It’s cool for cats

David Teie’s Kickstarter is rather more fascinating than the usual:

I’ve been a cellist in the National Symphony Orchestra for more than 20 years. In 2003, amidst my career as a classical musician, I developed a universal theory of music. I set out to discover why humans have an emotional response to music and found that it’s tied to the sounds we heard when our brains are developing. For example, it’s because we heard our mother’s pulse in the womb that we like drums in our music; the sound intrigues us because it evokes heartbeats. It’s no coincidence that our mother’s resting heart rate is almost exactly the same pace as music we find relaxing.

Hmmmm. Meanwhile, your cat could not possibly care less about what you’re listening to. However:

Unlike humans, felines establish their sense of music outside of the womb, through sounds heard after they’re born, like the chirping of birds, the sucking of milk, or the purring of their mother. Using only musical instruments, I incorporated those sounds and their natural vocalizations into music and matched it to the frequency range they use to communicate.

Teie’s raised about three times his original $20,000 goal, perhaps simply because we’d like to indulge our cats. (Or the cats insist on it, which is almost the same.)

(Via HelloGiggles.)

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No country for (some) old men

The abstract is scary enough:

This paper documents a marked increase in the all-cause mortality of middle-aged white non-Hispanic men and women in the United States between 1999 and 2013. This change reversed decades of progress in mortality and was unique to the United States; no other rich country saw a similar turnaround. The midlife mortality reversal was confined to white non-Hispanics; black non-Hispanics and Hispanics at midlife, and those aged 65 and above in every racial and ethnic group, continued to see mortality rates fall. This increase for whites was largely accounted for by increasing death rates from drug and alcohol poisonings, suicide, and chronic liver diseases and cirrhosis. Although all education groups saw increases in mortality from suicide and poisonings, and an overall increase in external cause mortality, those with less education saw the most marked increases. Rising midlife mortality rates of white non-Hispanics were paralleled by increases in midlife morbidity. Self-reported declines in health, mental health, and ability to conduct activities of daily living, and increases in chronic pain and inability to work, as well as clinically measured deteriorations in liver function, all point to growing distress in this population. We comment on potential economic causes and consequences of this deterioration.

In a box labeled “Significance”:

Midlife increases in suicides and drug poisonings have been previously noted. However, that these upward trends were persistent and large enough to drive up all-cause midlife mortality has, to our knowledge, been overlooked. If the white mortality rate for ages 45−54 had held at their 1998 value, 96,000 deaths would have been avoided from 1999–2013, 7,000 in 2013 alone. If it had continued to decline at its previous (1979‒1998) rate, half a million deaths would have been avoided in the period 1999‒2013, comparable to lives lost in the US AIDS epidemic through mid-2015. Concurrent declines in self-reported health, mental health, and ability to work, increased reports of pain, and deteriorating measures of liver function all point to increasing midlife distress.

Jen X interprets it this way:

Those boys we went to high school with who didn’t go to college and couldn’t find jobs and joined the Army to have something to do. Paroled from broken homes, lackluster high schools and a shrinking military (after all, there were NO manufacturing jobs), they roamed aimless through an endless array of side gigs. They lived off women — their mothers and lovers and sisters and friends.

They died, America, because THEY DID NOT HAVE JOBS. They died because they’d lost all hope.

Yes, the plane has crashed. It was crashing back in 1977 when their parents divorced and they basically became FATHERLESS. It’s tragic and they never got over it. Jobless and hopeless, they turned to drugs and alcohol to anesthetize the pain. One epidemic wrought another and so it goes on down the line.

Hmmm. My mother died in 1977. (Dad remarried and hung around until 2006.) I have difficulty believing that this is why I’m still around and the number of “in memoriam” entries on the blogroll continues to increase.

Or maybe it’s just that I never had all that much hope to begin with, and therefore losing some of it wasn’t that much of a change.

Study details:
doi: 10.1073/pnas.1518393112

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Protecting all the things you own

If you’ve lived here long enough, you know the phone number already:

Paul Meade died Saturday night at seventy-eight.

