Tuesday, September 30, 2008

New Delhi's Lady Detective

New Delhi's Lady Detective

From guardian.co.uk

Bhavna Paliwal, 32, is a female private investigator and co-founder of the Tejas Detective Agency in New Delhi. Armed with a camera phone and a variety of disguises, she has rescued a kidnapped girl from a gang of flesh traders, exposed two-timing boyfriends and investigated the secret lives of countless husbands and wives. She describes life on the prowl.

Paliwal on the trail of a suspicious individual. Photograph: Neeta Lal

When you think of career avenues for women in India, being a detective is not the first thing that springs to mind. But it’s definitely one of most exciting. Having been in the field for more than a decade, I can vouch for this.

I was working as a journalist on a small newspaper when I came across a job ad for a female investigator. I jumped at it, and landed at the agency the same day. To test my sleuthing skills the interviewer told me to check out the character of a married woman. I did a good job of it and was hired on the spot.

Life as a detective is a roller-coaster ride. Some days are exciting and fulfilling while others can be frustrating. One thing a sleuth has to possess is patience. Even if some cases look simple, they can take ages to solve and require tons of perseverance.

I once rescued a 13-year-old girl who had been abducted by a gang of notorious flesh traders in Orissa. I managed to crack the missing girl's case and then, accompanied by the Delhi police, raided their hideout to save her. In true Hollywood style I got to kick open the door of the house where the crooks were hiding the girl and, after a round of gunfire, the cops nabbed the culprits.

The best part of my job is that I get to change my looks with each new assignment. And I get to act. I have to worm information out of people – maids, drivers, cooks, peons, doctors. It’s the part of my job I love the most: getting into the skin of another character and pretending I’m somebody I’m not.

Lately, a lot of my time has been taken up by premarital and marital verifications. With all kinds of matrimonial frauds happening these days I’ve transformed myself into a wedding sleuth. Not that I mind, especially if it means saving women from tying the knot with scamsters.

More and more women are turning to private eyes. In India's larger metros especially, all-women agencies have mushroomed. This augurs well because I firmly believe that to be forewarned is to be forearmed.

I remember once there was a pretty girl deeply in love with her fiancee. But when her parents asked me to investigate the boy’s background, after he had made some tall claims, he turned out to be a failed entrepreneur, already married with two kids. His game plan? To scoot after taking a fat dowry, as his business was floundering.

Then there was the case of a fashion designer who, when his girlfriend asked me to check on him, turned out to be gay. And another case in which a young computer engineer turned out to be a womaniser and an alcoholic.

As a woman detective I think I have an advantage over my male colleagues. People trust me and open up more easily, which isn’t the case with men. Also, as a woman it’s far easier to procure information from drivers and maids, people who are the repositories of crucial evidence for our cases.

An investigation could take from days to weeks. But at the end of it all, the most difficult part is breaking the news. It’s not easy to tell people in love that their partners are cheating on them or leading double lives. It’s heart-wrenching to see their worlds collapse around them.

Given that arranged marriages are the bedrock of Indian society, much of my work involves checking out the character of the prospective groom or bride. Parents want to be sure that the man they have chosen for their daughter is of sound character and not abusive.

I find that as dowries get fatter, more young men are lying about their qualifications or employment to hoodwink a bride. But while a girl’s parents are keen to ensure that her boyfriend is sound, the boys’ side, too, want to be sure that the bride-to-be has no skeletons in her cupboard.

But sadly, many of my clients are more anxious to be assured that the man or woman they are marrying has plenty of property, land and assets. In fact, some people are more concerned with bank balances than character or qualifications. It’s a sad reflection of our society today.

• Bhavna Paliwal was speaking to Neeta Lal in New Delhi.

The Layers

The Layers

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
"Live in the layers,
not on the litter."

Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.

"The Layers" by Stanley Kunitz from The Collected Poems. © W.W. Norton, 2000.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Climb every mountain

The son of a friend of mine is a mountain climber. His latest climb was Fishhook Arête and Mt Russell -- a 5.9 climb in the Mt. Whitney zone. To see a slide show Click Here.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

All this week the Writer's Almanac has been documenting the changes the Norman invasion of England had on the English language.
The Bayeux Tapestry depicts the Battle of Hastings and the events leading to it.

This is today's offering:

One of the most important consequences of the Norman conquest of England was its effect on the English language. At the time, the British were speaking a combination of Saxon and Old Norse. The Normans spoke French. Over time, the languages blended, and the result was that English became a language incredibly rich in synonyms. Because the French speakers were aristocrats, the French words often became the fancy words for things. The Normans gave us "mansion"; the Saxons gave us "house." The Normans gave us "beef"; the Saxons gave us, "cow." The Normans gave us "excrement"; the Saxons gave us lots of four letter words.

The English language has gone on accepting additions to its vocabulary ever since the Norman invasion, and it now contains more than a million words, making it one of the most diverse languages on Earth. Writers have been arguing for hundreds of years about whether this is a good thing. Walt Whitman said, "The English language is the accretion and growth of every dialect, race, and range of time, and is both the free and compacted composition of all." On the other hand, the critic Cyril Connelly wrote, "The English language is like a broad river … being polluted by a string of refuse-barges tipping out their muck." And the poet Derek Walcott, who grew up in a British colony in the West Indies, said, "The English language is nobody's special property. It is the property of the imagination: it is the property of the language itself."

