Serendipity

I just love that word, don’t you? Always looking for a chance to use it and tonight, while the boys were watching football, it presented itself. We’d just been watching episode five (on the wonderful BBC IPlayer) of a marvellous TV-series called Victorian Farm. Once the football started I looked around on my Iphone to find BBC’s page for the programme with some info about the three people who “star” in the programme. And huge was my disappointment when I couldn’t find any such page. What I did find – hence the serendipity – was a blog. As previously mentioned I’ve been looking for British blogs of interest, but have only found very few. This one, however, looks SO promising. The woman has a sense of humour, she can write and she has something to write about. AND – she’s a geek! And why did I find it – well of course because she’s written a lovely post, describing the Victorian Farm programme in detail. I’m thankful, because then I don’t have to – it’s a bit cold and I’d much rather be in bed! If you haven’t seen this programme – hurry up and do so. It’s SO good. It can still be seen for a short while on the Iplayer. And there are many other great programmes to be watched there – if you’re Danish or another kind of non-Brit, you can watch it on your computer or even on your Iphone, in astonishingly good quality. Public Service at its best! Victorian Farm has also been made into a book. It looks good.

About serendipity – my friend Gabs sent me a great link the other day, to a Wiki-type dictionary. One of the more unusual features in this dictionary is “The 100 most beautiful words in English” and Serendipity is on it. check it out – I’ll try to memorise some of the words in the list I didn’t already know. Quite a few – English is a rich, rich language!

As a non-Brit I often meet words that I’d really like to start using myself, but then hesitate because I don’t have a clue how to pronounce it. But there’s help, did you know? On Dictionary.com (and other online dictionaries) you can click the little speaker-icon and have a nice man or lady say the word out loud for you. As many times as you like. That’s nice.

Finally, we’ve been to the British Museum today. Dane has a thing a bout Egypt, pyramids and mummies, so we journeyed through the Egyptian section of the museum. I haven’t been there for a very long time, but have visited their absolutely fabulous website a number of times. Have a look and see what a museum website should REALLY look like. Here’s about the Egyptians. Read about the visionary director Neil MacGregor and his plans for the museum here.

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I want to go to the library

but I never seem to get down there! One reason is that the nearest library is in Woking, our local town, which I’m not particularly fond of. Another is that I’m never encouraged to go! I’m all the time searching for books for the courses I attend and of course some of them are not your average bestseller. I’ll always start by just plain Googling the author/title to see what comes up. Then I search specifically in Google Books, because some publishers are actually nice enough to allow Google Books to scan AND publish books that are out of print. But most publishers are not. Before Christmas I wanted a book, which has been out of print for a long time. And there’s no reason to believe that it’ll come up for a new edition any time soon. But it was only available to peek at. If I wanted to buy it, I’d have to buy it second-hand at a rather steep price for such a boring text-book. But – supply and demand, you know! Then I searched the library catalogue for Surrey, but no luck there either. That meant that either I had to go through all the hassle of getting it from outside Surrey or from British Library or just buying it. So I shelled out and have now added a book to my collection that I didn’t even want.

With good reason you might now ask: “What is she getting at?” I’ll tell you – I’ve often wondered why, when you Google a book, you don’t get a result saying “Click here to see the nearest library that has this book”. There’s a bit of it in Google Books, but it doesn’t work all that well – and only a fraction of the world’s books are at Google Books yet, although they are working on it!

A snapshot of my phone, open on the tech news page.

Today I read in The Guardian’s excellent tech-news, delivered directly to my Iphone, why that is. It’s of course governments who are dragging their feet. Nothing new in that. But apparently the guilty party is a cataloguing company called Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) in Ohio… So all the eager modern-day librarians out there who so want to share their collection of great books with the wider public just aren’t allowed. That’s really, really sad. I hope – but am not counting on – that whoever in Obama’s administration this thing sorts under will do something and break the monopoly of this kill-joy in Ohio. Read the whole article, it’s not that long and it’s interesting. There’s more in it than just the above.

Oh, and if you’ve never checked out Google Books you should. It’s a great place and it’ll only get greater! I just made a search for a book that’s on my reading list for the next course I’m taking. As you can see, if you click here, the publisher does not allow browsing, not even a few pages. If you look at this other book, you can see an example of a publisher who allows you to have a peek at the book and finally here, you can see an example of a whole book, ready to read, if you can be bothered to read it online. For non-fiction, where you’re not planning to read the whole thing like the one I’ve chosen (it’s Plato’s Republic if you were too lazy to click through), it’s very practical with the search function, which they still haven’t invented for printed books.

