Michael Leddy on the strategy of granularity

Orange Crate Art blogger Michael Leddy, a college English professor, wrote a short and insightful essay for Lifehack.org titled "Granularity For Students." Michael presents a simple idea: break tasks down into manageable chunks and they won't be as daunting. But as he says, "the typical spiral-bound student-planner doesn’t seem to encourage (granularity); that tool is often little more than a place to store due dates: “research paper due.” I like how Michael explains the way granularity might be applied to the task of writing:
Instead of writing a draft and “looking it over,” it’s much smarter to break down the work of writing and editing by thinking about one thing at a time. Developing a strong thesis statement: that’s one task. Working out a sequence of paragraphs to develop that thesis: another task. Figuring out how to make a transition from one paragraph to another: another task. If you tend to have patterns of errors in your writing, look for each kind of error, one at a time. Noun-pronoun agreement? Read a draft once through looking only for that. Comma splices? Read once through with your eyes on the commas. It might seem that approaching the work of writing and editing in terms of smaller, separate tasks is unnecessarily cumbersome, but breaking things down will likely make it far easier to work more effectively and come out with a stronger piece of writing. No writer can think about everything at once.
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Library of America to publish Philip K. Dick

The excellent Library of America--publisher of hardcover editions of such literary greats as Fitzgerald, Melville, Thoreau, Twain, and Stein--will release a collection of four novels from surrealist science fiction author Philip K. Dick. Neo-noir author Jonathan Lethem is slated to edit the volume. (Link to my post on Monday about PKD's influence on Lethem.) From the Associated Press:
"(Dick) is someone, like Raymond Chandler, who took the conventions of a pulp genre and made very adventurous literary use of them," Max Rudin, publisher of the Library of America, told The Associated Press on Tuesday... Beyond literary merit, Rudin cited a couple of factors in choosing Dick – the 25th anniversary next summer of Blade Runner, which will be marked by director Ridley Scott's remastered "final cut," and the positive response to the Library of America's volume of horror writer H.P. Lovecraft, published in 2005. "There were a lot of people who felt their reading tastes were validated by including Lovecraft in the library," Rudin said.
Link (Thanks, Professor Gill!) Read the rest

Volkswagen's sneaky trick to make money

Volkswagen Credit recently sent a letter to its customers, inviting them to skip a payment this month. But the fine print reveals that they will charge you $25 to take them up on their seemingly kind holiday offer.
"The holidays...time to give thanks, spread joy and shop for the best sales. Now, here's the perfect "gift" to help you stretch your holiday dollar. Volkswagen Credit is offering you the opportunity to 'skip' your December 2006 payment on your current account listed above. [...] Upon receipt of your extension agreement, we will assess your account a $25.00 extension fee, payable on your next due invoice. There is no need to send money at this time. [...] Happy Holidays!"
I like the way Volkswagen put the word "gift" in quotes.

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Hummer wheel ad on Craigslist featuring a crack smoker

This unusual ad for a set of Hummer tires was spotted on the Phoenix Craigslist. I wonder if the photo on the bottom right implies that the seller would be willing to trade the tires for a rock. Click image for a better look. (Thanks, Jess Hemerly!) UPDATE: And the ad is back up with a new photo in the bottom right and the additional comment, "I changed my last pic maybe this one won't get flagged" Link (Thanks, Josh Weiss!) Read the rest

Confiscated bats at Louisville airport

Aww... look at those cute pink bats in the confiscation bin. From Todd Lappin:
"In Louisville, Kentucky -- home to Louisville Slugger, America's most famous baseball bat manufacturer -- TSA has a special warning display near the security screening area at the airport.

"Sadly, this is the closest thing to 'local flavor' that I've seen at any of the otherwise uniformly-grim TSA outposts around the country."

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Sterling skull cufflinks

These handsome sterling silver skull cufflinks by designer Christofle are $225 from Vivre, the same fine catalog that brought us the "Baby Devil Art" and "Baby Cross Bone" multi-thousand-dollar pendants. Link Read the rest

Carved animal trophy heads

Roost has designed a line of stately and elegant animal trophy heads hand-carved from blocks of laminated basswood. The range includes a Cataline Goat, Bighorn Sheep, Blesbock, Reedbuck, and others. Seen here is the Noble Stag (H 42" x W 29"), priced at $595 from Velocity Art and Design in Seattle. Link Read the rest

Whale attacks trainer at SeaWorld

A "killer whale" named Kasatka attacked a trainer during a show at San Diego's SeaWorld last night. Apparently, the orca grabbed trainer Ken Peters and pulled him twice to the bottom of the tank, breaking his foot. From Reuters:
SeaWorld's vice president of zoology, Mike Scarpuzzi, said the incident happened when female orca Kasatka was supposed to shoot out of the water upright so that the trainer could dive off her nose. Instead, Kasatka grabbed the trainer's foot and dived to the bottom of the 36-foot-(11-metre-)deep tank, Scarpuzzi said. They surfaced less than a minute later, but she ignored other trainers' signals to draw her to the side. The orca dived a second time with the trainer for about a minute. The trainer "stayed calm and calmed the whale down. He gently rubbed the whale, stroked her back," and she let go, Scarpuzzi said.
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Belt-drive watch

Tag Heuer have released a concept belt-drive watch called the V4 -- you have to see the video to believe it.
Powered by a oscillating linear weight that falls back and forth within the central shaft - transmitting the energy to the four ball bearing barrels. All part of the mechanical revolution in watchmaking where everyone is trying to reinvent the wheel - but this time with belts.
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Juicing the Brain in Scientific American

Scientific American reports on military research to "juice up" soldiers' brains using amphetamine-alternatives like Provigil and Ampakine CX717. The aim, of course, is to find the next generation "go pill" that fighters can pop to stay awake longer without impairing their cognitive abilities. The article also discusses transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), a method to stimulate specific regions of neurons to possibly alleviate depression or, of interest to the military, improve reaction time. (More on TMS in this Popular Science article I wrote several years ago.) For me though, the most interesting bit in the SciAm article is the brief discussion of the "fear gene." From the article:
A distinguished team of U.S. researchers reported in 2005 that a gene called stathmin, which is expressed in the amygdala (the seat of emotion), is associated with both innate and learned fear. The researchers bred mice without the gene and put them in aversive situations, such as giving them a mild shock at a certain point in their cage. Normal mice exhibited traditional fear behavior by freezing in place, but the altered mice froze less often. And when both types of mice were put in an open field environment--an innately threatening situation--the mice without stathmin spent more time in the center of the field and explored more than the control mice. Do individuals who have lesser stathmin expression exhibit less fear? It is unlikely that there is a one-to-one correspondence, because humans are far more psychologically complex than mice, capable of modifying their genetically programmed behavior.
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Mechanical pump powered by heart cells

Japanese researchers have built a miniature pump that's driven by living cells cultured from a rat's heart muscles. Instead of batteries, the pump is powered by a nutrient bath. Someday, this kind of bio-mechanical pump could be integrated into medical implants or labs-on-a-chip. According to the scientists from the University of Tokyo and the Japan Science and Technology Agency, the next step is to integrate chambers and valves to better control the liquid being pumped. From New Scientist:
The main part of the pump is made from a flexible polymer sphere 5 millimetres in diameter. Teflon capillary tubes measuring 400 microns in diameter are inserted into opposite sides of this sphere. A cell-friendly protein coating is then added to the sphere followed by a sheet of pulsing cultured heart cells. After just an hour the cells are firmly attached and begin driving the pump. To test the pump, the researchers placed it in a nutrient medium at human body temperature (37°C). They watched through a microscope as small polystyrene balls contained with a fluid moved through the pump's tubes. The pump operated continuously for six days in testing.
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Workings of an ancient computer

Scientists have uncovered the workings of an ancient computer called the Antikythera Mechanism. Built at the end of the second century B.C.E, the device was used to calculate and display moon phases and a luni-solar calendar. Its exact workings have been something of a mystery since it was first found in 1901 at the site of a Roman shipwreck. Now, researchers from the UK, Greece, and US report that high-resolution imaging have revealed the function of the gears and the partial inscriptions on the body of the machine. They report their findings in this week's issue of the scientific journal Nature. From the New York Times:
They said their findings showed that the inscriptions related to lunar-solar motions and the gears were a mechanical representation of the irregularities of the Moon’s orbital course across the sky, as theorized by the astronomer Hipparchos. They established the date of the mechanism at 150-100 B.C... Historians of technology think the instrument is technically more complex than any known device for at least a millennium afterward. The mechanism, presumably used in preparing calendars for seasons of planting and harvesting and fixing religious festivals, had at least 30, possibly 37, hand-cut bronze gear-wheels, the researchers reported. An ingenious pin-and-slot device connecting two gear-wheels induced variations in the representation of lunar motions according to the Hipparchos model of the Moon’s elliptical orbit around Earth.
Link to NYT article, Link to abstract at Nature (Thanks, Mike Liebhold!) Read the rest

Cactus building

Rotterdam's Urban Cactus housing project (UCX Architects) uses ingenious staggered terraces to make huge, sunny spaces, and a building profile that seems to have been parachuted in from 1945's future.
They placed the 98 residential units on 19 floors, using the pattern of outdoor spaces to determine the overall appearance of the project.

The slightly irregular pattern alternates these outdoor spaces to create what are in effect double-height spaces. Each unit then receives more sunlight than a typical stacked composition.

Link (via Futurismic)

Update: Fabio FZero sez, "The cactus building reminded me of this other architecture experiment in Montreal, created for Expo '67. It looks like a bunch of matchboxes stacked on top of each other, but provides a garden with open and unblocked view for all apartments. Impressive!" Read the rest

Buttonless elevtors for efficient routing

Buttonless elevators are programmed in the lobby -- you enter your floor and are directed to a given lift. The idea is to make elevators efficient at routing -- say, by putting everyone going to floor 8 in the same box. However, the loss of control freaks people out:
You can't change your mind about where you're going after the doors shut. "Once you get on, you've got claustrophobia," says Mr. Glassberg, who is a senior vice president at Gemstar-TV Guide International Inc.'s TV Guide. He calls the new elevators "Wonkavators," after the flying glass elevator in the movie "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory..."

Most people catch on pretty quickly. Just a month after the Hearst Tower opened, some Hearst executives said they were forgetting to push buttons in old-fashioned elevators. "My problem has become that I keep forgetting to press buttons in the elevator in my apartment building, so as I tap tap tap on my BlackBerry, I realize minutes later that the elevator hasn't moved," says Atoosa Rubenstein, the departing editor in chief of Hearst's Seventeen magazine.

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LP turntable powered by built-in gasoline engine

This beautiful turntable is powered by a 2.5 cc engine. It wasn't made as a real product, but it sure looks cool. Link (Via Ektopia) Read the rest

Arm-trapping fire-alarm immolates Samaritans

In 1938, Modern Mechanix magazine ran an article on a new design for a fire-alarm box. It had an arm-hold trap built in that held the alarm-puller in place until the fire department arrived -- the idea was to lock prank-alarm-pullers in place (of course, if you were dumb enough to pull an alarm during a fire, you were horribly trapped alive in the flames until you succumbed to immolation or asphyxiation).
THE sending of false fire alarms by mischievous persons may be eliminated through use of a newly developed call box. To use the device, the sender of an alarm must pass a hand through a special compartment to reach the signal dial. Once the dial has been turned, the sender’s hand is locked in the compartment until released by a fireman or policeman with a key.
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Funny Internet meme gum

BlueQ sells a line of gum in funny, Internet-meme-y boxes, including one bearing the classic legend, "Every time you masturbate, God kills a kitten." Link (via AccordionGuy) Read the rest

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