12/30/2011

Coolest Science & Technology Breakthroughs of 2011


Here's my favorite year-end list of all: the coolest science and technology breakthroughs of 2011.  When I get frustrated by the ignorance and waste of politicians, pondering the brilliant initiatives our world's scientists are getting up to (somewhat) restores my hope. 
  1. Cloud computing wasn't introduced in 2011, but 2011 was the year when regular folks started understanding what it meant, and learned to appreciate its conveniences.  Almost everyone I know now has a Dropbox account.  Does this mean those cute novelty USB drives (the ones shaped like kittens and rocket ships) soon be a thing of the past? 
  2. Google+.  Google has tried to take on Facebook before.  (Remember Google Buzz? Google Wave? Didn't think so.) But this time they're supporting the launch of Google+ with advertising and all the good will they've built up over the years.  Doubtless they're hoping to capitalize on Facebook's many misteps this past year, launching a series of poorly explained "tweeks" that chipped away at users' privacy rights.  And something about circles ....
  3. iStuff. This year's iOfferings included the highly anticipated iPad2 and the iPhone4S.  But with Verizon's Droid phones offering a viable alternative to Apple's iPhones, and with the death of Steve Jobs in October, could this be the last year that Apple shows up on my yearly "hot science and technologies" list?
  4. Kindle Fire/Nook Color.  I realize I identified this as a trend last year, but in 2011 the devices became practically ubiquitous, thanks to several new developments: (1) internet connectivity, allowing the devices to function as tablet computers, (2) color displays, and (3) efforts by libraries to make newly-published materials available in digital format to borrowers.
  5. A Cure for Aging?  For decades scientists have wondered about the role that damaged cells play in the aging process.  Finally, this past year, scientists figured out how to remove damaged cells from the bodies of a particular strain of genetically modified mice.  What happened?  The mice didn't live appreciably longer, but their quality of life was much higher, seeming to suggest that damaged cells do play a roll in aging.  All I can say is they need to get hopping on this, as I'm not getting any younger.
  6. Space Shuttle Retires.  The space shuttle program was characterized by a few tragic failures but a whole bunch of phenomenal successes.  In latter years it was primarily perceived as a way to resupply the International Space Stations - hardly the sexiest of missions - but would be wrong to forget all the other cool things it did: launched satellites, repaired space assets (remember when astronauts fixed the Hubble Space Telescope? coolest repair ever), and conducted experiments that furthered our understanding of the universe. 
  7. Higgs Boson found?  Physicists at CERN near Geneva, Switzerland, announced that they are finally closing in on the elusive Higgs particle. The Higgs is the last, missing piece of the Standard Model, the physics version of Camelot.  That lowering of air pressure you're feeling?  That's 100,000 physicists around the world, all holding their breath.
  8. Faster Than the Speed of Light.  Speaking of CERN, they announced in Sep 2011 that they had timed a subatomic particle travelling 60 nanoseconds faster than the speed of light, which would seem to violate the laws of nature as we've come to understand them.  Guess I might as well throw out those notes I took in Physics 101 all those years ago - practically everything I learned is being debunked!  
  9. Arsenic-based life forms!  Maybe I should throw away my Biology 101 notes as well?  Because I was under the impression that all life forms on Earth are carbon based.  Not so!  In 2011, scientists announced the discovery of freaky arsenic-based life forms in a lake in California.  Or not?  Some argue that the DNA samples must have been tainted. But if the finding is verified, this means we're definitely going to need to expand our definition of "life".
  10. Mars Mission. The Mars Science Laboratory, a rover nicknamed Curiosity, is five times bigger than any of the previous Mars rovers.  Its mission is to find evidence that liquid water once existed on Mars and then to find evidence of microbial life that might have spawned on Mars billions of years ago. So far, scientists have found no conclusive evidence of life on Mars. But since Mars once had great oceans (one of them about the size of the U.S.) there is still hope that some form of life may have germinated on Mars.
  11. Humanity hits 7 Billion.  In October, the human population reached 7 billion. This happened just 12 years after we hit 6 billion; in contrast, it took humanity about 72,000 years to reach its first billion. According to the science fiction books I read as a teen, we're definitely going to start eating each other soon.
  12. E.T. Phone Home!  Using NASA's Kepler space telescope, astronomers spotted the closest planet yet to being considered a home away from home. The exoplanet, named Kepler 22-b, has a mass just 2.4 times greater than Earth's and orbits its parent star within the so-called 'habitable zone,' potentially giving it a temperate climate and the right conditions for life.
  13. Halting HIV?  A clinical trial completed this year conclusively proved that people taking ARVs to treat their HIV were 96% less likely to transmit HIV to others.  That's wonderful news for people trying to live normal lives with HIV, and provides hope that there may be a way to slow down the transmission of the disease in countries where AIDS is pandemic.
Am not going to include a list of science controversies of the year, but if I did, list would begin and end with fracking, a process that releases natural gas from shales but that has potentially scary environmental consequences, to include water contamination and destabalization of fault lines. A process only ExxonMobile could love.

12/29/2011

Dear ___, Sincerely ___


  1. Dear Christmas -  Who handles your PR? Sincerely, Hannukah
  2. Dear Gulf of Mexico - Sorry about that.  Sincerely, BP
  3. Dear Snowmaggedon - It's called irony.  Sincerely, Global Warming
  4. Dear OJ - What now?  Sincerely, Casey Anthony
  5. Dear United States - All your base are belong to us.  Sincerely, Iraq
  6. Dear Kate Middleton - I'm the man your man could smell like.  Sincerely, Old Spice Guy
  7. Dear Republican Party - So long, and thanks for Ronald Reagan.  Sincerely, Moderates
  8. Dear College Students - Get used to disappointment.  Sincerely, The Economy
  9. Dear Steve Jobs - Sorry, but there isn't an app for that.  Sincerely, St. Peter
  10. Dear 99% - Living in tent cities in public parks? That's why you'll never be us.  Sincerely, The 1%