See the right hand side of the page
Search results on the right hand side of the page
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Dealing with criticism & what makes us happy

On Gretchen’s Happiness blog there’s a post about how to deal with criticism. Inspired by Gretchen’s own honesty about how not-so-good she is at dealing with criticism, I’ve decided to publish her advice here and comment on it with my own thoughts.

1. Listen to what a critic is saying. Really listen, try to understand that point of view, don’t just nod while you formulate your retorts.

This is very, very hard. When the pulse quickens, blood rushes to your head, the eyes sting, it’s almost a super-human effort to really listen. Only way to deal with this is to use rule no. 4.

2. Don’t be defensive. This is the toughest step for me. With my writing, for example, I always have to take a deep breath before reading an edit letter or meeting with an editor, to remind myself, “I welcome criticism. This person is helping me. I’m eager to hear how to improve my book/article/post.” Act the way you want to feel! That’s my Third Commandment. Along the same lines…

When the criticism is on the personal level, I find it almost impossible not to be defensive. I’m hurt! But professional criticism in a friendly environment I think I’ve learnt to handle. And I even like it when my sister-in-law criticises my English, because I strive for perfection and she helps me!

3. Don’t fire back by criticizing your critic. Your comments will just sound defensive, and you’ll escalate the exchange. This urge is very difficult to resist, because the impulse to justify and attack is strong when you feel criticized, but it just isn’t helpful, and it certainly isn’t effective.

Here I also try to use strategy no. 4.

4. Delay your reaction. Count to ten, take a deep breath, sleep on it, wait until the next day to send that email…any kind of delay is good. A friend told me that she has a rule for herself: when she’s upset about something that happened at her children’s school, she won’t let herself do anything about it for three days – and usually she decides that no action is better than action.

This is the only thing I can say with certainty that I’ve become better at over the years. Sleep on it! I never send off an angry e-mail the day I write it, always chew on it at least for a day, sometimes weeks. I can proudly say that quite a few angry e-mails have found their way to the trash – where they belonged!

5. Explain honestly the reason for your actions. Sometimes it’s tempting to re-characterize your actual feelings and motives. Usually, though, that just complicates things more. It becomes impossible to have an honest exchange.

I try to do this, I really do. But sometimes I find that people don’t believe that I am being honest. And then I really don’t know what to do?

6. Admit your mistakes. This is extremely effective and disarming. When I got my first job, my father told me, “If you take the blame, you’ll get the responsibility.” I’ve found that to be very true. Difficult, but true. Admitting mistakes is the first step, then…

I think I’ve become better at this too. But I have also had some bad experiences with it. In the workplace, if you take the blame one time too often (having made a mistake jointly with others) – just to ward off lots of hassle and to be nice to your colleagues, thinking they might take the blame another time – you actually might end up being fired!

7. Explain what you’ve learned. If you can show a critic that you’ve learned something, you prove that you’ve understood the criticism and tried to act on it. That, itself, usually mollifies critics.

This is very true. But sometimes it can lead to the most awful self-righteousness from the other party. And then you want to criticise them…

8. Enjoy the fun of failure. Re-frame the issue entirely to embrace criticism. Fact is, trying new things and aiming high opens you to criticism. I tell myself to Enjoy the fun of failure to try to re-frame failure and criticism as part of the fun. Otherwise, my dread of criticism can paralyze me.

I don’t think I’ve ever tried this tack. Maybe it’s due to a lack of humour. Must try it next time.

A fantastic book on the subject of happiness
A fantastic book on the subject of happiness

As mentioned I found this on a blog dedicated to the search for happiness. You might not know this, but the whole subject of happiness, how we perceive it and how to achieve it interests me a lot – so much that I even read books about it, not only blogs. The book here on the left is practically my bible. And it’s not “psycho-babble”. He gives no advice about what to do to get happier. He tells us about how bad we are at predicting what will make us happy in the future and that is mind-boggling!

Daniel Gilbert is a good example of something I learned while I worked in the music industry. One must separate the (wo)man from the message! Sometimes I’d be giddy for days because I would get to meet an artist, whose music I adored. And I’d be DISAPPOINTED, because the artist(s) turned out to be a first class a……  Other times I’d been dreading a concert because I found the artist bad or just plain old boring. And had a fantastic time, because the person(s) turned out to be ever so nice/funny/intelligent/sexy or all of those things…

I haven’t met Daniel Gilbert, but I’ve seen clips with him on TED and he’s really quite annoying to listen to – it’s something with his swear-words and jokes I can’t handle. But try to listen to what he’s actually saying and ignore his persona. And then go buy the book! This particular video is quite long, but I PROMISE you that it’s SO worthwhile to see it through to the end, where he talks about terrorism and our response to it (the clip is from 2005). There are quite a few videos on TED about Happiness. Find them here.

