All about being organised & turning the lights out

New glasses this morning. Ah, revelation! My 15″ Mac-baby now looks like it’s 17″. Nice.

Have been constructing a Netvibes site for a paper I’m doing for uni and inspired by that I’ve completely revamped my personal Netvibes (RSS feed organiser and more). So I haven’t read so much today, just organised all my feeds to ease future reading. Therefore, it’ll be short and sweet today. Also, dinner needs to be ready before 8:30 when lights go out in honour of the Earth Hour. We’ll light some extra candles and turn off all electricity (except the heating). Maybe a candlelit game of Monopoly? Young son loves Monopoly.

Tech:

Our bank – and many other banks – has a very annoying system of what they of course refer to as EXTRA SECURITY. Now a security expert shows how it’s practically made for phishing. When you have to go through a really annoying extra procedure to access your web banking service, it’s downright infuriating to be told that the thing makes fraud easier, not harder!

Decision making. Doesn’t it just drive you crazy sometimes? One of the co-founders of Flickr is launching a new web service called Hunch to help us decide. I’ve signed up already, just can’t wait! It’s sort of built on some of the ideas that my favourite happiness guru also promotes, that we don’t always know what’s going to make us happy, but with a detour around other things that’s made us happy in the past (but which we’ve forgotten) will help.

Laura is this cool geeky girl with curly red hair who’s out looking for a “really cool laptop”. In this ad for Microsoft she discovers that Macs are more expensive than PCs! Oh wauw, I’m sure there are lots of people out there who thought differently!

Education:

Get a free one without leaving your home. Lifehacker has it.

Science:

Yes, viruses do jump from animals to humans – and back.

OK – not long till lights out now. Computer must also be shut down, obviously. Don’t read this between 8:30 – 9:30 pm your time! (Can one Twitter during the Earth Hour?)

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To eat meat or not, is that really the question?

Tech:

This is an absolutely brilliant post by a young PR wizard about technophobia. Particularly addressing privacy issues, something I often find myself discussing with people. This young man addresses it very well. It was Jesse Newhart who twittered about him.

Google seems to be headed towards semantic search. Well explained on Mashable.

Another PR guy who knows what he’s talking about is Brian Solis. Check out his blog. He’s come up with this model of how online conversation is taking place – if you look at the prism directly on Flickr you can see Solis’ notes by moving the cursor. Quite brilliantly done. Thanks  to Gabs for pointer.

Model from Brian Solis Flickr page.
Model from Brian Solis' Flickr page.

Politics:

I like watching 24 on the telly, it’s highly addictive. But I often think to myself that the show in almost every episode indicates that torture gives results, although all research shows that it doesn’t. People will say just about anything to be freed of the pain. This guy clearly hasn’t revealed anything of any interest to anyone, but that didn’t keep the US back from holding him imprisoned in Guantanamo for almost five years… it’s so embarrassing for the free world that we’re complicit in this!

Quite a few Twitterers have pointed to Newswipe, a new programme on the BBC, and – having just finished watching it on the Iplayer – I must say it’s just fantastic! The middle part about the power of the PR agencies over the oh-so-slack media is saddeningly sobering. Likewise the last bit about a tiny demonstration, which was blown completely out of proportion by the media.

News about one of my Most Hated Organisations. NRA. Obama, don’t let them get away with it!

Feminism:

Do you love or hate chick flicks? A rather learned article on the subject. Including some depressing figures about women in the film biz.

Food:

Oh, please give me something to do that doesn’t have a downside to it? The newest environmental fad, which I’m also following, is to eat less meat. An article on BBC News tells me that that’s not an altogether good thing to be promoting, since people in the developing world need the protein they get from their livestock. The article is sort of made to look like there are two conflicting views here, but I don’t really think there are! No doubt all of us in the West could benefit from eating less meat? Healthwise and environmentally? That doesn’t mean we’re aiming at stopping African herders from eating their cattle!? Come on!

Science:

How the brain tends to switch off completely when put in front of a so-called expert. Avoid them, I say!

Ever wondered what’s on the other side of the planet? Literally? Wonder no more. For me? Ocean. Pointer from Sheamus.

Scientists are getting closer to finding the cause(s) of the demise of the honey bee. Good news, eh? Then we just need to do something about it!

Environment:

An article in Newsweek has this question:

How do you keep people interested in green initiatives and saving the environment at a time when people are concerned about their jobs?

That seems like such a silly thing to ask, when the vast majority of things you can do yourself for the environment is about being frugal? The article is interesting enough though, since it tries to answer the overlying question, which is whether there’s political will in a time of recession to invest heavily in the environment.

Growing hemp could be one of the answers to Newsweek’s question.

Where not otherwise indicated the above links are found via my own RSS feeds or via the busy, busy Nerdnews on Twitter.

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Women in tech

Today is Ada Lovelace day. Ada what-day? I hear you say. Well, Ada Lovelace was a pioneer in the technology field, where not many women have been pioneering. Click her name and read all about it. And here you can read how her legacy has been meaningful to her descendants for generations. And here about the idea behind Ada Lovelace day. Today’s Guardian has an article as well.

