humani nil a me alienum puto

random rants about news, the law, healthcare law, economics and anything I find amusing

Genius is Hard Work?

Freakonomics interviews David Shenk about his new book.  Mr. Shenk had some notable observations about genius and the work behind it.

[E]verything about talent is a process. There’s the genetic piece, and then there’s the ability piece. When you look very closely at [Michael] Jordan’s life, you see a rather ordinary teenage athlete with no particularly grand ambition until about mid-way through high school…After the deep disappointment of not making the varsity team, Jordan developed an unparalleled ambition that quite simply dwarfed that of his schoolmates in high school and later his teammates at the University of North Carolina. Jordan’s abilities developed according to what he demanded of himself.

The same is true of other super-achievers. From a distance, it looks like they’ve got something almost super-human about them. But when you look up close, at the moment-to-moment lives they lead, the sacrifices they make, the extraordinary resources they have around them, their abilities actually do make logical sense. If it’s documented closely enough, you can actually see how they went from mediocre to good, from good to great, from great to extraordinary.

He also gives some advice to parents that seem well put.  Persistence is more important than prodigy.  In fact, prodigy can box in young technical achievers into a comfort zone from which they will fear to emerge.  He says:

Show your kids how hard you work, how often you experience disappointments and how you respond to those disappointments. If you blame others for your failures or simply give up, that’s what your kids will learn. If you take on a long-term challenge, show a deep commitment to the process and a refusal to give up in the face of adversity, your kids will pick that up instead.

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Alex Colville – painting just struck me…

via Colville_04.jpg (JPEG Image, 741×560 pixels).

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Annual Perseid Star Party

Every year since we’ve been at our house we’ve had an annual bonfire and star party.  We get some of the neighbors and our friends together, build a small fire and make some smores.   We do it right around the time of the annual Perseid meteor shower.   We tend to miss the peak by a few days, but we always seem to see a few.   And, as we always do, we got out my two telescopes and showed the neighborhood a few night sky objects.

cocking-jupiter021305This year Jupiter was the only early evening planet visible; but it is my favorite.   (Saturn’s close — but setting too early in the evening this year’s August).  Here’s a photo of how Jupiter looked for us through my Meade ETX 125, courtesy of another amateur using the same scope as I have.   Jupiter is great because the kids (and parents) can immediately identify it.  It was really appropriate this year, the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s first astronomical use of the telescope.  The kids kept asking what the stars were that surrounded Jupiter.  They loved the fact that they were Jupiter’s moons.  They even suffered through me talking about the volcanism of Io, the oceans under the surface ice of Ganymede and Europa and how Galileo confirmed the Copernican world view by asking the same question that they had.

OO_08_Oct_26_53

Even with the city lights, we were able to get a few deep sky sights in scope.  After a little star hopping (aided by a new friend to our family – Tom – a geek like me who likes amateur astronomy), we were able to get the great Hercules cluster in my larger 8″ home built dobsonian scope.   The cluster (M13) is a globular cluster with about 200,000 stars sitting in the halo of our Milky Way Galaxy.  In the scope it looks like a dandelion fluff.  Impressive when you think that it contains that many stars — but a bit less identifiable than Jupiter.  Here’s what it looks like in a scope like mine after a few minutes exposure.  As I said, in my scope, with city lights and lower magnification — more of a smudge.

m39_noao_bigI was also able to get M39, an open cluster, in my larger scope.  Unfortunately, by the time I got it in focus, most of our guests had taken off.  I wish I had gotten it in view earlier, because it probably would have gotten more of a response than the Hercules cluster.  The stars in the open cluster are gorgeous in the scope, almost like jewels.  Here’s  a picture of them through a much larger telescope — certainly not what they look like through mine — but it very much catches the effect.  DSC_1850

Most important to me, my kids got a kick out the the evening.  They didn’t last that long — my youngest was going to bed only just after sun set.  Noelle got to see most of the sites.  And, of course, she had her fair share of smores.  I’m already looking forward to next year.

