Saturday, July 31, 2010

It's easy to learn a language just maintains lists of people who know certain languages and want to learn others. Anyone can search the database, but only gold members, who pay $24 a year, can send e-mail easily to others.

Each person sets up a profile and includes a short description of age, location and what he or she would like to talk about. There is a big demand to practice English, and I found many possible pen pals.

Marie, 40, was born in Spain but lives in France near the Bordeaux region. She wants to improve her English and “perhaps find a job in sales export.” Serge, a Parisian who is retired, studies genealogy and wants to improve his English, Spanish and Swedish. claims it has more than 1.5 million members studying 115 languages.

I find the right partner through what are essentially classified ads. If I wanted to study Luxembourgish, the Germanic tongue of Luxembourg, there were 11 people looking to study English. There are 32 willing people who are fluent in Tswana, a Bantu language generally spoken around Southern Africa, mainly in Botswana. An e-mail or two is all it takes to find a study partner.

Maria, one of 113 people ready to help with Uyghur, which is spoken in western China, says she is also fluent in Mandarin but wants to practice Russian, Hindi and English. It is a big database.
-Learning a Language From an Expert, on the Web

Other similar Language Learning Sites;

Skype Forums

Some sites, like, and, are devoted to helping people practice English but add the elements of sharing photos and interests like a dating service.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Effective Habits of Ernest Gellner - 'cold intellectual honesty'

A review of another Gellner biography;

In common with so many other émigrés, Gellner served in the war (in his case in a Czechoslovak armored unit), and he was grateful to Britain for defeating Nazism and offering him a home after the end of hostilities. Unlike many such émigrés, however, he showed no interest in acquiring the outward trappings of social success and acceptance. Instead, as Mr. Hall shows, Gellner made his watchword "cold intellectual honesty." This was matched by a strong dose of warm and passionate courage.

Gellner was by training and profession an anthropologist. He began his career by conducting fieldwork among the Berbers of Morocco, sometimes accompanied by his intrepid wife, Susan. But Gellner was really a classic polymath whose interests ranged across several disciplines at a time when it was still (just) possible to feel a mastery of more than one field of study. Gellner launched forays into philosophy, sociology, psychoanalysis and history.

The fields might have been diverse, but the method of inquiry was similar in each case: analytical rigor combined with a strict commitment to reason. Those who knew Gellner recall that this commitment could result in truly nerve-racking conversations, in which they found themselves under relentless interrogation as Gellner tried to get to the heart of a problem. There was not much small talk, and there was nowhere to hide as he chipped away at the position of his interlocutor—or, to put it another way, his opponent. As one might imagine, Gellner did not suffer fools gladly. He told the assembled doyens and divas who constituted the celebrated Cambridge History of Political Thought school, for example, that there were simply too many of them.

When he started his writing career, Gellner's targets were mainly on what was perceived to be the right side of the cultural-political spectrum: In particular, Gellner attacked the philosopher Michael Oakeshott and the intellectual historian Isaiah Berlin for their romantic traditionalism...

Gellner was at odds with Oakeshott's belief that only tradition could guarantee civilized rule and Oakeshott's related claim that the imposition of rationality would lead to fanaticism. As for Berlin, Gellner was a critic of his argument for value- pluralism, which Gellner saw as something that could be achieved only at the expense of reason. In Berlin's hands, as Gellner saw it, "the history of ideas," Mr. Hall writes, "became something of a game, in which thinkers were damned as dangerous because anti-pluralist or praised for endorsing the incommensurability of values." Gellner was particularly angered, Mr. Hall says, that "a fellow exile from the disaster zones of Europe" (Isaiah Berlin was born in Riga, Latvia, then part of the Russian Empire) could be "so infuriatingly complacent."...