That it’s Ada Lovelace day means that all women who are interested in tech-stuff and also other women who take an interest in feminism celebrate a brave woman who came before us and had a lot less opportunities than we have. I’ve signed a pledge to write a blogpost about a living woman who’s made her mark in the tech community. At first I had no idea who to write about, but then I heard about Manuela Veloso. I listen to podcasts of a Danish tech programme called Harddisken and they had met her and interviewed her. I took an instant liking to this little busy, busy middle-aged Latin woman, who has made a career for herself in robotics. It’s not rocket science, but it’s d… close!

Here’s her long term research goal as expressed by herself (autonomous agent=robot):

My long-term research goal is the effective construction of autonomous agents where cognition, perception, and action are combined to address planning, execution, and learning tasks. My vision is that multiple intelligent robots with different sets of complementary capabilities will provide a seamless synergy of intelligence. Concretely, my research focuses on the continuous integration of reactive, deliberative planning, and control learning for teams of multiple agents acting in adversarial, dynamic, and uncertain environments. Of particular interest to me is learning, adversarial modeling, reuse, and abstraction in multiagent problems.

Manuela Veloso. Picture from Carnegie-Mellon homepage.
Manuela Veloso. Picture from Carnegie-Mellon homepage.

She’s Portuguese, but works as a professor at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburg. Details about her personal life – like her date of birth – are scarce, but from her picture and career I think it’s safe to say that she’s around 50. Why she left Portugal is anybody’s guess, but it was probably a career-move, judging from her CV.

Because her main interest is the so-called “flocking” (=computers copying the behaviour of birds or fish when travelling together in big flocks or shoals), she has taken a particular interest in robot soccer games. Read about that here. If you just for a moment start thinking about what it entails to embed flocking behaviour into robots, so that they might behave like a flock of starlings is completely mind boggling!

So there, that was my two pence for women in tech.

Oh, and I think that if you’ve made it this far, you could also click here to aid the Breast Cancer Foundation.

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What makes you happy? I know and you don't…

Had nice Mother’s Day with flowers – hand-picked at real florist by young son – and womenly presents. It was an incredibly beautiful day, so we went to Box Hill, the highest vantage point here in Surrey bringing a picnic. We had a lovely time and even got some much-needed exercise walking up and down the hill.

Young son admiring view from Box Hill, Surrey
Young son admiring view from Box Hill, Surrey

In the morning I favourited a huge number of tweets and bookmarked an even bigger number of news from my weekly dosage of science news. All at your disposal.

Politics:

This is really good news: The US is completely reviewing and changing its policy towards the poppy-growers in Afghanistan. Lead came from @howardsend, who generally tweets very interestingly.

The populist blah blah blah about youth today and elevated murder and crime rates is just that. When the real pros dive into the statistics, a totally calming result emerges. But that doesn’t sell one single copy of the Daily Mail and doesn’t win over voters.

Happiness:

They don’t make us happy. A study shows that people with children aren’t happier than people without them. Personally, I think that the moments of utter happiness we have with and because of our children are offset by the colossal amount of worry they also give us. I’m guessing that people without children don’t suffer the same extremes – or at least not as often as we poor parents do…

A stranger is better at predicting what makes us happy than we are ourselves. See that’s interesting! The study was led by one of my heroes, Dan Gilbert. I’m always trying to get people to read his book.

Botox hinders happiness… Ah, well, sort of. If you don’t show your disgust over something but try to hold it in, the disgusted feeling will stay with you longer. People who’ve been botoxed can’t show disgust – or any other emotion for that matter.

Tech:

Stephen Fry is one of the most popular celebs on Twitter. I’m not following him myself, but I see the occasional ReTweet and I have also visited his page. He is funny, there’s no way around it. He’s given an interview to BBC’s Radio 4 about why he looooves the web. It’s good. He says things some of us dare not say, we just think it. That’s a relief!

Here’s a quick run-through of a panel discussion about the future of the music bizz held at SXSW. These bizz people were clearly well chosen, because here’s people thinking out of the box and not shooting at everything that moves from copyright trenches.

Tips for Facebook power users. There’s even a tip that tells you how to return your Facebook page to the old look and feel before THE CHANGE. If you so wish.

Twitterer Lulu has made this cute little Twictionary over the strange words you encounter once you’ve entered the realm of Twitter (AKA the Twitterverse).

Speed up Firefox. Wauw, I needed that piece of info! Thanks to The G Man.

An interesting list of influential people in the tech world. Nothing to do with money, I should add. Link from Sheamus Bennett.

Science:

A huge study (from the US) seems to have proven that blacks actually get cancer more than whites. Even if I can see that they’ve done a lot to eliminate other factors, I still wonder if this would also be true if the comparison had been made between white Americans and Africans (in Africa) with same demographic and social characteristics.

The language of music is now proven to be universal. Must admit that I would have been more surprised if it wasn’t.

Here’s a really odd one – of the archeological sort. A study of 500 year old teeth reveal which bodies in a gravesite on La Isabela belonged to sailors brought there by Columbus and the interesting fact that some of the people buried there were almost certainly from Africa!

