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.: April 2009 --> April 2009

April 2009

» A new study shows that hospitals that empowered low-level staff members to innovate and intervene when they witnessed unsanitary practices showed a decline by between 26 percent and 62 percent of the deadly antibiotic-resistant bacteria, MRSA.  [ 04.01.09 ]

» Are computer games a literary genre? I'm sorry to say that both commenters miss the point. It's true, as Crace argues, that gameplay is the essential element that makes a game good or bad, and that a game can be good without a story. But Crace is wrong to think that game storytelling exists only in cut scenes. Parker believes storytelling in games is important, but, like Crace, seems to conflate cut scenes with the narrative element.

I've been very interested in games as a new narrative form for some years. It is particularly exciting to be watching that form emerge. It's a time of great experimentation - game makers are literally inventing the form, discovering what is possible, and trying to discern exactly what story means in this medium.

But just as a film can't be judged by the standards of a novel - filmic storytelling happens in images, not words, as it must in a book - neither can game storytelling be judged by filmic standards. The very best games embed the story in the action (gameplay) relying as little as possible on filmic scenes to push the narrative forward. Portal is the game equivalent of a perfect short story, with the entire story told through action and environment.

Having said that, I also loved Bioshock (which does rely on cut scenes to move the narrative forward) for its rich, layered environmental storytelling, and its sheer narrative ambition. It's a grand, beautiful, flawed attempt at a game in which the story is of equal importance to the gameplay itself, and I think it mostly succeeds. I have not yet seen Grand Theft Auto IV, but I keep hearing that - despite its well-deserved reputation for violence and debauchery - it provides a deeper storytelling experience than any game that has come before.  [ 04.02.09 ]

» A Little Weekend Reading: Paul Jones asks whether local and organic is always better.

[M]ost of the familiar candidates for alternative food would have trouble operating on the kind of scale necessary for a world of 6.7 billion people. Consider what it would take to make our farm system entirely organic. The only reason industrial organic agriculture can get away with replenishing its soils with manure or by planting nitrogen-fixing cover crops is that the industry is so tiny--making up less than 3 percent of the US food supply (and just 5.3 percent even in gung-ho green cultures like Austria's). If we wanted to rid the world of synthetic fertilizer use--and assuming dietary habits remain constant--the extra land we'd need for cover crops or forage (to feed the animals to make the manure) would more than double, possibly triple, the current area of farmland, according to Vaclav Smil, an environmental scientist at the University of Manitoba. Such an expansion, Smil notes, "would require complete elimination of all tropical rainforests, conversion of a large part of tropical and subtropical grasslands to cropland, and the return of a substantial share of the labor force to field farming--making this clearly only a theoretical notion."
That doesn't mean sustainable agriculture can't happen. But if we want to build large-scale capacity, we're going to need to broaden our definitions of sustainable practices.

(via bittman)  [ 04.03.09 ]

» If I had a nickel for everytime I asked myself What am I going to do with all that kale? Longtime readers already know my problem vegetable: carrots. (thanks, jjg!)  [ 04.06.09 ]

» Oooh! A collection of alternative ways to dye Easter Eggs, including a method which produces a gorgeous (and still-edible) egg decorated with colored "cracks".  [ 04.07.09 ]

» Roger Ebert writes about the best damn job in the whole damn world: newspaper reporting in the glory days. Don't miss this one.

Then there was the day Art Petacque and Hugh Hough won the Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of the Valerie Percy murder case. Hough was a superb rewrite man. Petacque was our mob reporter. I don't know if anybody ever actually saw him typing, but he had great sources. He even knew all mob nicknames of the top Chicago mafioso. If it was rumored that he sometimes invented the nicknames himself, nobody ever complained. What was Joey (The Clown) Lombardo gonna do? Write a letter to the editor complaining that his real mob nickname was "the Joker?"