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Data Crusader

Data crusader

Josh Tauberer ’04 is someone a policy wonk could love

By Brett Tomlinson, associate editor at PAW.
July 16, 2008

Since graduating from Princeton in 2004, Josh Tauberer has led a double life. By day, he’s a mild-mannered graduate student in linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania. By night, he commands a legion of computer programs, trolling the Internet for data about congressional bills and republishing the information on GovTrack.us, a popular Web site for bloggers, policy wonks, and concerned voters.

Some 10,000 visitors view GovTrack each day — more when a hot bill is up for debate — and its freely available databases feed a handful of government watchdog sites, including OpenCongress.org, a portal of congressional news; and MAPLight.org, which tracks the votes of members of Congress in parallel with the contributions they receive from special-interest groups. At the center of this web of information is Tauberer, GovTrack’s sole employee, who works from a slightly cluttered desktop in his Philadelphia apartment.

He’s just one citizen, doing his part for democracy.

“You could put it that way,” Tauberer says, stifling a laugh, “but ... I happen to enjoy it. It’s not like I get up in the morning and [say], ‘Oh, I’ve got to save the world by making this site.’”

Indeed, when Tauberer began organizing his site as an undergraduate, few thought that there was any need for it. The Library of Congress had been publishing congressional bills on its THOMAS.loc.gov site since 1995. But Tauberer found THOMAS difficult to navigate and filled with cumbersome quirks. So, with hopes of building a better source for legislative data, Tauberer, a largely self-taught computer programmer, began creating “screen-scraping” programs that look for specific patterns on Web pages, copy the information they find, and store it in a database. Technically, screen-scraping is not very difficult, he says, but it can be a hassle to decipher page formats and sort through data that may be incomplete, inconsistent, or unreliable. And when a source Web site is redesigned, the screen-scrapers need to be retooled as well. (“Fortunately, the government doesn’t change anything — ever,” Tauberer jokes.)

Perseverance paid off for Tauberer when he launched GovTrack in September 2004, more than three years after he first envisioned the site. Users began to take notice later that year after Tauberer was awarded the top prize in a Web development contest run by Technorati.com — the citation called GovTrack “School House Rock on steroids” — and a January 2005 New York Times story about the site provided an additional boost. Today, when Web searchers type a congressional bill number into Google, more often than not the top result is a URL that begins with “www.govtrack.us.” Other GovTrack-supported sites are close behind.

“GovTrack is really the central hub in federal legislative information,” says John Wonderlich, director of the Sunlight Foundation’s Open House Project, which lobbies for better Web access to legislative data. “It’s the clearinghouse for data coming from the Library of Congress, and that’s kind of amazing that [Tauberer] has managed to do that on his own.”

While Tauberer’s hope was to improve government accountability by making it easier to access and digest the details of legislation, he is the first to admit that “information only gets you so far.” Footnotes, references, and amendments to amendments to amendments can make bills nearly indecipherable, even to well-informed readers. So, in addition to publishing the full text, status, and Library of Congress summary for each bill introduced on Capitol Hill, GovTrack provides other useful tools: e-mail alerts linked to specific bills, members of Congress, committees, or topics of interest; detailed maps of congressional districts, created by Tauberer using census data and Google maps; graphs that illustrate votes on a particular bill; and a blog of legislative analysis, written mainly by unpaid contributors.

Each senator and representative also has a GovTrack page that includes the member’s voting history, links to bills he or she has sponsored, and a graphic that shows the member’s standing on GovTrack’s “Ideometer,” an ideological spectrum that Tauberer created using a statistical analysis of bill sponsorship patterns. John McCain, for example, pushes the Ideometer’s needle to the right, about a third of the way toward the Republican end of the spectrum, while Barack Obama is positioned to the left, about two-thirds of the way toward the Democratic end. Both are labeled “rank-and-file,” which means they fall within the middle 50 percent of their respective parties. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) occupies the far left pole, and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) stands on the far right.

Tauberer would like to add more analytical features like the Ideometer, but he concedes there are limitations to his skills. While he’s a whiz with databases, he lacks the design expertise needed to generate the slick infographics that newspapers and magazines create. And then there’s the simple arithmetic of time. After four years of graduate school, Tauberer is drafting a proposal for his dissertation in linguistics, which he hopes to complete in the coming year.

Working on a Web site that promotes government transparency has been a significant departure from Tauberer’s academic work, which deals with phonetics and how children acquire language skills. He majored in psychology at Princeton while pursuing a certificate in computer science, and it was his interest in technology — not politics — that drove the development of GovTrack.

In the spring of 2001, Tauberer was a student in computer science professor Andrew Appel ’81’s freshman seminar, “Speech Is a Machine,” which addressed tech-related topics like copyright in the Internet age and whether computer programs qualify as “speech.” Tauberer first encountered THOMAS while studying a recently passed bill that restricted fair-use rights. He began thinking of ways to make the site’s vast wells of information more accessible. One year later, he devised a rough system for GovTrack, and in his senior year, when most of his classmates were immersed in thesis research, Tauberer laid the framework for his site, which he would finish in the summer after graduation.

Classmate David Robinson ’04, now the associate director of Princeton’s Center for Information Technology Policy, says that Tauberer showed the same sort of dedication and ingenuity as an editor for The Daily Princetonian. In 2003, Tauberer designed a survey methodology for conducting student-opinion polls, using a random list of student phone numbers and a customized, secure Web site in which pollsters could enter the data they collected.