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Books

My Dad has lost a good deal of his eye-sight and can now only read books with large print (Magna Print) and only under a 100W light bulb. Now my Dad is lucky enough to live in Denmark, which has a fantastic public library service, where he can order a seemingly endless number of Magna Print books and even have them delivered, if he is not up for the walk to the library. But if it hadn’t been so, he’d be in a situation that I truly dread. Finally having the time to read all the books I’ve always wanted to read, but not the ability!

I’m lucky – although I more and more often find myself fiddling with my glasses and taking them off to read magazine- and newspaper articles, I can still read. But I’m always moaning that there’s not enough time. But – even if I don’t watch TV that much, I can still cut down on TV-time and read more. I always read before I sleep. Always. I don’t think I can fall asleep without a page or 50! Right now I’m reading Malcolm Gladwell‘s latest epos, Outliers. Highly recommended.

On my blogroll I ran into this post about the benefits of reading and about how to find more time to do so.

I guess I could write about Palestine every day at the moment and today I’ve been reading in The Times about the atrocities that the Israeli army has committed. Can one say, without sounding horribly cynical, that maybe these people didn’t sacrifice their lives in vain? Because by now it seems that even very conservative and traditionally Israel-friendly media have now stopped going on about Hamas’ bombing raids, which – honestly – are dwarfed by now, and have teary-eyed middle-aged men reporting from Gaza. About time too!

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More on the downsides of multitasking

A while back I cited an article called Is Google Making Us Stupid here and also posted it on Facebook. It elicited quite a few reactions – as it had for me, the article touched a nerve with some of my FB friends.

At the moment when I’m not just normally scatterbrained, but also preoccupied with things in the personal sphere, I find it even harder to focus on one thing at a time. What I should do with all the things I remember that I have to do while doing something else, is of course to write them down, so I can do them later. But all too often I just rush away and do them NOW. Or I do them only half way, because in the middle of doing it i remember something else, which seems even more important. And so goes the day. Things most certainly get done, no doubt about it. But they probably would get done anyway, as long as I write it down! What I don’t get done is study. I need to read this book, some chapters in other books and some articles. The book is not on the world’s most interesting subject, but it’s actually quite well written and I don’t have to read every chapter through and through. So why is it I don’t get around to it?

Today I stumbled over yet another article on the subject. This one’s called Taming the Web 2.0 Mind. The blog on which it’s posted is a mental self-help blog. This may well make the little brittle hairs stand up on the back of your neck, but I’ve decided to admit to reading it and also to reading self help books. For Crying-out-Loud, we can’t – and probably shouldn’t – figure everything out for ourselves? And what’s wrong in wanting to improve your relationship with your children, renew your marriage, take a critical look at your career (in my case it’s “career”) etc. I read an article in the Sunday Times by Alain de Botton about why we shouldn’t scoff at self help books. He has all the right quotes to back his claim so I rest my case (and was reminded that one of his books is on my Amazon wishlist)…

So this is what I’m setting out to do tomorrow: I’ll set one hour aside to reading the book. Though I usually always take notes directly on my laptop (in super-cool little app called Tomboy by the way), I’ll leave the computer closed and leave markers on pages with pencilled notes for later digitization. And I’ll set another hour aside to do real focused research for my paper, where I’ll do as (26-year old) Peter Clemens suggests and say NO to all ideas of veering away from the research path. At least for that ONE hour.

Will let you know to what degree I succeed!

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Scatterbrain

I’ve always been a Scatterbrain. My memory is lousy, I have to write everything down and often I forget even that. My mind is always jumping ahead of the current situation – that’s super sometimes, but often it’s more than a little distracting. Today, when I was supposed to do two other things, I stumbled over an article…

I swear, I read the whole thing and my mind almost didn’t jump. I remember where it jumped to along the way, because due to the theme of the article, I made it my business to take note of my mind-jumps.

I was visiting this blog, which is a bi-product of some homework I’ve done for my course at uni. The blogger linked to the article in an ambiguous way, which made me click it. And once I’d seen the headline, I just had to read it. The fact that it’s in one of my all time favourite magazines, The Atlantic, of course made it even more palatable. The writer is Nicolas Carr. He has a blog, which after a cursory glance looks interesting, but demanding. The article is called Is Google Making us Stupid?

Here’s a few excerpts:

Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going—so far as I can tell—but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.

