Wednesday, 27 March 2013

What are the epistemological implications of indeterminacy?

Ever since I attended university (for the first time), I have used this grand question to mock those who pontificate about esoteric erudition. Exploring the meaning of life comes crashing back to Earth when you discover you've run out of toilet paper.

Lately, however, I have been mulling over this grand question and just what it means for all of us as represented by the collective we and each of us as individuals. What do we know? How do we know it? Does our need for security, continuity, and certainty mean that we willingly make s**t up rather than face the seemingly undesirable state of ignorance? Do we parrot what other people say without reflection or verification as if the compulsion to say what we (supposedly) know could be considered something akin to Tourette's? Why is it so hard to say, "I don't know"? Ever notice how you stop somebody in the street to ask for directions and it quickly becomes obvious that they haven't got the foggiest idea where such and such is but they still try to tell you anyway? Please, I beg you, just say "I don't know" and spare us a lot of wasted time and pain. Don't vaguely point and say, "I'm not sure but I think it's over there." Ahhh!!!

epistemology = theory of knowledge

implication = likely consequence, conclusion

indeterminacy = indefiniteness, the quality of being undefined

How does being undefined affect our knowledge? What effect does the unknown have on us personally or collectively? Does the indefinite somehow scare us or bug us to the point where we consciously or unconsciously decide to believe something, believe anything rather than face a situation where we just don't know?

The Earth is 6,000 years old
James Ussher (1581-1656), Archbishop of Armagh (Church of Ireland) created the Ussher Chronology, a literal interpretation of the Bible recording dates and ages. This work concluded that the world was created in 4004 BC. That seems pretty definitive and I think we can lay that one to rest.

But...

But the keyword is literal. Is the Bible "the" word of God? Or is it the word of men attempting to put down in words their interpretation of what they think God was? Is the Bible an accurate historical record? Or is it the inaccurate passing of tales from one person to the next? Is the Bible the unblemished record of the times of our ancestors? Or is it a book which has changed due to inaccurate or personalized translations or been modified because of political influences?

Do I accept the Bible "as is" or do I say, "I don't know"?

And my personal view? The Ussher Chronology due to its scholarly approach and erudite treatment of the Holy Scriptures lends a great deal of gravitas to the six thousand year argument. That unto itself is enough to convince many a folk but I would point out that all of this is based on the premise of the Bible being accurate. A logical deduction based on a faulty premise does not lead to the truth.

Now, after all that, don't get me started on those who use the Bible to justify their stance against abortion, contraception, homosexuality, sex education, and God knows what else. We're all going to Hell in a handcart? It depends on your definition of Hell.

The Forty-Seven Percent
47% of the American people do not pay taxes. What does that mean? How do I interpret that? Should I investigate so I can truly understand what's being said? Should I verify the statement to even prove if it's true?

47% of the American people do not pay taxes. So said the Conservatives. So said Fox news (Sean Hannity among others). So said the GOP candidates during the 2011 campaign for the Republican representative. So said Mitt Romney. These people are moochers who will never fend for themselves and will always look to the federal government for charity. Shouldn't everyone pay taxes? It's not fair. It's un-American.

47% of the American people do not pay taxes. I investigate. Tax here refers to federal income tax. 47% do not pay federal income tax. They pay state taxes. They pay municipal taxes. They simply do not pay federal income tax.

Why do these people not pay federal income tax? I investigate. Their income is so low; they get tax credits which reduce their taxes to zero. Or they are so poor; they pay no federal income tax at all. The law grants them an exemption so they are legally not bound to pay taxes.

Who doesn't pay? I investigate. Retired people. Veterans. Unemployed people. Poor people. And soldiers currently deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yes, the men and women of the armed forces currently deployed overseas fighting the good fight and defending truth, justice, and the American way are exempt from paying federal income tax. They are part of the 47%.

The Conservatives, the Tea Party, and Mitt Romney called them moochers who will never fend for themselves and will always look to the federal government for charity. Why would they say this? Why would they jump to a conclusion without investigating the truth?

If you are poor, if you income is low, the law, yes the law states you don't have to pay federal income tax. No one is cheating. No one is mooching. The law is the law. But in the eyes of the right, something is wrong. These people are poor. They are free-loaders.

Why did Romney go after the 47% so obviously the poorest of the country? Why did Conservatives buy into this idea that these poor are moochers? The chief executives of the U.S.’s top 14 financial companies received about $2.5 billion in cash (salary, bonus and stock options exercised) from 2000 to 2008. (Bloomberg) Part of the 47% earn less than $20,000 per year.

Huffington - Sep 19/2012
Single Mother, 47 Percenter: 'Sometimes You Do Need Help' by Catherine Pearson
[Janelle Matous, a single mother,], 30, has a 4-year-old son and is a full-time student studying photojournalism at the University of Texas, where she maintains a 3.7 GPA. She also works 20 hours a week at a non-profit, earning $18,000 a year. With loans and grants, her annual income is just around $22,000. Each month, $900 of that goes straight to her rent. ... Matous said she pays Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes, but does not pay income tax. She also gets government help with day care expenses, an earned income credit, and is able write off certain expenses, such as her school books. She does not think she should have to apologize for any of this.

But the true absurdity of this analysis of the 47%? My research showed that loopholes in the tax laws allow the rich to also escape paying federal income tax. Yes, they are part of the 47%! According to an article by Tom Herman in The Fiscal Times, more than 10,000 Americans who earned more than $200,000 in 2007 paid no income taxes to the U.S. government. (Wall Street Journal)

Marissa Mayer
Marissa Mayer is one of 42 female CEOs out of the top Fortune 1,000 companies. She is the youngest CEO. Yahoo is a floundering company which has been through a number of CEOs in the past five years. Mayer is the third CEO in 2012 alone.

Mayer is brought in to turn around the company. Yahoo is in trouble and needs to do something, probably something drastic. Mayer discovers that remote workers are abusing the system. How? Reportedly some of them are collecting a paycheck but never show up for work. At all. Ever. Mayer checks logs for remote access and finds out they never even connect to Yahoo's systems. At all. Ever. And reportedly some of them have other jobs to boot.

Mayer is given the task to turn around Yahoo. She decides to do what Google does: minimise telecommuting to foster a collaborative environment. She rescinds all telecommuting. Everybody goes nuts. It's the end of life as we know it. Self-proclaimed experts everywhere tell us how wrong Mayer is and how their lives are better for telecommuting. Yes, their life. Their one life. Nobody talks about Yahoo's problems. Nobody talks about managing a workforce of 14,000 people. Nobody talks about when telecommuting is useful and when it's not useful. Nobody talks about the differences in industries and how telecommuting may work there but not be good for collaboration as exemplified at Google. And especially nobody talks about how the waitress serving me my hamburger can't telecommute. Or how the nurse, the teacher, the plumber, the electrician, the bank teller, and a host of other jobs which require a real live person to be on-site to do the work can't telecommute. Yes, nobody talks about how telecommuting is only applicable to people working in information services. With a broad brush stroke the self-proclaimed experts vilify Mayer and promote telecommuting as the saviour for all workers and the, the in air quotes, way of achieving that ever elusive life-work balance: how to have kids, take care of your home, cook dinner, and get paid. Fist pump, rah rah. Telecommuting: it's like winning the lottery.

Statistics are used much like a drunk uses a lamppost: for support, not illumination.
-Vin Scully (b 1927), American Sportscaster

Final Word
What do we know? And does our abhorrence of ignorance mean that we develop and apply explanations for things when the correct answer is really "I don't know"? I have been flabbergasted at what comes out of people's mouths. Not just misinformation, but hurtful opinions even outright lies all based on unverified assumptions or speculation. We collectively seem to repeat stuff without ever questioning whether what we're saying is in fact true. But oh my do we stick to our guns. I have stood in front of people who could in no way know what the right answer is but repeat over and over again that their answer is absolutely one hundred percent correct.

What I wrote above is so brief. I could have put together a book of all the examples I have run across over the past few years and there seems to be no end to it. Yes, it is common knowledge that two plus two equals four and I think we can all agreed that this idea is verifiable but from there we embark on a voyage of the misinformed.

