced by the books of Ayn Rand. I do think that Homer’s plots and tropes have been ripped off for a millenium, but what of it?
The loss of a physical artifact doesn’t reduce one’s ability to get to know someone, to peak inside their brain. It doesn’t take away the ability to interact based on a common interest in a book. In fact, that’s the whole premise of social media sites like Goodreads and LibraryThing. Today’s free flow of information actually means that you know far more about a person than what is solely on their physical bookshelves. You can know who their friends are, what causes they are affiliated with, if they spend too much time building virtual farms.
Technology has always changed the way we interact with others, in some good ways and in some bad ways. The loss of a physical artifact merely means that we people have to find new ways of connecting. The loss of a physical artifact does not automatically result in a net cultural loss unless we allow it.
The iPad may be gripping the moneyed world in a fever of technolust, but the other e-reader, the Kindle, is still better at many things. Take Ghana, West Africa, for example. If you are a school in a small village with satellite internet and solar power, what device would be best for you? The power-sucking, data-heavy iPad, or the Kindle, a reader that can be read in sunlight, has free internet access and lasts for weeks on a single charge?
This is the idea behind the Worldreader project, which has just put 20 Kindles into a school of 11 to 14-year-olds. I know what you’re thinking: What’s wrong with paper books? Why do they need this expensive, fancy gadgetry? Because paper books take a long time to replace. These schools are on a 5-year book-renewal cycle right now. A Kindle, although pricy to start, essentially gives access to thousands of free, public domain books.
The first day in class in the village of Ayenyah Ghana was a success. For the trial, six books were loaded onto the Kindles, including a collection of short stories called Folktales from Ghana. The most popular title? Curious George. It seems that everyone loves a cheeky monkey.
Ayenyah Ghana actually has its own IT guy, named Richard. When the Worldreader team leaves the village, they plan to leave a few Kindles behind to make a lending library. This alone is a great idea: the book you want will never be already out on loan.
We’re impressed by the way the developing world is skipping over what is, to us, legacy tech. Landlines and now paper books are expensive, infrastructure-heavy dinosaurs. Cellular masts are easier to deploy than cables, and sending bits over those networks is cheaper and faster than shipping dead trees. The Worldreader organization plans to sell sell subsidized-readers instead of just giving them away. This seems sustainable, and will probably lead to some entrepreneur setting up their own, for-pay lending library.
Ghana: First day in the classroom [Worldreader Blog. Thanks, Zev!]
Photo credit: Worldreader.org
by Jennifer Lawinski, Posted Mar 17th 2010 @ 4:00PM
Photo: xtyler, Flickr
If you're looking for something fresh and exciting the next time you stop by a Starbucks or roll through a drive-through, fast-food restaurants are offering a handful of new menu items to help draw in new customers and give old customers a taste of something different.
McDonald's is test-marketing a new "customized" chicken sandwich with a French twist. The McBistro Chicken Sandwich can be either grilled or fried, comes on a whole-grain "bakery style" roll, and then you choose whether you'd like to top it with bacon, white cheddar cheese, tomato and a sauce (chipotle barbecue, honey mustard, buttermilk ranch), the Baltimore Sun reported. Customers pay less for if they forgo the bacon or cheese.
The customized sandwiches are being tried out in Omaha, Albuquerque, and the greater Baltimore area.
"McBistro Chicken Sandwiches are all about choice, and customers will pay for only what they include on their customized sandwich, enjoying a premium product without a premium price," the company said in a press release.
Last month Wendy's launched the upscale Bacon and Blue Cheeseburger with blue cheese crumbles, sauteed onions and Applewood-smoked bacon.
"We've heard loud and clear that our customers love the new Applewood smoked bacon," Ken Calwell, chief marketing officer for Wendy's, said in a statement. "This great bacon and real blue cheese crumbles takes the Bacon and Blue hamburger to a whole new level and offers gourmet taste for a value price."
The Bacon and Blue burger isn't on the dollar menu. Its suggested price is $4.29.
Over at Taco Bell, the Pacific Shrimp Taco joined the menu. The soft taco combines marinated shrimp, shredded lettuce, Fiesta Salsa and Avocado Ranch Sauce.