Health:

The fatter the parent the less he/she is able to see a weight problem in own offspring. Maybe not surprising, but still? How can you fail to notice that your daughter’s legs are twice as big as the other girls’? And that your son needs shirts for grown-ups even when he’s same height as the other boys in his class?

My father-in-law (80, super-fit, very healthy) has been eating after the GI diet principles for many years (1/2 plate: veg, 1/4 plate meat/fish, 1/4 plate rice/pasta/pot./etc.). Apparently one of the reasons it works is because a diet low on GI will make you feel more full. Makes good sense. Am trying to buy more veg and less meat already, inspired by Mark Bittman.

My husband sometimes angers me by salting his food before he’s even tasted it. I’m showing him this article about how a very slight reduction in daily salt intake significantly reduces your risk of heart deceases.

IQ:

More evidence that it’s highly hereditary.

Children:

Parents grossly underestimate the influence their children have on them when grocery shopping. Well, I don’t. Which is why I generally avoid having any of them with me when shopping. The 20-year old is worse than the 7-year old!

Viva music! The combination of children and music is good. Always. Never underestimate it. I’ve written about it before, here and here. And now there’s a new American study, showing that children who learn music also enhance their cognitive skills.

Psychology:

It pays off to be nice. Not just in the afterlife…

On a much related note: It’s harmful, particularly to men, to be angry and aggressive.

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Musings before Mother's Day

Feminism:

It being Mother’s Day tomorrow, the Times has asked six women, mainly writers, to write a letter to their children at 21 (they all have young children) or to share the advice of their own mothers. Some of these letters are so, so beautiful. I didn’t just well up, I had to go and get a clean hanky out of the drawer. I like Sarah Vine’s and Justine Picardie‘s the best. Found on Tania Kindersley’s brand new blog.

The Times has also compiled a list of the most powerful Muslim women in Britain. An interesting read!

So, at 49, I’ve finally found a word that defines me: Geek Mum

Olivia James writes a very poignant piece about Mother’s Day. Read it if you have a troubled relationship with your own mother!

Food:

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has a weekly food column in the Guardian. If it wasn’t online I’d feel compelled to buy the paper every Saturday. Actually, I might do that anyway, the Weekend Guardian is a very good paper, lots of sustenance! Today it’s about flour. Also one of my pet causes. I buy almost all my flour freshly milled at the Farmers Market, not least the lovely spelt. It’s a totally different experience from the supermarket stuff. Hugh forgets to mention cornmeal – not the dreary stuff that you buy to thicken your gravy, but the real stuff. I use it in muffins, which then look beautiful and yellowish and as one of three types of flour in my sourdough bread.

Sourdough bread & cake with muscovado sugar, cinnamon & courgettes.
Sourdough bread & cake with muscovado sugar, cinnamon & courgettes.

I’ve promised Tania Kindersley to publish my recipe for Panzanella. It’s from The Blue River Café Cook Book. I hope they won’t sue me for copyright infringement…

Panzanella – serves 6:

  • 3 stale ciabatta loaves
  • 1 kg fresh, plum tomatoes, chopped, seeds removed, save juices (key to recipe is the tomatoes actually tasting of something)
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed (I always dump them in boiling water for a bit to take the top of the “sting”)
  • Maldon sea salt (or similar) & freshly ground pepper
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 tbs red wine vinegar
  • 3 red peppers – grilled until black & skinned, then chopped
  • 2 fresh chillies – not necessary
  • 100 gr salted, large capers
  • 100 gr salted anchovies (these can be ground to a paste and mixed with the dressing)
  • 150 gr black, pitted olives
  • 1 large bunch of basil

Cut the bread (preferably stale) into bite-sized chunks. Mix all “wet” ingredients and toss the bread chunks in this. Mix all ingredients. Don’t serve cold.

Science:

Also in the Guardian, Ben Goldacre again crucifies a number of journalists for their faulty and misleading interpretations of a scientific paper about prostate cancer.

I’ll never stop recommending TED. Probably the best source of ideas on the web. It never, never fails to inspire and to lift my spirits. Here’s about how to grow your own fresh air… What to do when you DO NOT have green fingers?

Tech:

A lot of people are – as usual – angry with the new design of Facebook. Maybe I’m easy, but I’m fine with it… Here’s one who doesn’t like it, but makes a good joke of it.

Here are some very useful tips about how to customise the new Facebook. I’ve already done it – I have some FB friends whose updates are rather boring, to be frank. But I still want to keep them as friends. Done!

I don’t find any reason whatsoever to doubt this story about the GRU and the FSB in Russia using cyber “weapons” against Georgia in the war. But then I’m not a great fan of the Russian Leadership.

Oh yes, and as an Iphone owner I’m thrilled to bits by this. Can’t believe I forgot to write about it earlier!

Politics:

An American soldier tells the moving story of when he accompanied a fallen soldier to his final resting place. Very touching and also enlightning. The Americans are good at honouring their fallen. Would be nice if they were as good – or even better – at honouring the wounded and crippled.

Here’s about the methods of torture applied by the CIA. You know, the ones sanctioned by John Yoo, as mentioned yesterday.

This sounds like a good plan. Geithner reveals how the US will deal with its toxic assets.

