I sat on a bus yesterday and wondered aloud why there were bits of what looked like straw on the seat before I realized it was someone’s palm frond that had broken off from a Palm Sunday service. I write this to say: despite my given name, I’m not a terribly religious person. I know the basics but I’m not afraid to admit that I probably would have benefitted from watching History Channel’s 5-part show The Bible this spring to get fully caught up on the various narratives. However, despite my inconsistent religiosity, I’m going to a friend’s Passover seder tonight and Easter is 6 days away, so religion is on my mind.
And now abides faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
(Some versions swap out love for charity)
Whenever I do see scripture written or cited, I am brought back to high school at Trinity School when we had quarterly All-School Chapel service. This was when the entire school — K-12 and all its faculty and staff — would head up the street from 101 West 91st Street to 1 West 96th Street to the big First Church of Christ, Scientist:
I always remember these chapel services fondly since they often preceded an extended break (Christmas service –> Winter break, Easter service –> Spring break, graduation ceremony –> end of the school year). In addition, the services were beautiful and warm and uniting with traditions like the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah or “Carol of the Bells.”
I will also always remember All-School Chapel for the beautiful space: the rows upon rows of pews, the upstairs balcony seating, the enormous organ. The most vivid memory, though, is from the scripture which adorned the stage along the semi-circle in front of the organ:
It’s a bit hard to read in this small image but the verse comes from 1 John 4:16, King James Cambridge version:
God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.
So I suppose if you want to understand how my worldview is shaped by religion (and I am admittedly not the most fervent of people), these two quotations sum it up quite nicely.
I am inspired by family and friends who find personal strength and moral compass in their faith. Strangers and leaders in the world who draw upon their faith to guide them and motivate them are among my heroes.
I think if we can aspire to live by these principles of love and respect for others, whether it be from religious inspiration or otherwise, we’d all be a lot better off!
Tags: all-school chapel, carol of the bells, christianity, christmas, claire mccaskill, corinthians, Easter, hallelujah chorus, history channel, king james bible, messiah, organ, palm sunday, passover, religion, seder, spring break, the bible, trinity
I really enjoyed this piece on the art of foley sound, that is, creating sound effects to accompany pictures alongside dialogue and music.
One of my favorite passages comes from the section on Star Wars and designer Ben Burtt:
The iconic lightsabre sound from Star Wars (1977) is another wonderful example of this creative art. The designer Ben Burtt throws light on how that was created here. The Imperial Walkers sound was created from a machinist’s punch press and the sounds of bicycle chains; the TIE fighter sound is a modified elephant bellow; the Ewokese language was created by a complex layering of Tibetan, Mongolian and Nepali speech – the range of experimentation for Star Wars was, if anything, groundbreaking.
The post links to a great video of Ben Burtt describing how he discovered the inspiration for the sound that would become the lightsaber, and how he modified the sound for use in action (swinging the lightsabers, lightsabers clashing in fights, etc):
Many articles this week leading the news are about the US Postal Service suspending Saturday deliveries starting in March. This will save $2 billion annually. (Though, if you have a PO Box, you will continue to receive Saturday mail).
Much of the sentiment I’ve read is along these lines:
I still think one of the more remarkable things in our society is our Postal Service. I give them 50 cents, they’ll take a letter 3K miles
— Chuck Todd (@chucktodd) February 6, 2013
I agree that the concept of a national postal system like ours, to unite the disparate parts of our nation, is admirable and noble.
As Jesse Lichtenstein writes in Esquire: “The postal service is not a federal agency. It does not cost taxpayers a dollar. It loses money only because Congress mandates that it do so. What it is is a miracle of high technology and human touch. It’s what binds us together as a country.”
So on the one hand, you have the (financial) inefficiencies of the USPS. On the other hand, you have the intellectual passion stirred by a system which makes delivering goods faster and makes people feel closer. You have a bureaucracy of 500,000+ full-time employees which gives you have the great ability to move physical items across space.
Separately, on a more Web-related note, Randall Munroe answers the question, “When – if ever – will the bandwidth of the Internet surpass that of FedEx?” His answer:
If you want to transfer a few hundred gigabytes of data, it’s generally faster to FedEx a hard drive than to send the files over the internet. This isn’t a new idea—it’s often dubbed SneakerNet.
Which makes me think about a company created by fellow Singularity University alums, Matternet. Their idea is to create a mesh network for transportation, to move stuff using UAVs and develop a transmission protocol, complete with base-stations, etc.
Meet @icanhazAC. What does it do?
