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Daily Office:


25 November 2009


Matins: We stand at the dawn of the Age of Chrome, and  Bob Cringely advises us to expect something of a tussle between Palo Alto and Redmond. (I, Cringely)

We know that under the Chrome OS Google Apps will be very secure.  Any tampering will trigger the download of a new and pure OS image.  But will the Chrome OS have enough performance to compete with Microsoft Office?  I think it eventually will, based, for example, on extensions like Google’s recently announced O3D API, which will allow Google Apps and approved third-party apps to grab spare GPU cycles to improve performance.

What’s left to be seen here is whether these improvements will be enough to beat Office or if Google will have to make a standalone (local PC-based) version of these apps.  Only time will tell.

The most interesting part for me will be Microsoft’s response.  This strikes at the very heart of Redmond’s business success and Microsoft will not take it lying down.  Expect thermonuclear warfare.

Lauds: The bad news — brain damage — once again yields good news about how the brain works. Jonah Lehrer discusses the artistry of confabulation; doctors call it "lying." (Frontal Cortex)

This was SB's perpetual tragedy: he told lies without knowing that he was lying. Although his mind had mostly recovered - his memory problems and "inappropriate actions" had largely disappeared* - he would always be left with this terrible symptom, spinning fictions but thinking they were facts. It's not that he wanted to deceive - he just couldn't help it. And so, although SB never learned to tell the truth, his wife learned to stop listening.

And SB isn't alone: chronic confabulation is often seen in patients with frontal lobe damage. Like SB, these people invent fantastical fictions about their lives, telling stories that make little literal sense. They lie about anything and everything, if only because the truth is too confusing. Such confabulations tells us something important about the mind: spontaneous creativity - the ability to make up a story on demand - is a fundamental feature of human cognition. We're all natural storytellers, weaving narratives out of the confusion. In other words, SB's brain damage didn't lead to some special new mental capacity, which the rest of us are missing. Instead, it released a latent creative capacity that we all have, if only we learned how to stop holding it back.

When we were young, we called it "creative oblivion," but we lacked credentials and, moreover, lived in Houston at the time. In order to create anything, you must misremember, whether consciously or not, what you know.

Prime: Rumors of the demise of Borders, long burbled, have intensified with the news that Borders UK's Web site is no longer accepting orders. (Guardian; via Arts Journal)

In July, Borders' chief executive Philip Downer bought the business — backed by private equity group Valco — from Channel 4 chairman Luke Johnson's Risk Capital Partners. But last week Valco — a division of restructuring specialist Hilco — hired Clearwater Corporate Finance to sell the business. However, talks with WH Smith about buying stores have already collapsed. Administrator BDO Stoy Hayward is now believed to be on stand-by to be appointed at the firm.

Tierce: What could be more curious than learning that American Ivy League styles took root in Japan among gangs? (Ivy Style)

Starting in 1945, Japanese authorities generally viewed all Western youth fashion as a delinquent subculture. Despite looking relatively conservative in style compared to the other biker gangs and greasy-haired rebels, the Miyuki-zoku were still caught up in this delinquent narrative. In fact, they were actually the first middle-class youth consumers buying things under the direction of the mainstream media. It was Japanese society that was simply not ready for the idea that youth fashion could be part of the marketplace.

We love it when you talk "delinquent narrative."

Sext: Could you do worse than give the Awl diet a try? As long as you're up, Fernet Branca and stir-fried Romaine sounds great to us.

Balk: And that's how the system works. Should you wish to reduce your intake of alcohol, restrict yourself to Fernet. I assure you, you will be back in the category of "genial tippler" in no time. I should note that I myself was unable to fully abide by this rule because my preference for not constantly convulsing made a wider palette of beverage an almost medical necessity, but I'm still pretty sure the idea is a solid one. You're welcome!

Scocca: When the garlic is ready, throw the chopped romaine into the hot pan. This is where the little bit of danger comes in: if you put in only part of the romaine, and it is still wet, there may be violent little splatters of hot oil. Do not be timid. What will protect you from splattering romaine is the romaine itself, a solid pan full of it. If you approach it falteringly and drop in a little handful, the hot oil will sense your weakness and attack. If you then panic and try to shield yourself with a pot lid, you will lose control of the situation entirely. You are a human being; the contents of the pan are plant matter. Calmly and quickly deliver all the chopped leaves, and the only thing they will splatter will be their fellow leaves.

It was all we could do to refrain from quoting a recent method for steak. Oops!

Nones: We're rather tired of cataloguing what's wrong with the United States, but Ahmed Rashid makes things easy: it's basically everything.

Nobody discusses the failure of the education system that is now turning out hundreds of suicide bombers, rather than doctors and engineers.

Or the collapsing and corrupt national health system that forces the poorest to seek expensive private medical treatment, or the explosion in crime or suicides by failed farmers and workers who have lost their jobs.

Pakistan cannot tackle its real problems unless the country's leaders - military and civilian - first admit that much of the present crisis is a result of long-standing mistakes, the lack of democracy, the failure to strengthen civic institutions and the lack of investment in public services like education, even as there continues to be a massive investment in nuclear weapons and the military.

OMG! We meant "Pakistan"! (BBC News)

Vespers: Gordon Wood hopes that historians will wake up and tell stories. (Washington Post)

But conceiving of history as a kind of science means that most academic history-writing will necessarily have a limited readership. Like papers in the other sciences, monographic history is written largely for people within the discipline. Since the monographs build upon one another, the writers of these monographic studies usually presume that readers will have read the earlier books on the same subject; that is, that they will possess some prior specialized knowledge that will enable them to participate in the conversations and debates that historians have among themselves. This is why most historical monographs are often difficult for general readers to read; new or innocent readers often have to educate themselves in the historiography of the subject before they can begin to make sense of many of these books.

So advising academic historians that they have to write more stimulating prose if they want to enlarge their readership misses the point. It is not heavy and difficult prose that limits their readers; it is rather the subjects they choose to write about and their conception of their readership as fellow historians engaged in an accumulative science.

Compline: Some things are forever, more or less. Complaints written and sent to the Mayor of New York of the moment, at Letters of Note.

Is there such a Dept as the board of health in this city. A dead horse is waiting to be taken away for the last 24 hours in front of 41 Henry str. The stench is unbearable, and people in the neighborhood of which I am one were forced to sleep with closed windows last night.

Not a pleasant thing, I assure you.

That's from 1888. How quaint it would be if the sort of thing that it remarks upon (and I'm not talking about dead horses) were actually quaint.

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