(via rc3)

 [ 04.07.09 ]

» Now this is cool: Light Calligraphy made by photographing the movement of handheld lights, creating French words in a stylized Arab-esque script. Here is a flash gallery of images - it will take a minute to load. I wish I could point you directly to my favorites, but you'll have fun picking out your own. It's all done by artist and calligrapher Julien Breton. You can also download Kalaam, the stylized script he uses in many of these images (for non-commercial use only). (via ministry of type)  [ 04.08.09 ]

» I do not understand. Why are they doing this - and (shudder) this? The child robot is programmed to watch the people around it and cluster their facial expressions into basic categories, such as happiness and sadness.

In coming decades, Asada expects science will come up with a "robo species" that has learning abilities somewhere between those of a human and other primate species such as the chimpanzee.

Perfect. (via gm. thanks, jjg!)  [ 04.09.09 ]

» Help me out here. Why would I buy a bank's toxic assets? They don't want them. Why would I?  [ 04.09.09 ]

» A Little Weekend Reading: Joseph Stiglitz on the scope of the current economic downturn: "We're experiencing the worst downturn since the Great Depression, and we haven't reached the bottom yet. I'm very pessimistic."

And Robert Reich on what to do about it: "This is still not the Great Depression of the 1930s, but it is a depression. And the only way out is government spending on a very large scale. We should stop worrying about Wall Street. Worry about American workers. Use money to build up Main Street and the future capacity of our workforce"

I like Reich's prescription very much. The Labor Department's broadest measure of unemployment, which includes those receiving unemployment benefits, people who have stopped looking for work, and who can't find full-time jobs, hit 15.6% in March.

And Barry Eichengreen and Kevin H. O'Rourke remind us that economists who say US economic conditions aren't as severe as the Great Depression miss the point. The Great Depression was a worldwide event. And tracking world economic conditions, this downturn is at least as bad as that one. (via rte)  [ 04.10.09 ]

» Psychologists are discovering that "pride is centrally important not just for surviving physical danger but for thriving in difficult social circumstances".

The implications of this are hard to exaggerate. Researchers tend to split pride into at least two broad categories. So-called authentic pride flows from real accomplishments, like raising a difficult child, starting a company or rebuilding an engine. Hubristic pride, as Dr. Tracy calls it, is closer to arrogance or narcissism, pride without substantial foundation. The act of putting on a good face may draw on elements of both. But no one can tell the difference from the outside.

(via mamr)  [ 04.13.09 ]

» Have you seen Dreams of Flying yet? Because you really, really want to. I want some of these as posters. (thanks, vinylrake!)  [ 04.14.09 ]

» Take a look at this bar graph.

[B]etween 1999 and 2008, employer-sponsored health insurance premiums increased six times faster than wages. Average employer contributions to family health care plans more than doubled, and so did average worker contributions to those plans. Whatever pay increases the average worker received were wiped out, and then some, by the rapidly growing amounts deducted from his paycheck to cover health insurance. That's assuming he was lucky enough to be among the 59 percent of the U.S. population that received employment-based health insurance. [...] During the same period, deductibles tripled.

 [ 04.15.09 ]

» Nassim Nicholas Taleb's Black Swan theory refers to a "large-impact, hard-to-predict, and rare event beyond the realm of normal expectations". Taleb recently offered Ten principles for a Black Swan-proof world.

4. Do not let someone making an "incentive" bonus manage a nuclear plant - or your financial risks. Odds are he would cut every corner on safety to show "profits" while claiming to be "conservative". Bonuses do not accommodate the hidden risks of blow-ups. It is the asymmetry of the bonus system that got us here. No incentives without disincentives: capitalism is about rewards and punishments, not just rewards.

 [ 04.16.09 ]

» Here's a method for a quick vegetable stew (assuming you have some pre-cooked beans) that I think you could use at any time of year.  [ 04.17.09 ]

» Michael Adams's new book is both an explanation and celebration of Slang: The People's Poetry.

