Monthly Archives: July 2011

Another Tweets Worth

I was thinking about the post, “Just A Tweets Worth,” and wanted to add a little bit more to it. So here’s the original post with my new bits shown in italics.

What would be the best and most concise information you could write if you were only allowed just about a tweets worth of words?

I’m sure you can cook up different scenarios that might require this sort of distillation. Something with the most bounce for the ounce.

The best one I’ve read comes from Richard Feynman when he was presented with the challenge of compressing modern science down into one sentence. He said:

“All things are made of atoms, small particles moving in perpetual motion, attracting each other when they’re a little distance apart, but repelling upon being squeezed into one another.”

From that one sentence and the one below, you could start reconstructing science as we know it. If you needed to.

To compliment “the what” that Feynman gave above, I thought another tweets worth could  address the “how to:”

You have to actually measure something and/or make an accurate prediction from a theory and present it to your group so they can try to do it again.

I prefer prose to poetry; but in a way, using the fewest words to give the most information can be like a form of poetry.

Republicans vs Americans

I think everyone agrees the national debt is too large. But it seems like the Republican party only wants to do what is best for the Republican party not what is best for Americans. Republicans forget that the current problems mostly happened on their watch.

When Bush took over from Clinton there was a budget surplus. Granted, that surplus wasn’t just from the Democratic party’s policies, but the budget was in good shape.

During Bush’s time as President three big things happened which ushered us into the situation we’re now in. Trillions of dollars of debt. A trillion is a word you can toss around too easily and forget that it means a thousand billion, so I’ll talk in billions.

First, were tax cuts, adding about 2,000 billion dollars to the national debt.

Next, two wars were started, unsupported by revenue increases, in Iraq and Afghanistan, adding 1,100 billion dollars.

The third thing was the start of the Great Recession boosting the costs of aiding the unemployed, who were also no longer paying taxes. Those costs are in the billions too. The financial collapse was brought on by what is now seen as reckless deregulation of the financial sector egged on by both parties.

On balance, the drivers of the national debt were the Republicans. Now, they seem to be driving the US to default too.

What ever happened to the Republicans who believed in fiscal responsiblity?

Get Out Of The Water Now

It’s the middle of the Summer and I’m in the ocean a lot. Each Summer arrives accompanied by memories from the movie Jaws. I can remember waiting in a long line at the theater to see the movie only to have the story scare the bejeezus out me when it come to sharks. Thanks Spielberg.

I can’t surf without being in the ocean. But I can avoid watching videos and programs featuring sharks. I’ve never seen a shark in the wild. And I comfort myself with the idea that sharks, whenever possible, will prefer prey much smaller than themselves. Attacking something large and unknown, like a surfer, ups the shark’s chance of injury. If a creature is injured its chances of survival are low in the wild. That’s the story I tell myself at least.

Still, sometimes even an atheist makes the sign of the cross before paddling out.

short, fast, and cheap

Here’s a  simple business idea. “Monk Cuts.” Short, fast, and cheap. One style of haircut, the buzzcut. One tool, an electric hair clipper. One price, five dollars.

You’d only need a small space. Maybe no chair customers could stand. Maybe a step stool, to get up to tall customers or to make short customers taller. A broom and a hair bib for customers and you’re in bid ness!

I’ve had a buzzcut for around 15 years and thought of the Monk Cut business years ago as a funny idea.

For years I cut my own hair with the same clippers my mom used to cut our hair when we were kids; sadly someone dropped it and it broke. I’ve even cut some friends hair occasionally. I mentioned it in passing the other day to a couple of friends who thought it was a cool idea. More and more guys are sporting a buzzcut these days, maybe the time’s right. Feel free to try it out.

Distorting for Clarity

I just watched this short, well-made video on a typeface called Dyslexie (I found it on Kottke.com).  The Dyslexie font is designed to make similar looking letters, like i and j, more distinctive and so less likely to be confused in your brain. The new font makes for clearer reading for all readers.

Dyslexie originates from the design firm, studiostudio, in the Netherlands. So far, it’s been evaluated there at the University of Twente; they found using the Dyslexie typeface decreased dyslexic readers’ errors.

I’m pretty sure I have a mild form of dyslexia. It’s self-diagnosed; I often transpose letters and read slowly even though I read a lot. It’s not debilitating just inconvenient. I’d be great if Dyslexie is proven to be truly useful and is then widely adopted. And it’s interesting that slightly distorting something sometimes leads to greater clarity.

Just A Tweets Worth

What would be the best and most concise information you could write if you were only allowed just about a tweets worth of words?