Robinson says Tauberer was “sublimely confident” that GovTrack would find an audience. (Tauberer calls it “naïveté.”) And as one who urges the government to share its data in more user-friendly formats, Tauberer, who hopes to work as an advocate for better access to government data after completing his Ph.D., has stayed true to those principles, providing free access to his own databases. Advertising on GovTrack pays for operating expenses like server space and provides a modest profit.

The openness that Tauberer sought to expand with his own site is becoming a major focus among scholars at Princeton and other institutions who are studying technology, says Robinson. “In general, we’re looking at all the ways that digital technology and public life interact with one another, and it’s becoming clear that transparency is one of the main ways that digital technology and public policy interact,” he notes. Robinson, Professor Ed Felten, and graduate students Harlan Yu and William Zeller recently wrote a paper, “Government Data and the Invisible Hand,” outlining a novel strategy for more transparency: Reduce the federal role in presenting data on the government’s own Web sites, such as THOMAS, but step up government provision of reliable, raw data that nonprofit and commercial groups can use on their sites.

Wonderlich, of the Sunlight Foundation, says that most issues in government openness still are unresolved. Some are technical, such as standardizing the format in which data are released. Other issues involve making information easier to obtain. In pre-Internet days, items of public record were acceptably relegated to file drawers and dusty bookshelves. Today, Web users have grown to expect instant access. “People see that the Internet is making it easier to shop and do a lot of other things,” Wonderlich says. “It intuitively makes sense to people that Congress should operate in the same way.”

On the campaign trail, both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton spoke about technology as a means for openness. Clinton, in a January Meet the Press interview, called for more transparency and Web access to government information, and Obama’s technology plan, outlined on his campaign Web site, vows to “mak[e] government data available online in universally accessible formats to allow citizens to make use of that data to comment, derive value, and take action in their own communities.”

Last year, Tauberer dipped a toe into the political waters, contributing to the Sunlight Foundation’s Open House Project report, which drew endorsements from a handful of representatives on both sides of the aisle, and writing an op-ed piece for The Hill, a daily newspaper that covers Congress, on improving government databases. But Tauberer’s main interest is in civics, not politics, he says, and GovTrack is nonpartisan. The site’s only official position is that the government should publish more data.

“Definitely, the information has to be out there and usable,” Tauberer says. “I can only hope that it makes some sort of real difference.”

See how GovTrack presents the next president of the United States: For Barack Obama Click Here; for John McCain Click Here.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Free Theatre for 4 more performances

9/26/08 Catch This if You Can

Last night we saw the first performance of Profile Theatre's new season, "I Ought to be in Pictures." Each year Profile features the works of one playwright. This year it's Neil Simon. There are 4 more performances of this FREE staged reading: the next three nights at 7:30 PM and tomorrow afternoon at 2:00 PM. All performances are held at Theater! Theatre!, 3430 SE Belmont Street, Portland, OR 97214.

Danny Bruno and Kelly Marchant in "I Ought to be in Pictures."

This is a fully staged reading directed by veteran director and actor JoAnne Johnson.

This season Profile is also offering five free One Night Stands, audience builder performances.

Profile Theatre picks a "monster" for its 2008-'09 season

by Marty Hughley, The Oregonian

Tuesday May 20, 2008, 2:40 PM

"Is nothing sacred? Are there no secrets to be kept? But the Monster has observed, and what he has observed, he will reveal. Even the truth about himself."

The monster in question? Would you believe that master of mainstream comedy, Neil Simon?

Most folks would consider Simon a monster only in terms of professional stature, as a Tony- and Oscar-gobbling titan of the typewriter, the creator of such beloved popular entertainments as "The Odd Couple," the only playwright to have had four Broadway shows running simultaneously. But that quote is his own, from the intro to the 1971 book "The Comedy of Neil Simon." And it is both his commercial potency and his gifts as a trenchant observer of human foibles that make him a natural choice as the focus for Profile Theatre's 2008-'09 season.

The company's 12th season -- each of which has been devoted to the work of a single playwright -- will include four full productions and two staged readings of Simon's works, plus a reading from the yet-to-be-determined playwright for 2009-'10:
"I Ought to be in Pictures" (reading), Sept. 25-28
"Fools," Oct. 15-Nov. 16
"Lost in Yonkers" (reading), Nov. 20-23
"Biloxi Blues," Jan. 14-Feb. 15
"Jake's Women," Mar. 4-April 5
"The Sunshine Boys," May 13-June 14
2009-'10 sneak preview, June 18-21.

Tickets go on sale July 1; www.profiletheatre.org or 503-242-0080.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Beyond Bailout: Reinvesting in “U.S.”

Beyond Bailout: Reinvesting in “U.S.”

For Release Sunday, September 28, 2008 © 2008

Washington Post Writers Group
By Neal Peirce

With the Wall Street mortgage meltdown so massive its costs could reach toward $1 trillion, where’s the economic plan to rebuild America’s cities and infrastructure, to retool our businesses and people for a risky century?

It seems totally missing in official Washington today. Yet it ought to be a central issue of the presidential campaign, asserts Phil Angelides, chairman of the Apollo Alliance and former California state treasurer.

The four-year old Apollo Alliance of labor, business, environmental and community leaders has been campaigning hard for an ambitious nationwide, “Made in America,” “green collar” jobs initiative. Its claimed goal is nothing less than making the country truly competitive, a global leader (rather than a laggard) in the clean 21st century energy products and services — just as President Kennedy’s original Apollo Program made us first on the moon.