In the last chapter, Adams digs into the role slang plays in the way our brains process information. He cites, for example, an academic study in which the subjects' brain activity was measured while they read Shakespeare's "Coriolanus": It would jump whenever they encountered one of the Bard's trickier and more playful uses of the language -- for instance, when he'd recruit a word typically used as a noun for use as a verb, as in "He godded me." Adams writes, "It wasn't as if the brains were confused, exactly, but rather as if they had been awakened from linguistic boredom."

 [ 04.20.09 ]

» It's been a long, long time coming, but in a year that will also see a new line of black Barbies, Disney is about to unveil its first African-American princess in its next animated feature, The Princess and the Frog. (thanks, jjg!)  [ 04.21.09 ]

» NPR: Three Cookbooks For Lean Times. These all really do sound like good additions to my library.  [ 04.22.09 ]

» This article's claim that those who download music illegally are also 10 times more likely to pay for songs than those who don't seems to be completely erroneous. I think they're completely misreading the Norwegian study, but since that study isn't linked, it's hard to know exactly how they got so mixed up. Here's the key claim:

The Norwegian study looked at almost 2,000 online music users, all over the age of 15. Researchers found that those who downloaded "free" music - whether from lawful or seedy sources - were also 10 times more likely to pay for music.

First off: those who download free music are 10 times more likely to pay for music than whom? It is impossible for those who download free music to be more likely to pay for music than online music users who pay for all the music they download. This leads me to conclude one of two things:

Either the study compared online music users who download free music to people who buy their music in a physical form (records, tapes, and CDs).

Or, the study actually concludes that people who download free music pay for 10 times more music than those who buy their music online, but do not ever download free music.

A long time ago, I read that people who made (and gave away) mix tapes were among the most prolific purchasers of music. They loved music. They actively sought out new music. My second interpretation - if that's what this study actually concludes - might indicate that those who buy the most music online also sample the most music online, from all sources.

However, this type of study is nearly useless without separating those who download lawful "samples" and those who download pirated versions instead. Is there even a distinction between those two groups? If so, does one group buy more music than the other?

If there is no distinction between the groups - if those who are likely to download music online typically download from both legal and illegal sources - can you separate them into a group that prefers free music from legal sources, a group that prefers free music from illegal sources, and a group that doesn't have a preference? Which group is largest, and how much is each group spending on music? Which is buying the largest percentage of music compared to the free music they download?

Without answers to those question, the Guardian's assertion "This would make music pirates the industry's largest audience for digital sales" is completely unfounded.

Ars Technica has a much more thoughtful article on the subject, but their analysis seems to be based on a Google translation of a Norwegian news article. Frankly, I'd still like to know more about the study. (First link via j-ko)  [ 04.22.09 ]

» Mike Kelleher has what sounds like a really interesting job: choosing 10 letters a day for President Obama to read.

I wonder whether the Bush administration did this, and what their criteria were? I remember calling in to the Bush White House to complain about some policy matter the use of cluster bombs in Iraq. The operator who took my call suggested to me that my complaint wasn't valid, and that the media had distorted the matter. I was so frustrated I started to cry, and I told her "This is my government, this is my White House, and I have every right for you to relay my message to the Administration as I have given it to you." After that, I never called again to comment.  [ 04.23.09 ]

» I am loving Winston Churchill backed by band from the future. "Lift up your heart, all will come right. Out of the depths of sorrow and sacrifice will be born again the glory of mankind." (via @mediajunkie)  [ 04.23.09 ]

» I understand that it's more complex than this, but when I think about our culture's obsession with beauty - and especially the ways in which its relentless marketing affects our children - I feel that we're more misogynistic than we ever have been.

