Monday, January 29, 2007

Keeping your calendar in concert.

If this works, it's a music-lover's dream come true: a calendar that syncs with your iTunes and lets you know if one of the bands in your library has an upcoming show in your area.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Sushi and pureed peas.

From the department of molding your children in your own image comes this story about parents who are exposing their young children to an increasingly wide range of foods, hoping that this will help them develop sophisticated palates. Included is the obligatory tale of the 18-month old whose Dad served him rare meat and got him sick. Meanwhile, the doctors quoted in the story explain that early food experiences don't necessarily predict preferences--there's a good chance your kid will go through a brown food phase even if he was eating edamame at 1 year.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Apple's dirty little secret.

It's not back-dated stock options. Rather, an article on Slate uncovers that iTunes offers a whole array of songs to its foreign users that we can't get to here. If you sign out of your iTunes account, and then switch your country location (bottom of the screen), you can listen to the 30-second samples of all sorts of stuff that doesn't show up in American iTunes, but it's a no go on the purchasing. The article is particularly high on the selection of songs from Japan (*), and also points the way to a rollicking good time of a video that we won't post directly here because it leans towards the, well, stripperish (not that we're squeamish, but we wouldn't want to prove too irksome to those who don't share our loose coastal-urban values). Once again, if you're in another country, you can go ahead and purchase the accompanying song, but American money won't get you anywhere. Another sign of the plummetting value of the dollar?

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Myth of the Great Teacher.

Though it's a little silly to remonstrate Hollywood for providing a misleading picture of the real world, this op-ed worries that most Americans buy into the movie version of how to fix American public schools:
The great misconception of these films is not that actual schools are more chaotic and decrepit — many schools in poor neighborhoods are clean and orderly yet still don’t have enough teachers or money for supplies. No, the most dangerous message such films promote is that what schools really need are heroes. This is the Myth of the Great Teacher.
The point seems to be that while it's correct to want talented, skilled teachers in our classrooms, it's off-base to think that that's the whole answer, or that if they only just put a little more of themselves into their work our nation's education problem would be solved.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Is that a filet mignon in your pocket?

Apparently, meat is the most commonly shoplifted item in American grocery stores. It was formerly cough medicines, but now that many markets put the pill bottles behind a glass case, you're far more likely to see a shopper slip a rump roast into her pocket than some Nyquil. I say her, because it appears that it's not men who are doing the meat thieving, but women between 35 and 45. Men, it seems, are far more likely to purloin batteries or tylenol--either for resale or to support a drug habit.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Got noseplugs?

Here's a NY Times piece about the ways that companies are trying to find ways to have their advertisements stand out above the clutter of all the other ads. My favorite: a series of billboards for milk that emitted the scent of freshly-baked cookies. It's an arms race to find new mediums or new spaces to slap up a company logo. We've covered the egg breakthrough in a previous post.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

180.91 mpg!

Another one from Mother Jones. Here's a story about a guy who can get 59 miles per gallon in his Honda--and that's a plain old Accord, no electric engine, no nothing. He's a hypermiler. By avoiding braking whenever possible, eschewing the use of air con and heat, and sometimes turning his engine off when he's in motion, he squeezes as much fuel efficiency out of his car as possible. In a competition against other hypermilers, he got 180.91 mpg out of a Honda Insight! He argues that if every car had a fuel consumption display, like many of the new hybrids have, American drivers would decrease their fuel consumption by 25%.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

America's Rorschach.

In the most recent Mother Jones, Jack Hitt explores the way Hillary Clinton's womanhood--and her sexuality--are the central polarizing agents in her candidacy. She is the first legitimate female candidate for president. And also the woman who, in the most famous adultery scandal in our nation's history, stood by her man. The possibilities for reading into this duality of roles are endless, and easily colored by ideological bent. To the left, is she the fulfillment of the promise of the feminist movement, or the woman who"had a chance to take a stand for all the women who've been humiliated" but then didn't? To the right, is she the principled mother who put family first, or the "clawing shrew who will suffer any ignominy to attain power?" The upshot, as has been covered ad nauseam, is that Hillary has a lot of people who really like her, a lot who don't, and very few who are undecided. To win an election, she's going to have to flip some people who have already made up their minds. Hitt wonders, however, whether women--liberal, moderate, and even conservative--might not, in the privacy of the voting booth, cast their ballots in favor of Hillary just because her womanhood, and not her work, has taken on such a central role in her candidacy. As Katha Pollitt wrote recently about the grief Hillary has received, seemingly only because she is a woman: "I just might vote for her to give these pathetic misogynists what for, and so might the rest of my coven."

(Speaking of the needless sexualizing of Senator Clinton, it seemed a bit of a pointless and crude inclusion for Hitt to guess at the cup size on the much-publicized sculpture of Clinton that played up the role of her gender in her public persona by depicting her wearing a skimpy bustier.)

Friday, January 12, 2007

The optimism conundrum.

Is it possible to have low expectations but still remain generally optimistic? That seems to be the combined message of two recent NY Times articles. The first reports a study finding that optimists outlive pessimists. In other words, a good attitude leads to a longer life. The second article reports study findings that people in Denmark consistently rate more highly on measures of life satisfaction than folks in other nations. The explanation that researchers are giving for this: Danes maintain low expectations for life, and so are pleasantly surprised when things go well. So, we'll add both optimism, and low expectations to the list of longevity-producing agents reported in Irk, though how you're going to integrate these two new ones without some major congnitive inconsistency, we're not sure.

On that note, the current list of magical agents that will lead to a long and prosperous life looks something like this: education, money, social connection, and the optimum combination of beer and coffee. Go forth and prosper!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Quarter water!