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Recent scenes from the ISS – The Big Picture – Boston.com

Bad Astronomer frequently links to The Boston Globe’s period “The Big Picture Show.”  These pictures are breathtaking and take a look.  All are from taken from the International Space Station and show an eruption of Sarychev Peak Volcano (spectacular), the waning gibbous moon through the Earth’s atmosphere, Mt. Fuji and other amazing shots.  Note that most of the detail shots also have a googlemaps link.  Recent scenes from the ISS – The Big Picture – Boston.com.  Here’s a lower resolution of the eruption:

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TED Talk: Reimagining Global (Health) Data

I just love these TED talks. I previously have postedabout TED. I first discovered it when Pogue (NYT columnist) was talking about the conference and the wonderful web site. This talk is by Hans Rosling who was confronted by a dilemma. There’s tons of great data out there that tells wonderful stories about the world that can inform policy, destroy myths, demonstrate compelling trends, affect both our views of the world and what we have done and can to to improve. But tables and non-interactive graphs are just incredibly boring — and the underlying stories can be completely missed. Take a look at his presentation and then take a visit to his site. Kudos to Health Economist blog to turning me onto this. Really neat stuff. I’m trying to think how I could use something like this in a presentation (even being a lawyer — has to be something creative I can glom onto here).  About Hans Rosling from TED:

Even the most worldly and well-traveled among us will have their perspectives shifted by Hans Rosling. A professor of global health at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, his current work focuses on dispelling common myths about the so-called developing world, which (he points out) is no longer worlds away from the west. In fact, most of the third world is on the same trajectory toward health and prosperity, and many countries are moving twice as fast as the west did.

What sets Rosling apart isn’t just his apt observations of broad social and economic trends, but the stunning way he presents them. Guaranteed: You’ve never seen data presented like this. By any logic, a presentation that tracks global health and poverty trends should be, in a word: boring. But in Rosling’s hands, data sings. Trends come to life. And the big picture — usually hazy at best — snaps into sharp focus.

Rosling’s presentations are grounded in solid statistics (often drawn from United Nations data), illustrated by the visualization software he developed. The animations transform development statistics into moving bubbles and flowing curves that make global trends clear, intuitive and even playful. During his legendary presentations, Rosling takes this one step farther, narrating the animations with a sportscaster’s flair.

Rosling developed the breakthrough software behind his visualizations through his nonprofit Gapminder, founded with his son and daughter-in-law. The free software — which can be loaded with any data — was purchased by Google in March 2007. (Rosling met the Google founders at TED.)

Rosling began his wide-ranging career as a physician, spending many years in rural Africa tracking a rare paralytic disease (which he named konzo) and discovering its cause: hunger and badly processed cassava. He co-founded Médecins sans Frontièrs (Doctors without Borders) Sweden, wrote a textbook on global health, and as a professor at the Karolinska Institut in Stockholm initiated key international research collaborations. He’s also personally argued with many heads of state, including Fidel Castro.

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Podcasts I’m Listening To – Week of 4/15 – 4/26

Show Podcast
And Justice For All We The People Stories
Senator George McGovern on Abraham Lincoln We The People Stories
Using Tiny Particles To Answer Giant Questions NPR: Science Friday Podcast
It’s All Politics April 9 2009 NPR: It’s All Politics Podcast
NYT: Science Times for 4/07/2009 Science Times
CIA Interrogation Memos, Possible U.S.-Cuba Talks Top Week’s News NewsHour with Jim Lehrer Podcast | PBS
EPA Finding Opens Door to Regulating Greenhouse Gases NewsHour with Jim Lehrer Podcast | PBS
Newly-released Memos Detail Harsh CIA Interrogation Tactics NewsHour with Jim Lehrer Podcast | PBS
Fighting America’s ‘Financial Oligarchy’ NPR: Fresh Air Podcast
Kristin Chenoweth Is ‘A Little Bit Wicked’ NPR: Fresh Air Podcast
NPR: 04-17-2009 Fresh Air NPR: Fresh Air Podcast
‘Hey I’m Dead!’ The Story Of The Very Lively Ant NPR: Hmmm…. Krulwich on Science Podcast
#354: Mistakes Were Made This American Life
#378: This I Used to Believe This American Life
The American Presidency We The People Stories
From Revolution to Evolution We The People Stories
The Future of the Republican Party We The People Stories
Legacy of 1808: Deconstructing Reconstruction We The People Stories
The NAACP Centennial We The People Stories
Better Brewing Through Synthetic Biology NPR: Science Friday Podcast
Green DIY Projects To Reduce, Reuse, Recycle NPR: Science Friday Podcast
Harnessing Nanoparticles For Targeted Cancer Treatment NPR: Science Friday Podcast
Is Missile Defense Ready For Prime Time? NPR: Science Friday Podcast
Skunked? Tomato Juice Is Not The Answer NPR: Science Friday Podcast
Shields, Brooks Mull Torture Memos, Obama’s Leadership Shields and Brooks | NewsHour with Jim Lehrer Podcast | PBS