Gellner's most celebrated demolition was of the literary critic Edward Said (1935-2003). When Said accused Gellner of writing about North Africa without having a command of the native language, Gellner was too modest to respond that he was in fact conversant in the language of the Berbers. He did, however, make a strong case that the whole theory of "orientalism"—Said's idea that Western interpretations and depictions of the East were designed not to understand the East but to control it—was based on erroneous assumptions about the political power of literature. The viceroys of India, he pointed out brutally, were not known for eagerly scanning the pages of late-19th-century literary magazines....

"No nation," he once wrote, "is fit to rule itself. . . . [Nations] fight each other, and they oppress their own minorities." For this reason, and others, Gellner was no Zionist; he did not believe that his Jewishness determined his identity. He was prepared to fight for Israel, he quipped, but not to live there...

As Mr. Hall demonstrates, Gellner believed that there really was a clash between "liberty and pluralism," on the one hand, and "authoritarianism and oppressiveness" on the other. In a passionate riposte to Noam Chomsky, who had accused him of ignoring Western crimes, Gellner charged that his critic had "obscured" the fact that "the survival of freedom and accountable, limited government is an enormously important value even when some of its defenders are occasionally tarnished."

Excerpts from the book.

He had separate reputations as scholar of Islam, theorist of nationalism, philosopher of history, and historian of ideas. He ended his career in Prague, the city in which he had grown up as a boy, though in his final years he was most interested in developments in Russia. His status as public intellectual rested on this background, that of a multilingual polymath, a modern philosophe. He was sometimes cited as one of the last great thinkers from Central Europe whose Jewish background meant a direct experience of the twentieth century's horrors....

I found him to be an exceptionally attractive human being: witty, extremely kind, modest, and blessed with a genius for creating something of a tribe around himself, cemented by an endless stream of postcards – sent, one felt, to counteract a sense of loneliness.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Weird Blog of the Day

Virginity Project

via Guardian

Artist of the Day- Hopper

Edward Hopper

via the elegant and cool blog of Michele Roohani

Cool Blogs

Michele Roohani
“Life is short, art is long, opportunity fleeting, experiment treacherous, judgment difficult.”

Arcane Sentiment

Daily Expositions

Agent Continuum

Cafe Salemba

James MacLean

Taro Econ Blog

Dangerous Knowledge

In this one-off documentary, David Malone looks at four brilliant mathematicians - Georg Cantor, Ludwig Boltzmann, Kurt Gödel and Alan Turing - whose genius has profoundly affected us, but which tragically drove them insane and eventually led to them all committing suicide.

The film begins with Georg Cantor, the great mathematician whose work proved to be the foundation for much of the 20th-century mathematics. He believed he was God's messenger and was eventually driven insane trying to prove his theories of infinity.

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Book Cover Art- 4 Fish

Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food. By Paul Greenberg

The famous story of the demise of Newfoundland’s cod is a parable of all that is wrong with industrial fishing. Cod hate cages. They don’t like being handled, are very sensitive to changes in their environment and are very hard to breed. That is the problem with fish-farming. Some fish are simply not suited to it.

Migratory tuna are also unlikely candidates for farming. Yet the high prices commanded by bluefin tuna and the demise of wild stocks have led many people to attempt to raise them in captivity in order to supply the same demand. Trying to farm a fish just because there is an established market for it is a waste of time and money, argues Mr Greenberg. Farm animals were domesticated because they were suitable to begin with, and only got more so over time. Aquaculture will only work, environmentally and economically, with the right sort of fish.

Yes, I second that

I agree totally with Lexington;

Now that it's official—Facebook has half a billion users—I feel at last that I have a reply for my wife. She (60) has been mocking me for having a Facebook account at my age (59). For the past year my mendacious excuse has been that I joined to keep a weather eye on what my children (30 and 28) are up to. But now I can tell her that half a billion members can't all be wrong. Facebook is not just a useful tool but oddly comforting.