How long did it take the collective we to accept that the Earth is not flat? When did we learn that the Earth is not the centre of the solar system? (400 years ago Galileo was locked up by the church.) 130 years ago, women suffered from "hysteria". But these are old issues and I'm sure everyone will chuckle about them. But what about today? What about the current issues?

All homosexuals are pedophiles. All Muslims are terrorists. Gay marriage threatens the American way of life. Sex education promotes promiscuity. Vaccinations cause autism. 9/11 was a government conspiracy and the twin towers were brought down by a controlled demolition. Pornography is bad (but 50 Shades of Grey apparently reawoke the sex lives of American women). Dopamine explains sex addiction (but dopamine, as part of the brain's pleasure mechanism, also allows us to enjoy ice cream). Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone. You must put oil and salt in the water when boiling spaghetti noodles. Blah, blah, blah.

Superstition is very much alive in the world. We see coincidence and think we know why something happened. We do not realise we are guessing; we are trying to fill in the blanks and make sense out of unexplainable all while not understanding that we do not understand. Cum hoc propter hoc. "With this, because of this." Correlation does not imply causation. Just imagine that a couple of hundred years ago, it was thought that a tobacco smoke enema (you heard me) could cure all sorts of ailments even being an effective treatment for drowning. While silly now, what's not to say that what we believe today is not silly?

I am convinced that a thousand years from now, people are going to look back at us and laugh at our ignorance. What passes for common knowledge is sometimes ridiculous. Personally, I don't know and I'm not ashamed to admit it. Too bad you're still convinced the Earth is flat.


References

Wikipedia: Ussher chronology
The Ussher chronology is a 17th-century chronology of the history of the world formulated from a literal reading of the Bible by James Ussher, the Archbishop of Armagh (Church of Ireland). The chronology is sometimes associated with young Earth creationism, which holds that the universe was created only a few millennia ago by God as described in the first two chapters of the Biblical book of Genesis.

my blog: What the @#$%^* do I know about religion?)
Is the Bible the word of God? The answer is very much dependent on which end of the spectrum you're at. If you are a fundamentalist, the Bible is THE word of God and I'm going to Hell for even asking the question. At the other end of the spectrum, the Bible is an inaccurate document written by man (well, men) and is their interpretation of both historical events and what God, if He exists, meant. It has been rendered inaccurate by the faults of transcribing the texts, of translating the texts, and of various political interests who changed the Bible to suit their needs.

MotherJones - Sep 19/2012
Full Transcript of the Mitt Romney Secret Video
Romney: There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what. And I mean, the president starts off with 48, 49, 48—he starts off with a huge number. These are people who pay no income tax. Forty-seven percent of Americans pay no income tax. So our message of low taxes doesn't connect. And he'll be out there talking about tax cuts for the rich. I mean that's what they sell every four years. And so my job is not to worry about those people—I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.

my blog: Romney caught on video: 47% of Americans are Losers
Just how much out of touch are the Republicans? Watching this video of a rich guy, a multimillionaire rich guy estimated to be worth $230 million giving his take on the state of the union is jaw-droppingly unbelievable.

my blog: Marissa Mayer: Has the smoke cleared yet?
Yahoo! has 14,100 employees. That's a lot of employees. I wonder what they're all doing. Marissa Mayer makes a decision and public vilifies her for it. Hmmm, do I know what's going on at Yahoo? Is Mayer's decision a threat to working mommies everywhere? Does Mayer deserve the scorn of the world? 14,100 employees. Hmmm, I wonder what they're all doing.

my blog: Telecommuting, Marissa Mayer, and Working Mommies
Marissa Mayer is hired as CEO of Yahoo to turn around the floundering company. Discovering a problem with staff abusing the right to work remotely for the company, she rescinds all telecommuting. Every self-professed pundit about modern work practices, amateur and professional alike, goes ape-shit condemning this woman left, right, and center about her supposed blow against the hardships of today's workers especially today's working mothers.

my blog: Movie Review: Hysteria (plus my ramblings about the female paroxysm, er, orgasm)
Female hysteria? Once upon a time the medical profession determined that a wide variety of symptoms such as faintness, nervousness, sexual desire, insomnia, fluid retention, heaviness in abdomen, muscle spasm, shortness of breath, irritability, loss of appetite for food or sex, and "a tendency to cause trouble" were representative of this supposed illness. Defining exactly what this malady was remained elusive but the cure said it all. The proscribed remedy was for a woman to undergo "pelvic massage", the manual stimulation of the genitals, by a doctor until the patient had a hysterical paroxysm (orgasm).

my blog: The Tobacco Smoke Enema: Blowing smoke up my... what? Really?
It would seem that the North American Indians introduced tobacco to Europeans for more than just smoking. They used it as a medicine including the introduction of smoke in the rectum to stimulate respiration. ... The English physician, Richard Mead (1673-1754), a then well-respected scholar of medicine, was apparently one of the first experts to recommend tobacco smoke enemas to resuscitate victims of drowning.

2013-03-27

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Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Peter Gabriel: Down to Earth


Did you think that your feet had been bound
By what gravity brings to the ground?
Did you feel you were tricked
By the future you picked?
Well come on down

All these rules don't apply
When you're high in the sky
So come on down
Come on down

We're coming down to the ground
There's no better place to go
We've got snow upon the mountains
We've got rivers down below
We're coming down to the ground
To hear the birds sing in the trees
And the land will be looked after
We send the seeds out in the breeze

Did you think you'd escaped from routine
By changing the script and the scene?
Despite all you made of it
you're always afraid of the change

You've got a lot on your chest
Well you can come as my guest
So come on down
Come on down

We're coming down to the ground
There's no better place to go
We've got snow upon the mountains
We've got rivers down below
We're coming down to the ground
We'll hear the birds sing in the trees
And the land will be looked after
We send the seeds out in the breeze

Like the fish in the ocean
We felt at home in the sea
We learned to live off the good land
We learned to climb up a tree
then we got up on two legs
But we wanted to fly
When we messed up our homeland
and set sail for the sky

We're coming down to the ground
There's no better place to go
We've got snow upon the mountains
We got rivers down below
We're coming down to the ground
We'll hear the birds sing in the trees
And the land will be looked after
We send the seeds out in the breeze

We're coming down
Comin' down to earth
Like babies at birth
Comin' down to earth

Redefine your priorities
These are extraordinary qualities

We're coming down to the ground
There's no better place to go
We've got snow upon the mountains
We've got rivers down below
We're coming down to the ground
We'll hear the birds sing in the trees
And the land will be looked after
We send the seeds out in the breeze

We're coming down to the ground
There's no better place to go
We've got snow upon the mountains
We've got rivers down below
We're coming down to the ground
We'll hear the birds sing in the trees
And the land will be looked after
We send the seeds out in the breeze


References

Uploaded on Jun 12, 2010 by yoyo12200

Wikipedia: Down to Earth (Peter Gabriel song)
"Down to Earth" is a song, sung and produced by Peter Gabriel featuring the Soweto Gospel Choir. The lyrics were written by Peter Gabriel. The music was composed by Peter Gabriel and Thomas Newman. The song is part of the soundtrack album WALL-E and is featured in the end credits of the feature film WALL-E.

Wikipedia: WALL-E
WALL-E (stylized with an interpunct as WALL•E) is a 2008 American computer-animated romantic science fiction film produced by Pixar Animation Studios and directed by Andrew Stanton. The story follows a robot named WALL-E, who is designed to clean up a waste-covered Earth far in the future. He falls in love with another robot named EVE, who also has a programmed task, and follows her into outer space on an adventure that changes the destiny of both his kind and humanity. Both robots exhibit an appearance of free will and emotions similar to humans, which develop further as the film progresses.


2013-03-26

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Monday, 25 March 2013

Telecommuting, Marissa Mayer, and Working Mommies

This posting is a follow-up to "Marissa Mayer: Has the smoke cleared yet?" To better understand this opinion piece, you should read the other posting first.