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P.W. Singer TED Presentation: Wired For War

I really love the talks on TED.  See my earlier post.  I heard one tonight that I wanted to log.  Peter Warren Singer is the director of the 21st Century Defense Initiative at the Brookings Institution.  His TED talk discusses his current book, Wired for War, and the emerging use of robotics to replace humans on and above the battlefield.   He’s been out on the circuit promoting his book — I heard him on NPR’s Fresh Air a few months back.

What’s fascinating about all this is how quickly some of these technologies are now emerging.  The robotic pack mule, the drones, etc. are amazing.  But even more interesting is the psychological and practical effect these technologies might have.  I think we are entering a world of profound unintended consequences.  No, not Terminator — but maybe disturbing.  Take a look.

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Op-Ed Columnist – Car Dealer in Chief – NYTimes.com

I think that Brooks has it wrong this time.  I agree that GM cannot restructure itself out of its current situation.  I agree that the Bush administration punted.  I agree that they should have — there needed to be preparation for the imminent bankruptcy.  I also disagree that this one has to remain a political football with Congress or the administration micromanaging GM’s bankruptcy process.   The administration needs to turf this to a real bankruptcy process and then get out of the way.  At the end of the line, it’s a fight between the financial stakeholders, not the politicians.  Throw the bondholders, unions, dealerships and other creditors into the pit (atop the corpse of shareholder equity) and see how it works out.

For 30 years, G.M. has been restructuring itself toward long-term viability. For all these years, G.M.’s market share has endured a long, steady slide…When the economy cratered last fall, the professionals at G.M. went into Super-Duper Restructuring Overdrive… The Bush advisers decided in December that bankruptcy without preparation would be a disaster. They decided what all administrations decide — that the best time for a bankruptcy filing is a few months from now, and it always will be…Today, G.M. and Chrysler have once again come up with restructuring plans…But this, President Obama declares, is G.M.’s last chance. Honestly. Really.No kidding…And yet by enmeshing the White House so deeply into G.M., Obama has increased the odds that March’s menacing threat will lead to June’s wobbly wiggle-out.  The Obama administration and the Democratic Party are now completely implicated in the coming G.M. wreck…The Midwestern delegations, swing states all, will pull out all the stops to prevent plant foreclosures. Unions will be furious if the Obama-run company rips up the union contract… The most likely outcome, sad to say, is some semiserious restructuring plan, with or without court involvement, to be followed by long-term government intervention and backdoor subsidies forever…It would have been better to keep a distance from G.M. and prepare the region for a structured bankruptcy process. Instead, Obama leapt in. His intentions were good, but getting out with honor will require a ruthless tenacity that is beyond any living politician.

via Op-Ed Columnist – Car Dealer in Chief – NYTimes.com.

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Top 25 Lawyers Behind the Deals of the Year – DealBook Blog – NYTimes.com

Wow.  It’s a sign of the times when the vast majority of notable deals are hightlighted as non-traditional M&A related to bailouts and collapses! Remarkable times.