Cognitive Surplus


The Facebook Effect

The Facebook Effect: The Inside Story of the Company that is Connecting the World. By David Kirkpatrick

In the early days Mr Zuckerberg comes across as a mixture of programming prodigy and business neophyte (his initial business cards bear the memorable phrase “I’m CEO…bitch!”). But his leadership instincts are commendably sharp. By surrounding himself with experienced advisers, he manages to steer Facebook clear of hurdles that threaten to derail its growth and soon finds himself the object of fawning attention from companies and venture capitalists drooling over the firm’s fast-growing franchise. The pressure on the fledgling entrepreneur is intense. In one scene Mr Zuckerberg retreats to the bathroom of a swank Silicon Valley restaurant and bursts into tears during a stressful negotiation over funding.

But behind the tears is toughness. Facebook’s boss turns down several Croesus-like offers to buy the company in spite of intense lobbying by fellow shareholders who think he should sell. And he pursues his vision of making the world a more open and connected place with single-minded determination. Some of the most interesting passages in “The Facebook Effect” describe how Mr Zuckerberg’s missionary zeal makes him ambivalent towards initiatives that would mint money for Facebook but fail to advance its agenda of “radical transparency”.

It is this zeal—and the company’s habit of suddenly revealing more of a user’s information in unexpected ways—that has repeatedly got it into hot water. Here Mr Kirkpatrick puts his finger on the contradiction between Mr Zuckerberg’s professed belief in the importance of protecting people’s privacy and his deep-seated conviction that people are rapidly losing interest in keeping their personal data hidden.
-Review of the book from The Economist

Related: Author's namesake blogger, David Kirkpatrick

Effective Habits of a Clinical Psychologist

"Look for grey areas even when they don't exist, work as hard as you can but remember that luck has a large part to do with your success."

Grey areas abound in religion

Something to think about for the young Muslim.

Life is all about the grey area. When I was growing up I wasn't sure where I belonged in the world of religion. The way religion was taught in the Arab world was always in absolutes. While I didn't know much when I was young, I knew that I could not live in a black or white, either-or world. This was made most clear through a sermon delivered by a young imam who was studying for his doctorate at the Harvard Divinity School.

Speaking to a group of Muslim students, Imam Talal Eid said, "If you ask me whether charging interest is haram (forbidden) in Islam, I would say yes and I would quote chapter and verse from the Qur'an for you."

After a long pause, he went on to say, "But if I didn't pay for my car with an installment loan, I wouldn't be able to come here to talk to you about Islam."

With that simple, expressive example between the absolute and the relative, the imam carved out a place of tolerance and compromise for me. He made it safe for me to be the judge of my own actions, to set my own course, to walk to the beat of my own drum. He made it safe to make my own rules using the lessons I learned with the heart and mind that God gave me. No one could force me to walk away from my duty as a Muslim, by insisting there was only one way to live my life and practice my faith.
-Dr. Naif Al-Mutawa

Advice to Young Muslim

Find the right role models.

I grew up in a part of the world where George Orwell's Animal Farm was banned. It was also banned in the former Soviet Union. The Kremlin banned it because as a totalitarian regime, it did not want democratic messages to be spread within its borders. The censors in the USSR chose to go beneath the surface of the allegory, understand the message in the book and ban it accordingly. In my neck of the desert, it was banned because there was a pig on the cover. Go figure.

The Holy Qur'an was revealed in an Arabia that was alive with the richness of Jahiliya (pre-Islamic) period poetry. The miracle of the Qur'an was not only in its message, but also in the complexity of the syntax used to communicate that message. Its prose is unmatched in the history of the Arabic language. It is an absolute shame that the Qur'an continues to be held hostage by those who favour the idolatry of words over the depth of their meaning and the elasticity of the human intellect.
- Dr. Naif A. Al-Mutawa

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Julian Assange’s mission for total transparency

Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give the appearance of solidity to pure wind.”- Orwell

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A very coold ad

Soccer's greatest ever for some.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Gratitude Journal- Be Grateful that you can read

