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1. This issue—the thirty-third volume of thirty-three things—is comprised of one item each from the previous thirty-two posts, a sampling for those who might have missed the earlier editions. What do you think of our weekly Friday feature? Like it? Love it? Really, really love it? Let me know in the comments section.


2.  Architectural criticism of couch-cushion forts – A group of architects provide a “critical analysis of the architecture, methods and design philosophies of living room furniture re-appropriation.”

Before we were influenced by Mies van der Rohe or Frank Lloyd Wright, before we had seen the visual delights of Ronchamp, Pompidou Center and the Bauhaus school in Weimar, we were driven by a greater force of design inspiration. More primal and immediate than any of the previously mentioned examples, it was couch cushion architecture that established the basic building blocks of our design logic.

We greatly admire the use of coffee table as lateral moment-frame in this application. The solution is both formal and fun, offering the users a sequence of experiences beginning with the entry to vaulted ceiling to raised deck. Grade A-

See also:  Couch Cushion Architecture; A Critical Analysis 2


3.  The Cloud, the Clock and the Limits of Reductionism

Time and time again, an experimental gadget gets introduced — it doesn’t matter if it’s a supercollider or a gene chip or an fMRI machine — and we’re told it will allow us to glimpse the underlying logic of everything. But the tool always disappoints, doesn’t it? We soon realize that those pretty pictures are incomplete and that we can’t reduce our complex subject to a few colorful spots. So here’s a pitch: Scientists should learn to expect this cycle — to anticipate that the universe is always more networked and complicated than reductionist approaches can reveal.

. . . Karl Popper, the great philosopher of science, once divided the world into two categories: clocks and clouds. Clocks are neat, orderly systems that can be solved through reduction; clouds are an epistemic mess, “highly irregular, disorderly, and more or less unpredictable.” The mistake of modern science is to pretend that everything is a clock, which is why we get seduced again and again by the false promises of brain scanners and gene sequencers. We want to believe we will understand nature if we find the exact right tool to cut its joints. But that approach is doomed to failure. We live in a universe not of clocks but of clouds.


4. Mark Gall on  The God Who Became Blood

I may be friendlier with blood, but we’re not intimate yet—that is, I’m not ready to drink it. That Jesus would use this metaphor to talk about the Eucharist—well, how can a middle-class, suburban white guy, sheltered from the gorier details of life, put it? How about: It’s disgusting. If you serve wine in your home, and tell your guests to think about blood as they drink it, you can be sure that some will gingerly put their wine glass down, saying, “I think I’ll just have some water, thank you.”

[ . . . ]

We talk about Jesus’ blood in church a lot, but most of the time we don’t think about what we’re saying. The mind has this amazing ability to take the life out of metaphors, and we’ve certainly done that with Jesus’ blood. Well, except those Catholics who are into the Sacred Heart of Jesus. But most of us Prostestants think such people are sick, though we’re too ecumenical and polite to ever say so. But it may be that we’re the ones who are sick.

The fact is, we’re as uncomfortable with Jesus’ blood as with our own. Again, I think that’s because we’re uncomfortable with his humanity. We like our Jesus to be divine, powerful, the great healer and fixer of problems, one who may have looked like a man with flesh—but not blood, God forbid. But this is the One who thinks blood appropriate dinner conversation (“My blood is true drink,” John 6:55), and dips his robe in blood to make a fashion statement (Rev. 19:13). His comfort with blood suggests his comfort with his humanity.


5. 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.


6.  Belly-buttons key to success in sport

Scientists have found the reason why blacks dominate on the running track and whites in the swimming pool: it’s in their belly-buttons, a study published Monday shows.

What’s important is not whether an athlete has an innie or an outie but where his or her navel is in relation to the rest of the body, says the study published in the International Journal of Design and Nature and Ecodynamics.

The navel is the center of gravity of the body, and given two runners or swimmers of the same height, one black and one white, “what matters is not total height but the position of the belly-button, or center of gravity,” Duke University professor Andre Bejan, the lead author of the study, told AFP.


