Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Bits and bobs for 'Hump Day'

Reason for hope: The Economist reports another reason to savor wine and dessert after a good meal. When high-fat foods, especially red meats, are digested, they release various oxidizing toxins, implicated in cancers, diabetes, and heart disease. Red wine and fruits contain substances that react in the stomach to neutralize these toxins before they are absorbed.

It doesn't mean that I can give up fish and vegetables, but at least I can feel better about dessert.

Two sides of the coin: Whenever I get excited about a new computer application, I rush to show it to friends, calling up an example and putting the program through it's paces. Invariably, it seems, people miss my point. Typically, I'm pushing keys exclaiming 'Look what this does!'. And friends, confronted with pie charts of their bank accounts or time-series of summer airfares, are forever horrified, exclaiming 'Look what this says!'

Come on: content is ephemeral. A cool user interface is forever.

I believe: I got into a good discussion of whether we lead our lives at the whim of fate or by the rudder of destiny. Fate, predestined by a universal designer, isn't appealing to me on either a philosophical basis (why should the Designer care?) or a practical one (what can I do about it?). I do accept that impersonal chance will continuously shift my life's context, but that means that I simply have to be aware and adaptable, as any long-term plan is likely to be invalid within days of it's conception. But it doesn't mean that my life is determined by Fate.

Rather, I prefer Destiny: the mythical best-match between our talents and society's opportunities. It falls to each of us to discover that happy fit for ourselves through exploration and experience. Or to lend sympathy, encouragement, and wise counsel those around us in theirs.

Threading the minefield: My son asked me to send him some magazines for leisure reading, so I hit the local Borders. It's harder than it looks: I needed to find European magazines that will a) be of interest to him, b) not invite criticism from his flight-mates, and c) not raise Air Force eyebrows. I finally settled on Wired, Top Gear, and the Sunday Independent: I hadn't realized the extent to which news and opinion (and half-clad women) overtly fuse in UK weeklies.

I did end up buying a bit of travel / tech porn for myself though: I'm an easy touch for dramatic pictures of mountain getaways and breathless descriptions of web services. I can't imagine what life will be like if Amazon.everything finally does away with bookstores to browse.

Tom Ashbrook interviewed Jeff Bezos last week, and the Amazon CEO was unrepentant about the loss of independent booksellers. I reflected on this while spending a happy hour in the Cambridge University Press store thumbing volumes and noting ideas. There would be a lot lost if this went away, but I don't know how to save it. And, once it's gone, what's the on-line equivalent (I bet it won't fit on a Kindle...)

Photo credits: Skeptic's Dictionary and Comstock Images

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