Thursday, August 29, 2002

(Pre-term) Labor Day.
Yipes. What a week. Mrs. J1Thing -- who's nearly 7 months pregnant with our third child -- went into early labor last Thursday and spent much of the week at Georgetown University Hospital. That's the bad news. The good news is that thanks to an arsenal of powerful drugs and her own steely resolve, she managed not to deliver a two-months premature baby. Now she's back home, assigned to bed rest and hooked up to a cellphone-sized pump that delivers keep-the-baby-inside medicine through an IV-like needle inserted in her leg. She also has a nifty monitor that we strap to her belly and that delivers information about her contractions over the phone line to a team of nurses. (Both these devices are from a company called Matria -- I'd never heard of it either -- that is providing the sort of gold standard customer service all companies would be wise to emulate.) Fortunately, the baby -- J1Thing, Jr. -- is in good shape. Mrs. J1Thing is holding strong. Our network of friends and family has come through beyond our wildest expectations. And everything should be fine -- whether the little guy, who's not due until early November, stays in awhile longer or comes out far ahead of his time. I'll likely return to regular postings over the next few days. Meantime, for those of you interested in this stuff, check out the cover story of Sunday's New York Times Magazine, which is an account of a woman who faced a similar, though much more dire, situation.

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

Coming next: the WiFi Frappuccino.
Starbucks announced today that it has begun offering wireless internet access in 1,200 locations around the U.S. The first 24 hours are free. After that, it’ll cost you. (See the full explanation here.) Alas, since none of the 1,200 locations are in the nation’s capital, I won’t be able to test the service until I’m in one of the chosen cities. So if any of you test this new offering, let me know how it goes. This could be big.

Tuesday, August 20, 2002

I want to be like Tiger.
Not that you (or I) need it, but this site is one terrific time-waster.

Monday, August 19, 2002

The affluent society.
“For many people, owning a home defines the American Dream, and 68 percent of families now do -- the highest percentage on record. Three-quarters of Americans drive their own cars. The vast majority of households possess color televisions (98 percent), videocassette recorders (94 percent), microwave ovens (90 percent), frost-free refrigerators (87 percent), washing machines (83 percent), and clothes dryers (75 percent). In the past decade or so, computers and cell phones have become commonplace. . . . 135 million Americans now own mobile telephones.”
-- from "Off the Books" in the August 2002 issue of Reason

Friday, August 16, 2002

Elvis: Is he dead or is he just toast?
Twenty-five years ago today, the great Elvis Presley left the earthly buidling. Now a New Zealand artist has commemorated the King with a giant portrait – fashioned from 4,000 slices of toast.

Thursday, August 15, 2002

Feiss squad.
The web's new It Girl is Ellen Feiss, who stars in one of Apple's now legendary "switch" TV ads. Her Valley Girlish, somewhat stoned description of a PC devouring her term paper has already spawned a few fan sites, including this one.

Wednesday, August 14, 2002

First, clone all the lawyers.
Kudos to the American Bar Association for its decision yesterday to keep therapeutic cloning legal. Citing the importance of open inquiry in a free society, the ABA joins the scientific community and patient advocates in opposing the Bush Administration, which wants to criminalize somatic cell nuclear transfer -- that is, using cloned blastocysts (clusters of cells the size of the dot on this "i") to discover cures for diseases such as Parkinson's and juvenile diabetes. This issue has fallen out of the headlines recently, but it's extremely important. To learn more, check out these helpful FAQ's from the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research.

Tuesday, August 13, 2002

Cheaters never (ok, rarely) prosper.
New research indicates that evolution might have hardwired human beings to detect cheaters. A team of researchers that investigated social exchanges among both Shiwiar (a non-literate tribe of subsistence farmers in a remote region of Ecuador) and Harvard undergrads (a literate tribe of subsistence meritocrats in a remote region of Massachusetts) found evidence that “humans are born with the capacity to identify people who cheat during social exchanges,” Reuters reports. Indeed, skill in detecting cheaters among “Shiwiar hunter-horticulturalists was indistinguishable from that of Harvard undergraduates,” says the study, just published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Forgive the self-referentiality, but this is a point I tried to make in Chapter 8 of my book, Free Agent Nation, wherein I attempted to knit the biological principle of “reciprocal altruism,” the religious ideal of the Golden Rule, and the Tocquevillian notion of “self-interest rightly understood” into a sweater of a big idea. In short, I argued, free agents behave better than mangers because if they don’t they’re more likely to suffer the consequences. Their social exchanges aren’t mediated by a bureaucracy so it’s easier for others to figure out if they’re trying to pull a fast one. By contrast, the social exchanges of corporate types are much easier to buffer or conceal, which can lead to shady Enron-esque behavior. That’s why scholars like Case Western Reserve’s Bob Hisrich have found that small entrepreneurs generally think and behave more ethically than their corporate counterparts.

So ... maybe instead of sending him to the pokey, we should ship Jeff Skilling to the Amazon for some life (and business) lessons.

Monday, August 12, 2002

Supersize US.
US News hops on the fatwagon this week with a cover story on the obesity epidemic. It's informative reading -- especially for those of you who've somehow missed my superize collection of posts on this subject. It also rings especially true tonight -- after having spent a longish weekend driving up and down the New Jersey Turnpike. As my wife -- the lovely and talented Mrs. J1Thing -- put it as we pulled out of the Clara Barton rest stop, "We're turning the heartland into the heart disease land."

Friday, August 09, 2002

Land of the newly freed.
This week’s Economist has a smart cover story and a surprisingly tender-hearted leader (not available free online) about the huge number of Americans behind bars. Among the many startling factoids:

-- “Some 13m Americans – 7% of the adult population and nearly 12% of men – have been found guilty of a serious crime.”

-- “Roughly one in five black men has been incarcerated at some point in his life; one in three has been convicted of a felony.”

-- "America now has 700 people in every 100,000 under lock and key – five times the proportion in Britain, the toughest sentencer in western Europe.”

-- “The world’s most aggressive jailer must confront the iron law of imprisonment: that those who go in almost always come out. . . . Some 600,000 inmates will leave prison this year – more than the population of Washington, DC."

-- "About two-thirds of released prisoners are rearrested within three years of release."

-- “A 1997 Rand study concluded that spending money to reduce drug consumption through treatment rather than incarceration would reduce serious crimes 15 times more effectively.”

Thursday, August 08, 2002

Your Zeppelin joke here.
Yesterday when my wife came home from an errand, she was toting a copy of Dolly Parton's new album, Halos and Horns. Now, Mrs. J1Thing isn't exactly a country gal. She's a lot more Dali than Dolly. So I was puzzled. "Listen to this," she said, explaining her purchase by playing the album's final track. It was Dolly Parton singing "Stairway to Heaven." And it was beautiful. Listen to a slice of it yourself.

Wednesday, August 07, 2002

The compassionate conservative workout.
George W. Bush is one healthy fellow. His doctors—using the high-tone medical parlance of White House physcians—pronounced his physical condition “unbelievable.” (My favorite factoid: Bush's resting heart rate is a stunning 44.) So who better to lead a national wellness movement than our nonsmoking, treadmill-running, Nautilus-pumping Prez? This could be a sleeper issue for the Republicans. Wellness would reduce health care costs and boost productivity. And if Bush based the effort on exhortation and role modeling, rather than federal spending, it wouldn’t cost the Treasury a cent. Alas, I suspect one White House figure won't love this idea. Ain't that right, Mr. Vice President?

Tuesday, August 06, 2002

Skin trade.
Want to earn money by becoming an epidermal billboard? Visit Tadoos -- and get paid for tatooing a corporate logo on your skin. The site's a joke. (At least, I think it's a joke.) But it wouldn't surprised me if somebody actually gave this idea a whirl.

Monday, August 05, 2002

Out of rehab, into the sun.
I’m back in action now – a couple of new iMacs, an updated Internet connection, and fresh new lease on life. While I was offline, I read Mark Costello’s fine new novel, Big If, which is a Jonathan Franzen-esque family tale that orbits around the Secret Service and a New Hampshire Presidential primary. I found one passage particularly arresting – since, as those of you familiar with the Pink oeuvre know (thanks, by the way, to both of you), I’m keenly interested in the connection between meaning and work.

Here’s the set up: One of the novel’s characters is a man named Jens, who’s a programmer at a computer company (Big If of the title) that makes a massive multi-player Web-based war game. Jens’s late father, Walter, had criticized Jens for wasting his ample technical talents on this violent nonsense. Jens suspects his father was right, but he also knows his father will never understand the intrinsic beauty of slinging computer code.

Here’s the passage:

“Jens remembered the night they wrote the sun. It was Naubek’s project, and a challenge. Every game had a sun . . . . Most of them were horseshit suns, a crayon-yellow circle on the screen. It wasn’t hard to write a sun, but it was very hard to write the sun. Naubek went to work, modeling a pulsing, flaring, molten organ. He made it round; he made it move; he linked it to the cloud routines, sometimes behind them, sometimes burning through. Jens and Charlie Mayer were in the room, too, working on their projects, and as Naubek coded, they came over and looked at his screen, and Jens had an idea for a haze-inversion module, a cool flattening effect, or maybe Mayer did, but it was Jens who wrote the mod, and Naubek who perfected it, and Mayer who debugged it, as Jens and Naubek hacked out the refraction math, a way to get the white of the sun turning yellow-orange-bloody-red as it descends. Jens knew that he would never feel that way again. None of them would ever feel that way again.

Jens had tried to tell his father that it didn’t matter that the code was for a war game. Walter didn’t understand, of course. How could he? He wasn’t there the night they wrote the sun.”