Would all this cost money? Yes, tens of billions of dollar a year, Angelides acknowledges. Investment has to come early and strongly, he argues — to double the federal R & D budget focused on a green economy, to equip factories, retrain workers, rebuild inefficient energy grids, develop wind and solar power at an accelerated rate, upgrade energy efficiency of buildings nationwide, and help cities build and expand transit systems for mobility in an oil-scarce, carbon-challenged era.

Is it a “new thing” for our national government to invest heavily for its citizens’ future? No way, argues Angelides. And the precedent isn’t just FDR’s New Deal combatting the Great Depression. An equally compelling example: President Lincoln’s leadership in the midst of a Civil War that was to take 620,000 American lives.

The nation was shattered physically. Yet Lincoln pressed to charter the transcontinental railway to cement a nationwide economy. He persuaded Congress to pass the Morrill Act for state land-grant colleges, training workers for our coming industrialization. And he won passage of the Homestead Act, which in time made millions of Americans equity owners in our society. “Remarkable achievements,” Angelides asserts, “for a nation on its knees.”

Today many Americans (and culture war conservatives) prefer flying their flags to admitting how deep our 21st century crises have become. Yet the facts are there. The national security is at risk because of our massive foreign oil addiction, rapidly rising energy costs, Katrina-scale storms and global warming, weakening manufacturing power and a slow, pernicious hollowing out of the middle class.

That makes the Apollo Alliance’s call for “a New Deal, Marshall Plan style commitment to clean energy and good jobs” a bit hard to dismiss as more “liberal” “tax and spend” politics. If we can afford seemingly endless hundreds of billions to bail out unwise investors, how can we not invest forward in our own people and economy?

Indeed, the bailout plan itself cries out of a more creative “Chapter Two.” There’s rather broad support for rescuing our financial institutions from their follies and a fiscal free fall that could afflict us all.

But the economy is more than financial markets. It is also about communities, scientists, engineers, working people. And it is about talent, invention, productivity, goods and services of real and high competitive value produced with less energy, less environmental cost.

Right now people are scared and nervous. The federal bailout will ease concerns for the time being. But it won’t achieve much lasting impact unless we show our creativity and invent a more powerful economic model than the present financial short-of-hand.

There’s ample evidence we’re ready for change, even if our national leaders have largely failed to articulate it. Note the powerful recent surge of private sector investment in solar, wind power and biofuels. And note our fascination with ideas like T. Boone Pickens’ program to build huge wind farms across the Great Plains.

The “New Apollo Program” is endorsed by groups ranging from the AFL-CIO and Steelworkers to the Union of Concerned Scientists and the community organizers ACORN. Other organizations are on the same page. The “America 2050″ group is urging a new national plan to meet the infrastructure, economic and carbon reduction needs of the times. The Brookings Institution urges reshaping the federal government to promote economic clusters and energy breakthroughs in our metro regions.

The Apollo leaders express distress that GOP presidential candidate John McCain is now focusing on the highly limited returns likely from offshore oil drilling and not the renewables and carbon cap and trade system he championed before. They’re far happier with Barack Obama’s endorsement of major infrastructure investment, commitment to retooling American industry, and creating 5 million new jobs through green initiatives.

But no matter which candidate wins, the overwhelming need to invest in a radically greener, energy efficient, globally competitive America won’t go away. Bailout of errant markets is just the prelude to the really hard work ahead.

Neal Peirce’s e-mail is npeirce@citistates.com

For reprints of Neal Peirce’s column, please contact
Washington Post Permissions
c/o PARS International Corp.
fax 212-221-9195

Thougts on Democracy

The Thoughts on Democracy exhibition is comprised of posters created by sixty leading contemporary artists and designers, invited by The Wolfsonian [Florida international Museum] to create a new graphic design inspired by American illustrator Norman Rockwell’s “Four Freedoms” posters of 1943, which were recently gifted to the museum by Leonard A. Lauder.

Chip Kidd:

"I really, really struggled with this one. I was torn between pursuing two different concepts‹first, the lack of these freedoms in other countries; second, a caution about the abuse of these freedoms in the US. I ultimately went with the latter. The point is that every day we see how these freedoms can not only be taken for granted, but that they can be twisted to harmful ends by the very people they are meant to serve. Thus Freedom from Want leads to rampant obesity; Freedom of Worship leads to using God to hate; Freedom of Speech leads to destruction of property; and Freedom from Fear leads to the proliferation and deadly use of guns."

Chipp Kidd is a graphic designer and writer based in New York City. His book jacket designs for Alfred A. Knopf, where he has worked since 1986, have helped spawn a revolution in the art of American book packaging... The Cheese Monkeys, Kidd’s first novel, was published in 2001 and was a national bestseller, a well as a New York Times Notable book of the Year. His second novel, The Learners, was published in 2008 to tremendous acclaim. A comprehensive monograph of Kidd’s work, CHIP KIDD: BOOK ONE was published in 2005 with an introduction by John Updike; the 400 page book features over 800 works. He is the recipient of the 2007 National Design Award for Communications. Of his work, Time Out New York write: “The history of book design can be split into two eras: before graphic designer Chip Kidd and after.”

Posted by The Wolfsonian-Florida International University


"It is the poet's privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail."

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Dead cells and goo

The Joy Of Ear-Cleaning

by Joe Palca

To listen to this story Click here and then click on "Listen Now."