See, here’s what sets a respectable Republican apart from one you can’t respect. Please Sarah Palin, can’t you just go elk hunting forever?

How can this and this take place in the same country at the same time? It’s about the right to life on the one hand and the right to a dignified death on the other.

With a few exceptions, which are from my RSS reader, all of the above were harvested over 24 hours on Twitter. So don’t tell me twittering is a waste of time.

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Undo – it's doable now!

Politics:

Were you in favour of the war in Iraq? Check Bush’s “entry” speech here. Andrew Sullivan is embarrassed that he fell for it. I would be too! I’m proud that my sister and I actually took part in an anti-war demonstration – none of us being people normally given to demonstrations.

Bush has no regrets, apparently. Bush’s legal councel John Yoo, who wrote the infamous memo that “allowed” torture, isn’t either. Read about it here.

Obama made an appearance on the Jay Leno show. That’s a first. He managed to make a blunder and had to apologize profusely. Why is it that nobody seems to be able to take an innocent joke for what it is?

Writing/blogging:

An interesting post about why we (yeah, well, some of us) so urgently feel the need to share our thoughts with others.

Web:

Microsoft tries to explain what their new privacy settings are for. It’s close to funny.

Kottke.org has this interesting story about how much revenue the “was this review helpful to you” question on Amazon generates.

If you have heard or read any tech news today, you already know this, but here goes anyway. A Godsend to every Gmail user. Now you can un-send your messages – as long as you’re quick!

Health:

Why am I not surprised? (Why alcohol makes you feel good).

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What can Google do for God's reputation?

There’s something about women’s rights out there every day. Even when you’re not looking for it actively. I don’t subscribe to any “feminism” blogs or sites, because, quite frankly, they often bore me. That doesn’t mean that I’m not supportive of the “cause” or that I necessarily disagree with a lot of feminism issues – it’s more that it’s so difficult to find the right balance between our “luxury” problems here in the Western world and the severe plight of women in the Third World, particularly the Arab world and Africa, where AIDS is hitting the women very hard.

Feminism:

This one I found on Twitter (twittered by a man, I should say). It’s about how Arab middle class women are using the web as an important tool in their struggle for freedom.

Israel/Gaza:

The truth always comes out in the end. The question here is of course whether the responsible will be brought to justice or if it’ll be like at Abu Ghraib, where only the foot soldiers got to pay the price. I suspect the latter, unfortunately.

In the National Security Journal they dare to ask the Big Question. Pointer from Andrew Sullivan.

Children:

Check this great blog with the fantastic title Freerange Kids.

Here’s the Times’ Schoolgate blog’s take on the story I had the other day about children’s lunch boxes and what ought and ought not to be in them.

Also on Schoolgate this heartfelt post about birthday party bags. I couldn’t agree more!

Food:

All I can say is YES YES YES! It’s not homemade food with butter, cream etc. in it that makes the world’s poor fatter and fatter. It’s processed food. How often must we say this?

God:

You won’t believe this. Google wisdom applied to religion.

That’s it for today – must dash to do my housewifely duties…

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News from the world

I’m afraid you’ll see many posts from me in the future looking like this. Since I started twittering I just seem to come across even more interesting things than ever before.

What about this kid, who donated his birthday presents to children in the Third World?

Technology:

More about children online. When reading this, please take into account who paid for this survey. Symantec. They want us to worry. But I still think it’s true that our children spend more time online than we’re aware of. The advice in the article is good and precise.

Why you (don’t) need Twitter. It’s funny.

Very Twitteristic: How to ReTweet better. Good idea.

Winners of the Bloggies 2009, announced at SXSW. I love this one. But it makes me hungry…

Watch whom you trust with your online security.

Fantastic Firefox plugin that shows just how far we’ve come on the web. Thank you to Gissisim.

Children’s freedom:

A mother is reported to the police for letting her 10-year old walk to soccer practice. OK, this is in the US, but still?

Feminism:

This would be laughable if it weren’t so tragic. In a recession, equal pay is unthinkable. I wonder what else is unthinkable in a recession?

Politics:

Some Republicans have understood what the majority of Americans were trying to say when they voted for Obama. Others haven’t.

Black women entering the White House in unprecedented numbers.

Don’t get smart with us, Dicky, says Obama press secretary.

EU is rasing the bar on climate change. But not for us. For “the others” (=developing world). Shame on us!

Health:

Best medicine at cheapest price. Conservative Americans claim that this is “European” – i.e. socialist practice. Read the interesting discussion, fuelled by a post in Obama’s stimulus package to fund research in this area.

IQ:

Passing it on. Possibly the brightest kid on the planet right now. I’m glad he’s not mine. Not sure it’s a blessing!

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A Film Meme

I’ve been tagged by my friend Gabs. She’s a real film buff and we used to go to the cinema together at least once every week…

She stole the meme from a British blogger, a Labour MP by the name of Tom Harris (can’t say I’ve ever heard of him, but then he’s from Scotland…)

It’s about the 25 films Obama gave Prime Minister Brown on his recent visit to the White House. Have we seen them? Do we own them?

Here’s the rules: Take two points for every film you own and have seen (only one if you own it but haven’t got round to watching it yet), one point if you’ve seen it but don’t own the DVD, and no points for those you haven’t either watched, purchased or been given.

Actually, I’m not keen on owning films, since I’ve noticed that I very rarely watch them more than once or twice, so I don’t really approve of the idea that owning it is worth as much as having seen it – what if you’ve seen it many, many times, but still don’t own it? When we left Denmark we gave away quite a few films and since then we’ve only bought a few, mostly for young son.

Anyway, a rule’s a rule, so here goes:

Citizen Kane – exactly as good as it is made out to be.

The Godfather – and that goes for this one as well. Btw, if you’re a fan of the Godfather films, you’ll truly enjoy this article from Vanity Fair about the making of the first film. Truly amazing!

Casablanca – this one has become somewhat iconic, so that the iconic stands in the way of our appreciation of the film, don’t you think? But heck, I like all films with good  old Humphrey in them!

Raging Bull – This one I’ve strangely managed to avoid all these years. But I will see it one day.

Singin’ in the Rain – saw it as a child, remember it quite clearly.

Gone with the Wind – this one too, and again as a young girl.

Lawrence of Arabia – great film – still good.

Schindler’s List – very touching. Pity there weren’t more good Germans around then.

Vertigo – probably my favourite Hitchcock, only surpassed by Rear Window (which I do own).

The Wizard of Oz – never saw that one.

City Lights – oh yes, still brings a tear to my eye.

The Searchers – great Western. All young people should see it. First then do they know what A Western is. You want to get a horse and ride out there with them.

Starwars: Episode IV – don’t know!? Cant’ tell one episode from the other. I’ve seen 2-3 of them??!! (just checked on ImdB – this is the first one, only later renamed Episode IV. So I have definitely seen it.)

Psycho – yes. Not a favourite.

2001: A Space Odyssey – yes. Ok. Not wild about Sci-Fi.

Sunset Boulevard – Had to check this clip from the film to see if I’d seen it. Can’t remember it, so probably haven’t.

The Graduate – well of course.

The General – not sure I ever saw this one. But since I’ve translated this brilliant book into Danish I know a lot about it – and about a lot of the other films on this list.

On the Waterfront – Shame on me. I never saw it!

It’s a Wonderful Life – If you haven’t seen it. See it. It’s just eh, just eh, hm. Rent it, buy it, whatever. See it.

Chinatown – Seen this one at least 10 times. Always good.

Some Like it Hot – saw that when I was a child. Not sure if I’ve seen it since. When MM enters the screen you know right away what made her such a superstar.

The Grapes of Wrath – yes. And read the book. Book made a huge impression on young, impressionable me.

ET: The Extra-Terristrial – quite a few times. Just said to my husband the other day that we should get it on Film on Demand for young son – he’s got just the age (7) for it.

To Kill a Mockingbird – I’m actually not sure if I’ve ever actually seen this film? It seems very familiar, but I remember the book so clearly that it may stand in the way of remembering the film – if ever I saw it. See this trailer for the film. The art of making trailers has come a long way…

Time to add up the points. I’ve seen 20 of them. So that’s 20 points. And I own On the Waterfront (which I haven’t seen, silly in’it?), Citizen Kane, Schindler’s List & Lawrence of Arabia. That’s 4. 24 points in all.

Now, who should I tag? Hm. OK:

Onesentenceafteranother – H. is a sweet New Zealand girl whom I’ve met here. Now she goes back to NZ, so I’m hoping to keep the blog-contact by harassing her like this…

And Josh Ganz – he’s also down under, an economist who writes about that (economy…) and children and has recently published a book about the combination called Parentonomics. Read his funny post about being obsesses with Amazon’s ranking.

Dorthe må lide under, at hendes blog har nyhedens interesse for mig – jeg har kun lige opdaget den og er ret begejstret. Hvorfor skriver jeg nu det her på dansk? Jamen, det er jo fordi Dorte skriver på dansk…




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Aber dabei

A few days ago I wrote about feminist issues, something that led to a rather heated discussion. It always does! On the self-proclaimed extremist blog Stumbling and Mumbling by not-journalist Chris Dillow I just read this very balanced and well documented post, which says what it says a whole lot better than I could’ve done. So why not just go ahead and read it. It’s a quick read and very enlightening. The theme is whether gender is a social construction.

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Suspicion meets the purveyor of random kindness

It’s been a very long time since I reported from Gretchen’s Happiness blog. I’m still following it, but she’s such a prolific writer that I don’t find the time to read all of her posts. This one caught my eye though, because it’s a pass-time of mine to practice random kindness and I don’t want to know that it’s not appreciated!

