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: June 2012
Saturday, June 30, 2012
Some innovative research shows that we are generally more inclined to cheat others if we are clad in counterfeit designer clothing or carrying faux accessories.
From Scientific American:
Let me tell you the story of my debut into the world of fashion. When Jennifer Wideman Green (a friend of mine from graduate school) ended up living in New York City, she met a number of people in the fashion industry. Through her I met Freeda Fawal-Farah, who worked for Harper’s Bazaar. A few months later Freeda invited me to give a talk at the magazine, and because it was such an atypical crowd for me, I agreed....read more
Friday, June 29, 2012
You may not know their names, but Desiderio Pavoni and Luigi Bezzerra are to coffee as are Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak to computers. Modern day espresso machines owe all to the innovative design and business savvy of this early 20th century Italian duo.
Thursday, June 28, 2012
From the Guardian:
With the benefit of hindsight, life as I knew it came to an end in late 1994, round Seal’s house. We used to live round the corner from each other and if he was in between supermodels I’d pop over to watch a bit of Formula 1 on his pop star-sized flat-screen telly. I was probably on the sofa reading Vogue (we had that in common, albeit for different reasons) while he was “mucking about” on his computer (then the actual technical term for anything non-work-related, vis-à-vis computers), when he said something like: “Kate, have a look at this thing called the World Wide Web. It’s going to be massive!”...read more
Wednesday, June 27, 2012
So, you think an all-seeing, all-knowing supreme deity encourages moral behavior and discourages crime? Think again.
From New Scientist:
There’s nothing like the fear of eternal damnation to encourage low crime rates. But does belief in heaven and a forgiving god encourage lawbreaking? A new study suggests it might – although establishing a clear link between the two remains a challenge.
Azim Shariff at the University of Oregon in Eugene and his colleagues compared global data on people’s beliefs in the afterlife with worldwide crime data collated by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. In total, Shariff’s team looked at data covering the beliefs of 143,000 individuals across 67 countries and from a variety of religious backgrounds....read more
Tuesday, June 26, 2012
From Scientific American:
Adrian Owen still gets animated when he talks about patient 23. The patient was only 24 years old when his life was devastated by a car accident. Alive but unresponsive, he had been languishing in what neurologists refer to as a vegetative state for five years, when Owen, a neuro-scientist then at the University of Cambridge, UK, and his colleagues at the University of Liège in Belgium, put him into a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine and started asking him questions.
Incredibly, he provided answers. A change in blood flow to certain parts of the man’s injured brain convinced Owen that patient 23 was conscious and able to communicate. It was the first time that anyone had exchanged information with someone in a vegetative state....read more
Monday, June 25, 2012
Eric Blair was born on this day, June 25, in 1903. Thirty years later Blair changed his name with the publication of his first book, Down and Out in Paris and London (1933). His preferred pen name, George Orwell, chosen for being “a good round English name” (in his words).
Your friendly editor at theDiagonal classes George Orwell as one of the most important literary figures of the 20th century. His numerous political writings, literary reviews, poems, newspaper columns and 7 novels should be compulsory reading for minds young and old. His furious intellectual honesty, keen eye for exposing hypocrisy and skepticism of power add further considerable weight to his literary legacy.
In 1946, two years before publication of one of the most important works of the 20th century, 1984, Orwell wrote a passage that summarizes his world view and rings ever true today:...read more
From Mind Matters over at Scientific American:
The poem “Maud Muller” by John Greenleaf Whittier aptly ends with the line, “For of all sad words of tongue or pen, The saddest are these: ‘It might have been!’” What if you had gone for the risky investment that you later found out made someone else rich, or if you had had the guts to ask that certain someone to marry you? Certainly, we’ve all had instances in our lives where hindsight makes us regret not sticking our neck out a bit more.
But new research suggests that when we are older these kinds of ‘if only!’ thoughts about the choices we made may not be so good for our mental health. One of the most important determinants of our emotional well being in our golden years might be whether we learn to stop worrying about what might have been....read more
Sunday, June 24, 2012
A stem-cell biologist has had an eye-opening success in his latest effort to mimic mammalian organ development in vitro. Yoshiki Sasai of the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology (CBD) in Kobe, Japan, has grown the precursor of a human eye in the lab.
The structure, called an optic cup, is 550 micrometres in diameter and contains multiple layers of retinal cells including photoreceptors. The achievement has raised hopes that doctors may one day be able to repair damaged eyes in the clinic. But for researchers at the annual meeting of the International Society for Stem Cell Research in Yokohama, Japan, where Sasai presented the findings this week, the most exciting thing is that the optic cup developed its structure without guidance from Sasai and his team.
“The morphology is the truly extraordinary thing,” says Austin Smith, director of the Centre for Stem Cell Research at the University of Cambridge, UK....read more
Saturday, June 23, 2012
If you have attended college you will relate to the following strip that describes your laundry cycle. If you have not yet attended, please write to us if you deviate from your predestined path — a path that all your predecessors have taken.
Image courtesy of xkcd.com.