Morning Edition, September 1, 2008 · Some 12 million people a year seek medical treatment for impacted earwax. Now, the American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery Foundation is releasing clinical guidelines on the management of earwax impaction.

The guidelines suggest that patients and doctors keep in mind that earwax, technically known as cerumen, is a beneficial, self-cleaning agent with protective properties. It should be removed only when it builds up to a point where it causes symptoms such as pain or hearing loss.

Appropriate options for physicians to treat cerumen impaction are:

• cerumenolytic (wax-dissolving) agents, such as water or saline

• irrigation or ear syringing, a procedure that involves a clinician injecting a stream of water into the ear canal.

• manual removal with special instruments or a suction device

Inappropriate or harmful interventions are:

• inserting cotton-tipped swabs into the ear canal

• oral jet irrigators, such as a Waterpik

• ear candling, a technique that involves inserting a paraffin coated tube into the ear and then lighting it

There are no proven ways to prevent cerumen impaction, but not inserting cotton-tipped swabs or other objects in the ear canal is strongly advised. Individuals at high risk, e.g., hearing-aid users, should consider seeing a clinician every six to 12 months for routine cleaning.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Keeping Older People Behind the Wheel for Longer

Harnessing New Technology To Keep Older People Behind The Wheel For Longer

ScienceDaily (Sep. 20, 2008) — A new study has highlighted the key role technology could play in extending the age at which people can drive safely on our roads.

With input from older people, researchers from the University of the West of England, Bristol, have identified ideas for innovative in-car information systems which, if developed, could help compensate for the reduction in reaction time that affects many drivers as they get older.

The research could give older people the confidence to continue driving for as long as their capabilities allow. Crucially, because the systems would not take control of the car away from the driver, they would also enable users to retain their sense of independence.

Undertaken as part of the SPARC (Strategic Promotion of Ageing Research Capacity) initiative, the study will be discussed at this year's BA Festival of Science in Liverpool on Thursday 11th September. SPARC is supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

Specific ideas generated include:

* A system that unobtrusively displays road sign information through a head-up display on the windscreen. This is a see-through display that shows information without impeding the user's view. Harnessing Global Positioning System (GPS) technology, this would track a car's position and identify approaching signs. Exactly the same information contained in the signs would then appear on the windscreen at the right moment. The driver would therefore not have to keep scouring the road side for information.
* A system providing the driver with audible feedback on their current speed, again harnessing GPS technology. For example, one short, non-distracting bleep could indicate the car is approaching the local speed limit; a longer bleep could indicate the speed limit has been reached. The driver would therefore not have to look at the dashboard so often.
* The systems have the potential to minimise the amount of time drivers divert their attention from the road ahead, cutting the chance of an accident.

These ideas emerged as a direct result of a groundbreaking survey of older people's driving-related needs and attitudes undertaken as part of the study. This was the first-ever wholly qualitative study to focus specifically on this topic. Over a six-month period, focus groups and interviews were conducted with a sample of 57 people aged between 65 and 85. The sample included a balance of men and women, those living in urban and rural areas, and people who were still driving as well as those who had given up.

A key finding was the important psychological role that driving plays in older people's lives, in contributing to feelings of independence and freedom, and their quality of life.

Those surveyed expressed strong reservations about in-car technologies now under development which aim to take an element of control away from the driver (e.g. systems automatically limiting car speeds or regulating the distance between a car and the vehicle in front). By constraining feelings of independence, such technologies could discourage older people from driving even though they are still physically capable.

But a strong preference was expressed for technologies which simply improve information provision and aid decision-making, such as the GPS-based systems described above.

"Our research highlights issues that have been overlooked by car designers and those advising older people on lifestyles", says Dr Charles Musselwhite, who led the study. "The current emphasis on developing technologies which take over part of the driving task may actually end up deterring older drivers. By contrast, better in-car information systems could help them drive safely and ensure they want to keep driving."

Dr Musselwhite and his team are now planning to work with technical experts to produce a prototype speed information system and in-car road sign information display system.

The 14-month study 'Prolonging Safe Driver Behaviour through Technology: Attitudes of Older Drivers' received financial support from SPARC of £27,564. Additional support was received from the University of the West of England.

The study also highlighted that:

* Older women are currently more likely than older men to give up driving voluntarily. This may be because driving tends to play a different role in older men's perception of status and role.
* Older drivers' needs can be split into three categories: practical (e.g. going to the shops or doctor's surgery), social (e.g. visiting friends and attending functions) and aesthetic (e.g. enjoying the countryside and fulfillment of independence and control over one's life).

Adapted from materials provided by Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Sea of Life

Joe Kita wanted to give his son, Paul, a 22-year-old recent college graduate, some wisdom he couldn't learn in a classroom. The perfect opportunity came when the pair set sail for a 108-day cruise around the world.

On board and ashore, Joe sought to teach Paul what he knew about, among other life lessons, ambition, pride, money, friendship, and love.

Joe, a 48-year-old freelance writer, and Paul, a journalism major, each penned a series of essays that encompass the experiences a trip that docked in nearly 50 ports in roughly 30 countries—covering about 35,000 miles.

Using the backdrops of North Africa, the South Pacific, Southeast Asia, and the Mediterranean, Joe and Paul took us along to teach us a thing or two about the sea of life.