However, I don’t think I’ve ever put money in other people’s meters or given flowers to strangers. Don’t think I’d ever do that. Even before reading this article I suspected that people might find that suspicious – and also, it seems more like an act of demonstrative kindness than just mere kindness, doesn’t it? My pet random kindness is one I get to practice almost every day – kindness in traffic. When you let people out from side roads with a cost of maybe 4 seconds to your own ETA, it’s such easy points and it’s such a pleasure to see the relieved smile on the other person’s face. I should mention to the Danish readers that the English motorists are much, MUCH better at this than we Danes are. Actually, it’s quite embarrassing! Which is also why acts of kindness in traffic give more bonus in Denmark than they do over here! There are of course many other kinds – lots of things you can do in the supermarket for instance, in the bus or on the train. Even on the plane! On my last trip to Denmark I sat next to an elderly lady who was clearly in pain, probably arthritis. When we landed I took out her stuff for her from the overhead compartment, really a very small act of kindness, which I wouldn’t recall today if it wasn’t for her suspicious gaze and check on her bag to see if I’d opened it! When she saw that nothing had been tampered with she got a really guilty look on her face and muttered apologetically that “you don’t know who to trust these days”… And I’m no hooded teenager, I’m a middle-aged woman!

I think it’s a sad sad state of affairs that small acts of kindness, which usually, one should hurry to point out, come at no cost to the purveyor, have become so rare, that they are treated with suspicion! Can’t we reinstate kindness as a preferred way to behave? When it doesn’t cost you anything and it makes you fell good, what’s there to loose?

My older son likes to help elderly ladies with their shopping, picking up stuff they drop, helping them across the street or up stairs or whatever. He does it for fun, he says. Because he doesn’t exactly wear a shirt and tie, has unruly curly locks and often wears a hoodie, some of the elderly ladies are genuinely shocked, because young men who look like him are not supposed to behave like that. They are supposed to mug elderly ladies, not help them. So he’s quite used to meeting suspicion, when he acts kindly.

Why not go out tomorrow and do a random act of kindness and then go home and tell me about it. I’ll do one too and report it. It’s not bragging, it’s purely scientific. How did it make you feel? What are your preferred random kindness tactics? Have you experienced suspicion?

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Is feminism dead? Did we win?

Somehow I’m always trailing behind a bit. Yesterday was the International Women’s Day and I didn’t do a single feminist thing all day. Generally, feminism is not a popular subject, as my friend Nanna (Danish) so rightly pointed out to me recently. When writing today on Facebook about doing nothing feminist I got a reply from a (male) friend which completely sums it up; he wrote: Feminism is dead. You won. This is the opinion of most modern men. Some of them have the experience close to home of a wife, who earns more and “runs the show”, others – most – just cite the high-powered women they know and emphasise how they both cook, empty the dishwasher and pick up the kids from school. Or whatever. But this is completely beside the point.

  • Women are still trailing behind men when it comes to same pay for same job
  • Women still do the bulk of the house work in 90% of all Western households and 100% of all non-Western households – yeah yeah, guestimates, but not wildly off the mark.
  • Men are still the majority everywhere important decisions are made.
  • It’s still women who tend to the huge majority of their children’s needs, 50 p for cake day, packed lunch with love, school clothes clean, ironed, ready for next day, swimming kit ready on a Tuesday, pictures printed for showing “My Holiday” at school. Etc. etc.
  • Women in the so-called Third World are most often treated like dirt. How much is this on the agenda, when the high-powered are discussing foreign policies?
  • Young women see a distorted picture of themselves in the media.
  • Young men get a sick introduction to sex, if that introduction comes from porn (which it depressingly often does).
  • Women in power very often have to endure endless comments on their appearance, before they even open their mouths.
  • And so on and so forth.

So don’t give me that cr… about women having won. Clearly some women have come out on top, but what about the unseen bulk of the iceberg? I’m not complaining about my personal life, most of my woes are self-inflicted and I’m determined to put the rest right too.

Today I read a blogpost from a Canadian writer/feminist, who uses Gladwell’s Outliers to make her point. I agree with her, that Gladwell’s book suffers from being only about men. But the important issue here is that a whole new group of Western women now have a unique opportunity to actually get somewhere if they work really hard (Gladwell’s 10,000 hours). The Internet offers us that opportunity, because we can do this at home, in between the myriad of tasks that many of us perform each day. Read the post. Her previous post also refers to Outliers, but from a different perspective. If you have a child, who’s youngest in class, read it. She mentions a few female outliers, but I’d like to mention one more: Carla Fiorina. When, to say the least, I disagree with her political views (she endorsed McCain – imagine what went through Fiorina’s head when he nominated Palin!!??), I do admire her. Do you remember her downfall? I remember wondering why so many male commentators felt the need to gloat so much? She has just undergone surgery for breast cancer. Fingers crossed.

I recently read this lovely book review. The book in question is Backwards in High Heels and, clearly, according to the reviewer, India Knight, whom I admire greatly, is nothing like the notions you get in your head when you see the title. I have it on my Amazon Wishlist and I WILL buy it, I just don’t have time to read it right now. You should see the look on my husband’s face when another packet arrives from Amazon. And he is right – I just have to attack the stacks at hand, before I start adding more to them!

But consider this quote from the review:

It’s one of those rare beasts that you want to earmark, scribble in and rush out and buy for all your girlfriends. It contains within its pages everything an intelligent woman might want to know about the nuances of every conceivable topic: big subjects, such as love, motherhood, feminism, politics, grief, ageing, as well as what stupid people often patronisingly refer to as the “shallower” stuff. Except, in this book, as in most women’s heads (to say nothing of their lives), the demarcation between the deep and the shallow is so slight as to be barely noticeable. This is a brilliant feat of realism that hasn’t been managed convincingly in print before: with this kind of how-to guide, the choice until now was either froufrou delight or slash-your-wrists gloomfest.