Marissa Mayer is hired as CEO of Yahoo to turn around the floundering company. Discovering a problem with staff abusing the right to work remotely for the company, she rescinds all telecommuting. Every self-professed pundit about modern work practices, amateur and professional alike, goes ape-shit condemning this woman left, right, and center about her supposed blow against the hardships of today's workers especially today's working mothers.

How bizarre is this?

Mayer is raked over the coals but do the pundits do their homework? Out of the 14,100 employees at Yahoo, this only directly affects a couple of hundred or several hundred employees (depending on the source) who work remotely full-time. (Let's say "several hundred" means 500. That equals 3.6% of 14,100 employees). Others who may do some remote work part-time would also be affected but the point is this. Some bad apple remote workers were collecting a paycheck and doing nothing for it. The company is floundering. What would be the first thing to do to clean up Yahoo's act? Get rid of the bad apples.

Did any of the critics write about this? Did any of the critics know about this? Did any of the critics investigate this? Article after article cited anecdotal information about the success of telecommuting and based on this, condemned Marissa Mayer. Mayer was given the mandate to turn around a floundering company. Mayer is overseeing 14,100 employees. Not one, two, or three employees, but fourteen thousand. I don't see a single critic with any comparable work experience. It's one or two anecdotes against 14,100 employees.

A commentator to one magazine article (Marissa Mayer Has Made a Terrible Mistake) writes:

Putting aside all the well-stated arguments presented in this article, there is the obvious problem of environmental degradation. Every at-home worker is a worker who does not drive to work (polluting air), buy expensive "office clothes" (very polluting), etc. Clearly Yahoo does not care about this heavy burden it is now going to place on the environment. I will not be using Yahoo again for any purposes. Glad to be with GOOGLE --- plan to stay there.

Marissa Mayer worked at Google for thirteen years. She apparently was very successful there. She is bringing a lot of talent to Yahoo, a floundering company. So what's at Google? From the Los Angeles Times:

"The surprising question we get is: 'How many people telecommute at Google?' And our answer is: 'As few as possible,'" Patrick Pichette, Google's chief financial officer, said recently. "There is something magical about spending the time together."

Now let me get this straight. The commentator is not going to use Yahoo because of what Marissa Mayer did and is staying with Google. She talks about a "heavy burden" on the environment but mentions nothing about this touching only a small percentage of the entire workforce. She talks about Yahoo not caring but mentions nothing about the abuses on the part of telecommuters. She states she is going to stay with Google not realising that Google practices what Mayer just implemented: minimise telecommuting in order to develop a collaborative environment.

Lisa Belkin
A number of bloggers went off on a rant about bad Ms. Mayers while quoting Lisa Belkin of the Huffington Post (Marissa Mayer's Work-From-Home Ban Is The Exact Opposite Of What CEOs Should Be Doing). Ms. Belkin with self-proclaimed authority bases her condemnation of Mayer on some studies mixed with anecdotal evidence. The entire article is a spirited diatribe against all things anti working mommy. This isn't a factual assessment of Yahoo and its current situation as a "floundering" company and its workforce problems. This isn't a detailed look at telecommuting and when it works and when it doesn't work. This is all about a perceived slight to working mothers.

Telecommuting? I note that the condemners of Mayer do not talk about jobs like waitress, retail sales, doctor, lawyer, nurse, plumber, assembly line worker, plant manager, teacher, school principal, bank teller, bank manager, farmer, etc. all of whom do work that cannot be carried out by telecommuting. For some reason the critics of Mayer have zeroed in on a segment of the workforce involved in information services who may under certain circumstances do work remotely. Yes a web developer may telecommute but what percentage of the workforce is involved in web development full-time? How many working mothers are web developers? How much of a web developer's work can be done telecommuting and at what point does he or she need to collaborate with the users?

Google has total assets of $94 billion with revenue of $50 billion. Does anybody not think these people know what they're doing? I repeat from the Los Angeles Times:

"The surprising question we get is: 'How many people telecommute at Google?' And our answer is: 'As few as possible,'" Patrick Pichette, Google's chief financial officer, said recently. "There is something magical about spending the time together."

Need I remind everybody that Mayer worked at Google for 13 years and was by all accounts very successful? Google minimises telecommuting to foster a collaborative environment and Mayer is attempting to do the same thing at Yahoo.

Some analysis
Let me look at Wikipedia's article on Telecommuting and delve into some details.

Wikipedia: Telecommuting
Telecommuting, remote work, or telework is a work arrangement in which employees do not commute to a central place of work.
...
According to a Reuters poll, approximately "one in five workers around the globe, particularly employees in the Middle East, Latin America and Asia, telecommute frequently and nearly 10 percent work from home every day".

While at face value, some of the numbers tossed around would give the reader the impression we can all have a better life through telecommuting, a little digging into the details reveals a number of issues about getting from where we are to the paradise Lisa Belkin seems to be talking about.

Point
Telecommuting is for "information workers". If you're a waitress, your job entails being on the job unless somebody has figured out how you can serve me my hamburger remotely. (Wikipedia Reference)

Point
The discussion doesn't make any distinction between businesses. Yes, a worker in a call centre can probably do all of their work remotely; they can telecommute 100% of the time. But a member of a team, a collaboration (Where have I heard that before?), will require more face time.

Point
There are trade-offs. Staying at home may reduce power consumption at the office but then residential power consumption goes up. Yes, there is a reduction in transportation but is that reduction significant in the big picture? Wikipedia quotes a study (Wikipedia Reference): In a future scenario with pervasive adoption of teleworking, where 50% of information workers telecommute 4 days per week, United States and Japan national energy savings are estimated at only about 1% in both cases. Okay, I grant you that 1% is 1%. It's better than nothing but let's not get the idea that the heavens are going to open up and we'll all hear a choir singing. Besides, this is a future scenario. How to get from here to there?

Yes, you telecommuted today and didn't have to drive to work. That's you. One person. But what about the big picture? The really big picture?

my blog: Let's go green... er, black?
A couple of years ago, I was reading an analysis in the editorial pages of the Toronto Star where the author [looked] at our green efforts. He listed off our various initiatives in North America like changing traditional light bulbs to more energy efficient ones, getting more green appliances, turning off unnecessary lights and dimming others, etc. Then he said that these types of efforts, while laudable were laughable when one took into account that at that moment, China was constructing a new coal-fired electrical power generating station every week. All of our light bulbs were dwarfed by the new developments elsewhere in the world which were leading to even higher levels of pollution.

Yes, you telecommuted today and didn't have to drive to work. Lucky you. But the big picture? What about the waitresses, bank tellers, teachers, and God knows who else whose job requires them to be on the job?

My Opinion
I have worked in I.T. for almost 30 years supporting the government, insurance, and financial sectors. I have developed and offered to staff various means to telecommute. I look at these anti-Mayer harangues and I have to shake my head. What exactly does everybody think telecommuting is? Do people know when to use it and when not to use it? Do people think this is carte blanche to work at home one hundred percent of the time? As I pointed out above with a list of various jobs, life balance is not going to come from telecommuting because the nature of the job requires the employee to be on-site.

"For the rest of us who occasionally have to stay home for the cable guy, please use your best judgment in the spirit of collaboration."
-Jackie Reese, director of HR, Yahoo!

I am sure there are dinosaur companies out there who behave like ogres to their employees. I am sure there are telecommuting opportunities out there which are passed up for numerous reasons. All of us must continue the good fight. But I can't help feeling that the backlash to Mayer has been anything but objective. I can't help feeling that women have piled on Mayer precisely because she is a woman and this decision has somehow betrayed the great feminine cause. I wonder if this hasn't completely muddied the waters about Yahoo, the problems of a mismanaged workforce, and just what the heck telecommuting is good for.

Marissa Mayer came from Google, a company with nearly 54,000 employees. Wouldn't you think that she knows the big picture better than the rest of the armchair generals and Monday morning quarterbacks? This decision isn't about Molly the Mother; it is about Freddy the Freeloader. If I interpret "several hundred" full-time remote employees as five hundred employees, that is only 3.6% of Yahoo's total workforce. That means 96.4% are showing up to work. My research uncovered that long-term Yahoo employees were lauding this decision saying it's been a long time coming and it's about time somebody got rid of the abusers.

I read the quote above by Jackie Reese, head of HR at Yahoo, and I see what I've seen for the last 30 years of my career. Parent teacher night this evening? Go home early and take care of things. Johnny has a dental appointment first thing in morning? Take care of business then come in to work. The household has come down with the flu? Heavens, please I beg you to not come in and infect everybody else. This is what I consider to be normal. Family-friendly? Reasonable? No ogres here. We're all adults and everybody is assumed to be responsible. But note that nobody is getting carte blanche. This still is a team effort and collaboration is an important part of the work. Yes, occasionally working from home gives a few hours of uninterrupted work. Yes an entire day at home means meeting a deadline. But let's not confuse apples and oranges. Business is a collaborative effort which is enhanced by telecommuting and every business is different. Yes businesses in the information services area which rely on computers are more than likely to use telecommuting but there is a big difference between a call centre with workers spread out across the country (almost 100% telecommuting) and a team of specialists at Yahoo working together (collaborating!) to invent the next big thing.

Final Word
I investigate the Marissa Mayer story and I think about my own work career. I then read Lisa Belkin and have to conclude that this writer didn't do her homework and doesn't know what she talking about. Once again I see people jumping to unfounded conclusions, misinterpreting events, and disseminating misinformation, second-hand opinions, and rumours and innuendo. All for what? I am betting that not one of these people actually works at Yahoo, the Great Satan. I'm betting not one of these people works at Google, the great saviour even though Google currently does what Mayer is attempting to do. I am betting the majority of these armchair generals cite online studies with little or no practical experience about the issues at hand.

Do I think the job market is fair between men and women? No, I do not. Things are better but there is still a long way to go. Do I think women are paid the same as men? No, I do not. Things are better but there is still a long way to go. I do think though this entire discussion has not been an objective assessment of reality. I believe that this entire story has somehow imparted the idea that telecommuting is the savior for every working mommy. It's not. If you're a waitress, you're not serving me my hamburger through a computer terminal. If you're bank teller, plumber, nurse, or teacher, you are not going to phone it in. Yes I think telecommuting is great but it is not a panacea and it only is valuable under certain circumstances. And for anybody who wants to quote me chapter and verse about such and such a study which says Mary-Joe of Scottsbluff, Nebraska works by telecommuting, I would like to ask what you're doing for Betty-Lou of Scottsbluff, Nebraska who works as a waitress down at the ABC Diner. Fortunately Betty-Lou's boss understands she is a single mom with three kids and gives her a flexible schedule.

I will close with a warning. The Internet, remote access, and personal devices (iPhone, Blackberry, etc.) give us what we perceive as freedom. In reality, things change. We are now plugged in twenty-four by seven. The old saying was that you didn't have a job, you had a career. My joke is that I don't have a career, I have a life style. Yes, twenty-four by seven we are plugged in and that's means we are responding to colleagues and their questions, requests for information or for assistance. We are taking laptops and devices on vacation and yes, after we come back from the latest organised tour of ancient ruins or a swim in the resort's pool, we are checking to see if anybody has emailed us. My pay is based on 7.5 hours per day, 5 days per week. I have never worked just 7.5 hours per day or just 5 days a week. Never. Freedom? Be careful what you wish for. You might just get it.


References

my blog: Marissa Mayer: Has the smoke cleared yet?
Yahoo! has 14,100 employees. That's a lot of employees. I wonder what they're all doing. Marissa Mayer makes a decision and public vilifies her for it. Hmmm, do I know what's going on at Yahoo? Is Mayer's decision a threat to working mommies everywhere? Does Mayer deserve the scorn of the world? 14,100 employees. Hmmm, I wonder what they're all doing.

Wikipedia: Google
Google Inc. is an American multinational corporation that provides Internet-related products and services, including internet search, cloud computing, software and advertising technologies.

Google has total assets of $94 billion with revenue of $50 billion.

Wikipedia: Yahoo!
Yahoo! Inc. is an American multinational internet corporation headquartered in Sunnyvale, California. It is widely known for its web portal, search engine Yahoo! Search, and related services, including Yahoo! Directory, Yahoo! Mail, Yahoo! News, Yahoo! Finance, Yahoo! Groups, Yahoo! Answers, advertising, online mapping, video sharing, fantasy sports and its social media website. It is one of the most popular sites in the United States.

Yahoo has total assets of $17 billion with revenue of $5 billion.

Babble Voices - Dec 1/2012
Marissa Mayer’s “Easy Baby” Isn’t Fussing…So Why Is Everyone Else? By Asha Dornfest
I rarely disagree with Lisa Belkin’s parenting commentary; I love her intelligent, thoughtful writing in this space which so often runs amok with hype. But this time, I have to speak up.

Liberating Working Moms - Dec 3/2012
Dear Lisa Belkin: Please Leave Marissa Mayer Alone By Tracy
Last week I read a Huffington Post article ragging on Marissa Mayer, CEO of yahoo, for saying that her baby has been “easy” and transitioning back to work has been fine. The first time I gleaned it, I couldn’t finish reading it. I couldn’t put my finger on why I was cringing. Was I upset with Mayer or was I upset with Lisa Belkin, the author of the article. I took a step back and realized it was the latter. Belkin just seems so damn bitter, taking it out on Mayer.

NY Times - Feb 26/2013
Get Off Your Cloud by Maureen Dowd
Now Mayer has caused another fem-quake with a decision that has a special significance to working mothers. She has banned Yahoos, as her employees are known, from working at home (which some of us call “working” at home).
...
Mayer’s bold move looks retro and politically incorrect, but she may feel the need to reboot the company culture, harness creativity, cut deadwood and discipline slackers before resuming flexibility.
...
Maybe as Mayer rejuvenates “the grandfather” of Internet companies, as she calls Yahoo, she needs the energy and synergy of a start-up mentality.

Lisa Belkin: Huffington Post, Feb 23/2013
The following analyses some of Ms. Belkin's article "Marissa Mayer's Work-From-Home Ban Is The Exact Opposite Of What CEOs Should Be Doing".

Marissa Mayer's Work-From-Home Ban Is The Exact Opposite Of What CEOs Should Be Doing
-Lisa Belkin

From the Los Angeles Times above, it would seem Patrick Pichette, Google's chief financial officer, disagrees with you, Ms. Belkin.

"Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home," says the memo from HR director Jackie Reses, and reprinted by Kara Swisher on allthingsd.com last night. "We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together."

No. It doesn't.
-Lisa Belkin

No, it doesn't? Ms. Belkin, by what authority do you make that statement? Patrick Pichette disagrees with you. Long-term employees at Yahoo disagree with you. I disagree with you. You then start talking about 40 years ago, 20 years ago, and citing studies to prove your point but never address the issue of apples and oranges. Yes, working at home means you get a report completed on time without the daily interruptions at the office. But if you are inventing the next big thing which comes from collaboration, you don't do that remotely.

I had hope for Marissa Mayer. I'd thought that while she was breaking some barriers -- becoming the youngest woman CEO ever lead a Fortune 500 company, and certainly the first to do it while pregnant -- she might take on the challenge of breaking a number of others.
-Lisa Belkin

Ms. Belkin, why do you never discuss Yahoo as a floundering company? Why do you never mention long-term employees saying a shake-up was in order? Why do you not touch upon the abuses of the system?

That she'd use her platform and her power to make Yahoo! an example of a modern family-friendly workplace.
-Lisa Belkin

Mayer is doing what Google does. Is Google not family-friendly? Do you have proof? Is telecommuting your only criteria for judging "family-friendly"?

That she would embrace the thinking that new tools and technology deserve an equally new approach to where and how employees are allowed to work.
-Lisa Belkin

Ms. Belkin, I repeat. Mayer is doing at Yahoo what Google does. These companies are worth billions of dollars. With all due respect, I'm not sure I see on your résumé the necessary qualifications for criticising companies with this level of success.

Rather than championing a blending of life and work , she is calling for an enforced and antiquated division. She is telling workers -- many of whom were hired with the assurance that they could work remotely -- that they'd best get their bottoms into their office chairs, or else.
-Lisa Belkin

By my calculation, 96.4% (based on 500 full-time remote employees) to 98.6% (200 full-time remote employees) show up for work, maybe not 100% of the time but they do show up. "Many of whom were hired with the assurance that they could work remotely"? First of all, I see nothing in your article, Ms. Belkin that could in any way be construed as objective, demonstrative, and verifiable proof that such a statement is in any way true. Did you interview all 14,100 employees? Do you have secret information from the HR department? I am calling you out on that statement. You're making this up. I don't care about such and such a study about telecommuting in general; I want facts taken right from Yahoo's hiring agreements.

Championing a blending of life and work? Ms. Belkin, your idea of telecommuting seems quite confused. When we are talking about remote work at all, just what are we talking about? In my experience, everybody works remotely at one time or another but in an environment where collaboration is the cornerstone of the business, nobody works remotely on a regular basis. I have never seen it as so and so works from home every Friday. But it is important to make a distinction here between businesses. A call centre business does not need workers to be in a central location. As Wikipedia points out in its references, in India workers may be spread out over the country working from their own home. But in a collaborative team effort, there is a greater tendency to see people working together. Yes, there may be technical people working on the other side of the planet in a software development project but in giving such an example, I am afraid any reader is going to be thinking like you that everybody is doing it. I repeat that Betty-Lou the waitress is not serving me my hamburger though a computer terminal.

I could go on and on but in a nutshell, Ms. Belkin, I find your article a rant against all things anti working mommy. I do not find your assessment of Marissa Mayer and what's going on at Yahoo to be fair, balanced, and objective. Pick your fights wisely. Signing the VAWA, ensuring equal pay for the same work without gender discrimination, supporting Obamacare and health benefits for all American citizens, voting down Conservative ideology which is against abortion, birth control, and sex education, promoting flexible work schedules, and yes advocating for telecommuting when appropriate (!!!) are issues far more important to women and working mothers (oh heck, to all of us!) than Marissa Mayer and her attempt to weed out the freeloaders abusing the generosity of Yahoo and get a floundering company turned around.

2013-03-25

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Sunday, 24 March 2013

The Newsroom: TV series theme music




References

Published on Jun 20, 2012 by Александр Митраков

The main theme was written by Thomas Newman.

Wikipedia: Thomas Newman
Thomas Montgomery Newman (born October 20, 1955) is an American composer and conductor best known for his many film scores.

Newman has received a total of eleven Academy Award nominations, although as of 2013, he has yet to win the award. He has however won two BAFTAs, five Grammys and an Emmy, and has been nominated for a Golden Globe. Newman was honored with the Richard Kirk award at the 2000 BMI Film and TV Awards. The award is given annually to a composer who has made significant contributions to film and television music.

my blog: Six Feet Under: TV series theme music
Another fabulous television theme written by Thomas Newman.

Wikipedia: The Newsroom (U.S. TV series)
The Newsroom is an American drama television series created and principally written by Aaron Sorkin that premiered on HBO on June 24, 2012. The series chronicles the behind-the-scenes events at the fictional Atlantis Cable News (ACN) channel. It features an ensemble cast including Jeff Daniels as anchor Will McAvoy, who, together with his staff set out to put on a news show "in the face of corporate and commercial obstacles and their own personal entanglements." Other cast members include Emily Mortimer, John Gallagher, Jr., Alison Pill, Thomas Sadoski, Dev Patel, Olivia Munn, and Sam Waterston.

Sorkin, who created the Emmy Award-winning political drama The West Wing, had reportedly been developing a cable-news-centered TV drama since 2009. After months of negotiations, premium cable network HBO ordered a pilot in January 2011 and then a full series in September that year. Sorkin did his research for the series by observing several real-world cable news programs firsthand. He serves as executive producer, along with Scott Rudin and Alan Poul.

The Newsroom has been renewed for a second season, which will premiere in June 2013.

my blog: Aaron Sorkin: The Newsroom
Aaron Sorkin is back and I for one am glad he is. I greatly enjoyed The West Wing through 7 dramatic seasons. I saw the same promise in Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip but others did not and that show folded after just 22 episodes. Of course, in the meantime I've had movies, The Social Network and Moneyball but it is really the television series where I love his writing. Will this new endeavour pass muster?

There is a fascinating monologue given by the main character in the video clip "America is not the greatest country anymore". Click through to my blog Aaron Sorkin: The Newsroom for both the video and a transcript. It is a must see.

2013-03-24

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Wednesday, 20 March 2013

O Holy Night



References

Uploaded on Dec 24, 2009 by drumiswoman

O Holy Night performed by musicians from New Orleans led by Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews

This musical number was featured on "The Christmas Episode", episode #11 of the TV series Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip which aired on December 4, 2006.

Wikipedia: Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip
Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip is an American dramedy television series created and primarily written by Aaron Sorkin. ... Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip ran on NBC for 22 episodes, from September 18, 2006 to June 28, 2007. To date, it is the only Aaron Sorkin-created series which did not get a second season.

YouTube: Studio 60 - Danny & Jordan : I'm coming for you. (12:31)
This series of clips from the television show portrays the growing romance between the characters Danny and Jordan. It ends with The Christmas Show featuring the song O Holy Night performed by the musicians from New Orleans. All of these musicians were apparently real Hurricane Katrina survivors as they played on the show. The vignette was coordinated by the Tipitina's Foundation, an nonprofit organization dedicated to helping New Orleans musicians affected by Katrina.

YouTube: O Holy Night: just the music clip from the TV show (4:42)

YouTube: O Holy Night: live rendition from a transcription (4:14)

O Holy Night: transcription: $30 USD
instrumentation: Tenor Sax 1, Tenor Sax 2, Solo Trumpet, Trumpet 1, Trumpet 2, French Horn, Trombone, Bass Trombone (can be played by Tuba also)

My personal notes
The West Wing by Alan Sorkin was an unbelievable television show. It was a monument of creativity. It is a classic. It can be watched over and over again.

Mr. Sorkin tried to reach the same heights with Studio 60 but the show did not click with the public and it folded after its first season. We will see if his new opus The Newsroom manages to re-capture that West Wing magic.

Nevertheless, this one episode from Studio 60 gave us this poignant musical moment, coming a year after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. I consider this jazz interpretation of the classic Christmas song to be quite emotional. It was a significant moment in the TV show and lives on in its own right. It is beautiful piece of music.

2013-03-20

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Friday, 15 March 2013

The Paperless Society



References

Published on Mar 15, 2013 by Barış Büyükakyol

Vimeo - Mar 8/2013
Le papier ne sera jamais mort / Paper is not dead on influencia.net !

Wikipedia: Paperless society
A Paperless society is one in which paper communication (written documents, mail, letters, etc.) is replaced by electronic communication and storage. The concept originated by Frederick Wilfrid Lancaster in 1978.

A Paperless Society Truths or Myths Essay
For over 30 years now since the introduction of the personal computer in the early 70s, many experts have predicted that the use of paper would soon become something of the past in people’s daily communication. In a speech in 1994, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates declared that America was at a turning point in communications, quickly moving toward what he called “a paperless society.” He announced, “Soon, we won’t want magazines, students won’t need textbooks, and paper forms will be redundant.” However, contrary to this belief, paper producing businesses globally are actually generating more paper than ever before. Some the most notorious companies operating using large amounts of paper are in the financial, healthcare, and manufacturing sectors.

For a society that is said to become paperless, it is somewhat humorous that International Paper Company actually increased their sales from $21.9B in 2006 to $25.1B in 2010. This doesn’t show that the demand for paper use is shrinking. In reality the use of printing paper has shifted from companies to consumers. To illustrate, today PDF files, Word documents, Excel Spreadsheet and PowerPoint presentations are commonly e-mailed or downloaded from web sites and printed by the individuals who receives them. Many of the mail and newsletters propaganda that used to congest our mail boxes have been replaced by these types of files. People print them in part or in full as opposed to the publisher, thereby transferring publication costs to the consumer.

Uploaded on Feb 22, 2012 by Jora Jessica Gassner
iPad den Eltern schenken? Sehr gut überlegen! (Give an iPad to your parents? Good idea!)


2013-03-15

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Thursday, 14 March 2013

3.14 reasons to celebrate Pi Day (March 14)

Okay, now just how geeky is this? The mathematical constant Pi is equal to three point one four one five nine yadda yadda yadda. - Some clown in the audience is going to impress us all by reciting this to 20 decimal digits. Geeks rule! - Well, who would have guessed? Pi has its own day and that day is March 14. I can see the perplexed looks now. March is the third month of the year so that gives us 3/14, the first three digits of Pi. [slaps forehead] Oh... my... gawd! I have to add here that the U.S. shows dates in the format month - day - year. Britain shows day-month-year and Japan shows year-month-day. Only in America!

Yes folks, it's Pi Day, a holiday commemorating this most unusual of mathematical constants. Well, is it the oddest? Maybe the know-it-all geniuses may disagree but I would come back to Pi being the most commonly known of all constants, at least for us lay people and/or dunderheads.

FYI: March 14 is also Albert Einstein's birthday! (1879) Pi and Einstein? Coincidence? I think not! Ha ha.

What is Pi?
Just what the heck is Pi anyway? π (sometimes written pi) is a mathematical constant whose value is the ratio of any Euclidean plane circle's circumference to its diameter; this is the same value as the ratio of a circle's area to the square of its radius. (Wikipedia) [stunned silence] Ah, but what exactly does that have to do with the price of tea in China?

Pi is represented by the Greek letter π, and it is the most important constant in mathematics. You can find out the area of a circle of radius r, using πr2. The perimeter of this circle would have the length 2πr. Without pi there is no theory of motion and no understanding of geometry. Likewise, the volume of a sphere of radius r is 4/3πr3 and that of a cylinder of height h is πr2h. Pi occurs in important fields of applied mathematics such as Fourier analysis. It is used throughout engineering, science and medicine and is studied for its own sake in number theory. (ABC Science)

Well, didn't that just clear things up nicely! Oh boy, am I in over my head. However, the fascination with this mathematical constant goes on to the nutty and the funny.

Piphilology
This oddball word (read made-up) is the creation and use of mnemonic techniques to remember the digits of Pi. The word derives from Pi (natch!) and philology which is the study of language based on historical sources. A "piem" (Pi and poEM) is a poem which represents the constant. The trick is that the number of letters of the word must correspond to a digit. For example (supposedly the most famous):

How I want a drink, alcoholic of course, after the heavy lectures involving quantum mechanics!

If you look back at Pi, you find 3.141592653. How = 3, I = 1, want = 4, etc. Funny, eh? But some have even gone further in pushing the limits of this mathematical slash artistic creativity:

Sir, I have a rhyme excelling,
In mystic power and magic spelling,
Mystical spirits elucidate,
For my own problems can't relate.

That one takes you out to the twentieth digit of Pi. I see though that some have gone nuts. Wikipedia gives an example of a poem to the 75th position written in iambic pentameter and talks about texts going on for thousands of digits. That's a lot of free time on your hands. Then again, I appreciate the challenge of creatively working within certain constraints.

And speaking about working creatively, I just happened to run across two creative guys who put together an amusing musical number about Pi set to the tune of American Pie, the 1971 song written and sung by Don McLean. Here is "Mathematical Pi" by Ken Ferrier and Antoni Chan.

The following YouTube video by Steve Toner, a teacher, is his version of Mathematical Pi by Ferrier and Chan. (A MP3 of Ferrier and Chan singing their own song can be found below.)


3.141592653589793238462643383279502884197169399375105820974944592307816
(or Mathematical Pi to the tune of 'American Pie')
by Ken Ferrier and Antoni Chan

A long, long time ago
Long before the Super Bowl and things like lemonade
The Hellenic Republic was full of smarts
And a question resting on the Grecian hearts
Was "What is the circumference of a circle?"
But they were set on rational numbers
And it ranks among their biggest blunders
They worked on it for years
And confirmed one of their biggest fears
I can't be certain if they cried when irrationality was realized
But something deep within them died
the day they discovered pi.
They were thinking

Pi, pi, mathematical pi
3 point 14 15 92
65 35 89 7
932384 62
6433832 7 (not rounded)

Well this kind of pie is different than most
It hasn't got berries, ain't spread on toast
And that's how it's always been
We keep extending its decimal places
Pushing our computers through their paces
But we'll never reach the end

So why the fascination with
A number whose end is just a myth
Whence the adulation
For mental masturbation
It might have something to do with the stars
To calculate distances from afar
But that's just a guess 'bout the way things are
Regarding the precision of pi
I am pondering

CHORUS:

Now I feel that I should mention
Pi is applicable in any dimension
At least as far as I know
If there were no Pi we'd be missing things
Like marbles and mugs and balls of string
And sports such as soccer and curling
The orbs in their celestial paths
Navigate along elliptical graphs
Ellipses have pi in them too
Just one side of them has grew
You can see pi in most everything
It's in Cornell's Electron Storage Ring
And also in slinkies and other springs
And that's why it's important to know pi
You should memorize

CHORUS:

Once one night I had a dream
That pi was gone and I had to scream
Cause all pi things had disappeared  (pause)
Can you imagine a world like that
Circles aren't round and spheres are flat
It's the culmination of everything we've feared
'Twas a nightmare of epic proportions
One that gave me brain contortions
Oh wait!  I mean contusions
They put me in some institutions
But then I escaped and now I'm free
To sing of the virtue of pi

CHORUS

Pi itself set to music
Phil Tulga has some unique offerings to teaching on his web site. In one of them, he has put together a little music using the digits to select notes. Look at "part 2 Sequencing with Pi" and listen to "Phil's Pi song". Starting with middle C as 1, he creates some harmony, adds some timing and manages to come up with something quite pleasant to the ear based on 3, 1, 4, 1, and 5. Hmmm, does nature have a lot of surprises? A lot of connections between mathematics and music? It's uncanny.

Another oddity about Pi: The Feynman Point
The decimal representation of Pi goes on forever and the current world record (as of October 17, 2011) is calculating Pi out to 10 trillion digits. An oddity of these numbers is that starting at the 762nd decimal place, there is a sequence of six 9s. It is called the Feynman point after physicist Richard Feynman who once stated during a lecture he would like to memorize the digits of π until that point, so he could recite them and quip "nine nine nine nine nine nine and so on", suggesting, in a tongue-in-cheek manner, that π is rational. (Wikipedia)

Final Word
Some miscellaneous references:

There are all sorts of references to Pi on the Net especially ones making use of the homonym pie. Hats off to Larry Shaw who created Pi Day in 1989 at the San Francisco Exploratorium where he worked as a physicist.

The U.S. House of Representatives made it official on March 12, 2009 recognising March 14 as National Pi Day.

July 22 or 22/7 (day/month) is Pi Approximation Day as the fraction 22⁄7 is a common approximation of Pi.

I can't wait until 2015 when we can all really go all out as then Pi Day will consist of not three but five digits of Pi (3.1415) as 3/14/15 in the month/day/year format.

Now, I think I'll go cut me a slice... of pie. Hmmm, now where is the whipped cream?


References

Wikipedia: Pi Day
Pi Day is a holiday commemorating the mathematical constant π (pi). Pi Day is celebrated on March 14 (or 3/14 in month/day date format), since 3, 1 and 4 are the three most significant digits of π in the decimal form.

Wikipedia: Pi
π (sometimes written pi) is a mathematical constant whose value is the ratio of any Euclidean plane circle's circumference to its diameter; this is the same value as the ratio of a circle's area to the square of its radius. It is approximately equal to 3.14159265 in the usual decimal notation. Many formulae from mathematics, science, and engineering involve π, which makes it one of the most important mathematical constants.

Wikipedia: Piem, Piphilology
Piphilology comprises the creation and use of mnemonic techniques to remember a span of digits of the mathematical constant π.

Wikipedia: Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein (14 March 1879 – 18 April 1955) was a German-born theoretical physicist who developed the general theory of relativity, one of the two pillars of modern physics (alongside quantum mechanics).

Mathematical Pi by Ken Ferrier and Antoni Chan
The following link is to a MP3 of our two troubadours giving their rendition of their own opus. Please note that unlike YouTube videos which are set up to stream (they start playing without you having to wait for the whole video to download), this MP3 is not streaming so you have to patiently wait for the whole thing to come down to your computer before it starts to play. You are forewarned. Enjoy.

MP3 of the complete song

All Too Flat
Welcome to All Too Flat. Prepare yourself for some serious time-wastin' and (hopefully) a fair amount of laughing.

Alright, so what is this site all about?
I think Yahoo describes ATF the best: "A web site that takes its name from a Monty Python sketch seems like the natural place to find oddities like The Bible According to Cheese and scientist trading cards. At alltooflat.com, quirky humor is the name of the game. The ATF Squad tries to debunk myths such as don't overfeed your goldfish, although tragically, this turns out to be sound advice. They play some vaguely funny pranks on their friends and offer tips on how to stage your own. They even get pretentious and spout off poetry -- don't miss the haikus about bowling, NAFTA, tech guys, raves, NYC, and Law and Order. And if you have questions or need some advice, just ask the fish."

So then what is all this "Too Flat" nonsense anyway?
It's an obscure Monty Python reference:
"He is an halibut. I chose him out of thousands.
I didn't like the others; they were all too flat."

Pi and Google in the (humorous) News

Mail Online - Feb 2/2013
A piece of the pi: Google offers $3.14159 million in cash rewards to any hacker who can crack its Chrome operating system
Google is so confident in security on the company's Chrome operating system its offering $3.14159 in cash rewards for successful hacks of the system at this year's Pwnium hacking contest. The figure is a nod to pi, an irrational number that has intrigued mathematicians for thousands of years. Previously the tech giant has offered reward of $1 million and $2 million to crack its systems.

Reuters - Jul 1/2011
Dealtalk: Google bid "pi" for Nortel patents and lost
At the auction for Nortel Networks' wireless patents this week, Google's bids were mystifying, such as $1,902,160,540 and $2,614,972,128. Math whizzes might recognize these numbers as Brun's constant and Meissel-Mertens constant, but it puzzled many of the people involved in the auction, according to three people with direct knowledge of the situation on Friday. "Google was bidding with numbers that were not even numbers," one of the sources said. "It became clear that they were bidding with the distance between the earth and the sun. One was the sum of a famous mathematical constant, and then when it got to $3 billion, they bid pi," the source said, adding the bid was $3.14159 billion.

2013-03-14

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Wednesday, 13 March 2013

The Tobacco Smoke Enema: Blowing smoke up my... what? Really?

Holy Christmas. Just what the heck did our forefathers believe? The Earth is flat? How many of us use an idiom over and over again without the slightest idea of where it came from? And where it came from usually means discovering that its original meaning is totally unexpected. Ha ha. Just what will those crazy ancestors of ours think of next? Wait, I mean what have they already thought of that I don't yet know anything about?

It would seem that the North American Indians introduced tobacco to Europeans for more than just smoking. They used it as a medicine including the introduction of smoke in the rectum to stimulate respiration. Various Europeans treated the substance as a panacea advocating it for the treatment of a host of ailments from headaches, intestinal worms, and stomach cramps to cancer, gout, and female diseases. It's another miracle drug thanks to, ah, our ignorance. While Sir Walter Raleigh popularized tobacco smoking, others bestowed upon this scourge of our health medicinal properties which make one scratch his head while asking, "What in heaven's name were they thinking?"

The English physician, Richard Mead (1673-1754), a then well-respected scholar of medicine, was apparently one of the first experts to recommend tobacco smoke enemas to resuscitate victims of drowning. Artificial respiration was discovered in the 1700's but along with it, came the idea that blowing smoke into the lungs could be beneficial as well as the rectum. The tobacco enema became commonplace in the medical profession in the late 1700's and the early 1800's and a report of 1835 even claimed it successfully treated cholera. The picture shows a tobacco smoke enema kit with a bellows for blowing smoke into the rectum.

While there were detractors from the beginning, including King James I (1566-1625), certain beliefs about the effectiveness of tobacco to protect against disease persisted into the 20th century. However it would seem that smoke enemas in Western medicine declined after 1811 when the English physiologist Benjamin Brodie (1783-1862) showed that the principal active agent in tobacco, nicotine, is a cardiac poison that can stop the circulation of blood. Smokers, of course, need not worry n'est-ce pas?

Urban Dictionary: blow smoke up one's ass
The tobacco enema was used to infuse tobacco smoke into a patient's rectum for various medical purposes, primarily the resuscitation of drowning victims. A rectal tube inserted into the anus was connected to a fumigator and bellows that forced the smoke towards the rectum. The warmth of the smoke was thought to promote respiration, but doubts about the credibility of tobacco enemas led to the popular phrase “Blow smoke up one’s ass.”

Caveat
There are some dissenters among the etymologists. The BBC History Magazine points out how smoke has always been associated with deception as in magician and its research finds no references to smoke and posteriors before World War II, long after the tobacco bellows would have been forgotten. Their theory is that smoke has to do with obfuscation with the ass part added to make the expression coarse. True? False? Sometimes we may not know exactly how or why we collectively started to say something.

Up my ass?
Hmmm, just how common is this sort of thing? I've heard of enemas for constipation but I am now wondering if we collectively have some sort of anal fixation.

Colon cleansing
This practise dates back to Ancient Egypt and the prescientific idea that food remains in the colon and rots producing symptoms and general ill-health. Medical science has shown this is not true and that cleansing is not beneficial but potentially dangerous. Nature does a pretty a good job and we shouldn't go round messing with nature. Mom knows best.

Nevertheless, cleansing is a part of alternative medicine and the detoxification of the body. Science discounts these ideas but the believers persist in, well, believing.

Coffee enemas
Max Gerson, a German physician, developed his Gerson Therapy back in the 1920 claiming to be able to treat cancer amongst other maladies. Part of the procedure involved enemas of coffee. Science has disproven Dr. Gerson but faith lives on. LiveStrong tells the story of a Florida couple who give themselves anywhere from four to ten coffee enemas per day. The article quotes the woman as saying, "I love the way it makes me feel. It gives me a sense of euphoria." If the body can absorb substances in the rectum, what kind of caffeine rush does one get from a coffee enema?

Alcohol enemas
Back in September 2012, the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity at the University of Tennessee found itself in the headlines when a member ended up in emergency supposedly for butt chugging. Like me, I'm sure you're going to say, "I beg your pardon?"

The practice involves the introduction of alcohol directly in the rectum and as Wikipedia points out, this is pretty dangerous as it by-passes the body's defence mechanism of vomiting. Hmmm, the body doesn't necessarily need to use the stomach to absorb substances. How cute. If medicine tastes bad, I can always resort to... Eew! Gross-out!

Final Word
Looking back on this I'm sure we will all shake our heads but I would be quick to ask what people are going to think a couple of hundred years from now about what we currently believe. I am constantly amazed at how people adamantly and persistently espouse their beliefs about various aspects of health, nutrition, and life in general without any reproducible scientific verification. Personally I see over and over again that superstition, a belief not based on reason or knowledge, is as alive in today as it was during the days of the tobacco smoke enema and I am confident that our descendants are going to be having a good laugh at our expense when they read about what's considered common knowledge today.


References

Wikipedia: Tobacco smoke enema
The tobacco smoke enema, an insufflation of tobacco smoke into the rectum by enema, was a medical treatment employed by European physicians for a range of ailments.

Amazon: published 2006
The Smoke of the Gods: A Social History of Tobacco by Eric Burns
Eric Burns, who chronicled the social history of alcohol in "The Spirits of America" turns to tobacco in "The Smoke of the Gods". Ranging from ancient times to the present day, "The Smoke of the Gods" is a lively history of tobacco, especially in the United States. Although tobacco use is controversial in the U.S. today, Burns reminds us that this was not always the case. For centuries tobacco was generally thought to have medicinal and even spiritual value. Most of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were tobacco users or growers, or both. According to Burns, tobacco changed the very course of U.S. history, because its discovery caused the British to support Jamestown, its struggling New World colony. An entertaining and informative look at a subject that makes daily news headlines, "The Smoke of the Gods" is a history that is, well, quite addictive.

Wikipedia: Colon cleansing
No scientific evidence supports the alleged benefits of colon cleansing and it "has no known medical value and risks damage to the rectum or bowel." The bowel itself is "not dirty” and, unless disease or medication interfere, "nature does a fine job of clearing out wastes."

Wikipedia: Coffee enema
Coffee enemas are the enema-related procedure of inserting coffee into the anus to cleanse the rectum and large intestines. This procedure, although well documented, is considered by most medical authorities to be unproven, rash and potentially dangerous. ... Max Gerson proposed that coffee enemas had a positive effect.

Wikipedia: Max Gerson
Max Gerson (October 18, 1881 – March 8, 1959) was a German physician who developed the Gerson Therapy, an alternative dietary therapy, which he claimed could cure cancer and most chronic, degenerative diseases. Gerson described his approach in the book A Cancer Therapy: Results of 50 Cases. However, when Gerson's claims were examined by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), they found that his records lacked the basic information necessary to systematically evaluate his claims. The NCI concluded that his data showed no benefit from his treatment. The therapy is scientifically unsupported and potentially hazardous.

Wikipedia: Alcohol enema
An alcohol enema, colloquially known as butt-chugging, is the act of introducing alcohol into the rectum and colon via the anus. This method of alcohol consumption is dangerous because it leads to faster intoxication since the alcohol is absorbed directly into the bloodstream and neutralizes the body's ability to reject the toxin by vomiting.

2013-03-13

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Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Esther Perel: Is this woman on to something?

Never heard of her. Then again, I keep saying I lead a sheltered life.

Being part of a couple can be a wondrous thing. It can also be hell on earth. But sometimes it can just be plain boring as in boring as hell which I suppose could be construed as hell on Earth. Ms. Perel starts her talk in the video below by saying, "So why does good sex so often fade even for couples who continue to love each other as much as ever? And why does good intimacy not guarantee good sex contrary to popular belief?" She then asks what she calls the million dollar question: "Can we want what we already have?" From the Ted Talks page describing the video:

In long-term relationships, we often expect our beloved to be both best friend and erotic partner. But as Esther Perel argues, good and committed sex draws on two conflicting needs: our need for security and our need for surprise. So how do you sustain desire?

The author talks about the mystery of erotic intelligence, navigating between the comfort of happy relationships and the thrilling uncertainty of sexual attraction.

How to be in love and have a fulfilling sex life? She points out that for the first time in human history, couples aren't having sex just to have kids; there's room for sustained desire, for couples to cultivate long-term sexual relationships.

Quotes from the video:

"The very ingredients that nurture love — mutuality, reciprocity, protection, worry, responsibility for the other — are sometimes the very ingredients that stifle desire."

"What is the relationship between love and desire? How do they relate, and how do they conflict? … Therein lies the mystery of eroticism."

"‘When I look at my partner radiant and confident,’ — [that's] probably the biggest turn-on across the board."

"There is no neediness in desire … there is no caretaking in desire. Caretaking is mightily loving, [but] it's a powerful anti-aphrodisiac."

"Most of us will get turned on at night by the very same things that we will demonstrate against during the day — the erotic mind is not very politically correct."


Published on Feb 14, 2013 by TEDtalksDirector
Esther Perel: The secret to desire in a long-term relationship
In long-term relationships, we often expect our beloved to be both best friend and erotic partner. But as Esther Perel argues, good and committed sex draws on two conflicting needs: our need for security and our need for surprise. So how do you sustain desire? With wit and eloquence, Perel lets us in on the mystery of erotic intelligence.


Final Word
I have read a great deal about our situations later in life: the lack of interest, the loss of spark, the sheer utter boredom. I have read (and experienced) a great deal about divorce. I have to ask why and I have to ask if there isn't more to be had out of life, out of our lives, and when I say "our lives", I am talking about us collectively and about us as couples. Esther Perel raises some interesting ideas about the paradoxes we all seem to live with. We want security but we want some spice (danger). We want familiarity but we want novelty. We like the old but crave the new. It is an old joke about "the honeymoon is over". Does it have to be? What is that element that drives us wild with not just love but lust in the beginning of our relationships / marriages? Where does it go? Can it be sustained? Can it be recaptured? Esther Perel: "As Proust says, 'Sometimes mystery is not traveling to new places but looking with new eyes.'"

I think of this old saying: "Never regret anything because at one time it was exactly what you wanted." At one time, that other person was exactly who we wanted. In my estimation, sex is the primordial glue which binds us together. Has Ms. Perel hit upon some ideas to keep that glue as sticky as possible? From a review of the book "Mating in Captivity" by Esther Perel: "[She] suggests YOU to have an affair with YOUR partner. " Gee, with this in mind, I might be able to predict happier marriages and maybe, just maybe less divorce.


References

Google search: "Esther Perel"

official web site: Esther Perel
Psychologist Esther Perel is recognized as one of the world’s most original and insightful voices on couples and sexuality across cultures. Fluent in nine languages, the Belgian native is a celebrated speaker sought around the globe for her expertise in emotional and erotic intelligence, work-life balance, cross-cultural relations, conflict resolution and identity of modern marriage and family. Her best-selling and award-winning book, Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic and the Domestic, has been translated into 24 languages.

Amazon: published 2007
Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence by Esther Perel
One of the world’s most respected voices on erotic intelligence, Esther Perel offers a bold, provocative new take on intimacy and sex. Mating in Captivity invites us to explore the paradoxical union of domesticity and sexual desire, and explains what it takes to bring lust home.

Drawing on more than twenty years of experience as a couples therapist, Perel examines the complexities of sustaining desire. Through case studies and lively discussion, Perel demonstrates how more exciting, playful, and even poetic sex is possible in long-term relationships. Wise, witty, and as revelatory as it is straightforward, Mating in Captivity is a sensational book that will transform the way you live and love.

The Succulent Wife - Mar 8/2013
Can a Marriage Have Both, Love AND Desire? By Audrey van Petegem, Chief Editor
I was recently on a short flight from Toronto to Chicago and sat beside a gentleman from France. I normally have casual chats with the person sitting beside me that either end as quickly as they start or we find a common interest and talk the whole flight.

This chance encounter was different. I do need to preface this post with the fact the I have been happily married to the same man for almost 27 years.

This man ignited something in me that has left me seeing myself in a very different way. In the one and half hour flight we felt intense attraction for each other. Here was this man who was flirting with me and making me feel wonderful about myself. It was neither sleazy nor lewd. He boosted my confidence. He made me feel wanted, not needed. I felt ageless, desirable and worthy of attention. It was quite honestly the most surreal situation of my life.

Your Tango - Dec 15/2012
What is fantasy? by Esther Perel
Our fantasies allow us to negate and undo the limits put upon us by our conscience, by our culture, and by our self-image. If we feel insecure and unattractive, in our fantasies we are irresistible. If we anticipate a withholding woman, in fantasy she’s insatiable; if we fear our own aggression, in our internal reveries we can feel powerful without worrying we might hurt another. If we don’t dare ask, in our erotic imaginings the other knows our needs even before we do; if we feel we shouldn’t have sex, in our private theater we can surrender to a lustful other without having to bear the responsibility—we did what he wanted, it wasn’t us. Fantasy expresses the problem and provides the solution. It is a fervid space, where our inhibiting fear is transformed into brazenness. What a relief to find our shame now curiosity, our timidity now assertiveness, our helplessness now sovereignty.

2013-03-12

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