Jay Parkinson, Hipster Brooklyn Doctor

The New York Times profiles Jay Parkinson, a 37-year-old doctor who lives in Brooklyn and can diagnose your ailments via IM or text message:

Have a mysterious rash? Send a photo of it to Sherpaa, reply to a few e-mails (Are you sure it’s not a bruise? Do you have bed bugs?), and proceed to the nearest Duane Reade to pick up your prescription.

This may seem like health care for the “OMG, I’m sick 😦 ” generation, but clients include high-tech players in New York like Tumblr, Skillshare, General Assembly and Hard Candy Shell. “We’re tech-savvy doctors,” he said, “for tech-savvy patients.”

In fact, Dr. Parkinson is perhaps the most prominent of the city’s 2.0 doctors, who are rethinking the health care model along 21st-century lines.

In 2007, after graduating from Penn State College of Medicine, and completing a residency in pediatrics at St. Vincent’s Manhattan Hospital in Greenwich Village, and another in preventive medicine at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, he did what every young roustabout did at the time: he moved to Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Dr. Parkinson rented a ground-floor apartment on North Ninth Street, and spent his nights at Hotel Delmano and the Brooklyn Ale House and his days caffeinating at Atlas Cafe. He was adrift.

Dr. Parkinson has a pretty well-designed blog too.

A Profile of App Designer Loren Brichter

Jessica Lessin has a nice profile of Loren Brichter, creator of one of my favorite apps on iOS, Letterpress:

Mr. Brichter, whose design aesthetic is inspired by information theorists like Edward Tufte, a proponent of minimizing extraneous information in graphic designs, says he thinks up new features for apps based on how people move objects in the real world.

“Everything should come from somewhere and go somewhere,” he says, adding that he’s irked by apps that have menus that pop up or collapse on themselves because the interactions aren’t real. “The most important thing is obviousness. The problem is overdesign.”

Loren Brichter was the first developer to create the “pull to refresh” gesture in some of the iOS apps, particularly useful for Twitter.

William Blake on Solitary Confinement: “A Fate Worse than Death”

William Blake has been held in solitary confinement for almost 26 years. Currently he is in administrative segregation at Elmira Correctional Facility, a maximum security facility located in south central New York State. In 1987, Blake, then 23 and in county court on a drug charge, murdered one deputy and wounded another in a failed escape attempt. Sentenced to 77 years to life, Blake has no chance of ever leaving prison alive, and almost no chance of ever leaving solitary—-a fate he considers  “a sentence worse than death.” In this gripping essay, he describes his experience of solitary isolation and spending time in the Special Housing Unit (SHU):

I’ve experienced times so difficult and felt broken and loneliness to such a degree that it seemed to be a physical thing inside so thick it felt like it was choking me, trying to squeeze the sanity from my mind, the spirit from my soul, and the life from my body. I’ve seen and felt hope becoming like a foggy ephemeral thing, hard to get ahold of, even harder to keep ahold of as the years and then decades disappeared while I stayed trapped in the emptiness of the SHU world. I’ve seen minds slipping down the slope of sanity, descending into insanity, and I’ve been terrified that I would end up like the guys around me that have cracked and become nuts. It’s a sad thing to watch a human being go insane before your eyes because he can’t handle the pressure that the box exerts on the mind, but it is sadder still to see the spirit shaken from a soul. And it is more disastrous. Sometimes the prison guards find them hanging and blue; sometimes their necks get broken when they jump from their bed, the sheet tied around the neck that’s also wrapped around the grate covering the light in the ceiling snapping taut with a pop. I’ve seen the spirit leaving men in SHU and have witnessed the results.

The box is a place like no other place on planet Earth. It’s a place where men full of rage can stand at their cell gates fulminating on their neighbor or neighbors, yelling and screaming and speaking some of the filthiest words that could ever come from a human mouth, do it for hours on end, and despite it all never suffer the loss of a single tooth, never get his head knocked clean off his shoulders. You will never hear words more despicable or see mouth wars more insane than what occurs all the time in SHU, not anywhere else in the world, because there would be serious violence before any person could peak so much foulness for so long. In the box the heavy steel bars allow mouths to run with impunity when they could not otherwise do so, while the ambient is one that is sorely conducive to an exceedingly hot sort of anger that seems to press the lips on to ridiculous extremes. Day and night I have been awakened to the sound of the rage being loosed loudly on SHU gates, and I’d be a liar if I said I haven’t at times been one of the madmen doing the yelling.

Powerful narrative about solitary confinement being worse than death.

The Facebook Hashtag

The Wall Street Journal reports that Facebook is working on incorporating the #hashtag, mirroring the use on Twitter:

Facebook is testing whether to follow Twitter’s lead and allow users to click on a hashtag to pull up all posts about similar topics or events so it can quickly index conversations around trending topics and build those conversations up, giving users more reason to stay logged in and see more ads. Instagram, which Facebook acquired last year, already uses hashtags, allowing users to sort photos by the symbol.