I’m sure you can cook up different scenarios that might require this sort of distillation. Something with the most bounce for the ounce.

The best one I’ve read comes from Richard Feynman when he was presented with the challenge of compressing modern science down into one sentence. He said:

“All things are made of atoms, small particles moving in perpetual motion, attracting each other when they’re a little distance apart, but repelling upon being squeezed into one another.”

From that one sentence you could start reconstructing science as we know it. If you needed to.

I prefer prose to poetry; but in a way, using the fewest words to give the most information can be like a form of poetry.

Under Armor for Dogs

Summertime is here; and where we live that means almost daily thunderstorms. On the Pacific coast of Mexico there are only two seasons, wet and dry. The dry season is completely dry and the wet season that goes from July though October is really wet.

A couple of days ago we went to an afternoon birthday party at a friend’s house. I walked there, taking my umbrella since afternoon is usually when the day’s rain starts. When I arrived the owner’s two dogs both had on what looked like jackets. Each dog is probably 60ish pounds, way too big to costume the way some people do to their small dogs (who can’t protest the indignity). So then I assumed they had on protective diapers. Maybe both were in heat at the same time, like nuns in a convent.

As I got closer, I saw they were wearing matching gray jackets. The owner said they were dog compression jackets that squeeze the dogs enough to feel comforted and so don’t get spooked by thunder. The “thunder jackets” were only a couple of days old but had worked as advertised so far; our friend said now before a storm, the dogs even go to the shelf where their jackets are kept, ready to be comforted through the upcoming thunderstorm.

The jackets are also called Anxiety Wraps and it looks like they’ve been around since 2001. But I don’t know why they aren’t called “anti-anxiety wraps,” because they’re used as sort of doggie downers to get rid of anxiety.

It’s like the Under Armor brand of compression sport clothes people wear to ward off the fatigue of playing their sport or even drinking beer in front of the TV. You see the Under Armor brand all over the place nowadays. If you live in a thunderstorm area you may just start to see more dogs sporting Thunder Jackets.

NYC and Coral Reefs

There’s a lot going on in NYC, never a shortage of something to do, listen to, see or eat. Here’s a clever explanation for NYC. I’ve been reading Steven Johnson’s book      “Where Good Ideas Come From.” He thinks that proportionally, many more good ideas originate in big cities like NYC than come out of smaller ones. “As cities get bigger they generate ideas at a faster clip.”

The book begins with insights from natural systems. For example, even though only .001% of the earth’s surface is covered by coral reef,  about 25% of known sea life lives on or around coral reefs. They’re concentrated, fertile areas.

Next the book points out how, usually, animal life spans increase and metabolism slows as species get bigger. A thousandfold  size increase, say from a hamster to a horse, results in a heart rate 5.5 times slower and a 5.5 times longer life for the horse. It seems most animals get about the same number of heart beats in a lifetime and the bigger an animal is, the longer it takes to use up its allocated beats. As animals become larger they become more efficient at distributing resources.

“If an elephant is just a scaled up mouse, then, from an energy perspective, a city is just a scaled up elephant… Did the “metabolism” of urban life slowdown as cities grew in size?” Looking at ideas and innovation as nutrients and metabolism, research shows a city that’s ten times larger than a town is seventeen times more innovative; and, “A metropolis fifty times bigger than a town is 130 times as innovative.” On average, a citizen of a city with  5 million people is three times more creative than his counterpart in a town of 100 thousand.

Standing back and observing fertile environments shows that “openness and connectivity may, in the end be more valuable than purely competitive mechanisms… we’re often served better by connecting ideas than protecting them.” Because good ideas “want to complete each other as much as they want to compete.” What better place to have ideas bump into each other than in a big city.

Innovation flourishes in cities. The book is about the series of shared properties and patterns showing up in very fertile places like coral reefs and NYC.

 

Jotting

Sometimes, not often, someone asks about writing and what little things I do to facilitate it.

One thing that I do is jotting down stuff. I think it was the writer James Salter who said you should write down the interesting things you hear people say. Along that line, Ben Franklin said that faded ink is better than the best memory. I write stuff down I hear, along with stuff I read that’s interesting. I have to do it soon before it fades into that marshy holding area for memories that’ll soon be forgotten.

For example, years ago on a camping and surfing trip our campground neighbor told me a story. Not a great story, but in the course of telling it to me, he described himself as a rogue individualist. In his daily life he was a plumber, so his image of himself in the story really stood out; and I wrote it  down to help me remember the oddness of that moment.

If you try jotting down interesting things you hear you’ll have a good memory no matter what you decide to do with it.