7.  The Coconut – Nature’s Best Packaging Design

The humble and tropically ubiquitous coconut, besides producing one of the tastiest cocktail starters out there (mmmm . . . ..piña coladas!), is one the best package design solutions for a perishable food item ever designed by nature. Not only do coconuts survive falling from heights of 50 feet to the ground (landing on anything from cushy golf courses to lava rock), but they often travel thousands of miles via ocean waves, still perfectly protected. Viable Caribbean coconuts, which are the seeds of the Coconut palm, have been found as far north as Norway, which is why the tree has propagated so successfully from 26 latitude North to 26 degrees latitude South.


8.  The Future is Here. And We’re Impatient

I now have in my possession a pocket-sized computer which, when I speak a question to it (“Who is the author of Kraken?” “Who was the fourteenth president of the Unites States?” “What is the name of John Scalzi’s cat?”) provides me an answer in just a few seconds. If I take a picture of something, the same pocket computer will analyze the photo and tell me what I’m looking at. Oh, and it makes phone calls, too. Among other things.

None of that is the cool part. The cool part is, when I speak a question to my pocket computer and it gives me a bad answer,  I get annoyed . Because here in the future, when I talk to my pocket computer, I expect it to get the answer right the first time.


9.  The psychological secret to humor is making immoral behavior seem harmless

University of Colorado psychologists A. Peter McGraw and Caleb Warren set out for an all-encompassing explanation of humor. That might seem like an impossible task, but they believe they’ve cracked the code by examining the shortcomings of previous theories of humor. For instance, Sigmund Freud thought humor came from a release of tension, while later theories held the key to comedy was a sense of superiority or incongruity.

But none of those can account for all humorous and non-humorous situations – for instance, they point out that killing your spouse would meet all three of those conditions, and yet most people wouldn’t find that funny. So they added a new element to the equation – comedy comes from violating society’s rules, but only if the observer feels those rules have been violated in a safe way.

10.  “The Pope Is Not a Pedicurist”
From Judge Kleinfeld’s concurrence in the judgment in  Spencer v. World Vision :

The core of Judge Berzon’s dissent is the idea that performance of activities that are often performed in a secular context cannot be religious. That is mistaken. When the Pope washes feet on the Thursday before Easter, that is not secular hygiene, and the Pope is not a pedicurist.


11. Milan Kundera wonders why protagonists of great novels don’t have children:

I was rereading One Hundred Years of Solitude when a strange idea occurred to me: most protagonists of great novels do not have children. Scarcely 1 percent of the world’s population are childless, but at least 50 percent of the great literary characters exit the book without having reproduced. Neither Pantagruel, nor Panurge, nor Quixote have any progeny. Not Valmont, not the Marquise de Merteuil, nor the virtuous Presidente in  Dangerous Liaasons . Not Tom Jones, Fielding’s most famous hero. Not Werther. All Stendhal’s protagonists are childless, as are many of Balzac’s; and Dostoyevsky’s; and in the century just past, Marcel, the narrator of  In Search of Lost Time , and of course all of Musil’s major characters . . . and Kafka’s protagonists, except for the very young Karl Rossmann, who did impregnate a maidservant, but that is the very reason — to erase the infant from his life — that he flees to America and the novel can be born. This infertility is not due to a conscious purpose of the novelists; it is the spirit of the arc of the novel (or its subconscious) that spurns procreation.


12.  How ancient Greek statues really looked

Original Greek statues were brightly painted, but after thousands of years, those paints have worn away. Find out how shining a light on the statues can be all that’s required to see them as they were thousands of years ago.


13.  The Size of Our Books Was Determined By The Size of the Average Sheep in the Middle Ages

[M]edieval books are no bigger or smaller than modern books, generally speaking. Gutenberg and the other early printers didn’t invent a whole new format for books, they just copied what people were already using.

The question then becomes, I guess, why were medieval books the size they were? And the answer to that is simple: medieval books were the size they were because medieval sheep were the size they were. Remember, paper wasn’t the original medium for page-creation. Medieval books were constructed of parchment, which is a fancy word for sheep or goat skin (and primarily sheep skin, because there were a lot more of them around).


14.  The 50 Most Extraordinary Churches of the World

The Church of Hallgramur is a Lutheran parish church which is also a very tall one, reaching 74.5 meters (244 ft) height. It is the fourth tallest architectural structure in Iceland.

It took incredibly long to build it (38 years!) Construction work began in 1945 and ended in 1986.


15.  Scholar says ancient Israelites drank beer as well as wine

Ancient Israelites drank not only wine but also beer, according to a biblical scholar at Xavier University, a Roman Catholic school in Louisiana.

“Ancient Israelites, with the possible exception of a few teetotaling Nazirites and their moms, proudly drank beer – and lots of it,” said Michael Homan, in his article for the September/October issue Biblical Archaeology Review, Religion News Service reports.

While English translations of the Bible do not mention beer, the original Hebrew does, he said.

Homan, an archaeologist, said the Hebrew word “shekhar” has been mistranslated as “liquor,” “strong drink” and “fermented drink,” but it translates as “beer” based on linguistic and archaeological research.


16.   The Candy Hierarchy


17.  20 Questions to ask of Novels


18.  Dysfunctional Disney

Social worker and blogger Jae Ran Kim applied a “social worker’s perspective to the wholesome characters in popular Disney movies” and asked, “How many of these beloved characters live in a married, two-parent (hetero) household?”

• Aladdin (Aladdin) — orphaned and homeless; petty crimes for food and shelter
• Annie (Annie) — orphan adopted by rich single dad
• Ariel (The Little Mermaid) — dead mother, rebellious teen who runs away to be with a man
• Aristocats — Marie, Berlioz and Toulouse — three kittens raised by a single mother
• Bambi (Bambi) — raised by single mother who is murdered, has never met his absent father
• Belle (Beauty and the Beast) — dead mother, raised by single father
• Cinderella (Cinderella) — dead mother, raised by abusive Stepmother and neglectful, absent father
• Dumbo (Dumbo)— raised by a stigmatized, depressed single mother
• Elliot (Pete‚Äôs Dragon) — orphaned, runaway from abusive foster parents, adopted by single mother
• Hercules (Hurcules) — son of gods transracially adopted by humans
• Lilo (Lilo and Stitch)— orphaned, raised by older sister
• Mowgli (The Jungle Book)— orphaned, raised by 2-male heads of household (bear and panther)
• Mulan (Mulan) — cross-dressing teen girl with intact, multi-generational family unit
• Nemo (Finding Nemo) — dead mother, raised by single overprotective father
• Oliver (Oliver & Company) — orphaned kitten transracially adopted by rich girl
• Peter Pan (Peter Pan) — orphaned, troublemaker and gang leader of Lost Boys
• Penny (The Rescuers) — orphaned girl kidnapped from orphanage
• Pinocchio (Pinocchio) — wooden toy adopted by aged creator Gepetto
• Pochahontas (Pocahontas) — dead mother, raised by single father
• Quasimoto (The Hunchback of Notre Dame) — physically disabled male adopted by evil church minister Frollo
• Simba (The Lion King) — father murdered by uncle, raised by 2-male heads of household (meerkat and warthog)
• Sleeping Beauty (Sleeping Beauty) — parents transferred custody to 3 fairies
• Snow White (Snow White & the 7 dwarves) — dead mother, raised by abusive Stepmother and neglectful father
• Tarzan (Tarzan)— orphaned, transracially adopted by gorilla family


19.  100 Coolest Sports Logos of All Time


20.  Born to laugh, we learn to cry

Ever wondered how many of our everyday laughs, groans and sighs are instinctive rather than learned from our peers? It now seems that only expressions of laughter and relief are instinctive, whereas other emotional outbursts need to be learned from other people.

To find out which sounds are instinctive, a team led by Disa Sauter of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, asked eight deaf and eight hearing individuals to vocalise nine different emotions, but without words. These included fear, relief, anger, hilarity, triumph, disgust and sadness.


21.  A Brief History of Economic Time

One hundred years ago the average American workweek was over 60 hours; today it’s under 35. One hundred years ago 6% of manufacturing workers took vacations; today it’s over 90%. One hundred years ago the average housekeeper spent 12 hours a day on laundry, cooking, cleaning and sewing; today it’s about three hours.


22. HistoricalLOL of the Week


23.  Air Force Unveils Fastest Defense Supercomputer, Made of 1,760 PlayStation 3s

The holidays may be driving video game console sales, but apparently so is the military. The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) has strung together 1,760 PlayStation 3 gaming systems to create what it’s calling the fastest interactive computer system in the entire DoD, capable of executing 500 trillion floating point operations per second.