Only six of the dealmakers on the list this year were recognized for their involvement in conventional mergers-related deals (most are at the bottom of the list except for those involved in InBev’s purchase of Anheuser-Busch and Mars’s purchase of Wrigley). The various distressed deals and government–brokered mergers topped the list…

Here were the deals noted in American Lawyer:

1. Bank Bailouts: H. Rodgin Cohen, Sullivan & Cromwell

2. Bank of America’s Merrill Lynch acquisition: Edward Herlihy, Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz

3. Lehman Bankruptcy: Harvey Miller, Weil, Gotshal & Manges

4. TARP: Lee Meyerson, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett

5. A.I.G. Bailout: Michael Wiseman, Sullivan & Cromwell

6. IndyMac Purchase: Paul Glotzer, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton

7. InBev’s Anheuser-Busch Acquisition: Francis Aquila, Sullivan & Cromwell

8. Fannie, Freddie Conservatorships: Harold Novikoff, Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz

9. FGIC Rescue: Corinne Ball, Jones Day

10. Federal Interventions: Thomas Baxter Jr., Federal Reserve Bank of New York

11. Calpine, Solutia Bankruptcies: Richard Cieri, Kirkland & Elli

12. KazMunayGas Pipeline Renegotiation: George Kahale III, Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle

13. Mars’s Wrigley Acquisition: John Finley, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett

14. Latin American Project Financings: Cynthia Urda Kassis, Shearman & Sterling

15. A.I.G. Bailout: Marshall Huebner, Davis Polk & Wardwell

16. Visa I.P.O.: S. Ward Atterbury, White & Case

17. Independent Director Representations: Robert Joffe, Cravath, Swaine & Moore

18. Vallejo Bankruptcy: Marc Levinson, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe

19. Clearwire Asset Acquisition: Joshua Korff, Kirkland & Ellis

20. Sirius-XM Merger: Joe Sims, Jones Day

21. Verizon Wireless’s Alltel Acquisition: Jeffrey Rosen, Debevoise & Plimpton

22. Triarc’s Wendy’s Acquisition: Paul Ginsberg, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison

23. Citigroup Bailout: George Bason Jr., Davis Polk & Wardwell

24. Washington Mutual Bankruptcy: Marcia Goldstein, Weil, Gotshal & Manges

25. A.I.G. Bailout: Eric Dinallo, New York State Insurance Department

via Top 25 Lawyers Behind the Deals of the Year – DealBook Blog – NYTimes.com.

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TED and Academic Earth

I have two very interesting intranet sites if you like to listen to interesting lectures on interesting ideas.  The first, which I’ve posted about to my Facebook friends at least is TED. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from those three worlds. Since then its scope has become ever broader.   It’s annual conference brings together the world’s most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives (in 18 minutes).  Tickets are, well, expensive and sell out a year in advance.  But — you can view many of the speakers that attend the TED conference (and twin conference) for free.  The speakers range from the most influential politicians of both to the elite More than 200 talks from TED are available, with more added each week.  These videos are released under a Creative Commons license, so they can be freely shared and reposted. Trust me, you’ll find something that is interesting, informing, entertaining and probably mind-blowing.  It’s a lot better than most of to stuff on Discovery Channel and the History Channel (and I like

The other is a site called Academic Earth.   More and more of these sites (and similar pod-casts from leading Universities) are popping up, giving people access to interesting lecturers — and in some cases whole courses — from prominent academicians and Universities.  These are kind of like auditing a university class.  One that I started was a series of lectures on the current economic crisis.   I’m going to, sometime this year, do the Intro to Astrophysics class.  I’m sure it’ll be over my head in a profound way — but I’ll tell you how it goes.

I have to say that the TED presentations are more interesting and lighter fare.  If you didn’t like college, Academic Earth isn’t for you.  But the quality of most of the ones I’ve seen on Academic Earth are really good.  The TED stuff is pretty mind-blowing and condenced.

Check it out — keep learning!!!

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The Health Care Blog: The Hive Mind

John Halmaka from the Health Care Bolg makes an observation that, at first blush, is obvious.  But when someone my age (or older) really thinks about it, is quite profound.  How much has our lives, thinking, analysis changed due to the web?  I remember pre-www/pre-google days, when I would rush to make the 6pm fed ex deadline (or 10pm if I took it to the airport) for a report I was finishing.  Within a few months, I could attach the same report via email.  It was wonderful and cursed.  That same report, with a deadline, got done at 6pm.  But with email, the client knew I could turn even more by midnight.  So, often, the day just got longer.