After Howard Engel (author of 12 best-selling mystery novels featuring his beloved detective, Benny Cooperman) realized that he couldn't make out the printed word that summer morning in 2001, he took himself off to the Emergency Room of his local hospital where the doctors diagnosed his condition as "alexia sine agraphia" (which came about owing to a stroke that he had suffered). A person with alexia can write without difficulty but will no longer be able to read what he writes. This was almost impossible for Engels to accept, after all, he had always been a reader, his brain was hard-wired to read "...I could no more stop reading than I could stop my heart. Reading was bone and marrow, lymph and blood to me", besides, he made his living writing, if he couldn't read what he wrote, how would he make his living?

via Lotus Reads

Neuroscience and Democracy

Quote of the Day

"From the perspective of the human brain, it's a miracle that democracy works at all"


Sunday, July 11, 2010

Can Spain beat the Dutch playing Dutch Football

“I am Dutch,” Cruyff said last week to El Periódico in Spain, where he lives. “But I will always defend the football Spain play.”

That is an easy transition for him because the soccer Spain plays is downright Dutch, and it can trace its roots to Cruyff. At the height of his playing career in 1973, Cruyff joined Barcelona and played there five years, winning the Spanish championship and the Spanish cup. He had even greater success when he coached Barcelona from 1988 to 1996, winning four league titles and the 1992 European Cup.

He also helped establish methods used at the club’s acclaimed youth academy, La Masia, where a third of the current Spanish team learned a style of play that was neither Spanish nor Dutch, but which is internationally appealing and very effective....

The Spanish style is based on the Dutch system of “total football,” developed at the Amsterdam club Ajax, where Cruyff learned the game. It requires every player on the field to be a playmaker, as a dribbler or passer, depending on what the situation requires.

Open sections of the field were not gaps to be traversed with long passes or frantic runs forward; rather, they were areas to mount an organized, well-fortified attack with keen passing and combination play. That is the sort of play Spain has used here to dominate possession on its way to the final after losing to Switzerland, 1-0, in its opening match.

“I think Spain is the country playing the best football in the past few years,” Netherlands Coach Bert van Marwijk said Saturday. “I’ve been the coach of the national squad for two years now, and during that time, it has crossed my mind that I would love to play Spain, and now it is happening.”

He added: “Both teams have their own style, and they do resemble each other. Right now, Spain has executed better.”
-A Dutch Great Helped Transform Spain’s Game

A bug ate my Firefox?

My Firefox's execution file has disappeared and together with Chrome's execution file. It seems Explorer is the one that is working at the moment. Does any tech savvy person have an advice? Is it a bug? Or another Microsoft conspiracy? Anyway IE is really pathetic!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Art and Photo Blog of the Day


Art of Roughness- Mandelbrot at TED

The Mandelbrot set in a certain sense is a **** of a dream I had and an uncle of mine had since I was about 20. I was a student of mathematics, but not happy with mathematics that I was taught in France. Therefore, looking for other topics, an uncle of mine, who was a very well-known pure mathematician, wanted me to study a certain theory which was then many years old, 30 years old or something, but had in a way stopped developing. When he was young he had tried to get this theory out of a rut and he didn’t succeed, nobody succeeded. So, there was a case of two men, Julia, a teacher of mine, and Fatu, who had died, had a very good year in 1910 and then nothing was happening. My uncle was telling me, if you look at that, if you find something new, it would be a wonderful thing because I couldn’t – nobody could.

I looked at it and found it too difficult. I just could see nothing I could do. Then over the years, I put that a bit in the back of my mind until one day I read an obituary. It is an interesting story that I was motivated by an obituary, an obituary of a great man named Poincaré, and in that obituary this question was raised again. At that time, I had a computer and I had become quite an expert in the use of the computer for mathematics, for physics, and for many sciences. So, I decided, perhaps the time has come to please my uncle; 35 years later, or something. To please my uncle and do what my uncle had been pushing me to do so strongly.