Four years ago, a survey by the NPD Group showed that, on average, women began using beauty products at 17. Today, the average is 13 - and that's got to be an overstatement. According to market-research firm Experian, 43 percent of 6- to 9-year-olds are already using lipstick or lip gloss; 38 percent use hairstyling products; and 12 percent use other cosmetics. [...]
[T]hese days, body dissatisfaction begins in grammar school. According to a 2004 study by the Dove Real Beauty campaign, 42 percent of first- to third-grade girls want to be thinner, while 81 percent of 10-year-olds are afraid of getting fat. "When you have tweens putting on firming cream" - as was revealed by 1 percent of girls in an NPD study - "it's clear they're looking for imaginary flaws," says Harvard psychologist Nancy Etcoff. [...]
Susie Orbach's new book, "Bodies," [...] argues that good looks and peak fitness are no longer a biological gift, but a ceaseless pursuit. And obsession at an early age, she says, fosters a belief that these are essential components of who we are - not, as she puts it, "lovely add-ons." "It primes little girls to think they should diet and dream about the cosmetic-surgery options available to them, and it makes body the primary place for self-identity. (Emphasis mine.)"

This video says the same thing more powerfully yet. I always cry when I watch it, that beautiful little face, so full of hope, and so unprepared for a childhood filled with an unrelenting emphasis on, and implicit and explicit criticism of, how she looks.

I have yet to see an article examining the effect these unrealistic media images have on young men. How do you judge women - how do you rate your in-every-way extraordinary girlfriend - compared to the ideals of beauty you've been constantly surrounded with?  [ 04.24.09 ]

» Dear President Obama is a collection of letters from children aged 4 to 18 to the new President. My favorite letter may be the one from 12-year-old Kara Hirschman - but it's hard to choose.  [ 04.24.09 ]

» Who doesn't love Michelle Obama? Her recent Q & A with kids.  [ 04.27.09 ]

» Caitlin Phillips is making some pretty cool handbags out of discarded hardcover books. I don't see why you couldn't do this at home.  [ 04.27.09 ]

» For those of you who want to keep up, the CDC has a Twitter feed which is also available via RSS. (thanks, Lizard!)  [ 04.27.09 ]

» I'm really pleased to see my 2007 project Eating Organic on a Food Stamp Budget mentioned in Salon's Can we afford to eat ethically? as "the best I found" in online inspiration for the writer's experiment in ethical, economical eating.  [ 04.28.09 ]

» Raising Katie is a thoughtful, and I think very balanced, look at transracial adoption, and the specific issues faced by an African-American family raising a white child. What seems clear to me from everything I've read is that for Caucasians, these adoptions bring to light racism they've been unaware of (unexposed to); and that for all races, these adoptions bring to light the adoptive families' own previously unrecognized assumptions about race, some of them rather uncomfortable.  [ 04.28.09 ]

» Twelve major brands that will disappear by the end of the year. Borders, Old Navy, Palm, and United Airlines? (via tra)  [ 04.29.09 ]

» Here's a list of food blogs you should know about. A blog about 19th and 20th century restaurants? I'm so there. This is a recurring feature on Notions Capital, by the way. (via bitten)  [ 04.29.09 ]

» Alice Taylor's wonderful piece on public service gaming will be a delight for gamers, and (I hope) a revelation for those who don't get what all the fuss is about.

Raph knocked my socks off with his book A Theory of Fun and its super simple core statement that "bored" is what happens when we stop learning. Fun is what we have when we're levelling up on something. "Pop", went something in my head. [...]
I get a lot of pitches for a game about the stock market, or a game about the Houses of Parliament. I haven't commissioned one of those yet. Encouraging teen interest in politics by playing a game about teen civil liberties though, that's interesting. Encouraging interest in genetics by playing a game about biopiracy and sneezing on people, that's different.... Understanding the origin of the police force by wading through the disgustingness of 1750s London, that's nice and grimy.

 [ 04.30.09 ]

» I'm looking for suggestions for outstanding, iconic sandwiches (especially regional specialties). Here are some examples: BLT, Po Boy, Philadelphia Cheese Steak, Reuben, Hero/Hoagie/Grinder. In the place where you live (or have lived) what is the sandwich everyone visiting should try? I had trouble making comments work for everyone last time; let me know via email if you are unable to leave your suggestion. / (1) Comments / [ 04.30.09 ]



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