John observes that the factual recall he requires is augmented by the web, since if he knows enough about the fact, he can fill in the rest by using the web.  If nothing else, it reduces the ‘transaction cost’ in a remarkable and profound manner (like email did for communicating final work product) to clarifying facts he wishes to use for his analysis or other communication.  Of course, since vast portions of the web have no editor, relying on those facts may be fraught with risk.  And he observes that some of the skills he has honed relates to being able to navigate what is likely to be trustworthy, and what is not. I’m not sure about the 80%.

I’ve delegated the management of facts to the “Hive Mind” of the internet. With Web 2.0 we re all publishers and authors. Every one of us can be instantly connected to the best experts the most up to date news and an exobyte multimedia repository. However much of the internet has no editor so the Hive Mind information is probably only 80%  factual – the challenge is that you do not know which 80% .

via The Health Care Blog: The Hive Mind.

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Podcasts I’m Listening to, Week of 3/22/2009

Name Album
Unger Report: Advice For Potential Cabinet Appointees NPR: Satire from The Unger Report Podcast
Military Contractor Blackwater Changes Its Name NPR: Satire from The Unger Report Podcast
A Night At The Oscars NPR: Satire from The Unger Report Podcast
#350: Human Resources This American Life
Exploring The Darker Side Of Tweets And Twitter NPR: Satire from The Unger Report Podcast
#376: Wrong Side of History This American Life
Thanks To Fans And Critics Alike NPR: Satire from The Unger Report Podcast
NYT: Science Times for 3/24/2009 Science Times
#209: Didn’t Ask to Be Born This American Life
It’s All Politics March 26 2009 NPR: It’s All Politics Podcast
What Shape Is Your Galaxy? Scientific American Podcast
Does ‘Watchmen’ Hold Hidden Physics Lessons? NPR: Science Friday Podcast
Afghanistan Strategy, Budget Pitch Top Week’s News Shields and Brooks | NewsHour with Jim Lehrer Podcast | PBS
Who’s To Blame For The Financial Crisis? NPR: Intelligence Squared Podcast
Thinning Brain Cortex May Signal Depression NPR: Science Friday Podcast
Researchers Monitor Eruptions At Mt. Redoubt NPR: Science Friday Podcast
Alaska’s Coast Disappearing At Record Rates NPR: Science Friday Podcast
NOAA Head Jane Lubchenco On Ocean Policy NPR: Science Friday Podcast
20 Years Since Exxon Valdez, New Ocean Threats? NPR: Science Friday Podcast

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Who’s To Blame For The Financial Crisis? : NPR

I, for one, am beginning to loathe that I waste any of my time watching cable TV news and opinion programs.  The quality of the talking heads on MSNBC, Fox and CNN is (perhaps always was) in free fall.  I can, perhaps, tolerate Chris Mathews a bit; I terribly miss Tim Russert — but he mainly did his Meet the Press show rather than much specific to cable.  But I don’t realize most of the cable programs are just so much cotton candy until I hear real debate.

I most realize it when I actually listen to real, substantive, witty, thoughtful, hard, and fact laden debate.   Like the difference between a quality hard-wood cabinet maker and a rough carpenter.  Yeah, they both work with wood, but one’s a craftsman and the other, well, a day laborer.

Listen to this recent debate on NPR’s program Intelligence Squared.  I’ve not heard the full podcast quite yet.  I caught the last half of it airing this evening on my way home from work (far too late).   The debate – the proposition – “Blame Washington More Than Wall Street for the Financial Crisis” – was timely and really made me think.   The panel exchanged polite barbs (distinct from the often thoughtless vitriol of left/right pundits on cable programs), pushed their position with both factual support as well as comical retorts.  There’s a few great lines in this — the best that I heard was from John Steele Gordon who stated that

While Wall Street constantly needs reform…it does not need reform as much as Congress…Institutions tend to evolve in ways that benefit their elites … the poster child for this is [not Wall Street but] Congress…People lament that Wall Street took its checkbook down to Washington to get the regulation it wanted rather than have stricter regulation.  But Wall Street was not [in Washington] debauching a virgin, it was paying a harlot.

In the end, the position taken by Mr. Gordon and Niall Ferguson (for the proposition) won more of the audience’s change over vote.  They convinced me.  While there’s plenty of blame to go around, when systemic risks crashes down the house, those holding the reigns of the regulatory structure are ultimately accountable.   In any event, if you are following the debate concerning the financial crisis, you’ll want to hear this and see who convinces you.

via Who’s To Blame For The Financial Crisis? : NPR.