But I approached this topic in a very different fashion than my uncle. My uncle was trying to think of something, a new idea, a new problem, a new way of developing the theory of Fatu and Julia. I did something else. I went to the computer and tried to experiment. I introduced a very high level of experiment in very pure mathematics. I was at IBM, I had the run of computers which then were called very big and powerful, but in fact were less powerful than a handheld machine today. But I had them and I could make the experiments. The conditions were very, very difficult, but I knew how to look at pictures. In fact, the reason I did not go into pure mathematics earlier was that I was dominated by visual. I tried to combine the visual beauty and the mathematics.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

More Ideas on Improving Soccer- Use Two balls

This time from Rick Bookstaber of all people;

-Use two balls. Having two balls in play will increase the number of shots, and spread out the defense. The balls can be color coded, with one ball being worth two points and the other ball one point.

-Add a goal tunnel. Have a corrugated metal tube that runs into the goal from beyond the goalie area. If someone can kick the ball into the tube, it is an automatic goal, since the goalie cannot defend it. New and entertaining strategies can be added with this feature. For example, players can be "tunneled" by being slammed against the sharp metal edges of the tube, thereby increasing the physical component, and with it, the entertainment value of the sport.

Photo of the Day

South Koreans Fishing.

Technical Advice Sought

How do you stop Chinese Spam invading your blog comments?

I'm still waiting for a check from Google Ads- how long does it need to get a single penny?

I want to create a customized search function for all my blogs- how do I do that?

Unsolicited Advice to Amazon and Google book search team

One way to gauge a quality of a non-fiction book is the number of questions in a book. I'm not able to search 'question marks' under Amazon book search. It would be good to develop a visualization tool that allows you to see these sorts of things (eg. question marks, number of quotations included, etc).

It may not be autism

Almost 50% of the children previously diagnosed with autism are found to be suffering from some degree of brain seizure activity that is undetectable to the eye...In the cases where these seizures are the cause of the symptoms, once the seizures have been detected and treated, the level and speed of recovery in the children has been remarkable.
-Please Help Avoid Misdiagnosing Development Disorders

21st Century Social Networking Tools- the basics

David Pogue gives a basics guide to social networking tools;
As a public service, therefore, I’m offering a handy clip-’n’-save guide to the social networking services you’re most likely to hear about at this summer’s barbecues.

Facebook- This is the biggest social networking service, with almost 500 million members — 22 percent of everyone on the Internet — and it’s growing by 5 percent a month. Similar to Facebook- Myspace, Bebo, Orkut

LINKEDIN - It’s Facebook for the professional set

TWITTER -This is the service that lets you send tweets — er, brief, 140-character updates that feel a lot like text messages. Using, you can find out what the world is saying about you, your company or any topic that interests you. Similaar: Google Buzz,FriendFeed,

Others: FOURSQUARE, Gowalla, Loopt, Brightkite, YELP, OpenTable,UrbanSpoon,

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Thomas Ricks want to know Worst War Memoir Ever

Thomas Ricks a reviews War Memoir of General Mark W. Clark and doesn't like it;
First question: Is there a relationship between the quality of generalship and the quality of a memoir? I think there is, if only because the more adept and successful generals have more interesting stories to tell. In this sense, war memoirs invert Tolstoy's famous observation that all happy families are alike. All successful generals are different, but all defeated generals are essentially similar-or at least their memoirs are. Two of the best generals' memoirs of World War II, I think, are Slim's and Eisenhower's. Likewise, the best Civil War memoir is Grant's. By contrast, what would Fredendall or Short have to say?

Clark wasn't a failure, but he was mediocre. So his memoir is worse than his record would indicate.

Monday, July 5, 2010

I Wish Your Wish

Creativity Link of the Day- I Wish Your Wish

Random Design, Culture and Art blogs

Eyeteeth: A journal of incisive ideas

Heart As Arena



Advice from Spielberg - Art as Inspiration

“I hung the painting over my desk,” Mr. Spielberg recalled. “It was my deblocker. Whenever I hit a wall or couldn’t figure out where a story was going, I just looked up at that painting.”
-America Illustrated

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Houses of Economists- Carmen M. Reinhart

Rogoff and Carmen at Carmen's house

After much hand-wringing, he decided to return to the United States to attend Yale, which overlooked his threadbare high school transcript. He considered majoring in Russian until Jeremy Bulow, a classmate who is now an economics professor at Stanford, began evangelizing about economics.