Isn’t this exactly the kind of book you want to read? I often wonder why it’s supposed to be so totally contradictory to read both the business- and finance pages AND the Culture- and Background pages of the paper, read serious fiction, be good at computer stuff AND take an interest in one’s appearance, read cook books, bake cupcakes? Nobody seem to think it’s strange when male top executives spend their weekends playing golf or watching football? Read a hilariously funny but yet acutely precise excerpt from the book here.

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The perfect is often the enemy of the good

What will eventuallly become dinner
What will eventuallly become dinner

The above is a quote from this long, thorough and extremely well researched article on Mother Jones about the world’s food crisis and what to do about it.

The article details the problems facing food production in this century. It looks at the alternative farming methods that are not quite organic:

After decades as an unrepentant industrial farmer, the tall 59-year-old realized that his standard practices were promoting erosion so severe that it was robbing him of several tons of soil per acre per year—his most important asset. So in 2000, he began to experiment with a gentler planting method known as no-till. While traditional farmers plow their fields after each harvest, exposing the soil for easy replanting, Fleming leaves his soil and crop residue intact and uses a special machine to poke the seeds through the residue and into the soil.

But he still uses pesticides, only much less than he used to. The organic farmers though, turn their backs to him. And this kind of attitude is all too common in the battle for a sustainable planet. Instead of embracing every attempt to do things differently, better, wars are waged against different ideas as to how to save the planet.

The article also looks at food miles:

Consider our love affair with food miles. In theory, locally grown foods have traveled shorter distances and thus represent less fuel use and lower carbon emissions—their resource footprint is smaller. And yet, for all the benefits of a local diet, eating locally doesn’t always translate into more sustainability. Because the typical farmers market is supplied by dozens of different farms, each transporting its crops in a separate van or truck, a 20-pound shopping basket of locally grown produce might actually represent a larger carbon footprint than the same volume of produce purchased at a chain retailer, which gets its produce en masse, via large trucks.

And at the notion of only eating locally produced food:

Conversely, rural areas with good farm potential will always be able to outproduce local or even regional demand, and will remain dependent on other markets. “One farmer in Oregon with a few hundred acres can grow more pears than the entire state of Oregon eats,” says Scott Exo, executive director of the Portland-based Food Alliance and an expert in the business challenges of sustainability. “Attention to the geographical origins of food is great, but you have to understand its economic limits.”

Finally, about the need for government funding and hitherto unconsidered economic factors:

If we’re going to ask the market to pull in a new direction, we’ll need to give it new rules and incentives. That means our broader food standards, but it also means money—a massive increase in food research. (Today, the fraction of the federal research budget spent on anything remotely resembling alternative agriculture is less than 1 percent—and most of that is sucked up by the organic sector.) And, yes, it means more farm subsidies: The reason federal farm subsidies are regarded as anti-sustainability is mainly because they support the wrong kind of farming. But if we want the right kind of farming, we’re going to have to support those farmers willing to risk trying a new model. For example, one reason farmers prefer labor-saving monoculture is that it frees them to take an off-farm job, which for many is the only way to get health insurance. Thus, the simplest way to encourage sustainable farming might be offering a subsidy for affordable health care.

Discussing whether to buy organic or not, whether to buy Fairtrade or not and whether to look at food miles while shopping or not, mostly produces answers along the line of: “I read an article about how this Fairtrade operation wasn’t fairtrade at all and the workers on the tea plantation were treated awfully and underpaid, so I’m not going to support Fairtrade any longer.” Or “They can’t really check if eggs or flour is produced organically and I don’t really believe it is, so I’m not buying it – I’m not going to be fooled by that label into paying more for my foodstuffs.” Add your own answers. I find this pitiful. These people don’t stop shopping at Tesco’s just because they once in a while get a rotten tomato or meat that’s not tender. And they don’t stop dining at their friends’ house because once they got a dish they didn’t like. And they don’t stop driving their car, because they have a minor accident. But any excuse will do, to do nothing on this count. They also can’t be bothered to sort their rubbish, because so many other people don’t, so why should they?

What do I do and is it enough? To take the last first, NO, of course it’s not enough. I’m such a slave to convenience that there are endless things I could do, but don’t. What I do do, however, is to buy mostly organic – I guess that about 50-65% of what we eat is organic. Everything that can be bought Fairtrade, we buy Fairtrade. When we were in Costa Rica last year, we visited some fair trade coffee farmers and if we hadn’t been convinced before, then that visit convinced us for good. I’m also trying to look at food miles. Oh, but it’s so difficult! Yet, sometimes it’s easy, like when the choice is between American and British apples! And I’ll choose non-organic British apples over organic American apples. We should of course forego our beloved blueberries, when you can’t buy British, but I admit that I still buy them. From Chile or Argentina. And what about coffee? Should you buy African rather than South American, because there are fewer airmiles? I don’t really like African coffee :-(   What I’ve started doing lately, after reading Mark Bittman‘s book Food Matters, is to use less meat. Husband doesn’t favour a lot of no-meat days, so instead I just use less meat and more veg, beans, lentils etc. in each meal. So far it’s worked fine and I’ve found that my “I don’t like beans” standard reply to such recipes, shall now change to “I’m not too keen on kidney beans and I don’t like baked beans”. It was on Mark Bittman’s blog I found a reference to the above article.