Best & Worst of 2011 - Culture & Society

At midnight, Dec 31, we'll consign another year to the history books.  What will 2011's lasting contributions be to culture and society?  If you go by this list, some good, some bad, and a whole lot of indifferent.
  1. Gay Rights. Same-sex marriage was approved by New York, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was finally abolished, and violence/cruelty against gays was openly challenged in 2011 when, spurred by the suicide of several bullied gay men, Youtube blossomed with "It Gets Better" testimonials from celebrities and/or gay adults, encouraging gay teens to hang in there.
  2. 15 Minutes of Fame/Infamy.  Every year contributes a number of whince-worthy moments to the public consciousness.  Here's a round-up of some of the worst 2011 had to offer.
    1. Casey Anderson trial.  After a media spectacle to rival the opening ceremony of the Olympics, she was found not guilty of murdering her child, apparently by the same jury that freed O.J. Simpson. 
    2. Kim Kardashian wedding.  It was grotesquely lavish ... and then, 72 days later, it was over, when the bride and groom announced that they were having the whole thing annulled.  Back in the olden days, they used to call this kind of thing a "publicity stunt."
    3. Charlie Sheen, star of the highly successful sitcom, 2 1/2 Men, went publicly bonkers.  Stars do stupid things all the time, of course, but few will ever be able to match the verve and tenacity with which Sheen set about publicly destroying his credibility and career. 
    4. Jerry Sandusky/Penn State sexual abuse scandal.  The news that beloved Penn State football coach Sandusky may have been sexually abusing young boys for decades was appalling, tawdry, and a blow to Penn State alum everywhere.
    5. Athony Weiner's "weiner pic".  The real question isn't why a politician would do something so stupid as to forward a pic of his private parts to a woman he'd met over the internet; but why men think that this is something women want to see.
    6. Throckmorton aka "Niggerhead".  The name of Texas Gov. Rick Perry's Texs ranch.  Really.  Couldn't make this stuff up if I tried.
    7. It's the End of the World.  This according to Harold Camping, a christian evangelist.  No, really, he was absolutely, positively sure this time that it would come on Oct 21.  And then it didn't.  :-(
  3. The world of books welcomed The Pale King, a half-finished MS left behind by David Foster Wallace.  If you weren't a member of the literati, however, you were probably reading either the Hunger Games series (if you were a girl), the Game of Thrones series (if you were a dude),the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series (if you were a kid), or one of the many book group books made into movies this year, a cohort that included The Help, Water for Elephants, The Lincoln Lawyer, and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  For a change, we even read some non-fiction this year, a list headed by The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and footnoted by a bio of wunderkind Steve Jobs.  Familiar authors still topping the best seller charts after all these years: John Grisham, Nicholas Sparks, Steven King, Michael Connelly, James Patterson, Janet Evonavich, David Baldacci, Nora Roberts, and Dean Koontz. 
  4. One way to cope with the stress of the ongoing recession: angry birds.  Hard to believe there's an American who didn't at some point during the year download this game onto at least one of their electronic devices. Even my parents played it.  It's like the pigs were Wall Street, and the birds were us.
  5. Meanwhile, the rest of the tech world was dominated by Kindle Fire, Siri, and iPad2, signs that the great Convergence - the great Media Convergence, that is - can't be far away.
  6. On Broadway, singing Mormons dominated the year, as the contagiously irreverent Book of Mormon pretty much swept the Tonys. 
  7. Another way to cope with the recession was extreme couponing.  Whole cable shows were devoted to demonstrating how, with the aid of scissors, patience, and 100 copies of the Sunday newspaper, ordinary folk filled their basements with a lifetime's supply of mustard, pasta, and Hidden Ranch salad dressing for pennies a week.  Now all we have to do is figure out more recipes that require the use of mustard, pasta, and salad dressing.
  8. Girls ruled pop music in 2011, with Adele, Kate Perry, Rihanna, K$sha, and Lady Gaga dominating the charts.  Even my parents downloaded "Firework". (Maybe they listen to it while they're playing Angry Birds.)
  9. In sports, the Packers topped the Steelers in the Superbowl, the Cardinals triumphed over the Rangers in the World Series, and the Bruins took hockey's Stanley Cup. 
  10. Memorable memes of the year included the White House "situation room" at the moment Bin Laden was assassinated, pepper spraying cops, a teenager named Rebecca Black starring in a really bad music video, first world problems, planking, a taxadermist named Chuck Testa, and a loser named Scumbag Steve.
  11. In: Skyrim, Portal 2, Call of Duty:Modern Warfare 3, crowdsourcing, pretzel chips, fairy tales, teebowing, novelty vodka, groupons, fur, lobster shoes, Ray Gosling, royalty, Dr. Who, Sesame Street knit hats, honeybadgers, downsizing your life, facetiming, China as a global power
  12. Out: Halo, flash mobs, electric cars, pita chips, teeth whitening, vampires, flu pandemics, Sarah Palin, Abercrombie & Fitch, foregoing vaccinations, skyping, U.S. as a global power
  13. Deaths:
    1. Steve Jobs (Apple Co. founder & visionary)
    2. Amy Winehouse (troubled singer)
    3. Osama Bin Laden (terrorist leader behidn the 9/11 attacks)
    4. Mohmar Ghadafi (long-time dictator of Lybia)
    5. Borders bookstore
    6. Kim Jung Il (dictator of North Korea)
    7. Andy Rooney (humorist and long-time 60 Minutes correspondent)
    8. Betty Ford (wife of Pres. Gerald Ford & drug/alcohol abuse spokesperson)
    9. Elizabeth Taylor (legendary actress)
    10. Geraldine Feraro (vice presidential candidate)
    11. Joe Frazier (boxer)
    12. Gen. John Shalikashvili (Desert Storm CEO)
    13. Richard Holbrooke (diplomat)
    14. the last U.S. WWI veteran (aged 110)
  14.  Quote of the Year:  "We are the 99 percent." — Occupy movement

Best & Worst of 2011 - News & Politics


Again, am not pretending I generated this list on my own. What I have done is surveyed many of the top news organizations (The New York Times, BBC, Reuters, Time Magazine, etc.) and merged their picks into a single list.  Isn't it convenient to have all this in one place?
  1. The Race for the Republican Nomination.  I understand the tendency of memories to be short but, really, can anyone remember a slate of such "colorful" characters? Michelle Bachman, the loony Tea Party candidate.  Ron Paul, the libertarian.  Romney, the milquetoast Mormon from Vermont.  Herman Cain, the Pizza king.  Donald Trump, he of the gopher-fur hairpiece. Santorum and his internet search issues.  Huntsman, too qualified to be qualified.  Gingrich, the man who practically defines "vainglorious".   Even my Republican friends are shaking their heads in disbelief.
  2. Earthquake/Tsunami in Japan.  A record 9.0-magnitude quake hit Japan, wreaking unimaginable calamity (more than 10,000 dead, miles of coastline villages gone) and perhaps a bit of hubris - turns we humans were really rather stupid to think that if we strengthened our building codes, we could outwit Mother Nature.  And we don't know yet what long-term damage will result from the compromise of the Fukushima nuclear power plant.
  3. "Arab Spring".    Citizens from Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Syria, and Libya rose up. Of course, each country had its own set of unique, complex circumstances and craved its own particular kind of freedom. Yet the domino effect, amplified by social networking, made the Arab Spring appear to be a collective revolt. Some, like Egypt and Tunisia, quickly effected astonishing change, from riot to election. Others followed a more typical, protracted conflict -- some with the death of a leader (Mohamar Ghadafi), others with no end in sight (Syria).
  4. Death Comes to the Dictators.  All in all, 2011 was not a good year to be a dictator.  After 10 years of searching, the U.S. Marines finally located and assassinated Osama Bin Laden, mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, in his (not so) hidden compound in Pakistan.  Meanwhile, in Libya, Mohamar Ghadafi's people took the business into their own hands.  And in North Korea, "natural causes" did what madness couldn't, finally removing Kim Jung-Il from power. "Better the devil you know than the devil you don't" - or so goes the old saying - but I for one am having a hard time imagining devils as bad as these guys.
  5. The U.S. Recession Continues.  The U.S. continued to struggle with unemployment rates that hovered around 10% - and that didn't include an extra 3%  economists suspect of having given up looking for new jobs entirely.  For the first time ever, Standard & Poors actually downgraded our nation's creditworthiness.  And then Congress really scared us by delaying until the last possible moment upping the U.S. debt limit, thus belaying the first ever default of the U.S. on its debt.  Meanwhile, house foreclosure rates accelerated, having hit a bottleneck at the beginning of the year due to legal issues related to a "robo-signing" scandal.  While cities like D.C. remained relatively unimpacted (lucky us!), cities such as Detroit, Vegas, Ft. Myer, Youngstown, and Phoenix continued to experience devastating job and quality of life losses.  
  6. Occupy Wall Street.  Possibly inspired by that old cult hit Network ("We're as mad as hell and we aren't going to take it anymore!"), people camped out in the financial districts of cities across the U.S., demanding financial equity for the "other 99%" of Americans.  Though some news outlets tried to paint the "occupiers" as the flip side of the Tea Party, thus far the movement has not managed to generate the cohesive philosophy and list of demands that has made the Tea Party such a formidable political force.  Maybe it's the whole "camping out" thing ... it's hard to be a taken seriously as a political force when you haven't shaved or bathed in a week.
  7. Continuing Financial Crisis in EU.  The EU continued to struggle with financial instability triggered by the impending bankrupcy of several of its members (Portungal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, Spain - aka "the PIGS").  As Germany frantically negotiated rescue plans and covered failing loan after loan, folks in Greece did their part by rioting against the governments' attempt to implement austerity measures.  Though Germany has managed to solve some currency fluidity issues and to stabalize matters for the time being, no one believes the end of this crisis is in sight.
  8. Withdrawal of U.S. Troops from Iraq.  Obama ostensibly delivered on his promise to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq, though the decision ultimately rested on practical rather than philosophical considerations.  The new Iraqi government wouldn't agree to exempt U.S. soldiers from prosecution for civil crimes, raising the spectre of U.S. soldiers thrown into Iraqi prisons for accidentally wounding or murdering Iraqi citizens in the course of military actions.
  9. The Joplin Tornado.  The most deadly tornado in almost 60yrs killed over 100 people, left another 500 injured, and essentially levelled Joplin, a town of 50,000 people.  In these days of Doppler radar and warning sirens, seems incredible that tornadoes are still capable of wreaking such destruction.  But then, weren't we just talking about hubris and the stupidity of anyone who thinks that humans are capable of out-engineering Mother Nature?
  10. 10th Anniversary of 9/11 Terrorist Attacks.  The 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks was observed with appropriate ceremony and gravity.
  11. Marriage of King William & Kate Middleton.  Thanks goodness, the sensible bride and groom forewent most (though not all) of the "fairy tale" trappings that made his father's wedding to Di such a spectacle.  But anytime you tie the knot in Westminster Cathedral, it's bound to cause a stir.
And just to be thorough, here are some of the "runners up" that appeared on various lists but that I didn't think warranted top billing. Turns out one of the benefits of creating your own list is that you get to pick what goes on it.
  1. States vs. Unions (Wisconsin and elsewhere)
  2. Shooting of U.S. Representative Gabriella Giffords
  3. Dominique Strauss-Khan scandal
  4. Repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" by U.S. military
  5. Anti-Putin protests in Russia
  6. Iran's continuing nuclear ambition
  7. Last launch of the space shuttle (covered in more detail under "Top Science News of 2011" entry)