Local architect makes good

Oregon-based architect unveils re-imagined NYC landmark

by Inara Verzemnieks, The Oregonian
Thursday September 18, 2008, 10:50 PM

NEW YORK CITY--The lollipop building had been a part of New Yorkers' memories for more than 40 years, a strange, mysterious place with Venetian whisperings, an impenetrable marble skin, tiny portal-like windows and loopy-topped columns evoking its candy-sweet nickname.

Ross William Hamilton/The OregonianBrad Cloepfil leads a parade of architecture through the airy interior of his redesigned Museum of Arts and Design.

Situated at the edge of Columbus Circle, it began life as a gallery devoted to the art collection of a supermarket heir, eventually passed into the hands of the city and finally, was abandoned and closed-up, an enigmatic white bunker.

Over the years, despite its quirkiness, or perhaps because of it, the building at 2 Columbus Circle became something of an icon, a marker, a point of reference in the city, a landmark derided until the derision turned to love.

So messing with the lollipop building, re-imaging and re-interpreting it, was guaranteed to be a fraught proposition. And so it is significant that the task of redesigning 2 Columbus Circle -- and all that this act entailed (a very public grappling with questions of past and present, preservation and change; can something be both old and new?) -- was awarded to an Oregonian: Brad Cloepfil, principal of the architectural firm Allied Works, which Cloepfil started in Portland in 1994.

On Thursday, after a six-year process marked by preservationists' lawsuits and endless public scrutiny, Cloepfil's vision for 2 Columbus Circle -- the new home of the Museum of Arts and Design -- was officially unveiled to the public for the first time in a sleek preview attended by the national press.

Among the details on display: the terra cotta skin of the building, created from 22,000 handcrafted tiles, which feature an iridescent glaze that took two years to perfect and which react to the light in different ways depending on the time of year and time of day. And downstairs, an auditorium that pays deliberate homage to the original architecture of 2 Columbus Circle, which was designed by Edward Durrell Stone.

Stone was hired by a wealthy man named Huntington Hartford who wanted to showcase his private collection of figurative paintings -- a sort of one-man protest against all the abstract works at the Museum of Modern Art. Hartford apparently had a predilection for the swank, and the auditorium references that time in the building's history: the dark wood paneling, the gold and red-color scheme, a ceiling veiled as if in chain mail.

In keeping with this motif, the opening will be followed by swanky events -- cocktail receptions and gala events. And undoubtedly, even more weighty commissions, because it marks a crucial moment in Cloepfil's career. "I now feel like I have a body of work," he has said, and 2 Columbus Circle cements his place among the major architects working today. In other words, Cloepfil is white-hot.

Just the night before the opening, Cloepfil, who grew up in Metzger and attended the University of Oregon, had returned to Columbia University, where he earned his graduate degree in architecture, to address students and faculty. The school's dean, Mark Wigley, pronounced him a unique voice in architecture today: "That this paying respect to the most traditional understanding of what a building can be, can be turned into such an experiment ... I think there are very, very few architects in the world who have that level of command in that kind of specialized way."

Indeed, Cloepfil, perhaps best known in Portland for his design of the Wieden+Kennedy headquarters in the Pearl District, beat out big, international names to do the 2 Columbus Circle redesign, including one who went on to win the Pritzker Prize, the world's most prestigious architecture award. At the time, Cloepfil was just completing his first major commission, the Contemporary Art Museum in St. Louis.

The idea of supporting an emerging American architect appealed to the Museum of Arts and Design. "That this could be a defining part of an architectural career was very important to us," said Holly Hotchner, director of the museum, as people drifted into the building's lobby, where the original lollipop columns remain behind the street-facing windows, framing the view of the world outside.

During the past six years, Cloepfil has gone on to other big commissions, largely museums and cultural institutions: A massive addition to the Seattle Art Museum, a renovation and expansion of the University of Michigan Museum of Art, the Clyfford Still Museum in Denver. But none will ever receive the same level of scrutiny as 2 Columbus Circle.

On Thursday, Cloepfil, with a bottle of water in hand, navigated microphones and cameras. He met with journalists from The Chicago Tribune, The Wall Street Journal, the New York arts press, and major design magazines. For perhaps the thousandth time, he talked about what he had done to the building: a deliberate referencing of the past by preserving its original size and shape and color, while at the same time trying to give it a new life -- and its visitors a new experience -- by opening it up, literally carving ribbons of concrete from its body to let the light in.

He called this a kind of editing. But in many ways, it was as much a kind of archaeology, a stripping away to show what had been there all along.

Walking through the galleries, it was possible to catch glimpses of the city through these ribbons of glass: a patchwork of references, nothing whole or complete, just snatches of disembodied brownstones and floating skyscraper tops.

"I love this corner cut -- the way this building just hovers," he said, pointing to a corner of the gallery, where inside and outside blurred.

One of the criticisms that has been leveled at Cloepfil's building is that it is not bold enough, not enough of a break with the past. But this blurring of past and present seemed to be what Cloepfil wanted. He seemed to like playing with the tension between what you thought you remembered -- is that the lollipop building? -- and what you now see. That it was possible for the two to occupy the same space.

"The ambiguity of memory," he said. "Isn't that sometimes the nature of cities?"

Inara Verzemnieks:

Pavement Art

Summer in the City

Silhouette Dance by Pilobolus Dance Company

Click on Image to see video.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

***, Lies, and Videogames

Can games make your kid a better citizen?