In the beverage world, Starbucks is offering the "however-you-want-it frappuccino" -- a twist on its frozen coffee drink that allows customers to custom-order frappuccinos, the Wall Street Journal reported. Customers can choose soy milk instead of regular dairy, decaf or regular coffee and whether they'd like light syrup or whipped cream on their drinks.
The custom frappuccino is expected to make its debut in Starbucks stores in the U.S. and Canada in early May.
Does the vaccine preservative thimerosal cause autism?
Thimerosal is a mercury-containing compound that has been used since the 1930s as a preservative in vaccines. Why was thimerosal introduced into vaccines? Well, early vaccines were administered from multi-dose bottles, in which bacteria could grow. In one particularly disastrous incident in 1928, 12 children in Australia died from staph infections after getting the diptheria vaccine from the same multi-dose bottle. After the introduction of thimerosal, bacterial infections caused by vaccination virtually disappeared.
Fast-forward 70 years to the modern anti-vaccination movement. In the late 1990s, a small number of activists, led by J.B. Handley (who founded Generation Rescue) and a few others, decided that the mercury in vaccines causes autism. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. wrote articles promoting his notion of a large government conspiracy to cover up the harm being caused by thimerosal. The movement took off, especially after former Playboy model Jenny McCarthy became the “face” of Generation Rescue.
Was there every any scientific support for the link between thimerosal and autism? From the late 1990s to the present, scientists have looked closely at the evidence, and every well-done study has pointed to the same conclusion: thimerosal in vaccines has no link to autism. In one very large Danish study, autism rates rose after thimerosal was removed from vaccines. Another study looking at California, Sweden, and Denmark found the same thing. These results directly contradict the claim that thimerosal causes autism.
Despite the lack of evidence, the anti-vaxers have continued to wage their war against vaccines on two fronts. Last month, they lost the final battle in one effort, which claimed that the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine causes autism. That battle started with the now-discredited 1998 study published in The Lancet by Andrew Wakefield. After the British General Medical Council ruled that Wakefield acted “dishonestly and irresponsibly”, the Lancet formally retracted the original paper, and a few days later Wakefield was forced to resign from the institute he founded in the U.S. to promote his claims.
Thimerosal was the “second front” in the anti-vax war, and now they’ve lost this one too. Last Friday, a special vaccine court ruled on three cases in which parents were suing on behalf of their autistic children. In each case, the parents claimed that thimerosal had caused their child’s autism. In each case, the Special Master (a judge) ruled definitively against the parents. The result was a slam-dunk win for science.
The three rulings take up over 600 pages, far too much to summarize, so I’ll just excerpt briefly from two of the conclusions. Special Master Denise Vowell, in the Dwyer case, issued a particularly devastating decision, ruling that claims about mercury were completely implausible and that the parents’ notion of “regressive autism” had no basis in science:
Petitioners propose effects from mercury … that do not resemble mercury’s known effects on the brain, either behaviorally or at the cellular level. To prevail, they must show that the exquisitely small amounts of mercury in TCVs [thimerosal-containing vaccines] that reach the brain can produce devastating effects that far larger amounts experienced prenatally or postnatally from other sources do not. … In an effort to render irrelevant the numerous epidemiological studies of ASD [autism spectrum disorder] and TCVs that show no connection between the two, they contend that their children have a form of ASD involving regression that differs from all other forms biologically and behaviorally. World-class experts in the field testified that the distinctions they drew between forms of ASD were artificial, and that they had never heard of the “clearly regressive” form of autism about which petitioners’ epidemiologist testified. Finally, the causal mechanism petitioners proposed would produce, not ASD, but neuronal death, and eventually patient death as well. The witnesses setting forth this improbable sequence of cause and effect were outclassed in every respect by the impressive assembly of true experts in their respective fields who testified on behalf of respondent.
It’s interesting that Vowell found that even if the “exquisitely small” amounts of mercury in vaccines had an effect, they wouldn’t cause autism. It was also somewhat sad to see how a well-known statistician, UCLA professor Sander Greenland, appearing in support of the thimerosal-autism link, embarrassed himself by presenting testimony that “largely represented an opinion based on a set of assumptions,” according to the ruling. Greenland’s arguments relied entirely on the existence of “clearly regressive autism,” but the Special Master pointed out that Greenland “was not qualified to opine on its existence.” Ouch.