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In the midst of sassafras

Which, come to think of it, you’re probably not:

You can still buy supposed sassafras concentrate. It doesn’t taste a bit like the stuff tasted when I was young. Good sassrass faded out gradually — I used to find short lengths of the root in simply-labeled cellophane packets at the grocer’s, Indiana-produced and presumably with most of the safrole steamed away. But I guess even that was too much for the drug warriors; you’ll look in vain for it now. Safrole, the stuff that gives sassafras a distinctive taste, was determined to be more bad for you than good and withdrawn from commercial use in 1960. By 1976, the DEA labelled it a drug precursor: it’s used in the manufacture of MDMA, “Ecstasy.” And not only is it illegal as can be, overuse of MDMA appears to be not at all good for you, either, and in several ways.

Fortunately, there are those who still tend the eternal flame:

The smoke shall rise again, to the place above where it began.

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Everybody walk the dinosaurs

The Raptors descended from Canada with a 4-0 record and the amazing ability to avoid fouling. (The Thunder tonight literally didn’t get a free throw until midway through the second quarter.) I wouldn’t have expected a titanic defensive struggle, but the 23-16 first-quarter score made me wonder. Toronto took a one-point lead at the half, 40-39; weirdly, Oklahoma City dominated the third quarter, 42-33, as though someone from the heavens, or Secaucus, or someplace, decreed: “Okay, you guys can score now.” The first order of business for OKC was to somehow DeFang Toronto’s DeMar DeRozen; they did occasionally keep DeRozen more or less at bay from the floor, but they had to foul him to do it, and when they didn’t foul him, DeRozen was free to inflict DeStruction. (DeRozen’s line is instructive: 7-18, but 14-15 from the stripe.) And after that, the Raptors depart 5-0, having dispatched the Thunder 103-98.

Did we mention DeRozen’s 14-15 on free throws? The entire Thunder squad was 12-14. It wasn’t a bunch of questionable calls, either: Toronto simply played it as cleanly as they could, apart from one hissy fit by Bismack Biyombo that earned him a T. (The return of the Telltale Statistic: of the 16 personal fouls committed by the Raptors, nine came from Jonas Valanciunas and Kyle Lowry, each of whom scored 17 points. OKC was hit with 29 fouls.)

OKC ball movement seems marginally better these days; 26 assists were recorded, 16 of them by Russell Westbrook. But Double Zero also had eight of the team’s 19 turnovers to go with his 22 points. (That Durant guy, in case you were wondering, logged 27.) And what’s going to burn the team’s ears on the way to Chicago is this: they had a 97-91 lead. The Raptors finished them off with a 12-1 run. That 1, incidentally, was a KD foul shot; he missed the second, and some thought it was deliberate, to set up a rebound. It ended, not as tragedy, but as farce: a jump ball in which Valanciunas somehow made Serge Ibaka look slow.

As long as Billy Donovan is reviewing things, he might call the lost-and-found, and see if anyone’s found the team that crushed the Spurs on opening night. They’ve got to be around somewhere.


Someone ostensibly in control

TTAC’s Aaron Cole, on the weakest link in traffic today:

[E]ven though fatal crashes are proportionately declining, year-over-year, the least-reliable components of cars — drivers — are still the least regulated.

To be safe at any speed, it’s clear that automakers should be held to a higher standard to reduce human interaction or increase driver attention.

Not gonna happen, says Jack Baruth:

The cynic in me wants to yell, “WHAT ABOUT BOTH, HUH? HOW ABOUT MAKING THE WHOLE CAR AUTONOMOUS AND STILL MAKING SOME POOR BASTARD SIT IN THE ‘DRIVER’ SEAT WITH HIS EYES PEELED OPEN LIKE A CLOCKWORK ORANGE AND THE SAME PERIODIC SHOCKS TO THE CORTEX THEY GAVE HARRISON BERGERON? IS THAT ENOUGH?” But then I return to reality. And in the American reality, there is not going to be any improvement in driver’s education, nor will American drivers get any “better”. Save your leather-fetishist fantasies of outrageously expensive Swedish driver’s licenses that include two years’ worth of skidpad training and a mandatory WRC podium. That’s not how America works. It’s also not how Europe will work once the the majority of the population adheres to sharia law. Ask the British how easy it is to get a massive extra-cultural immigrant base to obey homegrown motor-vehicle regulations of any kind.