But every new technology has had an effect on our brain, as noted by Socrates:

In Plato’s Phaedrus, Socrates bemoaned the development of writing. He feared that, as people came to rely on the written word as a substitute for the knowledge they used to carry inside their heads, they would, in the words of one of the dialogue’s characters, “cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful.” And because they would be able to “receive a quantity of information without proper instruction,” they would “be thought very knowledgeable when they are for the most part quite ignorant.” They would be “filled with the conceit of wisdom instead of real wisdom.” Socrates wasn’t wrong—the new technology did often have the effects he feared—but he was shortsighted. He couldn’t foresee the many ways that writing and reading would serve to spread information, spur fresh ideas, and expand human knowledge (if not wisdom).

In the end paragraph he returns to Kubrick’s 2001, which he quoted in the opening paragraph:

Their thoughts and actions feel scripted, as if they’re following the steps of an algorithm. In the world of 2001, people have become so machinelike that the most human character turns out to be a machine. That’s the essence of Kubrick’s dark prophecy: as we come to rely on computers to mediate our understanding of the world, it is our own intelligence that flattens into artificial intelligence.

I don’t have such a gloomy view of my own thinking as Nicolas Carr. I acknowledge the disadvantages, but think that there must be some great advantages in being able to think “multilaterally” rather than “unilaterally”?

Back to where my mind jumped: At one point it jumped to a piece of Internet lore, which I’ve returned to many times: The Last Lecture by Randy Pauch, a university professor, who after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, gave a farewell lecture about grasping life’s opportunities, even in the face of death:

If any of you have not yet sat through it, you really must. He has a wonderful lecture for us all. It has been viewed 7 1/2 million times on Youtube! Why did my mind jump to that in the middle of this article? I don’t know!

Also, at the mention of Socrates, I though about something I’ve recently read by Aristotle (don’t worry, it was in connection with an essay for uni): “A speech (or document or whatever) consists of three things, the speaker, the subject which is treated in the speech, and the hearer to whom the speech is addressed” – logos, pathos & ethos. I thought of that because isn’t it so, that sometimes, you’re just very, very far from being “the intended audience” of a text – it’s either above you, beneath you or entirely irrelevant to you! When I read stuff like that I get distracted very easily… I’m afraid it happens rather frequently with academic papers for my courses. Sometimes I even think they don’t want me to read it. And certainly not to enjoy reading it.

And twice I suddenly remembered what it was, I’d set out to do, when I settled at the computer. Wrote it down – must do it when I’ve finished this post ;-)

And in the middle of the article I jumped to read about the writer. I knew I’d looked him up before, but had forgotten. I don’t think that’s something Google has done to my brain. I’m afraid I was like that years before the Internet entered my life (and that was in 1995, if anybody wants to know…).

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British telly & music

In between seemingly endless news sessions about the US election (which will not be mentioned any more today…), I’ve also watched other stuff. I accidentally stumbled over a show that has had me in stitches several times and had Dane asking me what’s so funny. The show’s called “The Most Annoying Pop Song We Love to Hate” and it’s just hilarious. As anybody who can remember the eighties will testify to, there’s plenty of really horrible songs from that period to “re-discover”, but also wonderful “period pieces” to reminisce over. In between the actual songs there are comments from a mixture of people including critics, (former) popstars, music bizz pros etc. Yesterday I was reminded of Whigfield, the Danish One-Hit-Wonder who laid Ibiza bare and then went on to conquer the world. And the horrible Billy Joel song “We Didn’t Start the Fire”. And, and, and… In these wonderful www-times, you can still watch some of the episodes on the BBC I-Player even in Denmark or wherever you are. Highly recommended – the older you are the better, up to a point.

Gemma Arterton as Tess
Gemma Arterton as Tess

I’ve also watched two typical BBC drama series, both with beautiful young actresses. One’s just finished, it was Tess of the D’urbervilles. I remember this book particularly well, since it was the very first book I read in English. There are loads and loads of tears flowing in every episode – the last one has the most tears of course – but I remember crying over the book too. I’m guessing that many modern people (men?) will find Thomas Hardy a bit too touchy-feely, but I love it. And on a bit of a serious note, there really are people out there who, like Tess, don’t seem to have any luck at all in their lives. I even know or knew some of them. My heart goes out to you!

The other series is still on, it’s DickensLittle Dorrit. I’ve never read this

Claire Foy as Little Dorrit
Claire Foy as Little Dorrit

one, so the story is new, although with Dickens, you sort of know the story-line if you’ve read another one of his. The protagonist, Little Dorrit, is played by a lovely actress by the name of Claire Foy.

