2014-07-18—ISLAND ISOLATION

Your Man Friday is moving to a new hut, where this, all new postings and previous Man Friday ideas since 2009 will be available.  It should be friendlier and easier to browse. Please check it out!
KenStange.com/manfriday

Robinson Crusoe’s Man Friday was his devoted companion after years of feeling isolated and alone. It seemed an appropriate name for this project, because it is devoted to relieving the feeling of intellectual isolation many must feel when the joy of ideas seems to be of much lower priority than dealing with mundane matters and concerns. This Man Friday’s island is only a metaphor, but sometimes the isolation is very real.

CASTAWAYS

For some, island isolation was deadly serious.

CHOOSING THE ISLAND ISOLATION

For some, island isolation is better than living in the modern world.

ISLAND STORIES

For some, islands fuel the imagination.

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2014-07-11—READING

Most of what we think we know (not counting memories or experience) is not learned in school. A large percentage of that ‘knowledge’ is obtained from reading, which is why reading is such an essential skill. One reasonable way of sorting reading is fiction, non-fiction, and opinion.  The one thing essential to all categories is the quality of the writing. Of course, there is so much that is well written, it is helpful to read what is recommended by those whose taste you respect. (Personal disclosure: I love these writers.)

FICTION
It is easy to sort books into this category, unlike the other two categories. James Lee Burke is an excellent writer of ‘detective’ fiction that includes such a rich and accurate description of the New Orleans area that isn’t fictional.

NON-FICTION
Included here would be all books intended to be instructional such as travel information books, cookbooks, and self-help or “how-to” books. It also would include books about some topic such as science, history, or biography. Stefan Zweig is a writer most often associated with his insightful biographies of Mary Queen of Scotland, Freud, Balzac, Casanova, Stendhal, Tolstoy, and Nietzsche—although his fiction is again getting the attention it deserves.

PERSONAL
This category would include opinion pieces such as editorials, autobiographies, reviews, and most blogs. Christopher Hitchens is one wonderful contrarian and polymath that is a delight to read, even if you don’t agree with all his opinions.

More Ideas: http://www.kenstange.com/kenstangeweb/writing-on-the-wall/

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2014-07-04—THE MOTHER OF INVENTION

It is said that necessity is the mother of invention. Prisoners’ ingenuity is good supporting evidence of that assertion.

FOOD

BASIC COMFORTS

YOU NAME IT

More Ideas: http://www.kenstange.com/kenstangeweb/writing-on-the-wall/

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2014-06-27—HUGE AND INTERESTING

Artists are no longer having their creativity constrained by conventions regarding scale and media. Anything goes! The only criterion is aesthetic value. Here are some ‘hugely’ successful creations in a variety of surprising media.

MONUMENTAL PLANT SCULPTURE

ODD MEDIA, INCLUDING BARNACLE COVERED PEOPLE

ART YOU CAN’T HANG ON YOUR WALL

More Ideas: http://www.kenstange.com/kenstangeweb/writing-on-the-wall/

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BEFORE SAFETY WAS INVENTED

The over-rated idea of ‘child safety’ was invented in the sixties and gradually ascended to its current status as a locked and padded room best for raising your children. And in those early days science too wasn’t considered dangerous, so kids were encouraged to learn science by actually playing with its tools. A.C Gilbert was the maker of many of the best ‘toys’ for childish scientific innovation, although his kits also included instructions for simple experiments.  (Personal disclosure: these were the favourite toys of your Man Friday’s youth.)

CHEMISTRY SETS
Inspired many future chemists.

MICROSCOPE SET
Inspired many future biologists.

ERECTOR SETS
Inspired many future engineers.

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2014-06-13—CREATIVE RANTS

Ranting is a normal response to perceived injustices, significant or trivial. Usually we don’t enjoy listening to other people rant, but sometimes the rant is so creative and witty that it is a work of art.  Here are three examples.

RICK MERCER
Vaccination

JOHN OLIVER
“Net Neutrality”

GEORGE CARLIN
The whole enchilada

More Ideas: http://www.kenstange.com/kenstangeweb/writing-on-the-wall/

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2014-06-06—IGNORANCE AND STUPIDITY

Almost everyone agrees on the value of education—and disagrees about how it should be defined. And almost everyone has an idea how to improve it, but the range of ideas is immense. Some of the proposed ideas are themselves evidence of a lack of education or—frankly—lack of intelligence. The following clearly are not.