Study: Game experiences can provide hands-on learning opportunities

By Kristin Kalning Games editor MSNBC
Tues., Sept. 16, 2008

Parents of video-gaming children, take heart: Your kid is not destined to become an anti-social hermit who lives at home until he’s 35. In fact, a new study shows that all that game time could actually be making him a better citizen.

No, this isn’t a study funded by the video-game association. It’s from the respectable folks at the Pew Internet & American Life Project. And it’s the first, says study co-author Joe Kahne, to track the sorts of things kids do when playing — not just how much time they spend playing. “It’s really valuable to focus heavily on the quality of those experiences,” he says.

Kahne, a professor at Mills College in Oakland, Calif., worked with Pew to conduct this particular survey, which focused specifically on the relationship between gaming and civic experiences among teens. It was part of a larger, $50 million initiative by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation aimed at assessing how digital media is affecting how kids learn, play and participate in civic activities.

If high-school social studies are but a distant memory, a quick refresher: Anything that has to do with engaging in public life qualifies as a civic activity. Reading up on current affairs is one way to be civically involved; so is raising money for a walk-a-thon, or showing up at a protest.

So, how can playing “Madden” or “World of Warcraft” influence your teenager to get psyched about the three branches of government? It’s not as incongruous as it might sound, says Kahne. Game experiences “can be quite valuable from the standpoint of civic and political engagement.”

Americans have been pulling away from civic engagement for decades — Robert Putnam wrote about the phenomenon in his 1995 essay “Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital.” Some academics tie this to increased distractions such as television, the Internet and video games — others, like Putnam, cite our lack of trust in government and the political process. Either way, participating in elections and public discourse has long been considered necessary for a healthy democracy.

Video games can provide hands-on learning opportunities for kids that can be much more meaningful than reading a textbook. For instance, you can play a mayor in “SimCity,” and get a close-up look at what it takes to build and maintain a community. Helping a newbie get his sea legs in a game simulates the real-world experience of volunteering. And playing games online can expose kids to people with worldviews that differ from their own — in positive and negative ways.

Many of the of the 1,102 teenagers polled said they’d encountered hostility, racism and sexism while playing online — stuff that can certainly happen offline too, says Kahne. “Just as some playground experiences are enriching and some are unpleasant for young people, one can imagine that that would be true in the game world.”

The fact is, video games are ubiquitous among today’s generation of kids, for both girls and boys. with girls and boys both. Virtually all of the teenagers polled — 97 percent — report playing games. So it’s important, says study co-author and Pew researcher Amanda Lenhart, for us to understand that games are “sitting at the table with all the rest of the media that children and teenagers are being exposed to.”

One commonly held stereotype paints teenage gamers as solitary, anti-social basement dwellers that can't socialize their way out of a paper bag. But Lenhart says their research ran counter to this notion. For the vast majority of the kids polled, games are a social experience, where they get to interact with their friends. Some kids play with other people in the room, and some play online. But regardless, teenagers view games as something they do with other people, and not just something they do when they’re alone.

It might also surprise you to learn that teenagers aren’t just into violent shoot-em-up games. In fact, 74 percent of the teenagers polled reported that racing games were their favorite, followed closely by puzzle games such as “Bejeweled,” “Tetris” and “Solitaire.” Sports titles such as the “Madden” and “FIFA” series were also cited as favorites.

That’s not to say that first-person shooters such as “Halo” or violent-themed action games such as “Grand Theft Auto” aren’t sought after — they definitely are. But daily gamers are more likely to play a wider range of game genres, according to the Pew study.

he fact that teens are interested in a diverse swath of game types presents an opportunity for parents — and educators, says Kahne. Most kids report learning about social studies through worksheets and classroom activities. But games provide a “whole new and potentially powerful way” to not only teach kids about civic issues, but get them thinking about them, too, he says.

“If we’re careful, we can harness young people’s interest in video games, and use them to connect them to a range of valuable experiences.”


so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white

William Carlos Williams

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Digital kids in a digital world

Digital kids in a digital world

Kids born after 1980 are coming of age in an increasingly digital world, more heavily reliant on technology than ever before, according to John Palfrey, an author and a Harvard University professor. CNET's Kara Tsuboi sat down with Palfrey to discuss his new book, "Born Digital," and the challenging crossroads at which our society has found itself.

What's in a face?

Whom do we fear or trust? Faces instantly guide us, scientists say

by Kitta MacPherson · Posted August 5, 2008

What's in a face?

Plenty, according to scientists at Princeton University.

A pair of Princeton psychology researchers has developed a computer program that allows scientists to analyze better than ever before what it is about certain human faces that makes them look either trustworthy or fearsome. In doing so, they have also found that the program allows them to construct computer-generated faces that display the most trustworthy or dominant faces possible.

Such work could have implications for those who care what effect their faces may have upon a beholder, from salespeople to criminal defendants, the researchers said.

In a paper appearing in the online edition this week of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Alexander Todorov, an assistant professor of psychology and public affairs at Princeton, and Nikolaas Oosterhof, a research specialist, continue an inquiry into the myriad messages conveyed by the human face. In 2005, Todorov's lab garnered international headlines with a study published in Science demonstrating that quick facial judgments can accurately predict real-world election results.

Taking what they have learned over time -- namely that, rightly or wrongly, people make instant judgments about faces that guide them in how they feel about that person -- the scientists decided to search for a way to quantify and define exactly what it is about each person's face that conveys a sense they can be trusted or feared. They chose those precise traits because they found they corresponded with a whole host of other vital characteristics, such as happiness and maturity.