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Friday, June 22, 2012
From Evolutionary Philosophy:
We have learned to see time as if it appears in chunks – minutes, hours, days, and years. But if time comes in chunks how do we experience past memories in the present? How does the previous moment’s chunk of time connect to the chunk of the present moment?
Wait a minute. It will take an hour. He is five years old. These are all sentences that contain expressions of units of time. We are all tremendously comfortable with the idea that time comes in discrete units – but does it? William James and Charles Sanders Peirce thought not.
If moments of time were truly discrete, separate units lined up like dominoes in a row, how would it be possible to have a memory of a past event? What connects the present moment to all the past moments that have already gone by?...read more
Thursday, June 21, 2012
The debate concerning human addictions of all colors and forms rages on. Some would have us believe that addiction is a simple choice shaped by our free will; others would argue that addiction is a chronic disease. Yet, perhaps there may be another more nuanced explanation.
From the New York Times:
Of all the philosophical discussions that surface in contemporary life, the question of free will — mainly, the debate over whether or not we have it — is certainly one of the most persistent....read more
Wednesday, June 20, 2012
Four billion, or so, years from now, our very own Milky Way galaxy is expected to begin a slow but enormous collision with its galactic sibling, the Andromeda galaxy. Cosmologists predict the ensuing galactic smash will take around 100 million years to complete. It’s a shame we’ll not be around to witness the spectacle.
From Scientific American:
Tuesday, June 19, 2012
Monday, June 18, 2012
Quite often you will be skimming a book or leafing through pages of your favorite magazine and you will recall having “seen” a specific word. However, you will not remember having read that page or section or having looked at that particular word. But, without fail, when you retrace your steps and look back you will find that specific word, that word that you did not consciously “see”. So, what’s going on?
From the New Scientist:
MEDITATION increases our ability to tap into the hidden recesses of our brain that are usually outside the reach of our conscious awareness.
That’s according to Madelijn Strick of Utrecht University in the Netherlands and colleagues, who tested whether meditation has an effect on our ability to pick up subliminal messages....read more
Sunday, June 17, 2012
A sad story chronicling the rise in amphetamine use in the quest for good school grades. More frightening now is the increase in addiction of ever younger kids, and not for dubious goal of excelling at school. Many kids are just taking the drug to get high.
From the Telegraph:
The New York Times has finally woken up to America’s biggest unacknowledged drug problem: the massive overprescription of the amphetamine drug Adderall for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Kids have been selling each other this powerful – and extremely moreish – mood enhancer for years, as ADHD diagnoses and prescriptions for the drug have shot up.
Now, children are snorting the stuff, breaking open the capsules and ingesting it using the time-honoured tool of a rolled-up bank note....read more
Saturday, June 16, 2012
The official start of summer in the northern hemisphere is just over a week away. So, it’s time to gather together some juicy reads for lazy days by the beach or under a sturdy shade tree. Flavorwire offers a classic list of 30 reads with a couple of surprises thrown in. And, we’ll qualify Flavorwire’s selection by adding that anyone over 30 should read these works as well.
Friday, June 15, 2012
Forget art school, engineering school, law school and B-school (business). For wannabe innovators the current place to be is D-school. Design school, that is.
Design school teaches a problem solving method known as “design thinking”. Before it was re-branded in corporatespeak this used to be known as “trial and error”.
Many corporations are finding this approach to be both a challenge and a boon; after all, even in 2012, not many businesses encourage their employees to fail.
From the Wall Street Journal:
In 2007, Scott Cook, founder of Intuit Inc., the software company behind TurboTax, felt the company wasn’t innovating fast enough. So he decided to adopt an approach to product development that has grown increasingly popular in the corporate world: design thinking.
Loosely defined, design thinking is a problem-solving method that involves close observation of users or customers and a development process of extensive—often rapid—trial and error....read more
Thursday, June 14, 2012
Aside from the ubiquitous plastic grocery bag will any human made artifact last 10,000 years? Before you answer, let’s qualify the question by mandating the artifact have some long-term value. That would seem to eliminate plastic bags, plastic toys embedded in fast food meals, and DVDs of reality “stars” ripped from YouTube. What does that leave? Most human made products consisting of metals or biodegradable components, such as paper and wood, will rust, rot or breakdown in 20-300 years. Even some plastics left exposed to sun and air will breakdown within a thousand years. Of course, buried deep in a landfill, plastic containers, styrofoam cups and throwaway diapers may remain with us for tens or hundreds of thousands of years.
Archaeological excavations show us that artifacts made of glass and ceramic would fit the bill — lasting well into the year 12012 and beyond. But, in the majority of cases we usually unearth fragments of things....read more
Wednesday, June 13, 2012
The mind boggles at the possible situations when a SpeechJammer (affectionately known as the “Shutup Gun”) might come in handy – raucous parties, boring office meetings, spousal arguments, playdates with whiny children.