This is a Twitter account which controls and reports on the current state of our apartment’s air conditioner. For example, here is what it tweets whenever it turns on:
Wake up in the morning feeling like P. Diddy
— Treehouse AC (@icanhazAC) August 20, 2012
It’s made possible by two things:
— Treehouse AC (@icanhazAC) August 9, 2012
— Treehouse AC (@icanhazAC) August 20, 2012
@cltom it goes on at 7:20am and off at 9:00am by default on weekdays
— Anuraag Chigurupati (@anuraagc) August 20, 2012
— Glenn Otis Brown (@gob) February 26, 2012
— L2012 Stadium Cam (@L2012StadiumCam) August 12, 2012
— NBABackboardCam (@NBABackboardCam) February 26, 2012
Tags: #london2012, #objectsthattweet, Actions, air conditioning, automation, belkin, cameras, Channels, ifttt, olympics, personal analytics, Recipes, SMS, sports, steven wolfram, Triggers, Twitter, weather, wemo
This Monday — the day after the Sikh temple shooting in Wisconsin — the mosque in Joplin, MO was burned to the ground in what police are investigating as arson. Sadly, this was not a one-off:
Shortly after the Islamic Society of Joplin opened a mosque in 2007 in Joplin, a small town in Southwest Missouri, the sign in front was set on fire, an act determined to be arson. On the 4th of July of this year, someone who is undoubtedly a deeply patriotic person was filmed by a surveillance camera throwing a flaming object onto the roof of the mosque in an attempt to burn it down, causing some fire damage (see the video here); despite a $15,000 reward offered by the FBI for information leading to the arrest of those responsible and a clear shot of the attacker’s face, nobody has come forward to identify him.
This mosque is the only Islamic center within 50 miles of Joplin. This is, of course, a city which has undergone enormous struggles as a community on the whole. In fact, during last year’s tornados, the Joplin mosque served as a headquarters for Muslim relief workers who flew in from around the country to help Joplin residents get back on their feet.
This is a terrible event that someone or some people perpetrated, and doing so during the holy period of Ramadan is only salt in the wound.
However, hope springs. A Muslim high schooler from Joplin has spread the message of an Indiegogo campaign to raise the $250,000 needed to rebuild the mosque. And, hearteningly, as of now (less than 36 hours after starting the campaign) they have already raised more than $220,000.
I believe this is an important cause to support, both for obvious reasons and also for the more symbolic. On the former point, this community was wounded by a natural disaster of epic proportions just a year ago last May. In addition, the victims of this alleged crime have lost a rallying point and place of worship at the hands of what appears to be malevolent and cowardly actor.
Moreover, I believe this is important to support because doing so shows that we as a community support each other. Two of the most recent TV shows I’ve been hooked on are “Friday Night Lights” and “Jericho.” As a person from a big city, I find it funny that these shows about small towns in faraway states (whether or not they’re based on real places) resonate so much with me. Perhaps it’s because I believe in sense of community and it’s most prominently displayed in media with tropes around small towns and the events which bring them together. But in this case, we all need to be brought together for a group of Americans who have faced pain via devastating discrimination.
As Glenn Greenwald eloquently writes in Salon today:
All of this reveals a broader truth: Islamophobia in the United States is pervasive and intense, and worse, is as ignored and tolerated as it is destructive. The greatest harm from these incidents is not to the property they damage. It’s the climate of fear that is created for Muslims living in the United States. [I]t’s hard to put into words how palpable and paralyzing this fear is in American Muslim communities. It’s infuriating to behold: perfectly law-abiding citizens and legal residents feeling — rationally and accurately — that they are subjected to constant surveillance, monitoring, suspicion, denial of basic rights, hostility and worse solely because of their religion and ethnicity.
Please consider supporting this cause yourself.
Making me think of Google Trends but simply for vocabulary, this look inside Merriam-Webster shows how events and dictionary queries are highly correlated:
As you’d expect given his business, Sokolowski has a tendency to associate words with stories. “After 9/11 the two most looked-up words were not concrete words, they were surreal and succumb,” he tells me. Misogyny was looked up by many after Rush Limbaugh called Sandra Fluke a slut, but, interestingly, slut was not. Marriage is another common search word driven by the news, particularly when states pass “Defense of Marriage” acts, as North Carolina did in May. After all, he adds, “The question of marriage is one of definition,” noting that definitions run chronologically; the first that appears is the oldest. Most recently, he says, “The Aurora shootings caused shrapnel and terrorism to spike—the former concrete and immediate, the latter broad and depressingly general. They show that sometimes words are looked up as facts and sometime words are looked up as ideas.”
What makes (or forces/allows, depending on the situation) a person or a group of people to take an action? What impels (or propels/liberates, again depending on the situation) someone to act a certain way? It’s not always clear. I am fascinated by these questions because often the answer is the right set of incentives.