Irk has gotten a little caught up in highbrow foodie-ism of late, so as an antidote, I give you Bo-de-ga. If you don't know what quarter water is, you need to watch. Apologies if the outer-borough New York in me is blinding my judgment of good Internet.

Monday, January 08, 2007

How should you vote?

On the off chance that you aren't sure of your political persuasion.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Hidden treasures of the Amazon.

Apparently, offers a 30-day price guarantee. Buy anything from them, and discover sometime over the course of the next 30 days that they are offering it at an even deeper discount, they'll give you back the difference... as long as you ask for it. It's not something that they publicize, but Timothy Noah sleuthed it out, and gives the details here.

Friday, January 05, 2007

How much info is too much info?

For those of us who have seen Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, or simply followed the Enron scandal in the news, the whole thing was a pretty open and shut case. A bunch of greedy corporate executives cheated their hard-working employees out of their pensions while making off with millions. The crux of their crime came in not disclosing the true financial status of the company to investors, and to their employees. Case closed. Jeffrey Skilling goes to jail, Ken Lay down to hell.

Well, except that it's a little more complicated than that, says Malcolm Gladwell, as Malcolm Gladwell is wont to do. Gladwell points out that Enron's techniques for making speculative profit look real, and for garnering loans despite already being millions in debt were all in their financial statements and other public documents. Moreover, when reporters started calling to ask questions, the corporate suits would answer them. In short, this wasn't a case of lack of disclosure--the information was out there. (Among the more amazing facts in the public record was that despite their massive reported earnings, Enron paid absolutely no taxes for several years because, well, their earnings weren't real.) The point is that no one in the financial community pointed this stuff out until the very end. It's a slightly different view of what exactly it was that the Enron guys did, and while Gladwell doesn't question the sleaziness of the Enron execs, he does seem to be arguing that Enron was operating in the margins of truth, rather than peddling lies wholesale. He even points to a source that wonders whether the Enron guys completely understood what it was that they were doing. Then there's the larger point, as to whether or not an expectation of honesty--disclosure--is enough to keep track of business dealings. Says Gladwell, "the idea that the more a company tells us about its business, the better off we are... has become an anachronism." Gladwell points his finger back at the financial community and wonders whether in this day and age of complex business dealings, some responsibility doesn't also have to be placed at the feet of the people whose job it is to know about such things.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Education and life-expectancy.

Way back in 2006, we Irked about the relationship between wealth and health. This recent NY Times article offers up a slightly different twist, explaining that even better than wealth at predicting well-being is amount of education. At first blush, this seems to be a redundant finding, until the article explains that education level is not just a stand-in for socioeconomic status. In states where the amount of compulsory education increased, so did life expectancy--the effect was not merely the result of self-selection, with wealthier, healthier people continuing on in school. How have economists explained this correlation? Well, they're not quite sure, but the current prevailing theory is that time spent in school is linked with individuals' ability to delay gratification, a capability which is implicated in avoiding a number of negative health behaviors. If only these things played themselves out on an individual basis, maybe my advanced degree might have led me to avoid the pint of ice cream I just devoured. But seriously, ummmm, now can we start spending more money on education?

The above-average American.

Apparently, it's not just Lake Wobegon where the kids are above average. That is, a number of studies have shown that people from Western cultures are consistently likely to assume that they have better than average ability in a given task, even when their measured performance is less than stellar. In these latter cases, people will attribute their underwhelming performance to some extraneous factor besides their actual ability in the task--that test wasn't really a good measure of ability, I had a bad day, I didn't work very hard. Interestingly, members of many non-Western cultures (e.g., Japan, India), show no such tendency, and actually may veer towards self-effacement, even when they have performed quite well. A study by Hazel Markus and Shinobu Kitayama (1991), for instance, found that where Americans guessed that only about 30% of other people would be better than them at a task, Japanese respondents estimated 50% of other people would be better than them. Either Americans are playing out a little bit of a self-serving bias, or they have a really low opinion of their countrymen.

Sorry for the lousy/lack of links on this one, but most of the stuff was password protected.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Restaurantation relocation, pt. 2

Yesterday's post linked this article, which describes the author's move to a new neighborhood in search of housing that was better appointed in terms of dining options. Besides serving as a symbol of the foodie movement, the article also begs the question: What are the characteristics of the optimum food neighborhood? From the article, it was pretty clear that "fine" dining was not the issue at hand. Rather, the impetus for the author's relocation was the bounty of cheap, and mostly ethnic food his new neighborhood promised. Certainly, this makes sense--even if you're a member of the Harvard Business School's Food and Wine Club, French Laundry and Daniel are only going to be once-in-a-while destinations. But where the article's author opted pretty far in the direction of ungentrified, how upscale a neighborhood does your average food-centric individual desire? Is it more towards the really good $5 entree (say, burrito), or the really good $20 entree (say, coffee-rubbed pork loin, and you're probably going to order a glass of wine and dessert with it)? And incidentally, no matter how gentrified you like your food, where do the corrollary items--the gourmet cup of coffee and the organic produce--fit into this equation? Unlikely to find these last two without some semblance of the $20 entree in the vicinity.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

3 BR, 1.5 BTH, 45 Restaurants.

Seth Kugel moved from upper Manhattan to, of all places, Queens. Did he find a nicer place? Well, yes. But that wasn't the impetus for the decision. It wasn't floor plan, natural light, or space that fuelled his move--it was the food. Mr. Kugel (and I'm assuming the humor of his last name is not lost on him) wanted to be in striking distance of his favorite restaurants. The 'food move' needs a catchy name--Restaurantation Relocation?--but it is absolutely the perfect symbol for the lengths to which acolytes of foodie culture will go in order to achieve gustatory satisfaction.