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Facebook And Kids: Are Their Brains Ready for Social Networking?

Kari Henley in the March 22, 2009 Huffington Post writes:

For over 25 million youth, Facebook is replacing email as “the” way to communicate, and parents are often left in the dust and wondering is it safe? What age can kids safely have a Facebook page? Should they insist to be their “Friend” and monitor their endless chatter? *** One day, a call came from the principal informing Jill and her husband, their middle daughter was being given in-school suspension for creating a Facebook group used to make fun of another student. Called something like, “Eric is a Hairy Beast,” the group quickly filled with loads of kids making fun of a quiet Armenian boy, uploading cell phone pictures of him and becoming more brazen by the day.  These kids are “A” students, and far from brats; but most are not cognitively developed enough to recognize their behavior is hurtful to others.  *** Kids get into trouble with sites like Facebook and MySpace because they are too self-centered in their overall development to understand the impact of what they are doing… Middle school age children are the most susceptible to cyber bullying, and high school students most likely to use poor judgment in giving out information.  *** I set about interviewing scores of parents with children from elementary to high school, asking their opinions about Facebook and kids. While most felt it was a relatively safe place for kids to connect to each other, many expressed concern over the obsessive nature of these sites.  Designed to be “sticky;” a site is deemed successful the longer it entices you to stay on, yet these hours are replacing other activities critical for healthy development. *** The cyber playground has replaced the physical one, for better or worse. It is our job as parents to make sure their developing brains know how to do more than move a mouse around a keyboard and encourage more face to face social time.

via Kari Henley: Facebook And Kids: Are Their Brains Ready for Social Networking?.

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ACLU challenges Cleveland Heights-University Heights schools over removal of magazine from library – Metro – cleveland.com

The Cleveland Plain Dealer on March 23, 2009 reports a dispute in Cleveland Heights-University Heights over the removal of a magazine at the library.  According to the ACLU’s Christine Link: “Literature should not be removed from a school library simply because one person may find it inappropriate.  Ms. Link called for the board to “immediately order that the magazine be reinstated.”  The literature: Nitendo Magazine.  The principal’s objection.  Violence on the cover.  The librarian objected because the principal did not follow the rules — object, take it to the School Board for a determination.  I found this entirely amusing.  I also find it delightful that we are arguing over a Nitendo Magazine, and not Huck Fin, Tropic of Cancer, etc.

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Clifton Boulevard to get upgraded bus service and 30 curbside stations

My old neighborhood is getting a bus-line face lift.  Makes me (almost) want to move back and get a job downtown again. Ah, the days walking to Clifton dinner and having brunch with friends.

Sixty-foot long articulated buses, similar to those on the Euclid Avenue HealthLine, are expected to be on the street this fall. RTA will spend $700,000 in federal stimulus money to plan and design a four-mile line extending from the West Shoreway in Cleveland to the Lakewood/Rocky River border. The project, which would include 30 new curbside stations and dedicated bus lanes during rush hours, is expected to cost $14 million. Those funds have yet to be acquired but officials are hoping to seek more federal dollars for the project, said Joe Calabrese, general manager of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority.

Lakewood grew in the 1900s because of its streetcar system, with lines on Detroit Avenue, Clifton Boulevard and Madison Avenue, according to a history of the city by the Lakewood Heritage Advisory Board.

via Clifton Boulevard to get upgraded bus service and 30 curbside stations – Metro – cleveland.com.

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Podcasts I’m Listening to, Week of 3/16/2009