Two articles crossed my desk* and they show how complex incentives for people really are.
On the one hand, there is a really cool initiative happening over at my alma mater. A piece in the today’s New York Times highlights the work of Balaji Prabhakar, a professor in EE and CS. Essentially Prof. Prabhakar realized that rush hour on Stanford campus was bad. He also realized that “congestion pricing” — that is, charges for driving to peak places during peak hours — is unpopular with drivers, though is a common tactic to fight congestion. So rather than a disincentive from driving at busy times, he developed an incentive structure. You enter a lottery when you drive or park off-peak and can win up to $50. Simple.
It’s brilliant since it cuts down on wasted time, creates less rush hour pollution and is also flexible in how it scales. It’s a brilliant move and from an incentive standpoint, totally logical: people are willing to change their behavior in order to receive a benefit, in this case, money.
On the other hand, an even loftier goal is afoot to help improve obesity and public health in Philadelphia. Context: the US spends $147B treating obesity each year. That’s more than the GDP of New Zealand. Of America’s big cities, Philadelphia has the highest obesity rate and poorest population.
Unfortunately, access to healthy food in a neighborhood has no causal link to improved health outcomes wapo.st/JS4caz
— Christian L. Tom (@cltom) June 12, 2012
The new program to combat this is to turn the local corner grocery into a greengrocery. The city is working with 900+ stores to stock healthy items. To me, this sounds great since it stands to reason that greater access to healthy food (particularly in poorer neighborhoods where it’s not otherwise available) will increase selection of healthy food and increase healthy outcomes. Making it easier to buy healthy food should be a huge incentive to making one and one’s family healthier.
Except not. Emphasis mine:
“In the U.K., we’d started making policy about this before there was any empirical evidence,” says Neil Wrigley, a professor of geography at Southampton University in England, who works on urban planning research. “Time to time, this happens, where you get policies that outstrip the evidence. Then the evidence needs to catch up.”
Wrigley conducted one of the first studies of a food desert intervention, looking at what happened when a grocery store was brought into an underserved part of Leeds, an industrial city in northern England. Of shoppers surveyed, 45 percent switched to the new store. Their habits, however, barely changed: Consumption of fruits and vegetables increased by one-third of a cup per day — about six grapes or two broccoli florets.
“The results came out quite small, a very modest increase in consumption of nutritious foods,” Wrigley says. “It seemed an almost nonexistent improvement.”
Similar research in the United States shows much the same.
There are some good explanations for this. For example, access to food is not also only dependent on proximity to home but also about distance from public transit.
Still, when presented with two options — healthy food and not (selling apples is not mutually exclusive with selling candy) — people often choose the candy, simply because they want the candy.
Maybe the problem is this program in Philadelphia really only removes a barrier without providing a kick. And with the Stanford driving experiment, there is a good catalyst in cash rewards. Still, I look at these articles and I see two behaviors that are trying to be changed. It seems like both could be successful (and both are, after all, just starting so success is not predetermined). I read these excited about them both. And while initial trials at Stanford have gone well, the skepticism by experts regarding the Philadelphia work worries me since it’s rational, it’s too logical.
Note: Also check out the awesome Dan Pink TED talk from a few years ago about extrinsic and intrinsic motivators which I posted to this blog last year.
I have lived in the Gramercy/Flatiron/Union Square neighborhood for the past 3 years and I love it. It’s convenient and lively and the nexus of a lot of fun places to eat.
View RT/PS – Gramercy/Flatiron/Union Square in a larger map
I’ve evaluated the top restaurants within a 5-minute walk from my place. How did I decide upon them? They fit in a matrix which I’m calling the RT/PS Matrix™.
It’s a 3×3 grid, thus 9 slots where I’ve managed to fit in 11 restaurants. The RT/PS stands for Rich & Trendy/Poor & Simple since the matrix spans that range (from top-left to bottom-right). Here are all possible combinations:
Sufficiently complex? Here’s the chart for my neighborhood:
The Rich/Poor scale is my inelegant way of denoting how much you should expect to pay. The Trendy/Simple scale is meant to denote how cool the place is and evaluate newness vs. incumbent status, not sophistication of the food (I like all of these places, so it’s not about good/bad restaurants — rather, it’s about price range and mood and your personality). Want to learn more? Excellent, away we go!
Tags: abc home, birreria, burrito, casa mono, coffee shop, craft, danny meyer, dos toros, eataly, falafel, flat iron, food, gramercy, gramercy tavern, il pesce, le verdure, manzo, maoz, models, paccheri, patatas bravas, pipa, poor, restaurants, rich, simple, small plates, soft serve fruit co, tahini, taqueria, Tarallucci E Vino, trendy, union square, wine