Culture Contrast Ambush!

August 31, 2007

Last night, I got to karate a bit early, so I sat in the car listening to the radio for a few minutes. A car pulled in to one of the spaces in front of me, and I watched as the people got out. The woman who got out of the driver’s seat was tall and thin, wearing a short, slinky, kind of tango-looking skirt; a spaghetti strap top made of a couple layers of dark, semi-sheer fabric, with a flower print, over one of those bras with the “clear” plastic straps that don’t fool anyone; and purple flower-patterned platform-heeled ankle-tie sandals. I thought she was going into the restaurant next door. Certainly, she looked like she was dressed for some sort of date.

But no, then her husband and three kids, all normally dressed in jeans and t-shirts, walk into the karate school to find out about classes. Into the karate school… full of Muslim mothers who all wear the hijab, waiting for their children to finish class. (The instructor is from Egypt, you see, and that area of town has a lot of immigrant families.)

I winced. I wondered what they would think. I went in and sat down with them to take off my shoes and get ready for class; none of them said anything, of course.

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The apocolyptic plague is fake, but the research is real

August 28, 2007

I ran across an article while browsing Wikipedia the other day which caught my interest. It was talking about the Corrupted Blood Plague which swept through the massively multi player online game World of Warcraft. This is hardly new news, having taken place all the way back in September of 2005, but like many such things, it has bubbled to the surface at a time that I was already thinking about several related topics, and has captured my attention. The interesting thing to me had less to do with the details of what happened in this particular case than it had to do with the broader concept of what incidents like this mean to the world beyond the game.

The plauge itself was entirely virtual, and never reached past the confines of the game. Within the game, many characters were affected, but even they faced no lasting ill effects. What is interesting to me is that the way in which the events of the plague played out in the virtual world has attracted a great deal of attention from serious researchers who are interested in how observation of these phenomena can be applied to improving our understanding of the real thing.

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The Cult of Data Backup

August 27, 2007

In seeking help for a computer issue online, I recently created a bit of a controversy among the forum’s members.

My problem is a wonky (dying?) hard drive, and the universal solution was to back up everything to external storage before its inevitable final crap out. First I was to buy and run a diagnostic program specific to the operating system. All told, this solution would have cost me “only” $400.

Since the computer cost only $500 in the first place and since disposable income left my vocabulary a good three months ago and doesn’t appear to be returning anytime soon, I thanked them for their solution, but noted that not everyone could afford to follow their advice. One forum member implied that I was irresponsible for not doing so. Another asked how much I could afford to lose.

And while I appreciate that responsible computer owners, much like pet owners, should perform routine maintenance and must accept that there are additional costs beyond the purchase price, I question the wisdom of blindly backing up entire hard drives’ worth of information on a nightly or weekly basis and the necessity of purchasing further technology to do this.

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Library Closings

August 24, 2007

The Vatican Library recently announced that it would be closing for repairs, and that it will not reopen until September 2010. Read the BBC News article for more detailed information.

The announcement has caused some outrage in the academic community, because the Vatican Library is one of the foremost research institutions in the world, holding rare materials that cannot be accessed anywhere else. Professors and scholars from around the world plan their sabbaticals and submit grants specifically to be able to work there. The BBC News article does a good job showing what a loss this resource is to scholars, but neglects a few points.

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Ancient History on a Road Trip

August 24, 2007

The other day on NPR, I heard this story:

World’s Oldest Hominid Now World’s Oldest Tourist

The basics:

One of the world’s treasures, the hominid fossil known as “Lucy,” is about to go on public display for the first time outside its native Ethiopia.

The Lucy exhibition has been praised by some as a coup for Texas and denounced by others as the reckless exploitation of one of humanity’s most famous ancestors. Renowned paleontologist Richard Leakey even called it a form of prostitution.

Next week, the 3.2 million-year-old fossil goes on display at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. It could be the start of a six-year, 10-city tour for Lucy…

There is now a huge argument over whether or not such rare archeological finds should be allowed outside their countries of origin at all. The main argument, of course, is that they are too fragile or could be damaged, which seems like a fairly good argument if you consider that these remains are still the subject of research.