WHAT GOOD IS EDUCATION, ANYWAY?
Among the stupid ideas about education is that its primary purpose is to make you wealthier or give you the practical skills to become wealthier. (Unfortunately and ironically most universities use this claim to recruit students.) Here is a charming rebuttal of that idea. One doesn’t read Shakespeare or learn chemistry just to become an English prof or a chemist.

DON’T BLAME THE SYSTEM!
Education is ultimately the individual’s responsibility. Sometimes formal educational systems offer the opportunity for it. Sometimes they really don’t. But even more often, people don’t take that opportunity even if they attend educational institutions—or bother to take advantage of the many informal opportunities. We make excuses for ignorance, but not stupidity. Well, for most people in the developed world, ignorance is chosen—and a sign of stupidity. Here are some resources for those who are smart enough not to choose to be ignorant.

“THE LETTER THAT SAVED MY LIFE”
Here the accomplished Stephen Fry describes how he took an educational opportunity and how it saved him from a disastrous life.

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2014-05-30—FOOD PORN

Attractive images of food are often call “food porn”. The label is apt because, like traditional porn, part of their appeal is to one of our basic drives. And the most effective porn of both types is dependent on aesthetic quality, which in both cases involves some artifice: the reality rarely lives up to the image.

MAKING IT LOOK ATTRACTIVE
The secret of creating attractive porn is not your own pleasure, but the effect on the viewer:  “…you need to prepare the food to look its best, not taste its best.”

IT DOESN’T EVEN HAVE TO BE REAL
Here are some literally (and literary) fictitious meals.

THE SCIENCE BEHIND FOOD PORN
Some research has really basic rewards.

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2014-05-23—GET REAL

Many people wish art would get real again. It is true that one—but just one—function of paintings until the invention of photography was the realistic depiction of people, places, and events. When photography made that easier, artists focused more on other concerns than how much their work resembled what you would see in a photograph. Yet many people seem insensitive to anything other than ‘realism’, and express their appreciation by admiring the difficulty, special skills and time required to accomplish realism in a painting or sculpture. Of course, aesthetic judgments shouldn’t be solely based on that, but those factors can still be appreciated if the work has more value than simple ‘realism’. Here are some beautiful examples of just that.

MORE EVOCATIVE THAN A SNAPSHOT
These are impressive for more reasons than their realism, although admittedly that is amazing.

SIZE MATTERS
One important component of any artwork is scale. A miniature is perceived differently than a large canvas.

MORE REAL THAN REALITY
Here are some impressive examples of realist painting and a good, brief explanation of the nature of realism.

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2014-05-16—THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY

The idea that “money is the root of all evil” is oft repeated, so why then do most people spend their lives pursuing it?  Of course, nothing is the root of all evil. And as for major causes of evil, there are more likely suspects, such as ideology and religion. What is important about money is how it is spent.

THE GOOD
Harris Rosen is an inspiring example of how successful entrepreneurship can serve the common good.

THE BAD
On the other hand, the infamous Koch brothers are an example of how money can be used to fund the most evil of causes.

THE UGLY
And even if wealth isn’t used to directly support evil doings, it’s very depressing that in a world with so much poverty it is so often wasted on expensive, ostentatious and ugly possessions.

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2014-05-09—THE SECOND PRINT REVOLUTION

The world was revolutionized in the Fifteenth Century when Johannes Gutenberg invented printing. Words and images no longer had to be laboriously reproduced by hand. Although initially this had to be done by extremely expensive printers, now millions of people have very affordable, personal desktop printers. Then in 1986 Chuck Hull invented a printer that could reproduce more than mere 2-D images. These 3-D printers have started a second print revolution, and already relatively inexpensive ones are living with their parents on people’s desktops.

POTENTIAL OF 3-D PRINTING
“The future is now.”

PRINTING BODY PARTS
Want a new kidney? The doctor can print one for you.

PRINTING HOUSES
Design your own house and have it printed for you—inexpensively.