Back to music before I move on to the chores of the day: A month ago or so you could, if you bought the Times every day for a week, get some fantastic memory-evoking CD’s for free. So I collected the tokens and sent them in. A few days ago I received The Jesus & Mary Chain: PsychoCandy, Echo & the Bunnymen: Ocean Rain, New Order: Power, Corruption & Lies and Joy Division: Closer in the post. I’ve never gotten around to buying these albums on CD and thus haven’t heard them for a long, long time. I maintain that these four records are and will remain classics. It’s just fantastic to hear them again!

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Blog rounds

Before I start my round I want to complain! About you! I can see from my statistics that I have a steadily (okay, ever so slowly) growing group of readers. But so few of you ever bother to comment on my posts? Now, this last post about the Nobel Laureates. Honestly, a good chunk of you must be avid readers like me. So you must also have an opinion of one or more of the last 48 years of Nobel prize winners?

Anyway, that was that out of the way. Marginal Revolution points to an article in a magazine for people with excess money to spend – these guys and gals are very sorry for themselves presently, because they’ve lost money. Some of them big money. The magazine is called Portfolio and the writer Felix Salmon. There’s a great quote:

If you’re running an insolvent bank, and you get a slug of equity from Treasury, your shareholders will thank you if you use that equity to take some very large risks. If they pay off and you make lots of money, then their shares are really worth something; if they fail and you lose even more money, well, there was never really any money for them to begin with anyway.

The Chief Happiness Officer points to this job advert. One of the best I’ve ever seen!

Creative Commons photo found on Flickr.

On Squattercity we can read that the authorities’ reluctance to legalise squat dwellings can lead to uncontrollable fires, death and homelessness. When a fire starts and there are no fire hydrants, there’s not much to be done! The article is about a fire in a squatter city outside Durban, SA. 2000 people were made homeless.

Kevin Kelly, the Internet guru, writes a post that instantly got my attention. He calls it The Expansion of Ignorance. Good title, eh? It’s about how the amount of information, patents and knowledge is growing ever more rapidly. But what’s growing more than the answers is the questions! Which of course leads to his conclusion:

we have not yet reached our maximum ignorance.

And here’s something else to raise your eyebrows: Ezra Klein points to this editorial in the Los Angeles Times (a newspaper, btw, named as “liberal” by some of my Texan family). The editorial advocates a no to a proposal for a new law in the state of California, which will

“…require that calves raised for veal, egg-laying hens and pregnant pigs be confined only in ways that allow these animals to lie down, stand up, fully extend their limbs and turn around freely.”

The editorial recommends a NO. Because otherwise the state will loose its egg business…

It’s late and I’m tired, having just read a long but very rewarding article in the New Yorker by Malcolm Gladwell. It’s been a while since I read anything new by him, but rumour has it that he has a new book out this autumn. The article is about prodigies vs. late bloomers. He focuses on late bloomers and explains the misconceptions we have about their lives and talent. His protagonist is the writer (who I’m afraid I’d never heard of, but who must now go on my Amazon wishlist) Ben Fountain. Gladwell writes fabulously – that alone should make you read the article. But if you’re also interested in what makes an artist an artist and why some geniuses might never bloom, you really MUST read it!

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Literature Nobel Laureates

Below are all the laureates since the year of my birth. I think I’ve read less than half of them, and some of them – like the Quasimodo guy from my yob – I’ve never even heard of. Also, I find it strange that so many of them are best known for writing drama. Except maybe for Marquez, none of them have given me one of those unforgettable literary moments we all cherish. Although a few of the ones predating 1959 have, like Pasternak, Laxness, Hemingway Mann and Lagerlöf.

Is any one of them a favourite of yours? What have you read? Why did you think it was wonderful? I’d really like to know!

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Just on the news: Literary Nobel prize

Wauw, for the first time in years I’ve not only heard about the winner of the Nobel prize in literature before, I’ve actually read him and (just went into the living room and counted) actually own three of his books. His name is J. M. G. Le Clezio – here’s the Wikipedia article and here’s the article about the prize in The Times.

His books are easy to read, dreamy and timeless. Unless you’re Danish I can’t lend them to you, because the ones I have are all in Danish translations. Le Clezio writes in French, which I don’t master to the degree of reading anything other than restaurant menus.

I’m happy that the Nobel Prize Committee has finally again chosen a writer, who’s accessible and readable to everyone.

(Picture is snatched from The Times)

Just added: Well, of course I’d read Doris Lessing too (I think most people have, if they were around in the days of apartheid). But her prize seemed to be a tribute more than a “recommendation to the world”.