Okay, there is one possibility, but you’re not going to like it:

If the American driver cannot be improved, then he must be stripped of his power to guide the car. Yet that cannot be done — not yet. The autonomous vehicle, as it exists now, is basically a terrified senior citizen. It doesn’t see very well, it isn’t always certain where it is, it has trouble interacting with other traffic in a predictable manner, and it slows down the traffic around it. Its primary virtue, as with a terrified senior citizen, is the low speed at which it operates. So we could obtain all these safety benefits for Americans in a heartbeat by making 25 mph the maximum speed limit off the freeways and 45 mph the limit on limited-access roads. Presto, watch deaths from traffic collisions disappear even as deaths from road-rage murders skyrocket.

I take heart in the fact that everyone who has ever said “If it saves just one life…” is, or eventually will be, dead.

In the meantime, have a Twisted Tune:

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On the acquisition of fabulousness

File this under “Well, at least it’s a favorable stereotype”:

We all want a gay best friend — someone clever, witty, and über-stylish who makes life more entertaining. Meet Douglas, a painter by trade but also an organic farmer, a music aficionado, the host with the most, and without question the person you hope to be seated next to at a dinner party. Oh, and of course he has fabulous taste.

We’ve watched our pal Douglas oversee countless home purchases, remodels, and reinventions over the years. There was the midcentury modern, the Ralph Lauren classic, the urban Zen … and along the way, there have also been castoffs. A lot of castoffs.

Some pieces went to the housekeeper, other things to the local white elephant. Truthfully, they usually went to whoever showed up first with a truck, because once the redo was in process, everything needed to go.

Therein lay our aha moment! What savvy collector wouldn’t want access to these high-end, eclectic, beautiful, and often one-of-a-kind gems — always tasteful, always mint condition, but out of reach for most buyers at their full retail price?

After we finally intercepted one of these items before it circulated, the idea for Previously Owned by a Gay Man was born. After that, the online-consignment concept was a no-brainer. Beyond the basic principles of “reuse, reduce, recycle” and “one man’s trash…”, you need only consider how many pages of shelter magazines feature the homes of chic gay men to realize that this concept is a foolproof formula.

Truth be told, I’m surprised HGTV hasn’t spun off a separate subchannel for exactly this situation.

And I do love the company slogan: “Openly Good Furniture.”

(Via Sassigeek.)

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Foot, meet bullet

Twitter evidently thinks this is a really swell idea:

We are changing our star icon for favorites to a heart and we’ll be calling them likes. We want to make Twitter easier and more rewarding to use, and we know that at times the star could be confusing, especially to newcomers. You might like a lot of things, but not everything can be your favorite.

The heart, in contrast, is a universal symbol that resonates across languages, cultures, and time zones. The heart is more expressive, enabling you to convey a range of emotions and easily connect with people. And in our tests, we found that people loved it.

What people? Earth people? The heart symbol does not “convey a range of emotions.” It conveys exactly one emotion — admittedly, a complex one, but still only one.

And “like” makes as much sense in this context as it does on Facebook, which is to say none at all. Zeynep Tufekci has already explained this once:

Let me explain with a sad example. I saw a heartbreaking video recently, two refugee kids wading in water among floating dead bodies, being brought, finally, to safety. A man comforts them, “come on baby,” he says, “we made it,” while the children cry. It broke my heart. This is a topic I write about often, and one my social network cares deeply about, as many are from the war-wrecked region producing these refugees.