More Ideas: http://www.kenstange.com/kenstangeweb/writing-on-the-wall/

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2014-05-02—THE HAZARDS OF FADS AND FASHIONS

It is unpleasant to contemplate the idea that whatever becomes fashionable greatly influences our biases, even if we claim it doesn’t. We especially don’t like to admit this about those interests that are dear to our hearts. Unfortunately, this unacknowledged influence can have deleterious effects.

SCIENCE
Science is not immune to infection by fashion. Neuroscience is justifiably of great interest to those who are passionate about science, for it’s one of the fields advancing at an exponential rate. And within that field, brain imaging is a powerful new tool, and research using it very popular.  Combine that with the virtually universal interest in child welfare, and you have a good example of the hazards of fashion.

ART
We naturally tend to think our own art preferences are objective. This is evidenced by the common misconception that art is “in the eye of the beholder”.  Performance art is relatively new and fashionable, and it tends to attract a lot of attention. Those who are passionate about art are quick to assume any critics of it are philistines, because philistines always reject anything they don’t behold in their myopic eyes as art. But just because philistines will dismiss a Monet landscape as a murky smudge, doesn’t mean that a lot of Impressionist style landscapes aren’t actually just murky smudges.

POLITICS
Political views have a particularly egregious effect on judgment. We may claim to be non-partisan, but we tend to automatically endorse all the policies and opinions of a political group we favour. For example, it is simply a fact that the majority of educated and intelligent people would describe themselves as liberals. And many will then slide down the slippery slope of endorsing the party line on everything. Presumably, we all care about our environment, but those that call themselves ‘environmentalists’ too often can’t objectively evaluate criticisms or alternatives to the party line.

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2014-04-25—WHAT WE WISH

“Be careful what you wish for, lest it come true!” seems to be sound advice, and maybe even reason to believe that “May all your wishes come true!” is actually a curse.

IS MISFORTUNE REALLY GOOD FORTUNE?
Imagine something terrible happening to you. Can you imagine that it wouldn’t make you unhappier?

IS GOOD FORTUNE REALLY GOOD FORTUNE?
Who doesn’t wish to be rich?

GOOD FORTUNE IS NEVER UNADULTERATED
Just consider the guy with the ostrich.

More Ideas

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2014-04-18—THEME: THE POWER OF MUSIC

Music is certainly one of the oldest arts, probably even predating the earliest cave paintings. It certainly is the most ubiquitous in modern life and probably the most powerful of the arts, with a virtually universal effect on people of all ages.

MUSIC AND OUR BRAINS
Here is a powerful video about the healing power of music.

MUSIC AND OUR BODIES
Seven ways we use music to enhance our bodies.

MUSIC AND OUR SOCIETY
About how music defines and shapes a culture.

More Ideas:

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2014-04-11—SEX DIFFERENCES

Perhaps the biggest sex difference of all is between how men and women interpret research about sex differences. It would be foolish to venture an opinion as to whether that difference of interpretation is primarily because of nature or nurture. We all respond to any new, controversial research with either an approving nod or a sceptical eye, depending on our existing beliefs and biases. This is almost as true of the scientifically literate as of the average Joe—opps—or Jill. It is certainly true of scientific findings on allegedly innate genetic (and assumed hard-wired) differences between men and women. We are male or female, and this is important to our sense of who we are. This is why ‘confirmation bias’ so powerfully shapes our evaluation of such research.

THE TOP TEN
Here are some of the most common current beliefs.

VARIOUS VIEWS
This web page contains links to a variety of articles on the topic.

THE RIFT BETWEEN THE SEXES
The ‘oculus rift’—not occultist rift.

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2014-04-04—THE BIG THREE OF NEW TECH

Steve Jobs, Larry Page, and Mark Zuckerberg are three geeks that have changed the world. It is difficult to find an unbiased evaluation of them and their companies. Apple fans are not Android fans (although they use Google’s search engine), and Google is at war with Facebook. Facebook is hated by many, but has a billion users.  Whatever your bias, it is undeniable that all three men responsible for the revolutionary innovations of their companies are interesting, creative individuals. Here are three videos by or about these guys. (Gates was one of the first and probably most influential modern tech revolutionary, but Microsoft is now ‘ancient’ history.)