12/27/2011

Best & Worst of 2011 - Movies & Television


Just to be clear, I possess no credentials that qualify me to pull together a list purporting to include the best and worst movies/television of 2011.  I'm about as unhip and culturally illiterate as Carl Rove.  But the one credential I do possess is curiosity, and a willingness to search the net in order to satisfy that curiosity. 

What this list represents is an informal but fairly comprehensive survey of the opinions of people who actually can lay claim to hipness and/or culturally literacy.  Having said that, I've still exercised my right at the list's compiler to contribute my own opinions and snarky remarks whenever the mood struck me.

Best and Worst Movies of 2011
  1. Milestones, Trends, and Honorable Mentions
    1. The End of Harry Potter.  After the last movie, my now 20yr old son turned to me and said, "I feel like my childhood just officially ended."  Bet it felt that way to thousands of other kids who grew up with the franchise, each new movie marking milestones not just in the lives of Harry et. al., but in the lives of the fans who fell in love with the characters in the original J.K. Rowlings books and then faithfully followed them to the screen.  Some of the books made better movies than others, but taken in whole, the 8 Harry Potter movies combined to form a solid and worthy canon.
    2. The Rise of Streaming Video (aka the self-destruction of Netflix). Was 2011 truly the year that streaming video came of age?  That's certainly what Netflix wanted us all to believe.  Desperate to wring more profit out of the movie delivery business, they foisted streaming video upon their millions of subscribers, blithely unaware - or unconcerned - that folks used to having access to a catalog of 100,000 movies might possibly be miffed at suddenly being able to access only about 10,000 movies - and most of those older, "public access" fare like those ubiquitous Marilyn Monroe films they show every Sunday afternoon on network TV.  Clearly streaming video has not yet "arrived" - whatever Netflix would have us believe - but it is also clear that the era of streaming video isn't far off. 
    3. Movies for Book Club Babes.  This was the year Hollywood finally seemed to figure out that women who read are a viable market.  The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Help, and Water for Elephants were three book club staples that made profits for studios at the box office this year.
  2. Sequels, Superheroes & Remakes
    1. Captain America: The First Avenger
    2. Cars 2
    3. Conan the Barbarian
    4. Final Destination 5.
    5. Footloose
    6. The Green Hornet
    7. The Green Lantern
    8. Happy Feet 2.
    9. The Hangover (pt2)
    10. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (pt 2).  It's the sequel of a sequel - how cool is that!
    11. Kung Fu Panda 2
    12. Midnight in Paris.  Not technically a sequel, but Woody Allen's first flick in ages.
    13. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
    14. The Muppets
    15. Paranormal Activity 3
    16. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Shores
    17. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
    18. Scream 4
    19. Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows
    20. Spy Kids: All the Time in the World
    21. The Three Muskateers
    22. Thor
    23. Transformers: Dark of the Moon
    24. Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn (pt1)
    25. X-Men: First Class
  3. Critics' Favorites:
    1. The Artist
    2. The Descendents
    3. Drive
    4. Hugo
    5. Iron Lady
    6. J. Edgar
    7. Margin Call
    8. Moneyball
    9. Of Gods & Men
    10. Rango
    11. Separation
    12. Shame
    13. Super 8
    14. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
    15. Tree of Life
    16. The Trip
    17. Win Win
  4. Fan Favorites (a mix of movies that made a lot of money + movies that were well-reviewed by ordinary folk)
    1. Cars 2.  Because boys love cars.
    2. Contagion.  Forget Paranormal Activity 3 - this was scary!
    3. Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  Ticket sales were boosted by folks eager to see the movie version of the only book they actually read in 2010-11.
    4. The Hangover 2. Because boys love stupid comedy and fart jokes.
    5. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (pt 2). At last, a series movie that finishes as strong as it began. 
    6. The Help.  It was entertaining and just going to see it made you feel like you were striking a blow for civil rights.
    7. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.  It's on the "fan favorites" list because it made an obscene amount of money, but I haven't yet anyone who felt like their $10 ticket was a good investment.
    8. Puss in Boots.  Continues to amaze me how the folks at Pixar and Dreamworks manage to take preposterous premiseses for movies (the last robot on earth! a mouse that cooks! a house that floats!) and turn them into magic.
    9. Thor.  Because boys loves superheroes, and Thor's hammer was way cooler than Green Lantern's ring, Captain America's lame super-shield.
    10. Transformers: Dark of the Moon.  Because boys love robots.
    11. Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn (pt 1).  Because girls love dysfunctional co-dependent romance.
    12. War Horse.  The "war" part sucked in the men, the "horse" part the women - but both genders stayed for the great plot and message.
  5. Worst Movies of 2011 (Movies that were intentionally bad - to include Christmas movies by chipmunks, bromances about alcoholic binges, and anything with the words "Harold and Kumar" in the title - are deliberately omitted. )
    1. Apollo 18.  The premise was cool - astronauts on the moon discover that they are not alone! - but the follow-through was painfully bad.
    2. Arthur.  This movie was awful the first time, which (you have to think) should have discouraged them from trying again.
    3. Bad Teacher.  Bet Cameron Diaz and Justin Timberlake wish they could have a "do-over".
    4. Cowboys & Aliens.  How can a movie with a kickass name like "Cowboys & Aliens" starring Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig fail to entertain? I'm still wondering what went wrong.
    5. Gnomio and Juliet.  The yard gnome version of Romeo and Juliet. I'm all for exposing kids to the classics young, but is this really the best we can do?  We can only hope Gnomlet, the gnome version of Hamlet, isn't next.
    6. Jack & Jill.  If you buy the premise that you can tell when comedy stars are dying when they resort to wearing fat suits (Eddy Murphy, Martin Lawrence), then this was Adam Sandler's farewell.
    7. Passion Play.  This Mickey Rourke vehicle went for pretentious ... and missed.
    8. Reel Steel. Really? A movie version of the children's toy Rock'm Sock'm Robots?
    9. Rise of the Planet of the Apes.  Not good enough to be entertaining, not bad enough to be mocked.  A waste of good CGI.
    10. Season of the Witch.  Nicholas Gage needs to fire his agent.  Now.
    11. Smurfs.  Their 15 minutes of fame were up, like, 20 years ago, guys!
    12. The Green Lantern.  Some superheroes just aren't ready to make the jump to the big screen. Hope the folks mulling over the possibility of an Aquaman movie take heed. 
    13. Tin Tin.  You didn't have to be a fan of the comic books to appreciate the deft way the producers of this flick captured everything - the action, the exotic locals, the dog, that hairdo! - that made the comic books great.
Best and Worst Television Shows of 2011
  1. Milestones, Trends and Honorable Mentions
    1. The End of Oprah Winfrey.  Her show went out in a blaze of celebrity glory, but I think we all know Oprah Winfrey isn't going anywhere.
    2. The End of Soap Operas.  Just the names - All My Children, One Life to Live - evoke a simpler time, when we truly cared about whether Luke & Laura would ever be happy, when we truly believed that Erica Cane never aged, and when we still bought a product known as "soap flakes."   
    3. Charlie Sheen Goes Postal.  What's more fun than watching a celeb self-destruct, a la Brittany Spears, Mel Gibson, and Tom Cruise?   I suspect the only television Mr. Sheen will be doing from now on is guest appearances on Celebrity Rehab.
    4. WDDW? WDRW?  A survey published towards the end of the year postulated that political convictions shape television viewing habits. So, what did Republicans watch in 2011? The answer was: Swamp Loggers/Top Shot/American Pickers/Swamp People/pretty much every other cable show that features working people, The Bachelor, Castle, Mythbusters, Jay Leno, The Middle, and Biggest Loser.  Meanwhile, Democrats were apparently tuning into Jon Stewart/Steve Colbert, 30 Rock, Parks & Recreation, Glee, Modern Family, Masterpiece Theater, and David Letterman.
  2. Trends
    1. Fairy Tales. Two shows - Once Upon a Time and Grimm - insinuated that fairy tale characters are real and that they walk among us.  I always knew I was Alice in Wonderland ...!
    2. Storage wars, Food wars, Fashion wars.  2011 was the year in which the networks turned everything into a battle for survival, from buying storage units (Storage Wars) to designing clothes (Project Runway), from cooking (Hell's Kitchen) to decorating cakes (Cake Wars).  Can't we all agree that cupcakes and hate don't mix?  
    3. Vampires & Zombies & Ghosts - oh, my!  See ordinary folk try to survive a zombie apocalypse in Walking Dead!  See ghosts terrify innocent folks to death in American Horror Story!  See curiously good-looking vampires brood and menace in True Blood and Vampire DiariesBuffy the Vampire Slayer, you have a lot to answer for.
    4. Apparently, America's Got Talent.  Or so you'd believe, based on the number of television talent shows that filled television timeslots in 2011: American Idol, The X-Factor, The Sing-off, Dancing With the Stars, So You Think You Can Dance, Live to Dance, etc.  The common denominator, of course, isn't actually talent but production costs: these shows are relatively cheap to produce and so not likely to go away anytime soon; though the 2011 seasons of some of the above suggested that maybe America is actually starting to run out of talent ....
    5. Multiple kids.  Hopefully, 2011 was the year in which our fascination with multiple births finally began to fade. Kate + 8 was cancelled, and 19 Kids and Counting, featuring the Duggers, began to lose its charm after the Duggers themselves appeared uninterested in the details of their latest pregnancy. 
  3. Critics' Favorites
    1. Boardwalk Empire
    2. Breaking Bad
    3. Community
    4. Downton Abbey
    5. Enlightened
    6. Friday Night Lights
    7. Game of Thrones
    8. The Good Wife
    9. Homeland
    10. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
    11. Justified
    12. The Middle
    13. Modern Family
    14. Parks & Recreation
  4. Gone but Not Forgotten (shows that bit the dust in 2011)
    1. All My Children
    2. Big Love
    3. Brothers & Sisters
    4. Chicago Code
    5. Entourage
    6. Friday Night Lights
    7. Hannah Montana
    8. Kate + 8. 
    9. Law and Order: Criminal Intent/Law and Order: LA
    10. Lopez Tonight.
    11. Men of a Certain Age
    12. One Life to Live
    13. Oprah Winfrey Show
    14. Rescue Me
    15. Smallville
  5. Still Good Fun
    1. Mythbusters
    2. Big Bang Theory
    3. 30 Rock
    4. Raising Hope
    5. Sons of Anarchy
  6. Controversial
    1. All American Muslim.   People protested this show because it dared to suggest that Muslims are people too.  Really - couldn't make this stuff up if I tried.
    2. The Playboy Club.  Sad to think about all the energy womens' groups expended protesting a show that turned out to be so bad, it would have died a natural death even earlier if they hadn't called so much attention to it.
  7. Declining
    1. Glee.  The producers have turned this into a character-driven drama, forgetting that what attracted viewers that first glorious year was the outrageous plot devices (bring "evil Sue" back!), the "plucky outsiders" storyline, and the over-the-top musical numbers.  
    2. The Simpsons.  The ocassional episode still rises to the challenge, but these days more episodes are lame than not.  Maybe - God help us - it's time to retire Homer et. al.?
    3. How I Met Your Mother.  This show is getting way too whiny, and not in an entertaining Seinfeld kind of way. 
    4. The Office.  A valient effort, but it just isn't the same without Steve Carroll.
    5. Two and a Half Men.  Forget the Charlie Sheen controversy - this should have been retired when the kid entered his obnoxious teen years.  No one needs to see that.
    6. Project Runway.  Lost what charm it had once the show became more about the whiny contestants than the fashion.
  8. Duds (shows that debuted and then promptly disappeared)
    1. Pan Am.  Visually, the show was gloriously glamorous.  Too bad the plots were decidedly less entertaining. 
    2. The Playboy Club.  It's almost hard to imagine how they made a show about The Playboy Club boring, but somehow they managed it.
    3. Terra Nova.  Humans travel back to the past and coexist with dinosaurs!  This idea wasn't even good enough to sustain the truly awful children's show Land of the Lost back in the 70s, and even cool CGI dinosaurs weren't enough to make it work in the '10s 
  9. Worst TV of 2011
    1. Charlie's Angels.  Once the writers ran out of plot devices that justified the angels walking around in bikinis, what was the point?
    2. Jersey Shore.  Someone should step in and stop the exploitation of stupid people by television producers.  Then again, what would MTV do for programming if that happened?
    3. Memphis Beat.   The producers claimed that folks weren't ready to accept the "My Name is Earl" guy in a serious role.  Never mind that the scripts were painfully bad and I could never figure out why the guy was singing.
    4. The New Girl.   Some critics actually liked this show, but I side with the vast majority that found the doe-eyed starlette in the lead role as annoyingly cute as weaponized kittens.
    5. Teen Mom 2 / 16 and Pregnant.  Shows like these remind me why we don't televise executions: we may pretend the purpose is to provide a deterrent, but we all know the reason people watch is the voyeuristic thrill of witnessing people self-destructing before our eyes.
    6. Dance Moms / Toddlers & Tiaras. Actual children are harmed in the making of this program.
    7. Terra Nova.  See above.
    8. X-Factor.  Hey, let's take American Idol but make the venue even more grotesquely extravagent, the guest appearances even more painfully inappropriate, the host even more patronizing, the contestants even more whiny, and the judges even more cruel!  And if we're really lucky, we may even bully some of the contestants into bursting into tears on air ...
    9. Real Housewives of ....  Insert whatever city name you want; these women were definitely something, but they sure weren't housewives.

