1. Sam Kean on the periodic table:
In some sense, what you might have suspected from the first day of high-school chemistry is true: The periodic table is a colossal waste of time. Nine out of every 10 atoms in the universe are hydrogen, the first element and the major constituent of stars. The other 10 percent of all atoms are helium. That’s already 100 percent. The rest of the periodic table, Elements 3 through 118, lithium through ununoctium, barely register on a cosmic scale. The rest of the universe, you and I included, is a rounding error.
“Soccer,” by the way, is not some Yankee neologism but a word of impeccably British origin. It owes its coinage to a domestic rival, rugby, whose proponents were fighting a losing battle over the football brand around the time that we were preoccupied with a more sanguinary civil war. Rugby’s nickname was (and is) rugger, and its players are called ruggers—a bit of upper-class twittery, as in “champers,” for champagne, or “preggers,” for enceinte. “Soccer” is rugger’s equivalent in Oxbridge-speak. The “soc” part is short for “assoc,” which is short for “association,” as in “association football,” the rules of which were codified in 1863 by the all-powerful Football Association, or FA—the FA being to the U.K. what the NFL, the NBA, and MLB are to the U.S.
4. Fact of the Week: More British people voted in the UK reality TV show “Big Brother”, than in the 1999 European elections
5. What if during the next big rapid onset disaster in a beleaguered third-world country we kept things simple and simply set up “AidMart”?
AidMart would be kind of like a big mall where everyone – every NGO, every UN agency, every contractor or consultant – with interest in actually participating in the response would have a store.
Of course, all the big NGOs would have large stores at AidMart. CareSavePlanVisionOxCorps would more or less be the equivalents of the big department stores like Nordstrom, Macey’s, Elder Bierman, JC Penny, and Sears. And there’d be smaller, specialty stores for the more specialized (but not always smaller) boutique NGOs: MSF, Partners in Health, Habitat for Humanity, Path and the whole slough of small-ish and highly technically focused NGOs could be the equivalents of the Apple Store, Burberry’s, Victoria’s Secret, Coach, and Bath & Bodyworks.
But instead of perfume or high-end tech gear or the latest fashions, on sale would be the very latest in tarps, tents, sleeping mats, fuel-efficient stoves, jerry cans (with or without water), wheel barrows, hand tools, and so on. Of course there’d be a full array of transitional and long-term shelter solution on sale, but you’d have to prove that you have land to actually build it on before buying. There’d be all of the different kinds of kits, too. Shops would have the already assembled kits available, as well as all of the component parts in big bins so that beneficiaries could “build their own.”
7. Weird News of the Week: Dead Suspicious
A suspicious wife sat over her husband’s body for 14 days because she suspected he was faking his own death to get away from her.
The woman, 72, told police in Vaslui, Romania, she did not report the death until she was sure hubby Vasile wasn’t trying to trick her so he could start a new life with his mistress.
8. Quote of the Week: “To want to meet an author because you like his books is as ridiculous as wanting to meet the goose because you like pate de foie gras.” – Arthur Koestler
If you’re a Jewish American, Hanukkah probably means a lot to you. This is, however, surprising to Jews from Israel, for whom Hanukkah is not a big holiday. Three Jewish economists examined the idea that this may have something to do with Christmas. Analyzing data from a national survey, they found that Jews with young children were more likely to celebrate Hanukkah than other Jewish holidays. The authors then analyzed data on local retail purchases of Jewish products. Stores in areas with a lower share of Jews sold more Jewish products around Hanukkah. This seems to suggest that Jewish families feel they have to compete for the loyalty of their children, especially when everyone else is celebrating Christmas.
History is full of great bores praising the virtues of early rising, but few have made the case for letting the day drift by until you kick into gear around happy hour.
Yet the research continues to mount, arguing that evening people have qualities which should be nurtured. They tend to be more creative, intelligent, humorous and extroverted. They are the balance to morning people, who are said to be more optimistic, proactive and conscientious.
13. From Atul Gawande’s commencement speech at the Stanford School of Medicine:
Half the words you now routinely use you did not know existed when you started: words like arterial-blood gas, nasogastric tube, microarray, logistic regression, NMDA receptor, velluvial matrix.
O.K., I made that last one up. But the velluvial matrix sounds like something you should know about, doesn’t it? And that’s the problem. I will let you in on a little secret. You never stop wondering if there is a velluvial matrix you should know about.
Since I graduated from medical school, my family and friends have had their share of medical issues, just as you and your family will. And, inevitably, they turn to the medical graduate in the house for advice and explanation.
I remember one time when a friend came with a question. “You’re a doctor now,” he said. “So tell me: where exactly is the solar plexus?”
I was stumped. The information was not anywhere in the textbooks.
“I don’t know,” I finally confessed.
“What kind of doctor are you?” he said.
We’ve all heard “Underwater Basket Weaving” used as a synonym for easy, impractical college courses. Turns out that underwater basket weaving is challenging, rewarding, and offered by at least two American universities: UCSD, and Saint Joseph’s College Indiana. So whence the joke about UBW?
16. Infographic of the Week: The CSI Effect – Fact v. Fiction
In an attempt to rid the country of “decadent Western cuts”, Iran’s culture ministry has produced a catalogue of haircuts that meet government approval.
The list of banned styles includes ponytails, mullets and elaborate spikes. However,quiffs appear to be acceptable, as are fashioning one’s hair in the style of Simon Cowell or cultivating a 1980s-style floppy fringe.
The Instinctive Drowning Response – so named by Francesco A. Pia, Ph.D., is what people do to avoid actual or perceived suffocation in the water. And it does not look like most people expect. There is very little splashing, no waving, and no yelling or calls for help of any kind. To get an idea of just how quiet and undramatic from the surface drowning can be, consider this: It is the number two cause of accidental death in children, age 15 and under (just behind vehicle accidents) – of the approximately 750 children who will drown next year, about 375 of them will do so within 25 yards of a parent or other adult. In ten percent of those drownings, the adult will actually watch them do it, having no idea it is happening (source: CDC).
A man jumps out a fifth-story window. A woman marches into oncoming traffic. Another woman loads a gun and shoots herself. All appear to be open-and-shut cases of suicide, but, then again, maybe not. In rare cases, such deaths could be caused by something called parasomnia pseudo-suicide, experts say.
In other words: It’s possible to kill yourself in your sleep.
22. HistoricalLOL of the Week
24. James Poulos on “In Defense of the Suburbs”
. . .The suburbs aren’t perfect. No type of residential institution can perfect us. And none can ruin us — only we can do that.
We restless Americans can ruin ourselves with our restlessness. But we know that we are never really at home in the world, at the same time that we know all of America, in the most important way, is our home. We Americans move constantly, and it is our relocation and our picking up and putting down stakes that gives the suburbs their true character. Some suburbs can be cold, anonymous, unfeeling — like some cities and rural areas. I can attest however that some suburbs are among the warmest, most neighborly places on earth: even if you are a new arrival, even if you are a stranger, even if you are only passing through. Our suburbs reflect — because they have created, and manage to maintain — a brilliantly American way of pulling strangers constantly in motion out of the narrowness of their individual peregrinations and into a broader public life. If you do not like the suburbs, I suspect it is because you do not like the American propensity, deeper than even custom and habit, to move, and move, and move, and move.
But that is us. Even with families, that is us, although families — as I can also attest — inspire American hearts and minds to settle down in a way as consonant as possible with the flourishing of those families. No matter the depths of our love for our families, it is a democratic love that rightly places the destiny of our children above any aristocratic love for the soil. It’s not that the two cannot be reconciled for long stretches of time. Assuredly they can, and assuredly there are plenty of places in America where we can find and achieve such lives in concert with the like-minded. But that is an option, not a rule of nature, and it is not at the heart of the American character. Precisely because we are not, in any Aristotelian sense, here to stay, our suburbs are.
…squirrels don’t just bury an acorn and come back in winter. They bury the seed, dig it up shortly afterward, rebury it elsewhere, dig it up again. “We’ve seen seeds that were recached as many as five times,” said Dr. Steele. The squirrels recache to deter theft, lest another squirrel spied the burial the first X times. Reporting in the journal Animal Behaviour, the Steele team showed that when squirrels are certain that they are being watched, they will actively seek to deceive the would-be thieves. They’ll dig a hole, pretend to push an acorn in, and then cover it over, all the while keeping the prized seed hidden in their mouth. “Deceptive caching involves some pretty serious decision making,” Dr. Steele said. “It meets the criteria of tactical deception, which previously was thought to only occur in primates.”
27. How-To of the Week: How to Make Sunscreen
28. Theodore Dalrymple on snobberry
I doubt whether there is anyone in a modern society who is entirely free of snobbery of some sort, straight or inverted. After all, everyone needs someone to look down on, and the psychological need is the more urgent the more meritocratic a society becomes. This is because, in a meritocracy, a person’s failure is his own, whether of ability, character or effort. In a society in which roles are ascribed at birth and are more or less unchangeable, failure to rise by one’s own achievement is nothing to be ashamed of. To remain at, or worse still to sink down to, the bottom of the pile is humiliating only where a man can go from log cabin to White House. Of course, no society is a pure meritocracy and none allows of absolutely no means of social ascent either; thus my typology is a very rough one, and is not meant to suggest that there is ever a society in which the socially subordinate are perfectly happy with their lot or are universally discontented with it. But it does help to explain why justice, of the kind according which everyone receives his deserts, might not necessarily conduce to perfect contentment. It is obviously more gratifying to ascribe one’s failure to injustice than to oneself, and so there is an inherent tendency in a meritocracy for men to perceive injustice where none has been done.
It is not altogether surprising, then, that small slights are often felt far more grievously, and burn for longer in the mind, than large or gross injustices. A burglary is more easily forgotten than a disdainful remark or gesture, especially one made in public; one might consider this foolish, but it is irreducibly so.
Carlson said Perelman had told him by telephone last week of his decision and gave no reason. But the Interfax news agency quoted Perelman as saying he believed the prize was unfair. Perelman told Interfax he considered his contribution to solving the Poincare conjecture no greater than that of Columbia University mathematician Richard Hamilton.
“To put it short, the main reason is my disagreement with the organized mathematical community,” Perelman, 43, told Interfax. “I don’t like their decisions, I consider them unjust.”
32. Another 33 Things
33. 13 Year Old Spider Boy Scales Walls Using Recycled Vacuums