Facebook’s work on a hashtag is a sign of the heightening battle between Facebook and Twitter, as both compete for mobile users and fight for advertising dollars. For years, Twitter and Facebook seemed to occupy different poles of the social-media spectrum. While Facebook was the home of close friends and family, Twitter was the real-time broadcasting device for the rest of the world.

Facebook’s already copied Twitter in the status people fill out (the more casual “what’s on your mind?” is close to Twitter’s “what’s happening?”), so this latest move isn’t all too surprising, in retrospect.

How Does the Vatican Generate the White and Black Smoke from The Sistine Chapel?

The world is waiting who the cardinals will vote in as the new Pope at the Vatican. From this New York Times article, an interesting bit of trivia on how the black versus white smoke is generated to signal whether a Pope has been chosen:

The Vatican has given details of how the black smoke is generated, saying that, since 2005, a secondary device alongside the traditional ballot-burning stove generates colored smoke from different chemical compounds. Both devices feed into stovepipes that join up as a single smokestack on the Sistine Chapel roof.

For black smoke, the Vatican Information Service said, the compound blends potassium perchlorate, anthracene and sulfur. White smoke heralding a new pope comes from a mixture of potassium chlorate, lactose and rosin, “a natural amber resin obtained from conifers.”

Apparently before 2005, the black smoke was “obtained by using smoke black or pitch and the white smoke by using wet straw.”

The Origin of the “Plus” and “Minus” Symbols

A very interesting post by Mario Livio, searching for the origin of the “+” and “-” symbols we find ubiquitous today:

The ancient Greeks expressed addition mostly by juxtaposition, but sporadically used the slash symbol “/” for addition and a semi-elliptical curve for subtraction.  In the famous Egyptian Ahmes papyrus, a pair of legs walking forward marked addition, and walking away subtraction.  The Hindus, like the Greeks, usually had no mark for addition, except that “yu” was used in the Bakhshali manuscript Arithmetic (which probably dates to the third or fourth century).  Towards the end of the fifteenth century, the French mathematician Chuquet (in 1484) and the Italian Pacioli (in 1494) used “\boldmath{\bar{\bf p}}” or “p” (indicating plus) for addition and “\boldmath{\widetilde{\bf m}}” or “m” (indicating minus) for subtraction.

There is little doubt that our + sign has its roots in one of the forms of the word “et,” meaning “and” in Latin.  The first person who may have used the + sign as an abbreviation for et was the astronomer Nicole d’Oresme (author of The Book of the Sky and the World) at the middle of the fourteenth century.  A manuscript from 1417 also has the + symbol (although the downward stroke is not quite vertical) as a descendent of one of the forms of et.

I thought this was an interesting sidenote for “+”:

As a historical curiosity, I should note that even once adopted, not everybody used precisely the same symbol for +.  Widman himself introduced it as a Greek cross + (the sign we use today), with the horizontal stroke sometimes a bit longer than the vertical one.  Mathematicians such as Recorde, Harriot and Descartes used this form.  Others (e.g., Hume, Huygens, and Fermat) used the Latin cross “†,” sometimes placed horizontally, with the crossbar at one end or the other.  Finally, a few (e.g., De Hortega, Halley) used the more ornamental form “\maltese.”

Speaking of crosses, and doing a bit more research, Wikipedia notes that:

A Jewish tradition that dates from at least the 19th century is to write plus using a symbol like an inverted T. This practice was adopted into Israeli schools (this practice goes back to at least the 1940s) and is still commonplace today in elementary schools (including secular schools) but in fewer secondary schools. It is also used occasionally in books by religious authors, but most books for adults use the international symbol “+”. The usual explanation for this practice is that it avoids the writing of a symbol “+” that looks like a Christian cross.

+1 for learning more, right?

Michael Wolff on New York City Dining

Michael Wolff opines on the dining scene in New York City for the British GQ. As the commenters note, it’s not clear whether this is meant as parody:

Of course the ultimate status is not to know someone, but to be known, for the restaurant to want you. This is naturally true for all celebrities, but this is also often true for people merely associated with celebrities. I once had a breakfast meeting at one of the new breakfast places in my neighbourhood with someone of reasonable renown, and now can no longer return because of the unctuousness and obsequiousness and close-in touching with which I am greeted.

It must be said, finally, that there is little pleasure in restaurants of the new restaurant culture. The experience may seem precious, because it might so easily be lost, or necessary, because there is no other alternative, and beyond questioning, because the world is as it is, but on any purely empirical basis it is gruelling time served.