11/20/2011

Board Games That Could Be Made Into Movies


Once Hollywood started turning theme park rides into movies, figured it wouldn't be long before they started looking for inspiration in the aisles of Toys 'R' Us.  After all, they did actually make a movie version of Clue a while ago, and isn't Hunt for Red October pretty much just a movie version of Battleship? Recently a movie called Reel Steel appeared in local theaters, a flick about fighting robots that had to have been inspired Rock'm Sock'm Robots, whether they'll admit it or not.

Here are a bunch of other childhood favorites that Hollywood may wish to consider:
  1. Candyland.  A group of teens dare each other to spend the night in an abandoned candy factory.  Just one problem: the factory is already inhabited by a demented candy-maker.  Ever since the original 1971 version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory this one's been swirling in my head - you just had to look into Gene Wilder's eyes to know he was one gobstopper away from being a serial killer. 
  2. Snakes and Ladders.  Cave explorers discover a magnificent underground cavern system.  Just one problem: it's infested with deadly snakes!  Will they escape with their lives?
  3. Hungry, Hungry Hippos.  A television crew filming an Ultimate Fishing show on the mighty Amazon River start disappearing one by one ...
  4. Life.  A screwball comedy version along the lines of Ultimate Race, in which 5 families (chosen because of their dysfunctionality) are given a mini-van and 2 weeks to follow the clues that will lead to a $10M prize.  Along the way they have to complete different kooky career-like tasks (a la the glorious "candy factory" episode of I Love Lucy), care for a baby (I'm thinking the mechanical kind they use for "family life" classes at high schools - lots of zany possibilities there), participate in a college scavenger hunt ("find a fraternity boy who will admit to being a virgin!"), etc.  They'll definitely need to haul Chevy Chase out of retirement for this one. 
  5. Barrel of Monkeys.  Mutant monkeys on an isolated island sneak into the cargo bay of a tourist plane and wreaking havoc once they reach the city.  A cross between Snakes on a Plane and Planet of the Apes?
  6. Operation.  Like those Saw movies, except the psycho killer forces people to operate on their loved ones.  Undoubtedly without anesthesia.
  7. Stratego.  Two kids playing a wargame don't realize that simultaneously, in an alternate reality, their battle is actually happening.
  8. Cooties.  The next big thing - and I do mean Big Thing - after Godzilla: bugs that have been accidentally irradiated and mutated into monstrous size.
  9. Kerplunk.  A group of explorers have discovered a magical city of gold hidden beneath a mountain of boulders.  Can the extract the gold without the boulders collapsing and killing them all?
  10. Monopoly.  The sequel to Wall Street that they should have made, instead of the awful mess they tried to foist on us a couple of years ago.
  11. Sorry.  A distopian sci-fi vehicle, a la Hunger Games, in which slaves complete a contest to win their freedom, but if they lose they get sent back into slavery  
  12. Mystery Date.  A sweet rom-com vehicle in which three girls go forth in search of their "perfect man" ... only to realize, after many kooky mishaps, that they have each fallen in love with a guy that's the opposite of what they thought they wanted.
  13. Thin Ice.  A thriller involving a group of people stranded in the arctic by a plane crash who have to cross frozen ice in order to reach safety ... but will they survive the crossing? 
  14. Ants in the Pants.  An animated Pixar-type flick in which ants are forced out of their nest by an evil landscaping company and take up residence in an curmudgeonly old businessman's pants.  All turns out for the best in the end, though, because the ants teach him how the key to success in business - and life - is working as a team.
  15. Mr. Potatohead.  A horror film in which a modern-day Dr. Frankenstein merges vegetable and human DNA, creating a monstrous human-potato clone that terrorizes a rural community.
  16. Mousetrap.  A serial killer prepares elaborate labyrinth-type traps to torture and torment his victims before the cage finally falls over their heads (metaphorically speaking).

11/09/2011

Book Look - Poisoner's Handbook, Deborah Blum



I thoroughly enjoyed this nonfiction account of poison, prohibition, jazz, justice, and the birth of forensic science in America. The book is loosely organized by poisons, with chapters devoted to poisons from pedestrian (arsenic, cyanide, carbon dioxide, nicotine, various toxic alcohols) to exotic (mercury, chloroform, radium). Along the way the author, a Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer, invites us on a leisurely stroll through a fascinating period in US history, an era in which thugs regularly chloroformed whole families in order to rob their house; arsenic was so commonly used to bump off rich relatives, it came to be known as "the inheritance powder"; cobalt-colored "blue men" poisoned themselves for profit; "radium girls" exhaled radium gas as their skeletons literally disintegrated; products sold over-the-counter regularly contained quantities of lethal substances; and the government knowingly poisoned alcohols that the bootleggers regularly sold to the unwitting public.

Not hooked yet? What if I told you that in addition to all of the above, the author includes detailed accounts of some of the most notorious poison murders of the era? And what if I told you that your journey would include a panoramic overview of New York City during the jazz age, including vignettes devoted to speakeasies, celebrities, and socialites, corrupt Tamany Hall politicians, drunken coroners, mobsters, tenements, ruthless industrialists, and body-snatching undertakers? And what if I told you that by the end of the novel you'll be able to speak intelligently about the chemical properties that cause cyanide to be lethal, the physiological explanation for why alcoholics hold their liquor better than novice drinkers, an easy test that infallibly proves the presence of thallium in tissue, and the steps by which brain tissue can be mashed, steamed, mixed with various acids, distilled and separated in order to reveal the telltale markers of nicotine poisoning?

Honestly, haven't enjoyed a non-fiction book this much in a long time. Yes, the author sometimes wanders off on tangents, and the depth/detail of her storytelling is necessarily constrained by the availability of historical records, but I doubt you'll care. I certainly didn't.

Just one caution: you may wish to consider the extent to which you decide to share your newly-acquired expertise with your spouse and close friends. They may find your new zeal and enthusiasm re. all things poisonous just a little offputting ...!

11/04/2011

Shakespeare's Contribution to the English Language


I'm not sure we'll ever be able to rationalize or explain the prodigious talent of Shakespeare (or whoever he may have been).  But in case you may be thinking that reports of his genius and influence on culture/literature/language are exaggerated, I offer the following post as proof to the contrary.