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Millions of dead fish

When we were on our tour of the US last year, one of our favourite states was Louisiana. We found the swamps beautiful and enchanting beyond belief and adored New Orleans (oh, the grilled oysters…). We wanted to take a tour of the swamps and decided that we didn’t want one of the “see an alligator, take a picture, go home”-tours, so we splashed out on a private tour with the Atchafalayan Basinkeeper himself. It was an unforgettable experience – and we didn’t even see an alligator. We saw lots of other things and Dean, the basinkeeper, knew every animal, bird, fish and insect in the basin. Knowing that this fantastic place will disappear within a very short time frame if something is not done, we joined the organisation, that supports the basin. Which of course means we get a newsletter now and then. Not often – since Dean is busy doing things, not just writing about them. Hm. In the latest newsletter he wrote this:

Hurricane Gustav hit the Atchafalaya Basin very hard. Cypress forests are hurricane resistant and hurricanes are actually good for the health of cypress swamps because high winds knocks down “trash trees.” The Atchafalaya’s fish and hardwood forests are not as lucky. Millions of fish died after the hurricane and it will take years for the Atchafalaya Basin’s fish populations to recover.

We bought and read this book about the swamps, what they mean to the eco-system of North- and South America, who lives there and why they are disappearing. It is very well written and researched and I warmly recommend it to anyone who’s interested in environmental issues. Here’s a quote from the book, where the author is talking to a Cajun shrimper (Tidwell, the author, knew nothing about environmental issues when he was first sent to the bayous by Washington Post to write a piece about the dying Cajun culture):

“All dis land around us, as far as you can see, is droppin’ straight down into de water, turnin’ to ocean. Someday, Baton Rouge, one hundred miles nort’ of here, is gonna be beachfront property.”

Oh, and speaking of books. James Lee Burke‘s detective Robicheaux  operates in Louisiana. This one takes place in the aftermath of Katrina. Both the description of the devastation after the hurricane and the plot are fantastic.

I was actually so fascinated by the swamps that I’m still thinking about retiring in a house on stilts, surviving on a diet of cajun-style cooked shrimp, jambalaya and oysters. As long as there’s Internet…

Egrets, ibises, wood storks, great blue herons, little blue herons, spoonbills and anhingas are feasting on the fish, which have sought refuge here. Photo by basinkeeper Dean Wilson. Above photo also by Dean.

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A little Obama and a lot of other stuff

Slate, New York Times, The American Prospect, Megan McArdle and a lot of sites that they’re linking to discuss the Obama speech. They seem to agree that it was a good speech, but not fantastic. He is an oratory master and has made so many good speeches during his brief career, that he’s made it difficult for himself. But see for yourself! While looking around all the politics sites, interesting news popped up – John McCain’s most unusual choice of veep candidate – the completely inexperienced, but young and female Sarah Palin. Check Wikipedia as the article is probably developing as we speak (or whatever it is we’re doing). Oh, how I love Wikipedia!

After one of my neighbours told me that I was not alone in experiencing faulty Internet here in our convent (thick, thick walls) and also was kind enough to tell me what he’d done to remedy it, I’ve become the very happy owner of three HomePlugs. OK, not exactly another step towards the wireless home – but oh, my Internet just works wonderfully – at full speed now. It’s like a big plug –  into the mains, one connects to the router with an ethernet cable and the others connect from the mains to my computer wherever I want to work. No installation whatsoever, just plug’n’play! Lovely, lovely, lovely!

So naturally I’ve been surfing around all day long and found lots of lovely stuff out there:

On happiness I’ve found a couple of good posts. They are both lists of things to do to be happier and not exactly groundbreaking science. But I still think they’re good and absolutely worth reading and maybe even memorizing. It’s Gretchen from The Happiness Project, but writing on another blog. And it’s from Pick the Brain about happy people’s habits. Btw Gretchen has a post on how to spot when you’re boring people…

On the TED blog I had to pick a few or the rest of the day would go with watching all these incredible people tell about their dreams and achievements. So this Indian guy with his hole-in-the-wall project took pride of place – he has put computers (with Internet) in holes-in-walls in remote places in India and discovered that any child between 5 – 14 can teach him- or herself and loads of other kids to use a computer in a few months. They even teach themselves basic English to do so. He quotes someone for saying “if a teacher can be replaced by a computer – replace him”. True! If the teacher can’t be better and more emphatic and inspiring than a computer, why have one?

When I started my origami craze I had no idea that it had somehow become “modern“. But clearly it has and I find that quite funny. Here’s a math professor who’s taken origami to a whole new sphere – using his math skills to do so. It’s downright incredible!