Only in the most expensive, ritualised and ceremonial establishments (we’re talking thousands per table) is there any attention to physical comfort and the basic science of acoustics. This is not only because the people in these restaurants are very rich, but also because they are very old. One of the points about restaurants is to feel young, or to be among the young, or, that is, the right young – the young who can afford expensive restaurants, albeit not as expensive as the restaurants for the very old and rich. (Almost everybody on the Upper East Side, where, in New York, the expensive and quiet restaurants are located, now travels great distances to eat among the young and loud.)

Entertaining, to say the least.


(via Tyler Cowen)

A Scandal at the Bolshoi Ballet

In this must-read piece titled “Danse Macabre,” David Remnick profiles the sulfuric acid attack on Sergei Filin, the artistic director of the Bolshoi Ballet, and the ensuing scandal:

Filin was in agony. The burning was immediate and severe. His vision turned to black. He could feel the scalding of his face and scalp, the pain intensifying all the time.

“In those first seconds, all I could think was, How can I relieve the pain?” Filin told me later. “The burning was so awful. I tried to move. I fell face first into the snow. I started grabbing handfuls of snow and rubbing it into my face and eyes. I felt some small relief from the snow. I thought of how to get home. I was pretty close to my door. There’s an electronic code and a metal door, but I couldn’t punch in the numbers of the code. I couldn’t see them. When I understood that I couldn’t get into the building, I started shouting, ‘Help! Help! I need help!’ But no one was around. I tried to make my way to another entrance, in the hope that someone would see me and help me. But that was not such a good idea, because I was falling down and getting up and bumping into cars and into walls and falling down because I couldn’t see any steps. There was so much snow. Snow was coming down. I kept rubbing it into my face.

“When I understood that there was no use shouting for help, I decided to reach into my pocket and put my mobile phone in my hand. I hoped someone would call me. I couldn’t see the screen, so I couldn’t dial. Usually, I get one call after another, but there were no calls for some reason. I tried to knock on the door of each entrance. I’m quite strong and I banged very loudly, but no one was coming out to help. Then the phone slipped out of my hand and I lost it in the snow. The pain in my eyes and face was so terrible that I had a wave of thought: I was dying. But I only wanted to die if it was in the arms of my wife. The pain was unbearable. I really thought this might be the end of me.”

Incredible read.

Mila Kunis and Chris Stark: The Interview

I really enjoyed watching this Mila Kunis interview about her upcoming role in Oz the Great and Powerful. If you haven’t seen it, the majority of the interview is not about the movie, but Mila Kunis playing along with the nervous young interviewer named Chris Stark:


This interview has spawned a number of analyses on the Web, including this one at The New Yorker:

But, for all the talk about Kunis, perhaps we should take a moment to appreciate Chris Stark. After all, he’s the one who sets the tone for the interview, declaring up front that he’s “petrified” and then lobbing out a clumsy but audacious opening question: “In the nicest possibly way, did you enjoy being ugly for once? Because, generally, like, you know, you’re hot.” Kunis eggs him on, but it’s Stark who moves the conversation further and further out of bounds, bringing up newly irrelevant topics and offering unsolicited details about his life and interests. Of the pair, he’s actually the one who’s more charming and fun to watch.

Great interviewers often describe their craft as something between a dance, a seduction, and a magic trick. You have Truman Capote spinning webs of trust and charisma around his subjects. You have Joan Didion, dependent on being “so physically small, so temperamentally unobtrusive, and so neurotically inarticulate that people tend to forget that my presence runs counter to their best interests.” You have Janet Malcolm using the fine touch of her “Japanese technique” to elicit information and draw people out of themselves. And then you have Chris Stark, talking about eating chicken, scoring “massive lad points,” and “dropping trou” at his friend Dicko’s wedding. And it works. The result is great. Good for him.

and this one at Vulture:

By sharing their Instagram feeds or favoriting our tweets, famous actresses seem accessible, a part of our sphere; so to have one step back and act like they are untouchable, or in some way part of a rarefied world, is an insult that is not to be tolerated. Mila Kunis and Jennifer Lawrence haven’t simply scored a “win” by behaving like normal, everyday people, eliciting comments like “She is the greatest!” and “I want to eat burgers with her!” They’re doing what we expect every star to do, in this post-celebrity age. We expect stars to keep their egos in check.

Good stuff.

Erin Callan, Former CFO of Lehman Brothers, on Work-Life Balance

Erin Callan, ex-CFO of Lehman Brothers, has a smart take on the work-life balance in The New York Times:

Like everyone, though, I did have relationships — a spouse, friends and family — and none of them got the best version of me. They got what was left over.

Sometimes young women tell me they admire what I’ve done. As they see it, I worked hard for 20 years and can now spend the next 20 focused on other things. But that is not balance. I do not wish that for anyone. Even at the best times in my career, I was never deluded into thinking I had achieved any sort of rational allocation between my life at work and my life outside.

It’s honest. And perfectly encapsulates how I feel about work-life balance.


(hat tip: Sarah K. Peck)