I believe, that just because something is not THE ANSWER to a burning question, it doesn’t mean that we have to scrap that notion entirely. Because the Perfect is often the Enemy of the Good!

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Decision making – or when we think we're making one…

This article is 4 days old, but I’ve only just gotten around to write about it. I’m sorry if that makes you feel left behind… Bryan Appleyard writes for the Times, blogs and Twitters and I follow him everywhere, not like a stalker, more like an admirer :-)

The article is about how we make decisions – or rather how we think we make decisions, when in reality we aren’t really. Here’s a couple of quotes (the article is in fact a review of this book, which is now (also!!!!) on my Amazon wishlist):

I once bought a pair of shoes that didn’t fit. I blame my brain. I was a victim of a dopamine rush. That pesky neurotransmitter had been primed by previous shopping highs to flood my brain with the desire to take another hit. High as a kite, I made a stupid decision. I knew the shoes didn’t fit as I was buying them and, a few days later, too ashamed to go back to the shop, I chucked them away.

I learnt nothing from this. I still chuck away almost new stuff. This is because dopamine is stronger than my will. It likes the shopping high and there’s no way it’s going to let my pathetic ideas of common sense, rationality or correct shoe size get in the way.

This doesn’t happen to me, I hear you say (I heard myself say that). I make rational decisions while shopping, I never buy things I don’t need (!!!).

The message here is: decisions are never what we think they are. Western civilisation has laboured under a delusion that runs from Plato to Lieutenant Commander Data, the robot in Star Trek: The Next Generation. The delusion is that suppressing our emotions is the best way to make decisions. Data has no emotions and makes perfect decisions. When they give him an “emotion chip”, he breaks down, unable to decide anything.

One of the things that this “infuriatingly young” (Appleyard’s words) scientists points out is that the dopamine is in fact rational, we just don’t have access to its rationale… Consider this:

Well, first, be careful what you say to your children. An experiment by the psychologist Carol Dweck in New York City schools involved giving children tests in which there was only one variable. After the test some were told they were clever; others were congratulated for working hard.

Those told they were clever slumped into a kind of intellectual torpor; those told they had worked hard bounded ahead. In one group the scores of those called clever dropped by 20% and the scores of those called hard-working rose by 30%. There’s a big point here about how they chose: they self-corrected. While the clever group thought all they had to do was turn up, the hard workers considered their own mistakes.

Enough quotes – read the article (it’s not that long) or the book. I will, eventually, when I’ve read the 9 books on my night stand, the three books for my Bachelor paper and the ??? other books on my Amazon wishlish

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Tech news of the day

In Washington Post about viruses on social networking sites. It’s a very sober article, telling us the facts about the current viruses out there, how to spot them, how to avoid them:

It’s important to note that practicing basic online street smarts can save you from falling for these types of attacks, regardless of the medium. As always, be extremely cautious about clicking on links in unsolicited messages, even if they appear to have been sent by a friend or acquaintance. Also, don’t install applications or programs if you didn’t go looking for them. Before you install anything, take a few minutes to research the program and its vendor first. If you decide to install the application, make sure to download it directly from the vendor’s Web site, if possible.

– waste of time set aside, this is a good a reason as any to avoid all the silly applications on Facebook. I’ve kept just one and that’s because it’s been developed by a friend of mine, so I trust it.

Havent installed the app yet!
Haven't installed the app yet!

Also in Washington Post about a cool app for the Iphone, the kind you wish you’ll never have to use. At a calm moment in your home you record all details about your car, insurance etc. And then, if you’re in an accident, you can report it to the insurance company with details like photos of the wreckage etc. in seconds.

Wired has the story about Flickr now opening up for videos, even in HD, also for the non-paying members.

Guardian Tech tells that Yelp has launched for London. It’s a review site like so many others, but this has apparently worked really well in the US. At a cursory glance it looks good. Worth checking out if you’re going I’m sure. We go there so relatively rarely that I still feel so totally like a tourist – map in hand 50% of the time…

Finally a tip from down under. I’ve started following this entertaining blog, which has such a cool take on its two subjects, economy & children. He really knows how to mix those two things in new and entertaining ways! He also Twitters and a few days ago Twittered about a math site for children called Mathletics, which he recommended. I checked it out and now I’ve purchased it for Dane. We just did an hour and he won his first certificate. Not only is this a fairly cool way of learning stuff that could otherwise be boring (it responds intelligently to you getting a question wrong and goes back and gives you an easier one or one with more help), you can also play against other children around the globe. For me specifically I finally get a glimpse of the curriculum for his year and I can tell you, I breathe much easier now!

Oh, and then this one which isn’t techie at all, but still lovely news. Bryan Appleyard has good news, namely that pundits get it wrong 66% of the time. I’m sure that’s more than me :-D    and more than the flip of a coin.

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