By the way, if you find this post to be of interest, you may also wish to check out my compilation of Shakespeare Trivia.
  1. Shakespeare wrote 37 plays in approximately 21 years
  2. His vocabulary, as culled from his works, numbers upward of 17,000 words
    1. Average citizens of England in Shakespeare's day possessed a vocabulary of ~500 words
    2. Today's most celebrated poets/authors typically utilize a vocabulary of 7,500 words
  3. Of the 17,000 words included in his texts, 1,700 were first used by Shakespeare
    1. Some of the 1,700 words that Shakespeare invented that are still in common usage today: academe, accommodation, accused, addiction, advertising, aerial, amazement, apostrophe, arouse, assassination, auspicious, backing, bandit, barefaced, baseless, bedroom, beached, besmirch, bet, birthplace, blanket, bloodstained, bloody, blushing, bump, buzzer, caked, castigate, cater, champion, circumstantial, clangor, cold-blooded, compromise, control (noun), countless, courtship, countless, critic, critical, dauntless, dawn, deafening, dexterously, discontent, dishearten, dislocate, drugged, dwindle, epileptic, equivocal, elbow, excitement, exposure, eventful, eyeball, fashionable, fitful, fixture, flawed, frugal, generous, gloomy, gnarled, gossip, green-eyed, grovel, gust, hint, hobnob, hurried, impede, impartial, inauspicious, indistinguishable, invulnerable, jaded, label, lackluster, lapse, laughable, lonely, lower, luggage, lustrous, madcap, majestic, marketable, metamorphize, mimic, misplaced, monumental, moonbeam, mountaineer, multituinous, negotiate, noiseless, obscene, obsequiously, ode, olympian, outbreak, panders, pedant, perusal, pious, premeditated, puking, radiance, rant, reliance, remorseless, road, sanctimonious, savagery, scuffle, seamy, secure, skim milk, sportive, submerge, summit, suspicious, swagger, torture, tranquil, undress, unreal, varied, vaulting, worthless, zany
    2. Shakespeare is credited by the Oxford English Dictionary with the introduction of nearly 3,000 words into the language.
    3. Words Shakespeare invented but that have not entered common usage: affined, attasked, cadent, to beetle, bubukles, co-marts, co-mates, congreeing, conspectuities, crants, credent, dispunge, enactures, fracted, germins, immoment, impair, incarnadine, incorpsed, indigest, intrenchant, irregulous, jointing, mered, mirable, mistempered, operant, oppugnancy, palmy, out-crafted, out-villained, out-tongued, plantage, primogenitive, primy, propugnation, relume, reprobance, rigol, rooky, roted, rubious, smilets, to stell, stelled, supplyment, unsisting, virgined (held securely)
  4. 8,598 of the words in Shakespeare's texts appear only once.  (Scholars refer to these as 'nonce words'.)
  5. Some of the most common techniques Shakespeare employed in creating new words:
    1. changing nouns into verbs
    2. changing verbs into adjectives
    3. connecting words never before used together
    4. adding prefixes and suffixes
    5. devising words wholly original.
  6. The most commonly occuring words in Shakespeare's writings include (in order): the, and, I, to, of, a, you, my, that, in, is, not, with, s', for, it, me, his, be, he
  7. Some of the most commonly occurring words in Shakespeare's texts that are not in common usage today: anon, art, dost/doth, ere, fain, fie, hark, hence, hie, hither/thither, hath, ho, mark, marry, pray/prithee, saucy, sirrah, thee/thou/thy, whence, wherefore
  8. Shakespeare uses double negatives in spots and phrases such as "most unkindest" with regularity
  9. He often used verbs that do not agree with their subjects
  10. He often altered the structure of sentences (subject/predicate)
  11. He also invented many phrases that are still in common usage today:
    1. All one to me
    2. all our yesterdays
    3. as good luck would have it
    4. as merry as the day is long
    5. as pure as driven snow
    6. bated breath
    7. bag and baggage
    8. be all and end all
    9. beast with two backs
    10. brave new world
    11. break the ice
    12. breathed his last
    13. catch a cold
    14. come what may
    15. crack of doom
    16. dash to pieces
    17. dead as a doornail
    18. devil incarnate
    19. disgraceful conduct
    20. dish fit for the gods
    21. eaten me out of house and home
    22. elbow room
    23. even at the turning of the tide
    24. faint-hearted
    25. fair play
    26. fancy-free
    27. fight fire with fire
    28. flaming youth
    29. for goodness' sake
    30. foregone conclusion
    31. forever and a day
    32. foul play
    33. full circle
    34. the game is afoot
    35. the game is up
    36. give the devil his due
    37. good men and true
    38. good riddance
    39. green eyed monster
    40. heart of gold
    41. heartsick
    42. heart's content
    43. her infinite variety
    44. high time
    45. hoisted with his own petard
    46. hot-blooded
    47. housekeeping
    48. in my mind's eye
    49. in stitches
    50. in the twinkling of an eye
    51. infinite space
    52. it smells to heaven
    53. itching palms
    54. kill with kindness
    55. killing frost
    56. knock, knock! who's there?
    57. laid on with a trowel
    58. lean and hungry look
    59. leapfrog
    60. lie low
    61. like the dickens
    62. live long day
    63. long-haired
    64. make short shrift
    65. make your hair stand on end
    66. melted into thin air
    67. milk of human kindness
    68. minds' eye
    69. ministering angel
    70. more fool you
    71. more honored in the breach than in the observance
    72. more in sorrow than in anger
    73. more sinned against than sinning
    74. much ado about nothing
    75. murder most foul
    76. my salad days
    77. neither rhyme nor reason
    78. night owl
    79. not slept one wink
    80. obvious as a nose on a man's face
    81. off with his head
    82. once more into the breach
    83. one fell swoop
    84. one that loved not wisely but too well
    85. out of the jaws of death
    86. own flesh and blood
    87. pitched battle
    88. pomp and circumstance
    89. pound of flesh
    90. primrose path
    91. refuse to budge an inch
    92. rhyme nor reason
    93. salad days
    94. sea change
    95. seen better days
    96. send him packing
    97. set my teeth on edge
    98. shall I compare thee to a summer's day
    99. the short and long of it
    100. short shrift
    101. sick at heart
    102. shuffle off this mortal coil
    103. snail-paced
    104. something in the wind
    105. a sorry sight
    106. sound and fury
    107. spotless reputation
    108. stony hearted
    109. star-crossed lovers
    110. strange bedfellows
    111. such stuff as dreams are made of
    112. sweets to the sweet
    113. swift as a shadow
    114. the milk of human kindness
    115. the Queen's English
    116. thereby hangs a tale
    117. there's no such thing
    118. there's the rub
    119. this mortal coil
    120. too much of a good thing
    121. tower of strength
    122. towering passion
    123. towering passion
    124. up in arms
    125. vanish into thin air
    126. wear one's heart on one's sleeve
    127. what a piece of work
    128. what the dickens
    129. wild goose chase
    130. witching hour
    131. witching time of night
    132. woe is me
    133. yoeman's service
  12. Shakespeare also invented many "bon mots" which are still in common usage today. Here are some of the most well known:
    1. a plague on both your houses
    2. all's well that ends well
    3. better a witty fool than a foolish wit
    4. brevity is the soul of wit
    5. every dog will have his day
    6. clothes make the man
    7. conscious does make cowards of us all
    8. discretion is the better part of valor
    9. frailty, thy name is woman
    10. how sharper than the serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child
    11. I will wear my heart upon my sleve
    12. it's an ill wind which blows no man to good
    13. jealousy is the green-eyed monster
    14. love is blind
    15. make a virtue of necessity
    16. misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows
    17. neither a borrower nor a lender be
    18. nothing in his life became him like the leaving it
    19. parting is such sweet sorrow
    20. smooth runs the water where the brook is deep (aka "still waters run deep")
    21. something wicked this way comes
    22. the better part of valour is discretion
    23. the course of true love never did run true
    24. the lady doth protest too much
    25. the quality of mercy is not strained
    26. the world's my oyster
    27. though this be madness, yet there is method in it ("there's a method to my madness")
    28. to thine own self be true
    29. truth will out
    30. what fools these mortals be
    31. what's done is done
    32. what's in a name?
    33. what's past is prologue
    34. wish is father to that thought
  13. Some famous quotes from Shakespeare's texts:
    1. A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool. (As You Like It)
    2. A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse! (Richard III)
    3. A plague on both your houses! (Romeo & Juliet)
    4. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. (Romeo & Juliet)
    5. Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety, (Antony & Cleopatra)
    6. Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio (Hamlet)
    7. All that glitters is not gold. (Merchant of Venice)
    8. All the world's a stage, and all the men and women mere players. They have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts. (As You Like It)
    9. Beware the ides of March! (Julius Caesar)
    10. Screw your courage to the sticking-place. (Henry V)
    11. Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once. (Julius Caesar)
    12. Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war! (Julius Caesar)
    13. Double, double, toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble! (Macbeth)
    14. Et tu, Brute? (Julius Caesar)
    15. Eye of newt and toe of frog, wool of bat and tongue of dog (Macbeth)
    16. Fie, foh, and fum, I smell the blood of a British man! (King Lear)
    17. Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears! (Julius Caesar)
    18. Goodnight, goodnight! Parting is such sweet sorrow! (Romeo & Juliet)
    19. I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips. (Henry V)
    20. If music be the food of love, play on! (Twelfth Night)
    21. If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? (Merchant of Venice)
    22. Is this a dagger which I see before me? (Macbeth)
    23. The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves. (Julius Caesar)
    24. Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more; it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. (Macbeth)
    25. Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none. (All's Well That Ends Well)
    26. Now is the winter of our discontent. (Richard III)
    27. O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo? (Romeo & Juliet)
    28. Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more! (Henry V)
    29. Screw your courage to the sticking place. (Henry V)
    30. Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate. (Sonnet 18)
    31. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon 'em. (Twelfth Night)
    32. Something is rotten in the state of Denmark. (Macbeth)
    33. The course of true love never did run smooth. (Midsummer Night's Dream)
    34. The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones. (Julius Caesar)
    35. The quality of mercy is not strained. (Merchant of Venice)
    36. The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.  (Hamlet)
    37. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy. (Hamlet)
    38. There's method in my madness. (Hamlet)
    39. This precious stone set in the silver sea ... this blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England. (Richard II)
    40. To be or not to be, that is the question. (Hamlet)
    41. To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub. (Hamlet)
    42. Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. (Henry IV, Part II)
    43. We are such stuff as dreams are made on (The Tempest)
    44. We few, we happy few, we band of brothers (Henry V)
    45. What a piece of work is man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god. (Hamlet)
    46. What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. (Romeo & Juliet)
    47. Who ever loved that loved not at first sight? (As You Like It)

10/30/2011

25+ Websites That Will Make You Think


Does your family accuse you of wasting time on the internet? Follow these sites on Twitter/Facebook/RSS and dazzle folks at the next family gathering with your academic and cultural insights.
  1. Academic Earth. Free university video courses spanning a range of subjects including history, chemistry and computer science.  Why pay $50K a year when you can just take the courses online?
  2. All Things Human. This website has interesting things about the most fascinating creature. (Guess who’s the most fascinating creature.)
  3. Arts and Letters Daily. A great collection of articles, essays, disputes and reviews by a select collection of bloggers and publications.
  4. Arts Journal. A "daily digest of arts, culture, and ideas," sure to provide stimulation for aesthetes and intellectuals.
  5. BBC Dimensions (aka HowBigReally). This website takes important places, events and things, and overlays them onto a map of where you are. Seriously fascinating stuff. 
  6. Big Think. The Big Think website is a collection of ‘global thought leaders’ who offer their thoughts and analysis on world events and other important developments
  7. Brain Pickings. A discovery engine for interestingness, culling and curating cross-disciplinary curiosity-quenchers, and separating the signal from the noise to bring you things you didn’t know you were interested in until you realize you are.
  8. The Browser. Collects journalism from around the internet judged to be of lasting value to the general intelligent reader. Also has a section where they invite experts to recommend the best reading in their given fields of interest.
  9. Cafe Scientifique. A forum for debating the latest issues in science and technology.
  10. Cosmo Learning.  Founded with the objective of providing free learning from the world's top scholars, gathers and organizes educational content in an easy-to-use environment. 
  11. The Edge. Seeks out the most complex and sophisticated minds, puts them in a room together, and has them ask each other the questions they are asking themselves.
  12. Eyewitness to History. A collection of eyewitness accounts and media from the ancient world through to modern history.  Cut through the spin and get the information straight from the source.
  13. Forum Network. A website formed of a partnership between PBS and NPR that gives access to video lectures by some of the world’s foremost scholars, authors, artists, scientists, and policymakers.
  14. Gapminder.  Shows the world’s most important trends: CO2 emissions, HIV spreading, internet users, and the wealth and health of nations.
  15. How Stuff Works. An enormous website that explains the workings of everything from electronics to déjà vu.
  16. Information is Beautiful.  Takes information - facts, data, ideas - and turns it into well-designed charts, graphs and data visualizations
  17. Khan Academy. A not-for-profit dedicated to changing education for the better by providing a free world-class education to anyone anywhere.
  18. The Long Now Foundation. The Long Now Foundation hopes to provide a counterpoint to today's accelerating culture and help make long-term thinking more common. We hope to creatively foster responsibility in the framework of the next 10,000 years.
  19. Mental Floss. Where knowledge junkies get their fix.  I'm definitely addicted!
  20. MIT Open Coursewear. You can read through course materials, lectures, even experience audio and video from the classroom.
  21. New Scientist. Carries new articles from the magazine as well as the NS archive of over 76,000 pieces
  22. Newser. A platform that aggregates current events from hundreds of newspapers and sorts them by their level of interest and popularity. Each news story is presented in a two paragraph, easy-to-read format, with links to the original story source. In this format, you can get the main idea of hundreds of events going in the world, and if you want a more in-depth idea, you can always click on the links to read the full article.
  23. Open Culture. "The best free cultural and educational media on the web" - and they aren't kidding.
  24. PSFK. Though focused on design, advertising, and technology, a must-read for anyone who wants to be on the cusp of new trends and emerging ideas
  25. TED. Brings together the most brilliant minds to teach us about issues that matter
  26. Thinking Allowed. The Thinking Allowed series aired on as many as 120 public TV stations in the U.S. and Canada for more than 18 years. The program features many of the world's leading scholars, researchers, writers and teachers and covers a broad range of topics
  27. Top Documentary Films. 100s of top quality documentaries
  28. The WWW Virtual Library.  Relies on a consortium of experts around the world to present the richest content available on the Web in a broad range of subject areas.

10/14/2011

Cool Trivia About the English Language



I love trivia about the English language!  The following examples are pulled from all over the internet, so can't vouch for their veracity, but they sound likely.

Did you know ....
  1. Letters
    1. The most commonly used letter in the alphabet is 'e'. (1 out of every 8 letters written is an 'e'.)
    2. The least used letter in the alphabet is 'q'.
    3. The youngest letters in the English language are 'j', 'v', and 'w'.
    4. The letter 'w' is the only letter in the alphabet that doesn't have one syllable. (It has three.)
    5. Skiing is the only word with double 'i'.
    6. 'Subbookkeeper' is the only word in common English with four consecutive double letters.
    7. There are only three words in the English language with the letter combination 'uu': muumuu, vacuum and continuum.
    8. Words that contain the letter combination 'abc': abcaree, abchalazal, abcoulomb, crabcake, dabchick, drabcloth.
    9. words that contain the letter combination 'xyz': hydroxyzine, xyzzor.
    10. As recently as the 19th century, the ampersand (&) was considered to be the 27th letter of the alphabet.  It was called “and” or sometimes “et”. "Ampersand" is a distortion of  “and per se and,” which is what children were taught to say after "z." 
  2. Word Parts/Affixes
    1. Dreamt is the only word that ends in '-mt'.
    2. there are only 4 words in the English language which end in '-dous': hazardous, horrendous, stupendous, tremendous.
    3. Only 3 words in standard English begin with the letter combination 'dw-': dwarf, dwindle, dwell.
    4. 'Underground' and 'underfund' are the only words in the English language that begin and end with the letters 'und'.
    5. 'Angry' and 'hungry' are the only words in the English language ending in '-gry'.
  3. Fun with Words
    1. The most commonly used word in English conversation is 'I'.
    2. The most commonly used words in written English include: the, of, and, a, to, in, is, you, it, he, for, was, on, are, as, with, his, they, at, be, this, from, I, have, or, by, one, had, not, but, what, all, were, when, we, there, can, an, your, which, their, said, if, do.
    3. The word 'set' has more definitions than any other word in the English language. (192 definitions.)
    4. The longest one syllable words in the English language are 'screeched', 'scratched' and 'strengths'.
    5. The shortest 5 syllable word in the english language is 'ideology'.
    6. The longest word in common English is 'pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis'.
    7. The longest word in common English with no repeated letters is 'uncopyrightable'.
    8. 'Floccinaucinihilipilification' is the longest word without the letter 'e'. 
    9. The word 'thitherwards' contains 23 words that can be made without rearranging any of its letters: a, ar, ard, ards, er, he, her, hi, hit, hithe, hither, hitherward, hitherwards, I, it, ither, the, thitherward, thitherwards, wa, war, ward, wards.
    10. The word 'almost' is the longest word in common English with all the letters in alphabetical order. ('Aegilops' is longer, but not in common usage.)
    11. 'Spoonfed' is the longest word in common English with its letters arranged in reverse alphabetical order.
    12. The longest words in which no letter appears more than once: dermatoglyphics, misconjudatedly, uncopyrightable, subdermatoglyphic.
    13. The longest words in which each letter occurs at least twice: unprosperousness, esophagographers.
    14. Words in which a single letter is used 6 times: degenerescence, indivisibility, nonannouncement. 
    15. The longest word in common English that is a natural palindrome: redivider.
    16. The longest words that are reverse images of each other: stressed/desserts.
    17. Words that have no singular plural form: alms, amends, braces, cattle, clothes, doldrums, eaves, folk/folks, ides, marginalia, pants, pliers, scissors, shorts, smithereens, trousers.
    18. Non-scientific words that are anagrams of each other: representationalism/misrepresentational; conservationalists/conversationalists; internationalism/interlaminations; interrogatives/reinvestigator/tergiversation.
    19. Words that consist of consecutive letters (with no repeats): rust, struv, feigh, hefig, fighed.
  4. Fun with Vowels
    1. The word 'queueing' is the only English word with five consecutive vowels.
    2. Words that contain all five (or six, if you append "ly") vowels in alphabetical order: abstemious, abstentious, adventitious, aerious, annelidous, arsenious,  arterious, caesious, facetious.
    3. Words which contain all five vowels in reverse alphabetical order: duoliteral, quodlibetal, subcontinental, uncomplimentary, unnoticeably, unproprietary.
    4. 'Strengths' is the longest word with only one vowel.
    5. "Rhythms" is the longest English word without the normal vowels, a, e, i, o, or u.  (Twyndyllyngs is longer, but not in common usage.)
    6. Words that begin and end with vowels, but have no vowels in between: asthma, isthmi, aphtha, eltchi.
    7. The longest word that consists entirely of alternating vowels and consonants is 'honorific/abilitud/initati/bus'.
  5.  Phonics
    1. The most commonly occuring sound in spoken English is the sound of 'a' in 'alone'.  (Followed by 'e' as in key; 't' as in 'top'; 'd' as in 'dip'.)
    2. 'Of' is the only commonly used word in which the 'f' is pronounced like a 'v'. (also hereof, thereof, whereof.)
    3. No words in the English language rhyme with month, wasp, depth, orange, silver or purple.
    4. The following sentence contains seven spellings of the [i] ("ee") sound: "He believed Caesar could see people seizing the seas."
    5. The follow sentence contains nine ways the combination "ough" can be pronounced: "A rough-coated, dough-faced, thoughtful ploughman strode through the streets of Scarborough; after falling into a slough, he coughed and hiccoughed. 
  6. Typewriting
    1. Scientists say the easiest sound for the human ear to hear is 'ah'.
    2. The longest words typeable on a qwerty keyboard with left hand:  desegregated, desegregates, reverberated, reverberates, stewardesses, watercresses. (Aftercataracts and tesseradecades are longer, but not in common usage.)
    3. The longest word typeable on a qwerty keyboard with right hand: homophony, homophyly, nonillion, pollinium, polyonomy, polyphony.
  7. Synonyms/Antonyms
    1. The following words have two synonyms that are antonyms: cleave (adhere, separate), cover (conceal, expose), sanction (approve, prohibit), transparent (hidden, known), trim (garnish, prune).
    2. Synonyms that should be antonyms but aren't: flammable/inflammable, toxicant/intoxicant.
  8. Symbols
    1. The dot on top of the letter 'i' is called a tittle.
    2. The symbol on the "pound" key (#) is called an octothorpe.
  9. Just for fun:
    1. English is arguably the richest in vocabulary; and that the Oxford English Dictionary lists about 500,000 words, and there are a half-million technical and scientific terms still uncatalogued.
    2. The highest scoring word in the English language game of Scrabble is 'quartzy'.  (This will score 164 points if played across a red triple-word square with the 'z' on a light blue double-letter square.)
    3. 'Go' is the shortest complete sentence in the English language.
    4. Victor Hugo's Les Miserables contains one of the longest sentences in the French language - 823 words without a period.
    5. 'Cabbaged', 'debagged', and 'fabaceae' are the longest words that can be played on a musical instrument.
    6. 'Q' is the only letter that does not appear in the name of any of the U.S. states.
    7. The names of all the continents end with the same letter that they start with.
    8. The oldest word in the English language is 'town'.
    9. The ten most commonly used verbs in the English language are: be, have, do, go, say, can, will, see, take, get.  (All are irregular.)
    10. Words that used to be trademarks but have since entered into common usage: aspirin,  bandaid, breathalyzer, cellophane, ditto, dry ice, dumpster, escalator, frisbee, granola, heroin, jacuzzi, jeep, jello, kerosene, kleenex, popsicle, q-tip, rollerblade, scotch tape, sheetrock, styrofoam, tabloid, tarmac, thermos, trampoline, windbreaker, yo-yo, zipper.
    11. The word 'lethologica' describes the state of not being able to remember the word you want.