I read your piece about native video. So I downloaded the video, and uploaded it natively to Facebook, just to make sure. I published it as a public status update. The first comment I get is on how my friend cannot “like” it.

And of course, lacking actual likes, the video goes largely unseen:

It will mostly get ignored, because my social network has no way to signal to the algorithm that this is something they care about.

Of course, that was Facebook. Does Twitter make situations like this look any better?

I’ll take that as a “No.” Twitter didn’t think this one out; all they can see is well, Facebook has it, and Facebook is making money.

And if my Twitter feed is at all representative, a lot of people do not “love” it.

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The no-ply list

Okay, it isn’t that bad yet — see, for instance, the situations in Chile and Venezuela, but God help us, there’s inequality all over this scenario:

As exposés go, it may not rank up there with the Pentagon Papers, but student journalists have captured the attention of Ryerson University, in Canada, and national coverage there with an investigation of differential toilet papers.

Under the headline “Two-ply toilet paper creates two-tiered Ryerson,” The Ryerson Eyeopener reported that bathrooms throughout the university are stocked with one-ply. The exception, the newspaper said, is in two floors of the administration building, which house the offices of president, provost, and vice presidents for administration and finance, research and innovation, and university advancement.

Ryerson officials did not dispute the finding but noted (and the student newspaper subsequently acknowledged) other, leased spaces off campus, where Ryerson employees enjoy two-ply comfort: the offices of alumni relations, international affairs, diversity institute, finance and human resources.

I am pretty sure no one at Ryerson reads my Twitter feed, which is regularly packed with tales of college students for whom this could not possibly be a problem, inasmuch as they apparently are not capable of wiping their own asses no matter what material might be available for their use.

(Via Fark.)

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Not a single polymath

File this under “Duh”:

A study at Loyola University suggests that people who believe themselves experts in a field are fairly close-minded towards new ideas. That’s a problem, but another one is often a bigger headache: The number of people who become experts in a field who then think that makes them authorities in unrelated fields. That problem is why we have people asking celebrities about politics and politicians about how to save money.

Shorter version: “I don’t know, why don’t you ask Noam frigging Chomsky what the Check Engine Light means?”

Not to humblebrag or anything, but the subjects on which I can claim even marginal expertise can be counted on the fingers of one hand and still leave one finger to raise at anyone who dares question me. (Which, as you’d know if you’d read this site for more than a couple of days, is pretty much everyone.)

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A nation of ghosts

No thanks to the ubiquitous smartphone, this is our future, says Francis W. Porretto:

We are becoming a nation of ghosts: persons whose bodies are wholly separated from their minds and souls. This isn’t a good thing, I assure you most sincerely. But there seems to be no stopping it. Indeed, suggesting that a traveling companion turn off his iPod or put away his phone so that a conversation can commence is now considered rude. Not that long ago, it was exactly the other way around.

A friend of mine told me about a woman he dated — a “blind date” — who never put down her phone throughout their dinner at an expensive restaurant that she selected. He paid the check and left her sitting there. I asked if she noticed his departure. He wasn’t sure.

Probably just as well. I have resisted the putative blandishments of the smartphone up to this point, at least partly due to parsimony, but I am all too aware of my capacity for distraction.

Addendum, 4 November: Lynn didn’t say so, but I think she took exception to this.

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Sort of damp-ish

Matt Gasnier is attempting a cross-country drive, and unlike most of us in the States who’ve envisioned this notion, he’s going north to south. He started, in fact, at Barrow, Alaska, way up on the Arctic Ocean. Several days and a few ferryboats later, he’s in Ketchikan, about which he says:

Looking up the Ketchikan section on the Alaska Lonely Planet reads: “If you stay in Ketchikan longer than an hour, chances are good that it will rain at least once if not several times.”

This seemed wild enough to consult Wikipedia, which is good on weather (if not necessarily climate) coverage. This picture was waiting:

Ketchikan Alaska Rain Gauge, 2002 photo by Robert A. Estremo

(Photo ©2002 Robert A. Estremo. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike License v. 2.0.)