Name Artist Album
NYT: Science Times for 1/6/2009 David Corcoran of The New York Times Science Times
The Evolution of Evolution Scientific American Science Talk: The Podcast of Scientific American
NYT: Science Times for 1/13/2009 David Corcoran of The New York Times Science Times
NYT: Science Times for 1/20/2009 David Corcoran of The New York Times Science Times
Phrasing a Coyne: Jerry Coyne on Why Evolution Is True Scientific American Scientific American Podcast
Appeals Judge Posner Says U.S. Is in a Depression Bloomberg News Bloomberg Law
Buckyball Discoverer Explores Nanotech Frontier NPR NPR: Science Friday Podcast
In Search of Time Scientific American Scientific American Podcast
AIG Bonus Outrage, Soaring Deficit Complicate Obama Agenda NewsHour with Jim Lehrer Shields and Brooks | NewsHour with Jim Lehrer Podcast | PBS
It’s All Politics March 19 2009 NPR NPR: It’s All Politics Podcast
How Do You Amputate A Phantom Limb? NPR NPR: Hmmm…. Krulwich on Science Podcast
The Search For Hidden Dimensions In The Universe NPR NPR: Science Friday Podcast
‘Remarkable Creatures’ Behind Darwin’s Discoveries NPR NPR: Science Friday Podcast

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Princeton University – High-powered mathematicians take on free will

A favorite topic of my undergrad years — is there free will and if so where does it come from.  Interestingly, theoretical mathematicians and particle physicists are weighing in.  And if they are right, there is something fundamentally causally disconnected at the particle level.  In other words, uncertainty at the particle level might give rise to uncertainty on the macro level and a place for ‘free-will’ to exist.  John Conway and  Simon Kochen are working on a paper and presentations at Princeton that “will have one focus. [They are ]set on explaining …the tenets of their “Free Will Theorem.” The gist of it is this They say they have proved that if humans have free will then elementary particles — like atoms and electrons — possess free will as well. ”  They explain, “[i]t’s not about theories anymore — it s about what the universe does. And w’ve found that from moment to moment nature doesn’t know what it’s going to do. A particle has a choice.”

The smallest particles inside an atom have a property known as “spin.” And scientists have found that the spin of some particles may be related to the spin of other particles something known as “entanglement” and also known as the “twin” axiom. However an experimenter s choice of spin direction to measure cannot be communicated faster than the speed of light. This is the “fin” axiom. Looking at this sequence of facts the mathematicians have been able to extract the conclusion that if a human experimenter can make decisions independently of past events then the particle can also make a free choice.

via Princeton University – High-powered mathematicians take on free will.

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Q & A with Dr. John Mather on the James Webb Space Telescope | Universe Today

“The James Webb Space Telescope JWST is the much anticipated long awaited “next generation” telescope. Planned for launch in 2013 JWST has been touted as the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. With it astronomers hope to look back in time to when the universe was just 200 million years old and see the first stars and galaxies.”

[T]his telescope will see farther back in time with its infrared capability and its huge aperture; it will see

through dust clouds to see where stars are being born; it will see things that are room temperature like you and me planets or young stars being born. All those things can be seen directly with the infrared capability we have on this new telescope. Most of the work will be done in infrared with some capability

in the visible range. *** The hardest thing to build was the mirror because we needed something that is way bigger than Hubble. But you can t possibly lift something that big or fit it into a rocket so you need something that is lighter weight but nonetheless larger so it has to have the ability to fold up. The mirror

is made of light-weight beryllium and has 18 hexagonal segments.

The telescope folds up like a butterfly in its chrysalis and will have to completely undo it self. ***The sun shield is completely new and it too will have to deploy. So what was wrapped up into a small cylinder

relatively speaking becomes a giant shield about as big as a tennis court. It s huge.

via Q & A with Dr. John Mather on the James Webb Space Telescope | Universe Today.

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Op-Ed Columnist – Are We Home Alone? – NYTimes.com

In his New York Time op ed, Thomas Friedman thinks our political leadership is acting immaturely.  He believes that we are missing the bigger picture by riding a populist rage over the financial sector bonuses, and no one in Washington is showing adult leadership.  “There don’t seem to be any adults at the top — nobody acting larger than the moment, nobody being impelled by anything deeper than the last news cycle.”  He sees Republicans focusing on the AIG bonuses in a non-constructive, opportunistic way, and asks if they think that their “party automatically wins if the country loses?”  In addition, he thinks that the misplaced urge to “villify” persons like Geither will only lead to “ensure that no capable person enlists in government.”

But more than this, he thinks that Mr. Obama missed an important opportunity.  “[Had ]Mr. Obama given A.I.G.’s American brokers a reputation to live up to, a great national mission to join, I’d bet anything we’d have gotten most of our money back voluntarily. Inspiring conduct has so much more of an impact than coercing it.”

