What’s Your Name?

Errol Morris goes through the meanings and assumptions we attach to names:

On the other hand, the name did matter to Clark. He had changed his name from “Gerhartsreiter” to “Rockefeller.” And the new name opened doors. He met Sandra L. Boss, a student at Harvard Business School. It was at a “Clue Party” that he had organized in Manhattan. She came as Miss Scarlett. He was Professor Plum. Clearly, role-playing and a multiplicity of names entered their relationship from the very beginning. The Globe article reports her saying: “He saw me across the room and was immediately smitten.” They married. Seven years later a child was born — Reigh. As Clark told The Globe, “I had never thought of becoming a father and all of a sudden this little bundle came along… And it made a huge impact on me. It was a life-changing experience.” He was a stay-at-home father, and taught Reigh to read at the age of 2. “I started her on Alfred Lord Tennyson … And we spent hours and hours reading ‘The Daisy.’”


Manufacturing Flavor

Fascinating look into how flavor is manufactured:

Natural flavors and artificial flavors sometimes contain exactly the same chemicals, produced through different methods. Amyl acetate, for example, provides the dominant note of banana flavor. When it is distilled from bananas with a solvent, amyl acetate is a natural flavor. When it is produced by mixing vinegar with amyl alcohol and adding sulfuric acid as a catalyst, amyl acetate is an artificial flavor. Either way it smells and tastes the same. “Natural flavor” is now listed among the ingredients of everything from Health Valley Blueberry Granola Bars to Taco Bell Hot Taco Sauce.

Given a previous post describing how many people prefer the artificial flavor to the real one they’re trying to mimic, maybe companies should start advertising the chemical formulas instead?

Against Chairs

Why the chair is an unwelcome advance:

No one even knows what a “good” chair would have to do, hypothetically, let alone how to make one. Some ergonomists have argued that the spine should be allowed to round forward and down in a C-shaped position to prevent muscular strain, but this pressurizes the internal organs and can cause spinal discs to rupture over time. Others advocate for lumbar support, but the forced convexity that this creates is not much better in the short run and can be worse in the long: it weakens the musculature of the lumbar region, increasing the likelihood of the very injuries it’s meant to prevent. There are similar debates over seat height, angle and depth; head, foot and arm support; and padding.

How To Make Oil Out Of Dirt

Fantastic photo essay on how shale oil is produced.

[The trucks are] so large people say they can drive over a Ford F-150 like it’s a ‘speed bump’ — with this shot from outside a mechanic’s shop it’s easy to see what they mean:

Montreal’s Snow Plowing Mafia

The snow plowing business in Montreal is hardcore:

One winter morning a few years ago, a driver steered his snowblower down the streets of a Montreal neighbourhood. It was the day after one of the season’s first snowfalls, and the roads were lined with fresh, white drifts. As usual, the driver’s co-worker walked ahead of the huge vehicle, warning pedestrians to move out of the way, then waving the all-clear. Suddenly, the man on foot signalled frantically for the driver to stop. He’d spotted something half-hidden in a nearby snowbank: a massive steel rod that would have destroyed the machine.

The driver slowed, and his co-worker sighed with relief. But it was already too late. The adjacent snowbanks were filled with concealed cinder blocks, which had smashed against the blower’s internal blades and sent chunks of cement flying all over the sidewalk. The cinder blocks wrecked the blades, costing the vehicle’s owner a minimum of $10,000 in repairs, according to someone associated with the company. The snow removers’ shock quickly turned to rage. This was no accident; they were under attack by industrial saboteurs.

Confessions of an Ex-Ex-Gay

Depressing narrative:

“Are you gay?” she asked. I blurted out that I was.

“I knew it, ever since you were a little boy.”

Her resignation didn’t last long. My mom is a problem solver, and the next day she handed me a stack of papers she had printed out from the Internet about reorientation, or “ex-gay,” therapy. I threw them away. I said I didn’t see how talking about myself in a therapist’s office was going to make me stop liking guys. My mother responded by asking whether I wanted a family, then posed a hypothetical: “If there were a pill you could take that would make you straight, would you take it?”

Cephalopod Intelligence

Octopuses are really damn intelligent, and weird:

Another measure of intelligence: you can count neurons. The common octopus has about 130 million of them in its brain. A human has 100 billion. But this is where things get weird. Three-fifths of an octopus’s neurons are not in the brain; they’re in its arms.

“It is as if each arm has a mind of its own,” says Peter Godfrey-Smith, a diver, professor of philosophy at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, and an admirer of octopuses. For example, researchers who cut off an octopus’s arm (which the octopus can regrow) discovered that not only does the arm crawl away on its own, but if the arm meets a food item, it seizes it—and tries to pass it to where the mouth would be if the arm were still connected to its body.