Mr. Rogoff took an econometrics course, reveling in its precision and rigor, and went on to focus on comparative economic systems. He interrupted a brief stint in a graduate program in economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to prepare for the world chess championships, which were held only every three years.

After becoming an “international grandmaster,” the highest title awarded in chess, when he was 25, he decided to quit chess entirely and to return to M.I.T. He did so because he had snared the grandmaster title and because he realized that he would probably never be ranked No. 1.

He says it took him a long time to get over the game, and the euphoric, almost omnipotent highs of his past victories.

“To this day I get letters, maybe every two years, from top players asking me: ‘How do I quit? I want to quit like you did, and I can’t figure out how to do it,’ ” he says. “I tell them that it’s hard to go from being at the top of a field, because you really feel that way when you’re playing chess and winning, to being at the bottom — and they need to prepare themselves for that.”

He returned to M.I.T., rushed through what he acknowledges was a mediocre doctoral dissertation, and then became a researcher at the Federal Reserve — where he said he had good role models who taught him how to be, at last, “professional” and “serious.” ...

And, unlike Mr. Rogoff, she has never been hired by an Ivy League school. But measured by how often her work is cited by colleagues and others, this woman whom several colleagues describe as a “firecracker” is, by a long shot, the most influential female economist in the world.

Like Mr. Rogoff, she took a circuitous route to her present position.

Born in Havana as Carmen Castellanos, she is quick-witted and favors bright, boldly printed blouses and blazers. As a girl, she memorized the lore of pirates and their trade routes, which she says was her first exposure to the idea that economic fortunes — and state revenue in particular — “can suddenly disappear without warning.”

She also lived with more personal financial and social instability. After her family fled Havana for the United States with just three suitcases when she was 10, her father traded a comfortable living as an accountant for long, less lucrative hours as a carpenter. Her mother, who had never worked outside the home before, became a seamstress.

“Most kids don’t grow up with that kind of real economic shock,” she says. “But I learned the value of scarcity, and even the sort of tensions between East and West. And at a very early age that had an imprint on me.”

With a passion for art and literature — even today, her academic papers pun on the writings of Gabriel García Márquez — she enrolled in a two-year college in Miami, intending to study fashion merchandising. Then, on a whim, she took an economics course and got hooked.

When she went to Florida International University to study economics, she met Peter Montiel, an M.I.T. graduate who was teaching there. Recognizing her talent, he helped her apply to a top-tier graduate program in economics, at Columbia University.

At Columbia, she met her future husband, Vincent Reinhart, who is now an occasional co-author with her. They married while in graduate school, and she quit school before writing her dissertation to try to make some money on Wall Street.

“We were newlyweds, and neither of us had a penny to our name,” she says. She left school so that they “could have nice things and a house, the kind of things I imagined a family should have.”

She spent a few years at Bear Stearns, including one as chief economist, before deciding to finish her graduate work at Columbia and return to her true love: data mining. “I have a talent for rounding up data like cattle, all over the plain,” she says.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Advice of the Day

Be grateful. Yes, I often hear from people that they are tired of being admonished to be grateful. It’s no wonder there is a sort of societal “gratitude fatigue” given how much press this concept have received in self-help literature over the past ten years or so. However, there’s a good reason why this advice persists not just from modern authors, but also from the earliest philosophers and religious writers. It works. Gratitude for what one has in their life is a critical part of contentment. Without gratitude, contentment will always be elusive. The results of the first major study on the efficacy of gratitude for cultivating contentment and happiness is presented in a recent book, Thanks! How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier, by Robert A. Emmons. He is a big proponent of gratitude journaling, recommending that writing out a few items for which we’re grateful every day will help instill a “grateful heart” and contribute to us “loving what we have.

via Smaller Living