From the New York Times:
When you aim the SpeechJammer at someone, it records that person’s voice and plays it back to him with a delay of a few hundred milliseconds. This seems to gum up the brain’s cognitive processes — a phenomenon known as delayed auditory feedback — and can painlessly render the person unable to speak. Kazutaka Kurihara, one of the SpeechJammer’s creators, sees it as a tool to prevent loudmouths from overtaking meetings and public forums, and he’d like to miniaturize his invention so that it can be built into cellphones. “It’s different from conventional weapons such as samurai swords,” Kurihara says. “We hope it will build a more peaceful world.”...read more
Tuesday, June 12, 2012
Monday, June 11, 2012
Sunday, June 10, 2012
Scientific consensus states that our universe is not only expanding, but expanding at an ever-increasing rate. So, sometime in the very distant future (tens of billions of years) our Milky Way galaxy will be mostly alone, accompanied only by its close galactic neighbors, such as Andromeda. All else in the universe will have receded beyond the horizon of visible light. And, yet for all the experimental evidence, no one knows the precise cause(s) of this acceleration or even of the expansion itself. But, there is no shortage of bold new theories.
From New Scientist:
WE WILL be lonely in the late days of the cosmos. Its glittering vastness will slowly fade as countless galaxies retreat beyond the horizon of our vision. Tens of billions of years from now, only a dense huddle of nearby galaxies will be left, gazing out into otherwise blank space....read more
Saturday, June 9, 2012
Mobile and social technologies such as smartphones, Twitter feeds, and inflight internet, to name but three, are having an increasing effect on the travel and transportation industry.
Inforgraphic courtesy of Mydestination.
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Friday, June 8, 2012
Hats off to the global agro-industrial complex that feeds most of the Earth’s inhabitants. With high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) getting an increasingly bad rap for helping to expand our waistlines and catalyze our diabetes, the industry is becoming more creative.
However, it’s only the type of “creativity” that a cynic would come to expect from a faceless, trillion dollar industry; it’s not a fresh, natural innovation. The industry wants to rename HFCS to “corn sugar”, making it sound healthier and more natural in the process.
From the New York Times:
The United States Food and Drug Administration has rejected a request from the Corn Refiners Association to change the name of high-fructose corn syrup....read more
Thursday, June 7, 2012
Wednesday, June 6, 2012
In 1972, Pulitzer Prize-winning author, and The New York Times’ very first architecture critic, Ada Louise Huxtable observed that “nothing was more up-to-date when it was built, or is more obsolete today, than the railroad station.” A comment on the emerging age of the jetliner and a swanky commercial air travel industry that made the behemoth train stations of the time appear as cumbersome relics of an outdated industrial era, we don’t think the judgment holds up today — at all. Like so many things that we wrote off in favor of what was seemingly more modern and efficient (ahem, vinyl records and Polaroid film), the train station is back and better than ever. So, we’re taking the time to look back at some of the greatest stations still standing.
See other beautiful stations and read the entire article after the jump.
Image: Grand Central Terminal — New York City, New York. Courtesy of Flavorwire.
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Tuesday, June 5, 2012
FOMO is an increasing “problem” for college students and other young adults. Interestingly, and somewhat ironically, FOMO seems to be a more chronic issue in a culture mediated by online social networks. So, what is FOMO? And do you have it?
From the Washington Post:
Over the past academic year, there has been an explosion of new or renewed campus activities, pop culture phenomena, tech trends, generational shifts, and social movements started by or significantly impacting students. Most can be summed up in a single word.
As someone who monitors student life and student media daily, I’ve noticed a small number of words appearing more frequently, prominently or controversially during the past two semesters on campuses nationwide. Some were brand-new. Others were redefined or reached a tipping point of interest or popularity. And still others showed a remarkable staying power, carrying over from semesters and years past....read more
Monday, June 4, 2012
If you think the United States is a nation of coffee drinkers, thing again. The U.S., only ranks eighth in terms of annual java consumption per person. Way out in front is Finland. Makes one wonder if there is a correlation of coffee drinking and heavy metal music.
Infographic courtesy of Hamilton Beach.
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Sunday, June 3, 2012
Most of us, editor of theDiagonal included, have known this for a while. We’ve known that letting the mind wander aimlessly is crucial to creativity and problem-solving.
It’s easy to underestimate boredom. The mental condition, after all, is defined by its lack of stimulation; it’s the mind at its most apathetic. This is why the poet Joseph Brodsky described boredom as a “psychological Sahara,” a cognitive desert “that starts right in your bedroom and spurns the horizon.” The hands of the clock seem to stop; the stream of consciousness slows to a drip. We want to be anywhere but here.
However, as Brodsky also noted, boredom and its synonyms can also become a crucial tool of creativity. “Boredom is your window,” the poet declared. “Once this window opens, don’t try to shut it; on the contrary, throw it wide open.”...read more
Saturday, June 2, 2012
It’s possible that most households on the planet have one. It’s equally possible that most humans have used one — excepting members of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and other tolerant souls.
United States Patent 640,790 covers a simple and effective technology, invented by Robert Montgomery. The patent for a “Fly Killer”, or fly swatter as it is now more commonly known, was issued in 1900.
Sometimes the simplest design is the most pervasive and effective.
From the New York Times: