The Most Common Place for a Missed Connection in Georgia: Your Car

Take a look at the map below:

MISSED_conn

It’s a summary of a scholarly study by Dorothy Gambrell of the “missed connections” section of Craigslist. The biggest item that stood out for me: most missed connections happened in the car for the state of Georgia (my home state).

Andrew Sullivan adds:

Nationally, the chart shows that great arc of life. In your twenties, you are most likely to think you’ve caught the eye of someone in an ice cream shop; in your thirties, in a bar; in your forties, a strip club or adult bookstore (those still exist?).  That sounds like the trajectory of the single male to me, doesn’t it? With almost the precision of a novel.

Now look at the South – more people spy love at Wal-Mart than anywhere else, from Florida all the way to New Mexico. And that thread runs all the way through deep red America. Only Oklahoma cites the state fair as a mixer. The rest see each other under the merciless lighting of the giant super-store. This is how we fall in love or lust, where we flirt and look back: when we’re shopping. The big cities – like NYC and DC – showcase the random human interaction on the subway or metro. The Northwest has it all going on on buses.

At least Wal-Mart wasn’t on top of the list for Georgia… With the amount of time Georgia drivers spend on the road commuting to work, it makes sense that the car would be the place for the most common missed connection. It’s certainly happened with me, though I’ve never posted an ad on Craigslist.

A Fascinating Life Story of a “Shut-in”

Without revealing his name, the author of a post titled “I’m a shut-in. This is my story” explains his background, childhood, struggles with authority and depression, and the decisions he’s made in his life to bring him to his current state. I spent about an hour reading his story. It’s fascinating. The purpose for his post, as he writes:

Publishing this was hard but it felt like my only option. For years I have not been living my life, I have been delaying it. Five years ago I paused my life and now it’s time to choose between play or stop. I’m pressing play. The world pushed me and instead of pushing back I hid, now I’m pushing back. I’m determined to be myself no matter the consequences.

The beginning is compelling:

There are a lot of names for people like me. We are called shut-ins, hermits, recluses and so on. These words mean different things depending on what media you have been exposed to. To some, a hermit is a monastic human living high in the Himalayas connecting with his inner self through meditation and isolation. Some picture a crazy, bearded, old fellow, cooking up whiskey deep in the Appalachian wilderness. Some picture a Howard Hughes type, they imagine man that harvests his fignernails and wears tinfoil hats to keep the aliens out.

Preconceptions are a difficult thing to overcome. The meanings we assume of words are our biggest obstacle to communication. Instead of fighting an uphill battle against meanings, let us leave the words we know behind and introduce a new one.

Hikikomori is a Japanese word which means “pulling inward”. It has been used as a label to describe an emerging phenomenon in Japan, that of adolescents withdrawing from the world. We aren’t going to stick to any hard definitions ofhikikimori. Instead, we are going to use it only as a convenient placeholder to refer to a spectrum of individuals similar to, but not necessarily, like me.

I particularly enjoyed the author’s comparison of skill level required to master chess vs. checkers:

Chess lacks criticalness, which makes it much easier to play well. In chess you can conduct yourself on general principles and get by quite well. Checkers is a game of calculation and brute pattern recognition, chess is a game of principles. There is a famous chess quote that say “chess is 99% tactics”, this is literally true in checkers. Once you get the hang of learning checkers the learning curve becomes a matter of relentless training.

The footnoting is excellent–you could tell the author put a lot of thought into crafting them (there’s a David Foster Wallace-eque quality to them). A few passages triggered a response of “I’ve behaved similarly in the past; what is wrong with me?”

It’s a fascinating read.

I sincerely hope K-2052 (the pseudonym of the author of the post) finds what he is looking for in his renewed quest to make his life fulfilling.

Suspense in Norway: A TV Show on Firewood Burning

Everything about this New York Times piece about a national show that aired in Norway sounds like a joke. But it isn’t. The Norwegians are obsessed with firewood:

There is no question that it is a popular topic. “Solid Wood” spent more than a year on the nonfiction best-seller list in Norway. Sales so far have exceeded 150,000 copies — the equivalent, as a percentage of the population, to 9.5 million in the United States — not far below the figures for E. L. James’s Norwegian hit “Fifty Shades Fanget,” proof that thrills come in many forms.

“National Firewood Night,” as Friday’s program was called, opened with the host, Rebecca Nedregotten Strand, promising to “try to get to the core of Norwegian firewood culture — because firewood is the foundation of our lives.” Various people discussed its historical and personal significance. “We’ll be sawing, we’ll be splitting, we’ll be stacking and we’ll be burning,” Ms. Nedregotten Strand said.

But the real excitement came when the action moved, four hours later, to a fireplace in a Bergen farmhouse.

Perhaps you have seen a log fire burning on television before. But it would be very foolish to confuse Norway’s eight-hour fireplace extravaganza on Friday with the Yule log broadcast in the United States at Christmastime.

While the Yule log fire plays on a constant repeating loop, the fire on “National Firewood Night” burned all night long, in suspensefully unscripted configurations. Fresh wood was added through the hours by an NRK photographer named Ingrid Tangstad Hatlevoll, aided by viewers who sent advice via Facebook on where exactly to place it.

A typical reaction:

“I couldn’t go to bed because I was so excited,” a viewer called niesa36 said on the Dagbladet newspaper Web site. “When will they add new logs? Just before I managed to tear myself away, they must have opened the flue a little, because just then the flames shot a little higher.

You can’t make up the suspense. You’ve got to read the whole thing.

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Update: now would be a perfect time for me to recommend an enduring love story that I thoroughly enjoyed, Haruku Murakami’s Norwegian Wood.

The Origin of “The Harlem Shake” Viral Videos

The Daily Beast has a piece/interview with the man who made “The Harlem Shake” a viral sensation, a DJ named Baauer:

For the uninitiated, it consists of users uploading videos to YouTube that last about thirty seconds in length and feature the opening of electronic music producer Baauer’s song “Harlem Shake.” The videos begin with the song’s sample of a man giving a shrieking siren call of “Con los terroristas!”—Columbian Spanish for “with the terrorists”—followed by one person, usually in a ridiculous mask or helmet, dancing to the song alone as the beat builds. He or she is surrounded by others who are stationary, blissfully unaware of the dancer. When the directive,Then do the Harlem shake is uttered about 15 seconds in, the bass drops and the video metastasizes into pure chaos—the entire coterie engaging in paroxysms of dance for the next 15 seconds in outrageous outfits, and wielding bizarre props.

The first video was uploaded to YouTube by amateur comedian Filthy Frank on February 2. As of February 15, over 40,000 “Harlem Shake” videos have been uploaded to YouTube, totaling over 175 million views. The cast of the TODAYshowThe Daily Show and The Colbert Report, this year’s Sports Illustrated swimsuit models, and even a battalion of the Norwegian Army have gotten in on the act.

It’s Friday, February 15, and I am huddled with Baauer in a tiny bathroom inside the green room of Webster Hall, a 1,500-capacity venue in Manhattan. It’s the only place where we can find some peace and quiet for his first interview since the song went viral. The night also marks Baauer’s first show in his adopted home of New York since the song exploded. It is, predictably, very sold-out.

“It’s gotten absolutely insane,” he says. “All I did was make the song so it’s kind of a weird place for me to be at. I birthed it, it was raised by others, and now it’s like my weird, fucked up adopted teenage kid coming back to me.” 

Baauer, 23, is a tall, slight fella with a boyish face and big, goofy smile. He was born Harry Rodrigues in West Philadelphia, but moved around a lot when he was younger due to his father’s job as “a financial consultant for international companies.” He lived in Germany from age four to seven, then London from seven to 13, then to Connecticut from 13-17, then one more year in London before heading off to college in New York.

Says Baauer:

“I just had the idea of taking a Dutch house squeaky-high synth and putting it over a hip-hop track,” he says. “And then I tried to just make it the most stand-out, flashy track that would get anyone’s attention, so put as many sounds and weird shit in there as I could. The dude in the beginning I got somewhere off the Internet, I don’t even know where, and the lion roar just makes no sense.” He laughs. “There’s the sound of flames in there, too, it’s just really low.”

Russian Meteor Largest to Strike Earth in More Than a Century

Nature reports that the meteorite that cut across the sky near Chelyabinsk, Russia is the largest to hit Earth in over a century:

A meteor that exploded over Russia this morning was the largest recorded object to strike the Earth in more than a century, scientists say. Infrasound data collected by a network designed to watch for nuclear weapons testing suggests that today’s blast released hundreds of kilotonnes of energy. That would make it far more powerful than the nuclear weapon tested by North Korea just days ago and the largest rock crashing on the planet since a meteor broke up over Siberia’s Tunguska river in 1908.

That’s remarkable.

If you want to learn a lot today, head to the Wikipedia article on the Tunguska Event. Quite comprehensive.

This Slate article discusses why we weren’t able to detect this Russian meteor.

The New York Times compiled six dashboard videos showing various viewpoints of the meteorite streaking across the sky. Worth a look.

Oscar Pistorius, the Risk Taker

This week, Oscar Pistorius was accused of premeditated murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp by South Africa prosecutors. It’s a sad story all around.

I went back and read this piece in New York Times Magazine, profiling the Blade Runner. It was published in January 2012, as Oscar was training for the 2012 London Olympics. Michael Sokolove, who spent time with Oscar Pistorius, exposed Oscar’s risk-friendly nature:

Hanging out with Pistorius can be a great deal of fun. You also quickly understand that he is more than a little crazy. I asked him about the tattoo on his left shoulder, a Bible verse from Corinthians that begins, “I do not run like a man running aimlessly.” He said he got it on a visit to New York. He was staying at a hotel in SoHo, and couldn’t sleep, so he took the subway uptown and just walked around. “I went into an all-night tattoo parlor,” he said. “Some Puerto Rican guy did it. It took from 2 a.m. to about 8:30. I think he was falling asleep after a while, which is why it’s a little squiggly at the bottom. But I like it that way. To me, it makes it look more authentic.”

In 2008, Pistorius crashed his boat into a submerged pier on a river south of Johannesburg. His face and body hit the steering wheel, and he broke two ribs, his jaw and an eye socket. Doctors had to sew 172 stitches in his face. More recently, while riding his dirt bike through tall grass, he clipped a fence and turned around to see one of his prosthetic legs swinging from a section of barbed wire, an unwelcome sight, for sure, but less dire than if it had been a biological leg. It was one of the only times that it occurred to him that having prosthetic lower limbs may confer some advantage.

The people around Pistorius worry about his risk-taking, but there’s only so much they can do. His manager, Peet van Zyl, shrugged when I asked him about it. “It’s the nature of the man,” he said. “At least we did get the motorbike away from him.”

There’s also this:

He bought two African white tigers and boarded them at a game reserve, then sold them to a zoo in Canada when they grew to about 400 pounds and he was no longer comfortable visiting with them. “They were really beautiful, but they started to get a little big for me,” he explained.

And finally, an interaction between the author and Pistorius on guns:

I asked what kind of gun he owned, which he seemed to take as an indication of my broader interest in firearms. I had to tell him I didn’t own any. “But you’ve shot one, right?” Actually, I hadn’t. Suddenly, I felt like one of those characters in a movie who must be schooled on how to be more manly.

“We should go to the range,” he said. He fetched his 9-millimeter handgun and two boxes of ammunition. We got back in the car and drove to a nearby firing range, where he instructed me on proper technique. Pistorius was a good coach. A couple of my shots got close to the bull’s-eye, which delighted him. “Maybe you should do this more,” he said. “If you practiced, I think you could be pretty deadly.” I asked him how often he came to the range. “Just sometimes when I can’t sleep,” he said.

Worth reading in entirety.

Invisible Gorillas in Medicine

You may be familiar with the Invisible Gorilla phenomenon, a case for “inattentional blindness” when we are focusing on something intently and miss something else entirely. The most famous version is this video in which the narrator asks the viewer to count the number of basketball passes made, while a gorilla walks by in the background…

Now, a new study from psychological scientists at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston showed that 83 percent of radiologists failed to spot the animal in a CT scan, even though they went past it four times on average:

Three psychological scientists at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston—Trafton Drew, Melissa Vo and Jeremy Wolfe—wondered if expert observers are also subject to this perceptual blindness. The subjects in the classic study were “naïve”—untrained in any particular domain of expertise and performing a task nobody does in real life. But what about highly trained professionals who make their living doing specialized kinds of observations? The scientists set out to explore this, and in an area of great importance to many people—cancer diagnosis.

Radiologists are physicians with special advanced training in reading various pictures of the body—not just the one-shot X-rays of the past but complex MRI, CT and PET scans as well. In looking for signs of lung cancer, for example, radiologists examine hundreds of ultra-thin CT images of a single patient’s lungs, looking for tiny white nodules that warn of cancer. It’s these expert observers that the Brigham and Women’s scientists chose to study.

They recruited 24 experienced and credentialed radiologists—and a comparable group of naïve volunteers. They tracked their eye movements as they examined five patients’ CT scans, each made up of hundreds of images of lung tissue. Each case had about ten nodules hiding somewhere in the scans, and the radiologists were instructed to click on these nodules with a mouse. On the final case, the scientists inserted a tiny image of a gorilla (an homage to the original work) into the lung. They wanted to see if the radiologists, focused on the telltale nodules, would be blind to the easily detectable and highly anomalous gorilla.

The gorilla was miniscule, but huge compared to the nodules. It was about the size of a box of matches—or 48 times the size of a typical nodule. It faded in and out—becoming more, then less opaque—over a sequence of five images.  There was no mistaking the gorilla: If someone pointed it out on the lung scan and asked, What is that? – everyone would answer: That’s a gorilla.

The gorilla seems hard to miss (photo here).  I think the idea behind this experiment was to determine whether being highly trained made people less susceptible to the phenomenon of change blindness. Doesn’t seem to be the case based on the results of this study.