I finished listening to Snow Crash this morning. It turned out to be a really good, funny book. The whole premise of the book is that brains are like computers, programmable and capable of getting viruses too. It was interesting because at the same time I was listening to it, I read an article in the Economist, Signs of Success, that studied language in deaf children. They found that groups of deaf children spontaneously create sign languages – sign languages that resemble existing spoken languages. They argue that there must be a grammatical template wired into the brains of infants. Neal Stephenson’s book is based on that idea – on the premise that some knowledge in your brain is hardwired from birth and other parts are learned. He equates the knowledge, or the way your brain works, to software. Once again science fiction is predicting the future – or at least future findings – and playing with them.
On top of the somewhat serious premise of the software/brain analogy, Neal introduces many quirky characters and details that make the book humerous. A pizza chain run by the mafia, a motorcycle riding giant who can’t be killed because he has a nuclear bomb implant, corporate franchises as neighborhoods … all of these characteristics add humor. They take some of society’s already quirky characteristics, apply a little technology, and show us how strange they really could become!
I laughed when I read this article, Internet goes to the dogs. Dogster is a social networking site, like Friendster, but for dogs. Before you laugh … the site has been extremely successful! You can create a web page for your dog with his/her nickname, likes, traits, interests, pictures of course and to complete the picture you can have links to all of your dog’s doggie friends’ pages! Since January more than 8,000 dogs have signed up. Holy Cow. That’s 8,000 people that maintain a web site for their dog … I guess I’d better get with the picture!
Note that the site is really slow today … they were featured on Slashdot and they are getting even more traffic than normal.
So that brings up one of my favorite topics … what different web applications can you think of? I know there’s money in dogs, and I’ve though of specialty dog foods, toys, services, etc, but I never dreamed of a dog networking site!
Anyone who has ever had a dog knows that they can understand you. An article in last week’s Economist, 2/21/04 "Sensitive souls", describes an experiment that proves it. Brian Hare from Harvard University did an experiment where he put food under one of two inverted cups. A human then sat behind the cups and indicated the cup with the food, either by pointing, looking, or tapping. Dogs always got the food. Chimpanzees and wolves didn’t do any better than chance. He even tried it with dogs with little human contact. Dogs could read the human experimenter’s facial expression and figure out which cup the food was under.
So dogs can read your facial expression, and within reason, figure out what you’re trying to tell them. But then anybody with a dog knew that.
Although my experience has been that they can understand lots of words. They just get left behind in the grammar arena. Telling a dog that someone is not coming after you’ve told them they are coming, is impossible.
Other popular dog posts:
There’s an interesting article in the New York Times magazine about blogging. The article focuses on teenagers with blogs but I’ve found one of the subtopics, how public or private weblogs should be, is a common question among weblog creating or reading people of all ages.
I found both the link to the article and a list of online weblog hosting sites, Weblogs Compendium, on the Ramblintronics blog.
Tango Midnight by Michael Cassutt is a science fiction book about the space program. This story about a disaster on the space station takes place in the very near future. The book is well written with well developed characters (always a must for any good book). What I didn’t like about the book is that the author jumps back and forth between two time periods, pre and post disaster.
If you enjoy near future, realistic science fiction, you will probably enjoy this book. Although realize that the book is less about the science of space exploration, and much more about the story – the disaster on the space station and how the characters involved deal with it – and the politics – the Russian, US and Chinese space agencies all interact during this book!
My aunt is looking for the author and title of a science fiction book: “Do you know the name of a science fiction book in which experiments were carried out on babies, the babies had wings, the setting was deep in a forest, one of the babies escaped…..????”
I haven’t read it but my guess was either a Ray Bradbury type book or the female science fiction author that writes the language related books …
Do you know? (If you find it with Google or Amazon, I’d like to know which search words you used!)
Career Warfare: 10 Rules for Building a Successful Personal Brand and Fighting to Keep It by David F. D’Alessandro and Michele Owens is a how-to business book. D’Allessandro, the CEO of John Hancock, claims that your personal brand, the way people see you, can make or break your career. In his book (which is co-authored by Michele Owens) gives very well-structured advice on how to build your own personal brand. Writing in a very clear style with highlights called out on each page, D’Allesandro uses personal examples, both good and bad, to demonstrate his points. All of the advice makes good sense, and while you probably won’t learn anything earth shattering, D’Allesandro does a good job of using personal examples to demonstrate why it’s important to ALWAYS pay attention to your behavior. While stressing that your day-to-day behavior is important, he also demonstrates how your actions during a few critical moments can make or break your career.
During this time of high media attention to the personal accountability and responsibility or lack there of at the CEO level, D’Alessandro’s book is a good primer and reminder of how we all ought to behave at work.
In How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas, David Bornstein describes social entrepreneurs as individuals that start businesses to enhance society – individuals with the influence, ideas and drive to change the way the world works for the better. Although he describes social entrepreneurship as a growing phenomenon, he tells us that it’s been around for a while. One of the first examples he gives is Florence Nightingale. Her work to change the medical system of the British army and then in Britain itself decreased the mortality rate of wounded soldiers by 100s of percent. She created a self sustaining organization (a new medical organization) that improved the lives of those in her society.
Bornstein introduces an organization called Ashoka, a nonprofit organization that invests in social entrepreneurs. Through the work and motivation of nine Ashoka fellows, Bornstein shows us what a social entrepreneur is. He uses examples from around the world, from setting up an organization to help homeless children in India to providing affordable irrigation to rural farmers in Brazil. In all cases Ashoka looks for individuals that are self-motivated, already well along the way to making their dream come true, have a realistic plan and a self-sustaining plan. Social entrepreneurs set up organizations that are at least self-sufficient if not profitable. They may need donations and hard work to get started but they are in the end a new profitable way of doing business. For example, in Brazil, Fábio Rosa uses both new technology and new regulations to bring cheap electricity to rural farmers which enables them to use wells and pumps to irrigate their land.
The book is very well written. By describing the nine Ashoka fellows, Bornstein helps the reader understand what motivates these social entrepreneurs, in turn motivating the reader. I highly recommend the book.
A friend told me about Heifer International, a nonprofit organization that donates livestock to poor people around the world. The idea is that Heifer gives a poor family or community an animal that produces food, like a milk cow or a chicken. The family can than live off the proceeds, milk or eggs in this example, directly or sell it for other food that they need. In exchange, they agree to give at least the first offspring of their animal to another family in need.
They also have other projects. For example, they are working in the US to increase the number of young farmers.
You can read more about Hiefer International on their website. They’ve also been featured in the New York Times and Fortune magazine – the links are on their website.
There’s an article on CNN about a man who swallowed twelve pounds of coins, necklaces and needles over the course of a decade. He had a disease called pica, which comes from the Latin word for magpie. It’s a condition (such as when kids eat dirt), but this man’s was probably linked to a psychiatric disorder. I wonder if it was just a weird side effect or if it actually started with a rational decision, such as needing to hide money and spread from there …