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On Bosworth Field The Reforms Grow

August 22, 2007

August 22 is one of those dates that sticks in my head while other, worthier days (family birthdays, say) are consigned to the heap of “Late March, I think – anyway, we should send the card around then.” It’s the day that, 522 years ago, Richard III of England died in battle and was replaced by Henry VII, simultaneously ending Plantagenet rule (and the Wars of the Roses) and beginning a truly monumental historians’ fight over virtually every aspect of his life and works, to wit, that he:

– Killed his nephews (or didn’t) to usurp (or not) his brother Edward IV’s throne
– Killed his wife (or didn’t)
– Helped (or didn’t) to have his other brother, the Duke of Clarence, killed
– Abetted in killing Edward IV’s predecessor, Henry VI
– Planned to marry his niece (or maybe not) who was incidentally the sister of the nephews he may have murdered (or not)
– Miscellaneous other bits of estate theft and legal chicanery.

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Our State Fair is the Best State Fair

August 20, 2007

You want an awesome day of cheap wholesome fun? A day that’s good for the whole family but not nearly as lame as it sounds?

I have two words for you: STATE FAIR.

Yeah, they sound dumb and boring. But, really? The State Fair rocks. It’s like Niagara Falls–has a bit of an old fogey lame-o reputation, but actually quite neat and fun and awesome.

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To have, and to hold

August 19, 2007

I spent a considerable portion of my day today running errands, trying to find several items around town. When I began my day, I assumed that I’d be able to quickly find what I was looking for, and with only two stops be on my way back home to enjoy a relaxing weekend afternoon. Alas, it was not to be.

The trouble was that the stores I went to, in spite of being in the business of selling exactly the type of things I was looking for, didn’t carry what I wanted. This was particularly frustrating to me because I know that the items I was seeking do actually exist, because I have seen them before, and have certainly been able to find examples of them for sale online as I was researching what exactly I was looking for to fill my particular needs.

Amongst my hobbies, I paint miniatures. That is to say, I use a brush with all of about a dozen bristles to paint tiny detail on figures not more than an inch and a half tall. In order to support this pastime, I have somewhere in the range of about 50 different colors of paint, each in its own half-ounce bottle. Managing this collection of paints has become more and more difficult as I’ve picked up additional colors for one project or another, and I was looking for a way to organize them. In the process of being repeatedly thwarted in my efforts to find a solution, I found myself thinking about a fundamental difference between the two primary ways I buy things.

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Who’s the Bigger Liar?

August 19, 2007

The New York Times reported last week on the impossible discrepancy between the reported numbers of sexual partners by men and women. The short of it is men report up to twice as many partners as women, a finding that is logically unsupportable. (That is to say, whom else could they possibly be sleeping with?)

They cite a number of possible theories for the difference, noting that this obvious lie has largely been ignored by researchers and their analysis. So the question remains then, who’s the bigger liar: men or women? Further, I wonder how this plays out for non-heterosexuals of both genders — do they find the same over-/underreporting here as well?  Any burgeoning sex researchers among our readers who might shed light on the issue?

Virtual Closets and Luggage Shipping

August 17, 2007

I heard a story on Marketplace a few days ago about an idea whose time has clearly come. The air traffic industry has now irritated people so much with all the luggage restrictions and security regulations that a new industry has opened up: luggage courier services.

The story, “Travel with a lot less baggage“, interviewed the heads of two such companies, FlyLite and Luggage Forward. FlyLite is the coolest, because they offer a “virtual closet.” They’re aimed more at really frequent business travelers who are willing to spend some money to avoid the hassle. People send in their suitcase, travel kit, and clothes, and they are all stored in a cedar-lined “modular California-style closet,” after having been cleaned and cataloged, of course. Then, when you’re ready to go on another trip, you just go to your “closet” and choose what you want packed and delivered to your hotel.

Luggage Forward doesn’t offer the “closet” service, but they do courier all your stuff for you, door to door. They apparently tend to cater more to golfing retirees and vacationers, so they offer a lot of interesting choices in the “type of luggage” list: golf bag, skis/snowboard, surfboard, bicycle, etc.

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