Known as the Condor Cluster, the array also packs 168 GPUs and 84 servers to direct traffic within the system, allowing all that power to work in parallel. At a total cost of about $2 million, the AFRL estimates the cluster costs something like five to 10 percent of equivalent computers built from scratch. It also consumes just 10 percent of the power.


24.  The Perfect Place to Commit a Crime is in Yellowstone National Park

Let’s say you, heaven forbid, are charged with a crime. The Constitution itself (Article III, Section 2 for those who wish to look it up) requires that the “Trial shall be held in the State where the said Crimes shall have been committed.” Pretty straight forward. The 6th Amendment requires that the jury must be “of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed.” Again, pretty clear. The only confusing part, unless you’re a lawyer, is probably the term “district.”

The U.S. Federal Courts are divided into zones called “districts” which correlate almost perfectly with states themselves. Connecticut has one district: the District of Connecticut. New York has four, using ordinal directions, e.g. “Southern District of New York” which includes Manhattan, the Bronx, and six counties in the state. Wyoming has one, as well, which includes the entire state — and, in addition, the parts of Yellowstone National Park which are in Idaho and Montana. And that’s where the perfect crime scene appears.

So that crime you’re charged with? Imagine you committed it in the part of Yellowstone which is actually in Idaho. Where would your jury come from? It would have to be from the state (Idaho) and district (the District of Wyoming) in which the crime was commited — in other words, from that same part of Yellowstone which is in Idaho. The population of that area?


Good luck finding that jury.


25.  15 Amazing Structures That Were Built To Last


26.  Reading Kafka Makes You More Patriotic


27.  Better Book Titles of the Week


28. How Pascal’s Triangle Explains Poetry

Poetry . . . is mathematics. It is close to a particular branch of the subject known as combinatorics, the study of permutations – of how one can arrange particular groups of objects, numbers or letters according to stated laws. As early as 200 BC, writers on Sanskrit poetry asked how many ways it is possible to arrange various sets of long and short syllables, the building blocks of Sanskrit verse. A syllable is short, with one beat, or long, with two. In how many ways can a metre of four syllables be constructed? Four shorts or four longs have just one pattern for each, while for three shorts and a long, or three longs and a short, there are four (SSSL, SSLS, SLSS, and LSSS, for example). For two of each kind of syllable, there are six possibilities. Do the sum for metres of one, two, three, four and more and a mathematical pattern emerges. It is Pascal’s Triangle, the pyramid of numbers in which the series in the next line is given by adding together adjacent pairs in the line above to generate 1, 1 1, 1 2 1, 1 3 3 1, 1 4 6 4 1, and so on.


29.  10 Unforgettable Stories History Forgot


30. How-To of the Week:  How to Get Rid of Black Circles Under Your Eyes


31. When Animals Fight Back of the Week:  Fox shoots man

A wounded fox shot its would be killer in Belarus by pulling the trigger on the hunter’s gun as the pair scuffled after the man tried to finish the animal off with the butt of the rifle, media said Thursday.
The unnamed hunter, who had approached the fox after wounding it from a distance, was in hospital with a leg wound, while the fox made its escape, media said, citing prosecutors from the Grodno region.


32.  In Defense of Bounty Hunting

Most people don’t realize how many fugitives from the law there are. About one-quarter of all felony defendants fail to show up on the day of their trial. Some of these absences are due to forgetfulness, hospitalization, or even imprisonment on another charge. But like Luster, many felony defendants skip court with willful intent. The police are charged with recapturing these fugitives, but some of them are chased by an even more tireless pursuer, the bounty hunter.

Bounty hunters and bail bondsmen play an important but unsung role in a legal system whose court dockets are too crowded to provide swift justice. When a suspect is arrested, a judge must make a decision: set the suspect free on his own recognizance until the court is ready to proceed, hold the suspect in jail, or release the accused on the condition that he post a bail bond. A bond is a promise backed by incentive. If the suspect shows up on the trial date, he gets his money back; but if he fails to show, the money is forfeited. We don’t want to deprive the innocent of their liberty, but we also don’t want to give the guilty too much of a head start on their escape. Bail bonds don’t solve this problem completely, but they do give judges an additional tool to help them navigate the dilemma.


33. How a Bach Canon Works

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