PSA: This Blog Now Has a Tip Jar

At the suggestion of an anonymous reader of this blog, I’ve added a tip jar page. If you’re willing and able to contribute, I appreciate your support. I certainly don’t foresee making rent-generating income from the donations, but hopefully it would pay for a few coffees to help me get up earlier in the mornings and make a few interesting posts. Thanks for your support in advance!

Tip Jar

Stephen King on Growing Up and Believing in God

NPR’s Terry Gross recently interviewed Stephen King about his latest novel, Joyland. King shared a number of things on growing up and believing in God, but the most interesting part, I think, was this exchange:

The thing that I really enjoyed was that it was all there in front of you so that when Miss Marple got everybody together in her room and said this and this and this should have been obvious to me, I’m thinking to myself, well, it should have been obvious to me too. There was a puzzle element to it, and you know, I just couldn’t figure out how anybody could plot that way.

And I guess the reason why was because I was never built to be the sort of writer who plots things. I usually take a situation and go from there. So with “Joyland,” there is a trail that you can follow that leads to the killer. But you know what – if you figured out who it was in advance, you were doing better than I was because I got near the end of the book before I realized who it was.

GROSS: Uh-oh.


GROSS: You might have been in trouble.

KING: No, no, that’s good. I think that’s good.

GROSS: Is it? Why?

KING: I don’t want the reader to feel like this is all a sort of pre-fab creation. I want it to feel organic, to feel like it grew by itself. I’ve never seen novels as built things. I have a tendency to see them as found things so that I always feel a little bit like an archaeologist who’s working to get some fragile fossil out of the ground. And the more you get out unbroken, the better you succeed.

There’s a lot of lashing out in the comments regarding King’s views on God, such as this one:

As much as I enjoy Stephen King’s books, he loses credibility when he speaks nonsense about the supernatural:
“If you say, ‘Well, OK, I don’t believe in God. There’s no evidence of God,’ then you’re missing the stars in the sky and you’re missing the sunrises and sunsets and you’re missing the fact that bees pollinate all these crops and keep us alive and the way that everything seems to work together.”

Mr. King might have said this with no ill intent, but he is simply wrong to state that those who do not believe in god(s) are missing out on beauty, wonder, or the transcendent. It is time to stop using and accepting this non sequitur, which only serves to cast non-believers as unfeeling and deficient.

Regardless of your thoughts on the matter, it’s worth a consideration.

I really enjoyed 11/23/63, so at less than $8 for the paperback, Joyland is on my summer reading list.

Joining Wall Street to Save the World

The Washington Post profiles a 25-year-old Jason Trigg, who’s decided to join a high frequency trading firm to make the most amount of money as he can. But why? So he can give a lot of it away. He figures it’s a better bet than going into academia:

He’s figured out just how to take measure of his contribution. His outlet of choice is the Against Malaria Foundation, considered one of the world’s most effective charities. It estimates that a $2,500 donation can save one life. A quantitative analyst at Trigg’s hedge fund can earn well more than $100,000 a year. By giving away half of a high finance salary, Trigg says, he can save many more lives than he could on an academic’s salary.

In many ways, his life still resembles that of a graduate student. He lives with three roommates. He walks to work. And he doesn’t feel in any way deprived. “I wouldn’t know how to spend a large amount of money,” he says.

While some of his peers have shunned Wall Street as the land of the morally bankrupt, Trigg’s moral code steered him there. And he’s not alone. To an emerging class of young professionals in America and Britain, making gobs of money is the surest way to save the world. When you ask Trigg where he got the idea, his answer is a common refrain among this crowd: “I feel like I’d read stuff by Peter Singer.”

Interesting, to say the least.

Yoga in Africa

I enjoyed this interview and photo essay with photographer/artist Robert Sturman, who’s documented the practice of yoga in Africa:

Q: Are there differences in the practice of yoga in Kenya and the United States?

A. In Kenya, people walk out of yoga class feeling great, just like they do in New York. The one difference I loved, however, was that the children who took the classes always broke out into a spontaneous song or dance right in the middle of class. Then they would go back to the yoga postures.
Q.Speaking about the children in the photos, several of your most striking photos were taken in orphanages. How do these children benefit from yoga?
A. Through the practice of yoga, the children are given the opportunity to express themselves, be creative and open up physically and mentally. It was most apparent to me that by the time their hourlong class is over, they feel loved.
You can learn more about the Africa Yoga Program here, a nonprofit organization that teaches and employs more than 70 local yoga teachers and conducts up to 300 free yoga classes for more than 5,000 people weekly.

On Guest Rooms and Conversation Snippets

David Sedaris pens a delightful post on being a host in England after acquiring a house with not one, but two guest rooms:

Three of my sisters visited us in Sussex last Christmas, so Gretchen and Amy took a guest room each. We gave Lisa the master bedroom and moved next door to the converted stable I use as my office. One of the things Hugh noted during their stay was that, with the exception of Amy and me, no one in my family ever says good night. Rather, they just leave the room—sometimes halfway through dinner—and reappear the following morning. My sisters were considered my guests, but because there was a group of them and they could easily entertain one another I was more or less free to go about my business. Not that I didn’t spend time with them. In various pairings, we went on walks and bike rides, but otherwise they sat in the living room talking, or gathered in the kitchen to study Hugh at the stove. I’d join them for a while, and then explain that I had some work to do. This meant going next door to the stable, where I’d switch on my computer and turn to Google, thinking, I wonder what Russell Crowe is up to?

My favorite parts of the piece were the anecdotes of walking into conversations and overhearing strange snippets:

I walked into the living room after returning from a bike ride one afternoon and heard her saying to her mother, Joan, who was also there, “Don’t you just love the feel of an iguana?”