LARRY PAGE: GOOGLE

STEVE JOBS: APPLE

MARK ZUCKERBERG:  FACEBOOK

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2014-03-28—EMOTION DETECTION

We often misinterpret what other people are feeling. Sometimes it is because we are projecting our own feelings onto them, as when you assume someone is as eager to have sex as you are. Sometimes it is because some physical gesture means something very different to you than it does to the person making it. An example is trying to thumb a ride in the Middle East or many places in Africa or South America, where sticking out your thumb is interpreted as meaning “up your ass!” It would be nice if we could always accurately read other people’s emotions. Or would it?

DETECTING LIES
We all lie, and white lies meant to avoid being unflattering are best not detected. But one need not worry yet, for so-called polygraph ‘lie detectors’ are unable to do it reliably, even though, unfortunately, they are still being used only too often.

MAPPING EMOTIONS
Here is a recent example of using detecting physiological changes to determine emotional states that is considerably more successful than the polygraph.

READING FACIAL EXPRESSIONS
Almost everyone has had the experience of being told to smile for a photograph. The truth is it’s impossible to fake a smile, but you can still fool most of the people most of the time. Here is an interesting interactive test of one’s ability to determine if a smile is genuine. The test concludes with an explanation of the clues to doing so consistently.

Man Friday’s Opinionated Friend’s ideas: Writing On The Wall (blog)

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2014-03-21—WHAT IF

One characteristic common to both art and science is the question “What if?” In science it tends to be “What if I do this?” In the arts it is “What if this were…?”  Scientists answer the question by doing and observing. Artists answer by imagining and inventing. But we all sometimes wonder what if we had made a different decision about something that did or did not turn out well.

WHAT IF YOU HAD TO DECIDE WHAT TO DO WHEN…
Here are some questions about what you would do if you had to make any of these decisions.

WHAT IF THE FUTURE…
Science fiction, like philosophy, specializes in the “what if” questions. (Very occasionally sic-fi speculations about the future actually come to pass. Many concerned people fear that the only thing Orwell was wrong about is the date of his classic 1984!)

WHAT IF SOME UNLIKELY THINGS WERE TRUE?
Ever wonder what if some little thing was different? Here is some guy’s fun with that question.

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2014-03-14—UNFREQUENTED TOURIST DESTINATIONS

There is something paradoxical about travel. Tourists travel to visit places very different from those at home, but those places are the destination of most tourists. But tourists don’t like to go to places that are full of tourists! Here are few solutions to that problem.

LIBRARIES
Libraries have a reputation for being stodgy, and besides who wants to spend their time away from home reading? But every major library has a unique collection that you won’t find at home. For example, the Medical Research Library of Brooklyn has a collection of plaster casts of female genitalia. Here is a list of interesting collections at various university libraries.

NEIGHBOURHOODS
Most travel includes urban areas, and most cities have interesting neighbourhoods that are rarely visited by outsiders, or even by most other residents of the city. There are the so-called “bad neighbourhoods”. Many aren’t really dangerous, at least during the daylight hours or in a car. Of course, there are neighbourhoods in many American cities that are as unsafe as third world war zones. Chicago has a lot of great tourist spots, but few tourists get to these four places. (Personal disclosure: I grew up in one of these.)

ACCOMMODATIONS
Often tourists consider their travel accommodations as little more than a place to leave their bags and get some sleep. But some places are of themselves sufficient reason to travel there.

Man Friday’s Opinionated Friend’s ideas: Writing On The Wall (blog)
Man Friday’s Friend’s Travel Memoir: Going Home (book)

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2014-03-07—INTO THE ABYSS

The abyss may be dark and seemingly hostile, but it is full of incredible wonders. And as Robert Ballard points out in his TED talk, we haven’t even begun to explore 2/3rds of our planet just miles away from us.

DEEP SEA CREATURES
It seems sea monsters are real. These are creatures you wouldn’t want to find in your swimming pool, but then they wouldn’t be happy there either.

HISTORY OF EXPLORATION OF THE DEEP
Here is an excellent video on the history of our modest ventures into the deep.

VALUE OF PROBING THE DEPTHS
Here is Robert Ballard’s enthusiastic, whirlwind tour of the wonders of the deep, just so recently discovered.

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