On the Long Now blog there’s a post by Brian Eno, who’s new album with David Byrne is on my to-buy list. It’s got absolutely raving reviews in the papers here and I am looking forward to hearing it. The post is about what happens to a society when it’s united in and committed to a very long-term project.

Jeff Jarvis writes about Paulo Coelho’s online presence. I must admit, I didn’t know about it and I’ve never read a book of his, although it’s probably about time that I read The Alchemist, which has apparently inspired many people. I’ve certainly noticed his books in prominent places in the bookshops. His website is very professional and informative and – where he differs from most other authors – there’s lots to read and download for free.

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An evening traversing the World Wide Web

This picture of a very impressive hydrangea at Nyman’s in East Sussex has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of this post. I just had to show it to you, it’s so beautiful!

I have almost come to a point where I don’t want to come across any more interesting blogs. But unless I stop reading blogs, I’ll inevitably come across new and interesting ones. Like this one, named Interfluidity. The post that Marginal Revolution brought to my attention is about something I’d never heard of, but at least can understand, the paradox of thrift. Quite a brilliant piece on what happens when there’s CRISIS written all over the economy.

Marginal Revolution also reminds me of something I also thought of earlier this week. The Amazon Kindle looks more and more interesting. I’ve dismissed all earlier electronic bookreaders as just not coming anywhere near the real thing in comfort and convenience. This one just may be up there with good old paper and print. It would save us from having to buy a bigger house in a couple of years…

On a Danish website I found a solution to a Facebook problem. When you’ve just added a new friend, the feature “suggest friends” pops up and lets you suggest some of your “old” friends to your new friend. But next time you log on to your new friend’s page, this feature is nowhere to be seen – or found. However, the banal and rather old-style solution is to go to the URL and then just write “&suggestfriends” after the address and press Enter – voila! In the same ballgame I’ve found (through my very own search, no less) what may be my salvation. I’ve been struggling with updating this WordPress blog to the newest version, which will let me do a lot of things that I can’t do now. But I’ve come across several obstacles and have had to give it up when I’ve tried it. It has become almost traumatic… It’s a video which explains to dummies like me how it’s done. You’ll be able to see for yourself whether it works. Don’t expect miracles in the next few weeks though – too much holiday stuff going on. But then!

On the subject of happiness, Jonathan Mead wrote this interesting piece on Pick the Brain. I do think he could have tipped his hat to Daniel Gilbert, my happiness guru, but he doesn’t. He’s got his own blog, which also looks like it could be worthy of the occasional visit.

On the news I found a funny little story about “the first computer” – from 2.100 years ago. It apparently had several ways to compute time, one of which was Olympic Time, i.e. every fourth year. Read more on BBC Online and on the project’s homepage.

And in the Independent I read that Danes are only half as fat as the British. No, that’s doing terrible things to statistics, which I’ve promised myself never to dabble in, since I saw this video on TED. Anyway, there are 18% Brits who are obese, but only 9% Danes, or so the accompanying statistics claim. So get it together, my Danish friends, and stop eating c-r-a-p food while you can! I had actually wondered several times if there weren’t more heavily overweight people over here than back home. And sadly, I was right. 18% obese people – that’s a lot!

Oh yes, and I’ve forgotten to bring you this excellent version of The Story of the Internet and the World Wide Web. It’s from Vanity Fair.

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Links

Now, what kind of idiot does a thing like this? Thank you to Capac for the pointer.

I’m always going on about TED (Technology Entertainment Design). As the happy owner of an Iphone I have taken podcasts to a higher level and sit on buses, trains and airplanes etc. and LEARN things in a very entertaining way by watching video-podcasts from TED. If you still haven’t taken my hint and tried to watch a TED video, here’s your chance of watching some of the very best ones, picked out by really brainy people. The theme of TED is “Ideas are Everything”. And what the speakers have in common is that they have one or more original idea(s). Some speakers are world famous, some “only” famous within their field. Some of them aren’t famous at all before they appear on TED!

A spinoff of TED is this lovely online shop based in San Francisco with messenger bags made of discarded plastic bottles. I want one!

The Long Now Blog links to this very funny post about the messages that we, Earth, have sent into space since we were able to go there. It’s not uplifting reading, but it’s so funny! I’m going to keep an eye on that guy.