That same night, after my bath, I overheard her asking, “Well, can’t you make it with camel butter?”

I thought of asking for details—“Make what with camel butter?”—but decided I preferred the mystery. That often happens with company. I’ll forever wonder what my guest Kristin meant when I walked into the yard one evening and heard her saying, “Mini goats might be nice.” Or, odder still, when Hugh’s father, Sam, came to see us in France with an old friend he knew from the State Department. The two had been discussing the time they’d spent in Cameroon in the late sixties, and I entered the kitchen to hear Mr. Hamrick say, “Now, was that guy a Pygmy, or just a false Pygmy?”

There were two disturbing (to me) sentences in the piece. Can you guess what they are?

Liquid Mammoth Blood Found; Is Cloning Next?

The Siberian Times reports an incredible exclusive: for the first time ever, researchers have found liquid blood from a preserved woolly mammoth. Note how casually the author drops this line about cloning of the animal:

It comes amid a hotly contested debate on whether scientists should try to recreate the extinct species using DNA, though there now seems little doubt that this WILL happen, and the Russian team from Yakutsk that made the find is working in a partnership with South Korean scientists who are actively seeking to bring the mammoth back to life. 

The find was made on the New Siberian Islands – or Novosibirsk Islands, off the coast of the Republic of Sakha. The scientists believed from studying her teeth that this mammoth died when she was between 50 and 60 years of age.

So why did the blood not freeze? According to scientists, they speculate that mammoth blood contains a kind of natural antifreeze. Fascinating.

Click the link to see the photos.

The Erosion of the First Pitch Tradition in Baseball

A New York Times articles explains how the first pitch tradition is being eroded in Major League Baseball:

In a sport that clings to its traditions — from managers wearing uniforms to the playing of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the seventh-inning stretch — one time-honored feature at the ballpark has taken an absurd turn, at least for the game’s purists: the ceremonial first pitch.

I had no idea it was this bad until I read about animals throwing out the first pitch:

For decades, the honor was extended only a few times a season to a rarefied group that included presidents, mayors and military veterans. These days, it is regarded as a marketing opportunity, a sweetener in sponsorship deals between baseball teams and groups that want a piece of the spotlight.

The rite, now carried out nightly, is handed to actors and reality television stars, sponsors’ representatives and contest winners, and people dressed as animals as well as actual animals.

A capuchin monkey carried the ball out for a San Diego Padres game in September. Twice in the last two seasons, the Los Angeles Dodgers have welcomed to the mound Hello Kitty, or, rather, a person dressed as Hello Kitty.

Yikes. Actually, it gets worse:

Sometimes, there are ceremonial second, third, fourth and fifth pitches. The day after making his major league debut this month, John Gast, a promising pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals, crouched up and down to catch five pitches. The honorees that day were Edward Jones, a financial planning company; the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency; the Washington University School of Medicine; a local radio station; and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

So next time you’re at the game, you may be witness to something like this prior to the game:


On the Decline of Eye Contact

Leave it to The Wall Street Journal to drum up the decline of eye contact in culture. There’s a few choice quotes in the piece:

Some psychologists point to FOMO, or “fear of missing out” on social opportunities, says a study published earlier this year in Computers in Human Behavior. Young adults who are dissatisfied with their lives or relationships feel compelled to check mobile gadgets repeatedly to see what social opportunities they are missing—even when they don’t enjoy it, the study says.

But my favorite is this one, on the perils of “too much eye contact”:

Too much eye contact can cause problems, too. In a social context, it may be seen as a sign of romantic interest, or just plain creepy.

I am confused by this statement taken as fact: holding eye contact works best for 7 to 10 seconds in a one-on-one conversation. Is this 7 to 10 seconds at a time? How long can one glance away before making eye contact again? I believe context is key, and the article just seems goofy. Also, there’s this “graphic” that looks like a page out of a graphic novel:


Don’t worry, sir! These red laser beams are non-lethal and won’t affect your vision.

Felix Salmon: “Everybody Is a Curator”

An interesting post by Felix Salmon on “promiscuous media.” He thinks that because of the proliferation of blogs and various social media services, everyone is a curator (I don’t disagree):

Everybody is a curator, these days: publishers design platforms for certain types of content, editors shape publications by deciding what to leave out; journalists try to make sure that the stuff they’re doing is expressed to its best possible effect on the best possible platform. The result is a more fluid media ecosystem than we’ve been used to, but also a more effective one. Let content live where it works best; that way, the publishers of that content will be able to present something with maximal coherence and a minimum of feeling that they’re trying to do something they’re not particularly good at. The publishers who win are going to be the ones with addictive, compelling, distinctive content. Rather than the ones who are constantly flailing around, trying to copy everything that’s good somewhere else.

I don’t think blogging is dead. It’s just evolved.

What are your go-to sites for blogging? I’ve been on the fence about Tumblr: I like its ease of publishing, but what do I blog about?

Scripps National Spelling Bee: Now More Defined

I welcome the change coming to the Scripps National Spelling Bee:

For the first time since it began in 1927, the contest is requiring young spellers in preliminary and semifinal rounds to take a vocabulary test. Organizers say it is part of the Bee’s commitment to deepening contestants’ command of English.

Since 2002, a written or computer spelling test has been a component that, along with onstage spelling, factored in determining which spellers advanced to the semi-finals.

This year, competitors will advance to the semi-finals and finals based on their onstage spelling, as well as computer-based spelling and vocabulary questions. Vocabulary evaluation will count for half of a speller’s overall score.

Why? Because while being able to spell well is an excellent skill, it is, ultimately, a short-sighted one. Deep knowledge begins with knowing what the word means.