There’s a reason it’s that tall. The yearly rainfall average is a mind-boggling 153 inches, which includes a mere 37 inches of snow; 229 days a year see at least 0.01 inch of rain. This is, I note for record, nearly twice as much rain as falls on Dhaka, Bangladesh. And speaking of record, in 1949 the gauge actually overflowed, having failed to collect all of 202.55 inches of what is decidedly world-class wetness.

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Yes, those were the days

The most jarring aspect of this, I think, is the fact that it’s 2015:

Then again, having put up a Web site in 1996, perhaps I shouldn’t say anything.

(Via the ineffable @SwiftOnSecurity.)


Some day she’ll be 30

Stephanie Be runs TravelBreak, and how she got there probably merits a book:

I financed traveling around the world by age twenty-two, worked illegally for the Lebanese Mafia at twenty-three, started and lost two companies by twenty-four, and built a successful brand by twenty-five.

In other news, there’s a Lebanese Mafia.

Still, I’m trying to imagine her 26th birthday party. Not that I was invited or anything.


Glared at redly

The Houston Rockets dropped their first three games, losing by 20 to Denver, by 20 to Golden State, and by 20 to Miami. You have to figure that this couldn’t go on indefinitely, and indeed the Rockets jumped out to an early seven-point lead; the Thunder fought back, and by halftime had a 65-54 lead. Then both Russell Westbrook and Andre Roberson got into foul trouble — four each — and while they were sidelined, the Rockets erased the entirety of that lead while confining OKC to a mere 14 points in that third quarter. Things got hairy after that, and is anyone surprised to hear that Westbrook and Patrick Beverley drew offsetting technicals? Not me, and probably not you either. Houston never led by more than seven, but all you need at the horn is one, and the Thunder never got any closer than three in the waning moments. Houston 110, OKC 105, and two streaks come to a grinding halt.

I’ve harped on turnovers, and I’m sure Billy Donovan has harped on turnovers, but I’m not quite sure it’s sunk in yet: OKC had all sorts of superior numbers tonight, including most notably a 55-34 rebounding advantage, 14-7 off the offensive glass, but the Rockets had seven blocks and 18 steals. That’s twenty-five times the Thunder gave up the rock, against 12 for Houston. There were several times when the team seemed downright panicky: “What do we do now?” “Execute the way you’re supposed to” is always the answer, but they didn’t do it. And James Harden, who’d had a horrific start to his season, started looking like James Harden again, with a game-high 37 points. Truth be told, I think he was just looking for his confidence to come back. Hell of a gift for the Thunder to hand him.

If nothing else, this game should tell OKC that there are only so many times in a season where old-fashioned hero ball will actually work. This wasn’t one of them. At the very least, they need to pass the ball around a bit: 17 assists will not do the trick, especially if you’ve committed a couple of dozen turnovers along the way. (Houston had 22 assists and, I repeat, only 12 turnovers.) We’ll see if they remember that Wednesday night when the Raptors come to town.


As flat as the town itself

Some people, I am told, can run in heels. I’m guessing none of those people are Italian schoolgirls:

Secondary school l’Istituto Tecnico Industriale di Avezzano, in L’Aquila, Italy, has reportedly banned wedges, flip-flops and high heels measuring over 1.6 inches. The Ansa news agency reports the rule was set in place due to concerns that the shoes could prevent a quick exit in the event of an earthquake.

“The directive isn’t the result of a puritanical fantasy,” Anna Amanzi, a teacher at the school, tells Ansa. “It’s a serious requirement to teach students prevention and education, especially in a high-risk seismic zone.”

Which L’Aquila evidently is:

The town was devastated by a 6.3 magnitude earthquake in 2009, which killed 309 people and displaced over 60,000.

This is the same town where six seismologists and one government official went on trial for allegedly misinforming the public about the seismic risk. Some convictions were obtained, but were later overturned. None of the defendants, I suspect, had been in the habit of wearing high heels.

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