I liked the following passage, which summarizes, in my view, a prominent failure in the financial sector’s culture:

‘There is nothing more powerful than inspirational leadership that unleashes principled behavior for a great cause,’ said Dov Seidman, the C.E.O. of LRN, which helps companies build ethical cultures, and the author of the book ‘How.’ What makes a company or a government ‘sustainable,’ he added, is not when it adds more coercive rules and regulations to control behaviors. ‘It is when its employees or citizens are propelled by values and principles to do the right things, no matter how difficult the situation,’ said Seidman. ‘Laws tell you what you can do. Values inspire in you what you should do. It’s a leader’s job to inspire in us those values.'”

Of course, all this populist outrage does not fix the current mess.  It’s the absence of a clear plan to address the banking crisis that has allowed “all kinds of lesser issues and clowns [to ]have ballooned in importance and only confused people in the vacuum.”  But the “big issue — the real issue — [is ]the president’s comprehensive plan to remove the toxic assets from our ailing banks, which is the key to our economic recovery,” not punishing corporate executives, even those that are clearly receiving obnoxious bonuses that they should not.

Personally, I’m not sure we would not, in any event, have these “lesser issues” and “clowns” coming to the fore and distracting the policy debate.  I think there is such a pervasive sense that things have gone very wrong, that I am personally hurting, that my neighbor or family member is ‘really hurting’ through loss of home, loss of employment, and, certainly, loss of retirement savings, that outrage is real.  Let’s hope some adults can focus this outrage in a constructive way to establish some sound policy fixes.  I do hope, as Friedman concludes, that a Geither plan will be out next week, it will be specific and thoughtful, and the “president will pull the country together behind it” because “our country, alas, is not too big to fail.”    Edit Post ‹ humani nil a me alienum puto — WordPress

via Op-Ed Columnist – Are We Home Alone? – NYTimes.com.

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Cosmos – On Hulu

I recently was exploring Hulu.  It’s a really fantastic site if it has the shows you like to view.  On his Bad Astronomy Blog

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‘Star Trek’ Fans Put Kirk’s Command Chair in Their Homes – NYTimes.com

Saving the galaxy ... and watching some basketball

‘Star Trek’ Fans Put Kirk’s Command Chair in Their Homes – NYTimes.com.

The New York Times published an article discussing people that really want to be James T. Kirk.   And, I mean, who wouldn’t.  Swashbuckling through the galaxy, plenty of ensigns to get killed off, and green women to woo.  (He’s one of the few people I know — er…characters — where you just can’t say the name without the middle initial).  But particularly avid, aging fanboys have been creating Enterprise captain chairs for their family rooms.  Now that is just strange.  Who are these guys married to?  I can just imagine what Stephanie, Noelle and Brooke would say if I tried to pull that off.  After we were engaged I got rid of my old, brown, beat-up — but incredibly comfortable — bark0lounger.  I cannot say Stephanie made me do it; it really did start to have a vague beer, pizza aroma.  It was more of an acknowledgement that some things have to go once you are planning to live together.  I still have a picture somewhere where I am toasting it at the curb with a beer in my hand remembering all the memorable times I had on that chair.  I’m sure a few were watching Star Trek movies that did not s***.  There were a couple.

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Op-Ed Columnist – Perverse Cosmic Myopia – NYTimes.com

Op-Ed Columnist – Perverse Cosmic Myopia – NYTimes.com.

“As a tiger sinks its teeth into the world’s neck, we focus on the dust bunnies under the bed…[Obama is trying to tackle the four most intransigent policy problems of our times and cannot address the immediate economic problem and the furor over the AIG bonuses]…risk[s] destroying the entire bank-rescue plan”

“[All this ]is not the most idiotic of the distractions…[A] core lesson of the Great Depression is that a global crisis calls for a global response…But the G-20 process is heading toward global impotence because the Europeans are dismissing this approach…The world is in flames and they want directorates and multilateral symposia…Many people used to wonder how the world’s leaders could be so myopic at various points in history — like during the Versailles Treaty or the turmoil of the 1930s. We don’t have to wonder any more. We get to watch the cosmic myopia replay itself in our own times.”

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