And here is an excerpt from the 122-page decision of Special Master George Hastings in the King case:
...the evidence is overwhelmingly contrary to the petitioners’ contentions. The expert witnesses presented by the respondent were far better qualified, far more experienced, and far more persuasive than the petitioners’ experts, concerning the key points. The numerous medical studies concerning the issue of whether thimerosal causes autism, performed by medical scientists worldwide, have come down strongly against the petitioners’ contentions. Considering all of the evidence, I find that the petitioners have failed to demonstrate that thimerosal-containing vaccines can contribute to the causation of autism.
I’m not optimistic that these clear, decision rulings will have any effect on the conspiracy theorists in the anti-vax movement. Indeed, over at Age of Autism, they’ve already posted an article titled “Special Masters Protect Vaccine Program and Deny Justice to Vaccine-Injured Children.” The article, which is a combination of denialism and conspiracy mongering, claims that the trials ignored the science in order to defend the government’s vaccine program.
On the contrary, scientists studying autism want nothing more than to understand its cause and eventually to produce effective treatments. A growing body of evidence points to genetic factors behind ASD, but it will take much more work to pin down the complex combinations of genes that cause the various behaviors now called autism spectrum disorder. For example, a recent (2007) study by Sebat et al. found a clear link between ASD and de novo copy number variation (de novo mutations are those that arise for the first time in the children). We need more studies like this one if we’re to figure out this disease.
After the ruling, Alison Singer of the Autism Science Foundation said “It's time to move forward and look for the real causes of autism.” Well said. I hope that some in the anti-vax movement will recognize that if they truly want to find a cure for autism, they will support the science instead of insisting, as they do now, that more effort be poured into research on discredited hypotheses. The thimerosal-autism hypothesis is dead.
Archaeological find Roman baths unearthed in Tarragona
It seems the baths fell into disuse as the Roman city became busy and eventually became a habitat area, and a first dating points to the late start of V or VI centuryArchaeological find Roman baths unearthed in Tarragona
The earth works being carried out on Nau street, to replace the various public services, provided the new archaeological find, the Roman baths are located near Tarraco square Tarragona, reported local sources.
It seems the baths fell into disuse as the Roman city became busy and eventually became a habitat area, and a first dating points to the late start of V or VI century.
The remains are in good condition, and were just over one metre under the surface, it used hypocaust-heating with walls and pavement covered in opus signinum soil-mortar of lime and sand mixed with Small fragments of silicate rock.
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A macabre and forgotten episode from the Dark Ages has been uncovered by British researchers after they examined dozens of beheaded skeletons.
Mystery surrounded the identity of the victims since they were discovered by accident last June near Weymouth, Dorset, England, when workers at a 2012 building site, stumbled across a burial pit.
The grave contained a mass of bones and 51 skulls neatly stacked in a pile.
Scientific tests have now revealed that the individuals, all males mostly in their late teens or early 20s, were likely Viking raiders who were brutally executed 1,000 years ago.
Indeed, chemical analysis of teeth from 10 of the men showed they originated from a variety of places within the Scandinavian countries, with one thought to have come from within the Arctic Circle.
The tests showed they had high protein diets similar to those known from sites in Sweden, one of the Viking homelands.
Captured by Anglo-Saxon locals some time between 910 and 1030 A.D., a time when Vikings were raiding throughout Britain and Europe, the Vikings met a horrible death at a public execution.
"It was not a straight one slice and head off. They were all hacked at around the head and jaw. It doesn't look like they were very willing or the executioners very skilled," Ceri Boston, an expert in ancient bones who examined the remains, told the "London Times."
"We think the decapitation was messy because the person was moving around. One man had his hands sliced through. It looks like he was trying to grab hold of the sword as he was being executed," Boston said.
The researchers, who are still examining the remains, also found that some individuals suffered various wounds such as a cut to the pelvis, blows to the chest and stomach, all thought to relate to the process of decapitation.
"The burial pit took us all by surprise and its story gets more fascinating as the analysis goes on," Angus Campbell, leader of Dorset County Council, said.
Video and photo: courtesy of Dorset County Council.
There’s no doubt Google has a sense of humor — its excellent April Fools jokes are a testament to that. But there’s a wealth of funnies that can found any time of the year too. Here we pull together a handy list of Google “Easter eggs” that you can uncover right now.
Bearing in mind we’re working up another list covering surprises that can be found in Google Maps, Earth and Street View, have we missed any other tricks from those crazy Google funsters? Do share in the comments below.
1. Try a Different Version of the Google Homepage
Sure, Google’s doodles make the famously sparse homepage a little more funky on certain days, but there are ways to jazz it up any day with some homepage tricks that will turn your search base into a pirate-, Klingon- or even Swedish Chef- themed online property.
Most of these work by entering an exact search term and then hitting the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button. There’s a ton of these, some of which have been active for a while.
Google nods to open source software with Linux- and BSD devil-themed options that can be activated by typing “google linux” and “google bsd” then hitting the IFL button.
Those partial to a bit of grog meanwhile can get their Google homepage pirated by doing the same with “xx-pirate.” Google will display in “hacker-speak” if you type in “google l33t.” The Klingon version can be found with “xx-klingon,” and if you want some bork with your Google, enter “xx-bork” to go all Muppet Show.
Even more options include pig latin (“xx-piglatin”), an Easter egg-themed page complete with bunny mini-game (“google easter egg”), and a dark gothic way to search (“google gothic”). Typing “elgoog” offers Google backwards, and there’s an Elmer Fudd tribute at “ewmew fudd.” Finally, it’s not quite a whole homepage change, but entering “ascii art” will make the Google logo display in that style.
2. See Quirky Calculator Results
While the few funny answers Google offers via its Calculator app don’t quite top the amusement to be had by typing 5318008 into your upside-down elementary school calculator, they are nonetheless another sign that the search giant doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Case in point — searching for the number of horns on a unicorn makes the Calculator app spring into life with the answer “1,” which is the same number it returns if you ask Google what the loneliest number is. Searching for “once in a blue moon” brings up “1.16699016 × 10-8 hertz.”
And, always a classic, searching for “the answer to life, the universe, and everything” will trigger the Calculator display “42,” which we all know is a reference to Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
3. View Search Results Funnies
A classic, third-party search gag is revealed by asking Google to “find chuck norris” and hitting the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button. The result, in bold red, reads “Google won’t search for Chuck Norris because it knows you don’t find Chuck Norris, he finds you.” Suggestions for the next course of action include, “Run, before he finds you.”
Although not falling into the Easter egg basket, some of the auto-suggestions that can be found via Google’s search service are pretty funny, too.
4. Get Teddy Bears and Ninjas
Google programmers have messed around with code for both Picasa and Google Reader to yield some surprising results.
Taking Picasa first, when in the desktop software, hitting control-shift-y will make a teddy bear appear. Hitting the same combo again will give the first teddy a new buddy, and so on. It’s since been revealed this was the childhood bear of photographer and photoblogger Noah Grey who worked with Google on the project.
Reader, meanwhile, gets an even more comprehensive Easter egg. With a reference to the old Konami video game cheat code — that, depending on the game, would give you 30 lives or other bonuses — hitting up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, b, a, will make your RSS feed reader go into “ninja” mode.
As well as making some of the screen blue, all your feeds will read “30,” and some of the icons will change (e.g. the like/unlike buttons, which turn into animated hearts). A little cartoon ninja will actually appear on the right hand side of your screen.
5. iGoogle Theme Surprises in the Wee Hours
iGoogle skins are practically chocolate-coated with so many Easter Eggs to be found within. A wide selection of the themes — which tart up your browser bar with pictures that change throughout the day — have a secret that’s revealed at 3:14 AM PST every single day.
Selecting the “beach” theme will mean the Loch Ness Monster makes a mysterious appearance for one minute every day at that time. UFOs will hover over the skyline in “City Scape” and the Yokai, from Japanese folklore, show up in “Tea House”.
Meanwhile, a cartoon monster makes a brief appearance in “Spring Scape,” pi appears in the sky in “Sweet Dreams,” and the Northern Lights put on a show in both “Winter Scape” and “Holiday Village.” Still more include a snow tiger in “Aja Tiger,” pumpkins in “Autumn,” a galleon sailing along in “Hong Kong,” and a spider in “JR.”
It’s almost certainly no coincidence that “3.14″ are the first three digits of pi. It’s the kind of witty play on numbers the Google staffers seem to love and, let’s face it — so do we!
More Google resources from Mashable: