EssentialstheDiagonal is a personal blog by Mike Gerra, skeptic, technologist, psychologist, artist, humanist, collector of grand, eclectic ideas.theDiagonal blog connects the dots across multiple disciplines for inquisitive, objective and critical thinkers, exploring the vertices of big science, disruptive innovation, global sustainability, illuminating literature and leftfield art. It is on this diagonal that creativity thrives, big ideas take flight and reason triumphs.
Monthly Archives: November 2011
Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Which map projection best describes you?
Our favorite here at theDiagonal is the Dymaxion map. It was developed in 1943 by Buckminster Fuller, renowned inventor, designer and theorist. We like it because it has no right-side up or down, and shows less distortion.
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Monday, November 28, 2011
Every couple of years a (hell)fire and brimstone preacher floats into the national consciousness and makes the headlines with certain predictions from the book regarding imminent destruction of our species and home. Most recently Harold Camping, the radio evangelist, predicted the apocalypse would begin on Saturday, May 21, 2011. His subsequent revision placed the “correct date” at October 21, 2011. Well, we’re still here, so the next apocalyptic date to prepare for, according to watchers of all things Mayan, is December 21, 2012.
So not to be outdone by prophesy from one particular religion or another, science has come out swinging with its own list of potential apocalyptic end-of-days. No surprise, many scenarios may well be at our own hands.
From the Guardian:
Dante Alighieri is held in high regard in Italy, where he is often referred to as il Poeta, the poet. He is best known for the monumental poem La Commedia, later renamed La Divina Commedia – The Divine Comedy. Scholars consider it to be the greatest work of literature in the Italian language. Many also consider Dante to be symbolic father of the Italian language.
According to Wikipedia:
Sunday, November 27, 2011
Saturday, November 26, 2011
Through the miracle of time-lapse photography we bring you a journey of 12,225 miles across 32 States in 55 days compressed into 5 minutes. Brian Defrees snapped an image every five seconds from his car-mounted camera during the adventure, which began and ended in New York, via Washington D.C., Florida, Los Angeles and Washington State, and many points in between.
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Friday, November 25, 2011
Astronomers and planetary photographers, both amateur and professional, have been having an inspiring time recently in watching the Sun. Some of the most gorgeous images of our nearest star come courtesy of photographer Alan Friedman. One such spectacular image shows several huge, 50,000 mile high, solar flares, and groups of active sunspots larger than our planet. See more of Freidman’s captivating images at his personal website.
According to MSNBC:
For the past couple of weeks, astronomers have been tracking groups of sunspots as they move across the sun’s disk. Those active regions have been shooting off flares and outbursts of electrically charged particles into space — signaling that the sun is ramping up toward the peak of its 11-year activity cycle. Physicists expect that peak, also known as “Solar Max,” to come in 2013....read more
Thursday, November 24, 2011
The recent “personhood” amendment on the ballot in Mississippi has caused many to scratch their heads and ponder the meaning of “person”. Philosophers through the ages have tackled this thorny question with detailed treatises and little consensus....read more
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Today is deadline day for the U.S. Congressional Select Committee on Deficit Reduction to deliver. Perhaps, a little ironically the committee was commonly mistitled the “Super Committee”. Interestingly, pundits and public alike do not expect the committee to deliver any significant, long-term solution to the United States’ fiscal problems. In fact, many do not believe the committee with deliver anything at all beyond reinforcement of right- and left-leaning ideologies, political posturing, pandering to special interests of all colors and, of course, recriminations and spin.
Could the Founders have had such dysfunction in mind when they designed the branches of government with its many checks and balances to guard against excess and tyranny. So, perhaps it’s finally time for the United States’ Congress to gulp a large dose of some corporate-style innovation.
From the Washington Post:
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
The hippies of the sixties wanted love; the beatniks sought transcendence. Then came the punks, who were all about rage. The slackers and generation X stood for apathy and worry. And, now coming of age we have generation Y, also known as the “millennials”, whose birthdays fall roughly between 1982-2000.
A fascinating article by William Deresiewicz, excerpted below, posits the millennials as a “post-emotional” generation. Interestingly, while this generation seems to be fragmented, its members are much more focused on their own “brand identity” than previous generations.
From the New York Times:
Monday, November 21, 2011
Daniel Kahneman brings together for the first time his decades of groundbreaking research and profound thinking in social psychology and cognitive science in his new book, Thinking Fast and Slow. He presents his current understanding of judgment and decision making and offers insight into how we make choices in our daily lives. Importantly, Kahneman describes how we can identify and overcome the cognitive biases that frequently lead us astray. This is an important work by one of our leading thinkers.
A chronicler of the human condition and deeply personal emotion, poet Sharon Olds is no shrinking violet. Her contemporary poems have been both highly praised and condemned for their explicit frankness and intimacy.
From Poetry Foundation:
In her Salon interview, Olds addressed the aims of her poetry. “I think that my work is easy to understand because I am not a thinker. I am not a…How can I put it? I write the way I perceive, I guess. It’s not really simple, I don’t think, but it’s about ordinary things—feeling about things, about people. I’m not an intellectual. I’m not an abstract thinker. And I’m interested in ordinary life.” She added that she is “not asking a poem to carry a lot of rocks in its pockets. Just being an ordinary observer and liver and feeler and letting the experience get through you onto the notebook with the pen, through the arm, out of the body, onto the page, without distortion.”...read more
Sunday, November 20, 2011
Saturday, November 19, 2011
The United States spends around $2.5 trillion per year on health care. Approximately 14 percent of this is administrative spending. That’s $360 billion, yes, billion with a ‘b’, annually. And, by all accounts a significant proportion of this huge sum is duplicate, redundant, wasteful and unnecessary spending — that’s a lot of paperwork.
From the New York Times:
LAST year I had to have a minor biopsy. Every time I went in for an appointment, I had to fill out a form requiring my name, address, insurance information, emergency contact person, vaccination history, previous surgical history and current medical problems, medications and allergies. I must have done it four times in just three days. Then, after my procedure, I received bills — and, even more annoying, statements of charges that said they weren’t bills — almost daily, from the hospital, the surgeon, the primary care doctor, the insurance company....read more
Friday, November 18, 2011
The unfolding financial crises and political upheavals in Europe have taken several casualties. Notably, the fall of both leaders and their governments in Greece and Italy. Both have been replaced by so-called “technocrats”. So, what is a technocrat and why? State explains.
Lucas Papademos was sworn in as the new prime minister of Greece Friday morning. In Italy, it’s expected that Silvio Berlusconi will be replaced by former EU commissioner Mario Monti. Both men have been described as “technocrats” in major newspapers. What, exactly, is a technocrat?...read more
Thursday, November 17, 2011
Long before the first galaxy clusters and the first galaxies appeared in our universe, and before the first stars, came the first basic elements — hydrogen, helium and lithium.
Results from a just published study identify these raw materials from what is theorized to be the universe’s first few minutes of existence.
From Scientific American:
By peering into the distance with the biggest and best telescopes in the world, astronomers have managed to glimpse exploding stars, galaxies and other glowing cosmic beacons as they appeared just hundreds of millions of years after the big bang. They are so far away that their light is only now reaching Earth, even though it was emitted more than 13 billion years ago....read more
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
It was Carl Sagan’s birthday last week (November 9, to be precise). He would have been 77 years old — he returned to “star-stuff” in 1996. Thoughts of this charming astronomer and cosmologist reminded us of a project with which he was intimately involved — the Voyager program.
In 1977, NASA launched two spacecraft to explore Jupiter and Saturn. The spacecraft performed so well that their missions were extended several times: first, to journey farther in the outer reaches of our solar system and explore the planets Neptune and Uranus; and second, to fly beyond our solar system into interstellar space. And, by all accounts both craft are now close to this boundary. The farthest, Voyager I, is currently over 11 billion miles away. For a real-time check on its distance, visit JPL’s Voyager site here. JPL is NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, CA....read more
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
In early 2010 a Japanese research team grew retina-like structures from a culture of mouse embryonic stem cells. Now, only a year later, the same team at the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology announced their success in growing a much more complex structure following a similar process — a mouse pituitary gland. This is seen as another major step towards bioengineering replacement organs for human transplantation.
From Technology Review:
The pituitary gland is a small organ at the base of the brain that produces many important hormones and is a key part of the body’s endocrine system. It’s especially crucial during early development, so the ability to simulate its formation in the lab could help researchers better understand how these developmental processes work. Disruptions in the pituitary have also been associated with growth disorders, such as gigantism, and vision problems, including blindness....read more
Monday, November 14, 2011
Poet, essayist and playwright Todd Hearon grew up in North Carolina. He earned a PhD in editorial studies from Boston University. He is winner of a number of national poetry and playwriting awards including the 2007 Friends of Literature Prize and a Dobie Paisano Fellowship from the University of Texas at Austin.
By Todd Hearon
We’ve packed our bags, we’re set to fly
no one knows where, the maps won’t do.
We’re crossing the ocean’s nihilistic blue
with an unborn infant’s opal eye.
It has the clarity of earth and sky
seen from a spacecraft, once removed,
as through an amniotic lens, that groove-
lessness of space, the last star by.
We have set out to live and die
into the interstices of a new
nowhere to be or be returning to
(a little like an infant’s airborne cry).
We’ve set our sights on nothing left to lose
and made of loss itself a lullaby.
Todd Hearon. Image courtesy of Boston University.
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Sunday, November 13, 2011
If you’re over 30 years old, then you may still recall having used roll film with your analog, chemically-based camera. If you did then it’s likely you would have used a product, such as Kodachrome, manufactured by Eastman Kodak. The company was founded by George Eastman in 1892. Eastman invented roll film and helped make photography a mainstream pursuit.
Kodak had been synonymous with photography for around a 100 years. However, in recent years it failed to change gears during the shift to digital media. Indeed it finally ceased production and processing of Kodachrome in 2009. While other companies, such as Nikon and Canon, managed the transition to a digital world, Kodak failed to anticipate and capitalize. Now, the company is struggling for survival.
Eastman Kodak Co. is hemorrhaging money, the latest Polaroid to be wounded by the sweeping collapse of the market for analog film....read more
Saturday, November 12, 2011
Nikhil Goyal is an observant 16-year-old Junior at a New York high-school. He ponders the state of the U.S. educational system, which he finds sadly wanting. Sir Ken Robinson has a young standard-bearer. Adults take note:
From the Huffington Post:
The United States education system really sucks. We continue to toil in a 19th century factory-based model of education, stressing conformity and standardization. This is all true even though globalization has transformed the world we live in, flipping the status quo of the labor market upside down. The education system has miserably failed in creating students that have the dexterity to think creatively and critically, work collaboratively, and communicate their thoughts....read more
Friday, November 11, 2011
If you’ve ever “stumbled”, as in used the popular and addictive website Stumbleupon, the infographic below if for you. It’s a great way to broaden one’s exposure to related ideas and make serendipitous discoveries.
Interestingly, the typical attention span of a Stumbleupon user seems to be much longer than that of the average Facebook follower.
Infographic courtesy of Column Five Media.
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Thursday, November 10, 2011
A fascinating article over at the Wall Street Journal contemplates the demise of innovation in the United States. It’s no surprise where it’s heading — China.
From the Wall Street Journal:
At a recent business dinner, the conversation about intellectual-property theft in China was just getting juicy when an executive with a big U.S. tech company leaned forward and said confidently: “This isn’t such a problem for us because we plan on innovating new products faster than the Chinese can steal the old ones.”
That’s a solution you often hear from U.S. companies: The U.S. will beat the Chinese at what the U.S. does best—innovation—because China’s bureaucratic, state-managed capitalism can’t master it....read more
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Compiled from recent U.S. government and OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) statistics, the infographic below highlights the global thirst for oil.
From Daily Infographic:
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Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Much has been written on the subject of television. Its effects on our culture in general and on the young minds of our children in particular have been studied and documented for decades. Increased levels of violence, the obesity epidemic, social fragmentation, vulgarity and voyeurism, caustic politics, poor attention span — all of these have been linked, at some time or other, to that little black box in the corner (increasingly, the big flat space above the mantle).
In his article, A Nation of Vidiots, Jeffrey D. Sachs, weighs in on the subject.
From Project Syndicate:
The past half-century has been the age of electronic mass media. Television has reshaped society in every corner of the world. Now an explosion of new media devices is joining the TV set: DVDs, computers, game boxes, smart phones, and more. A growing body of evidence suggests that this media proliferation has countless ill effects....read more
Monday, November 7, 2011
With the Occupy Wall Street movement and related protests continuing to gather steam much recent media and public attention has focused on 1 percent versus the remaining 99 percent of the population. By most accepted estimates, 1 percent of households control around 40 percent of the global wealth, and there is a vast discrepancy between the top and bottom of the economic spectrum. While these statistics are telling, a related analysis of corporate wealth, highlighted in the New Scientist, shows a much tighter concentration among a very select group of transnational corporations (TNC).
An analysis of the relationships between 43,000 transnational corporations has identified a relatively small group of companies, mainly banks, with disproportionate power over the global economy....read more
Joy Harjo is an acclaimed poet, musician and noted teacher. Her poetry is grounded in the United States’ Southwest and often encompasses Native American stories and values.
As Poetry Foundation remarks:
Consistently praised for the depth and thematic concerns in her writings, Harjo has emerged as a major figure in contemporary American poetry.
She once commented, “I feel strongly that I have a responsibility to all the sources that I am: to all past and future ancestors, to my home country, to all places that I touch down on and that are myself, to all voices, all women, all of my tribe, all people, all earth, and beyond that to all beginnings and endings. In a strange kind of sense [writing] frees me to believe in myself, to be able to speak, to have voice, because I have to; it is my survival.” Harjo’s work is largely autobiographical, informed by her love of the natural world and her preoccupation with survival and the limitations of language.
By Joy Harjo...read more
Sunday, November 6, 2011
We promise. There is no screeching embedded audio of someone slowly dragging a piece of chalk, or worse, fingernails, across a blackboard! Though, even the thought of this sound causes many to shudder. Why? A plausible explanation over at Wired UK.
Much time has been spent, over the past century, on working out exactly what it is about the sound of fingernails on a blackboard that’s so unpleasant. A new study pins the blame on psychology and the design of our ear canals....read more
Saturday, November 5, 2011
The lowly incandescent light bulb continues to come under increasing threat. First, came the fluorescent tube, then the compact fluorescent. More recently the LED (light emitting diode) seems to be gaining ground. Now LED technology takes another leap forward with printed LED “light sheets”.
From Technology Review:
A company called Nth Degree Technologies hopes to replace light bulbs with what look like glowing sheets of paper (as shown in this video). The company’s first commercial product is a two-by-four-foot-square light, which it plans to start shipping to select customers for evaluation by the end of the year....read more