"Humans seem to be wired to look to faces to understand the person's intentions," said Todorov, who has spent years studying the subtleties of the simple plane containing the eyes, nose and mouth. "People are always asking themselves, 'Does this person have good or bad intentions?'"

To conduct the study, the scientists showed unfamiliar faces to test subjects and asked them to describe traits they could gauge from the faces. The scientists boiled down the list of traits to about a dozen of the most commonly cited characteristics, including aggressiveness, unkemptness and various emotional states. The researchers showed the faces to another group and asked them to rate each face for the degree to which it possessed one of the dozen listed traits.

Based on this data, the scientists found that humans make split-second judgments on faces on two major measures -- whether the person should be approached or avoided and whether the person is weak or strong.

From there, using a commercial software program that generates composites of human faces (based on laser scans of real subjects), the scientists asked another group of test subjects to look at 300 faces and rate them for trustworthiness, dominance and threat. Common features of both trustworthiness and dominance emerged. A trustworthy face, at its most extreme, has a U-shaped mouth and eyes that form an almost surprised look. An untrustworthy face, at its most extreme, is an angry one with the edges of the mouth curled down and eyebrows pointing down at the center. The least dominant face possible is one resembling a baby's with a larger distance between the eyes and the eyebrows than other faces. A threatening face can be obtained by averaging an untrustworthy and a dominant face.

These examples show computer-generated faces displaying the common features the Princeton researchers' test subjects rated as trustworthy: from most trustworthy at left; to neutral in the middle; to least trustworthy at right. Credit: Oosterhof & Todorov

Using the program and the ratings from subjects, the scientists could actually construct models of how faces vary on these social dimensions. Once those models were established, the scientists could exaggerate faces along these dimensions, show them to other test subjects to confirm that they were eliciting the predicted emotional response, and find out what facial features are critical for different social judgments.

"If you can think of an emotion being communicated by the face as a kind of signal, you can understand that we can amplify that signal into what was almost a caricature to see if we get the proper effect," Todorov said. "And we do."

The research raises questions about whether the brain is equipped with a special mechanism for "reading" or evaluating faces, he said. Some studies of infants have shown that, when offered a choice between looking at a random pattern and one resembling a human face, infants prefer the face. And there is evidence that face-seeking is deeply rooted in both the psyche and evolution as the amygdala, a primitive region of the brain, is stimulated when someone spies a scary face.

While it may be true that people have little control over their facial features, the study also indicates that expressions may be important as well, which could have implications for people in jobs that require extensive interactions with the public.

The research was supported by the National Science Foundation and a Huygens Scholarship from the Netherlands Organization for International Cooperation in Higher Education.

Do you have toddler grandchildren: Read This

Soccer Net Death Sparks Recall, Months Later

by Wade Goodwyn

To listen to story Click Here and then click on "Listen Now."

Morning Edition, September 16, 2008 · A type of foldable soccer goal is being recalled after its maker, Regent Sports Corp., received reports of young children getting caught in the net. In one case, a toddler died after getting his head tangled.

The voluntary recall was expected to be announced by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. It affects goals sold under the MacGregor and Mitre brand names that have nets with a 5-inch grid; those with a 4-inch grid are not included in the recall.

Last year in Texas, a 21-month-old boy tried to climb on one of the MacGregor nets from the back of the goal. He fell through the mesh, and the polyethylene cord contracted around his neck.

The toddler was in a fenced-in treeless backyard that contained only the soccer goal and carpet grass. By the time the mother realized what had happened, the cord around his neck was so tight, she was unable to pull his head back through.

She sent another child back into the house for a pair of scissors while she held her dying son's head, her hands straining at the cord.

"The opening that these nylon mesh nets have is simply too big," said Scott Wolfson of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. "There needs to be a 4-inch space, but there's a 5-inch space."

When it is assembled, the MacGregor goal measures 6 feet by 3 feet. The Mitre goal is 8 feet wide by 6 feet high.

Since May 2002, the goals have been sold at sports and toy stores nationwide, as well as at Wal-Mart and Ace Hardware. Prices were commonly quoted between $26 and $45.

The difference in cost between making a goal with the deadly 5-inch mesh and a goal made with the smaller, safer mesh is estimated at less than 20 cents of polyethylene cord.

The distributor, Regent Sports Corp., is based in Hauppauge, N.Y. The goals were manufactured in China.

Consumers who own the goals should return the net to Regent Sports for a replacement, the CPSC said.

Regent Sports did not return repeated phone calls, nor did Wal-Mart. Ace Hardware did not respond to NPR's request for an interview, either.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission has come under fierce criticism by some members of Congress for lax regulation of Chinese toys. The agency's acting chairwoman, Nancy Nord, refused calls for her resignation after she lobbied Congress to not increase the agency's budget in the wake of Chinese toy recalls.

But Pamela Gilbert, the commission's executive director during the Clinton administration, says the manufacturer and retailers should be ashamed of themselves for continuing to sell a product for so many months after learning it could strangle American children.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Amazing Moon

Shot from our deck
Click to Enlarge

La Traviata at Portland Opera

Portland Opera's production of La Traviata plays at the Keller at 7:30 PM on 9/26, 10/2 and 10/4 and 2:00 PM on 9/28.

Maria Kanyova's Rehearsal of La Traviata's "Sempre Libera"

La Traviata: Maria Kanyova Interview

Portland Pics

These photos were taken today on a walk down the South Park Blocks.