The Times (and most all other media) has the story this morning of an American court ruling against Google/Youtube. Viacom has sued for infringment of their copyright. Oh, I’m tired of hearing the big media companies going on about Artists’ Rights. It’s not really the artists’ rights they care about, but their own sources of income. And very often they – mysteriously – are biting the hand that feeds them. For instance, the many, many clips in Youtube from Britain’s got Talent and all the other similar shows. Do those clips give the shows more viewers or less viewers? More interest or less interest? Your guess is as good as mine… It really is worrying that Viacom can look into the viewing habits of every single Youtube user and maybe even access their IP-address. In a statement Viacom says that they are not going to do that, but only time will show. Reading about this led me on to this honourable organisation, the Electronic Frontier Foundation. How glad I am that people have the time and energy to found and run such organisations. It’s for the benefit of us all. More on this issue from Jeff Jarvis.

Also from the Long Now Blog a pointer to an article (disguised as a book review) in the New York Review of Books about global warming by British physicist and author Freeman Dyson (what I would not give to be as clearminded at the age of 84!!!). Before you roll your eyes and move on, let me tell you that this article is about the whole issue. The arguments for and against whether global warming is a serious problem or not, the economic aspects of all the different paths we could take and a very interesting finale about Environmentalism as a new religion. If you’re interested in this and want to read something that is truly unbiased, then try this. It’s not exactly an easy read and I will not claim to have understood all of it. But I understand lots more now than I did before…

The News is now Public ( a site dedicated to the publishing of news ignored or played down by other media) tells about Patrick Waller, the 31st innocent man freed by DNA in the state of Texas. The state of Texas apparently has a double record in the US. It’s the state where the most sentenced have later been found innocent based  on DNA and other evidence. And it’s the state with the highest rate of executions. That’s bone-chilling! CNN is the source of the story. An organisation called the Innocence Project are fronting and financing many of these cases. God Bless them!

As many of you will know, I’m an “Apple Person”. I love all things Apple and have much more of that “I Can’t Live Without It”-feeling in the Apple Store than in any department store. But there are things that aggravate me with Apple too. And mostly that has to do with the copyright thing. I absolutely detest that I can’t do with my own paid for CD’s and downloads exactly as I please. That absolutely INFURIATES me. And reading that I couldn’t watch Netflix films on my Mac if I so chose, infuriates me further. Give me my rights back! Why are my rights influenced by what platform I’ve chosen? Grrrr…

Jabberwock, an Indian blog, reviews the debut novel by Mohammed Hanif, which I’ve also read good things about elsewhere. He tells about the similarities to a book I read a long time ago and really, really liked: Mario Vargas Llosa‘s The Feast of the Goat. Mr. Hanif himself acknowledges the inspiration from Llosa. If you’ve never read anything by Llosa, he can be recommended as good – and very entertaining – summer reading. I’ve added the Exploding Mangoes to my Amazon wish list.

Oh, just realising I’ve been going on like this for hours and you’ve probably left this page a long time ago. Let this then be the last link. A funny post by Megan McArdle on The Atlantic about the demise of the SUV. I was never fond of SUVs in the first place, them being petrol-consuming and even more dangerous to pedestrians and bicyclists than other cars, so of course I love her little piece. Have a laugh over some of the comments as well.

No, here’s the last bit. On a very nice social outing with neighbours here in our convent, one person collected money for a “kitty”, for drinks at the pub. I did know what a kitty was, but hadn’t heard the word in many years, not having lived in England before. Asking all these knowledgeable and well educated people about the origin of the word “kitty”, they all drew a blank. But view possible explanations here, here and here.

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What to do about city slum

Upon surfing the news circuit, I stumbled upon a really interesting article on CNN. It’s about the positive sides of city slums, favelas, shantytowns, or whatever they’re called in different parts of the world. It’s really, really interesting, and, honestly, I didn’t have a clue about this.  Do read it all the way to the end, if you can find the time. Here’s a little appetizer:

Historically, Brand said, squatter cities have always been areas of economic expansion; within them there is virtually no unemployment, and their inhabitants are constantly striving to lift themselves out of destitution, he said.

“[Slums] are generating wealth the way cities have always done,” Brand said.

In India, almost 20 percent of the GDP comes from Mumbai, where half the city’s 12 million residents live in slums, Brand said. And even though many slum dwellers work in the informal economy, the official economy benefts as workers accumulate income and can afford to buy more goods and services outside their shadow neighborhoods.

In the article an organization is mentioned, which I’ve never heard of either. The Long Now Foundation. It’s based in California (where else?) and its focus is on long term planning instead of the usual way politicians and administrators do it, till the end of their term… The website looks incredibly interesting and I’ve added the blog to my rounds. Which means you might here more about it at a later stage ;-)

Furthermore, the article mentions a journalist, Robert Neuwirth, who has lived in different shantytowns for two years and wrote a book about it. Here’s a link to a talk he gave to the TED conference, here’s to his blog and here’s to buy the book

Photo googled and found here.

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