Dissection Begins on Famous Brain

A reminder that the greatest insights about the workings of the brain are to be found in the aberrant. Scientists at MIT are busy digitizing the brain of the man who couldn’t remember anything. It will be sliced into 2,500 layers, allowing researchers around the world a window into how the brain rewires itself around damaged areas.

Read more:  Dissection Begins on Famous Brain

What’s Wrong with the Right

Andrew Sullivan pretty much nails what ails the Republican Party, and what passes as the “conservative movement,” in this extraordinary rant. Skip down to read the “Manifesto.” Political blogging at its best. (So much for my pledge to remain a-political.)

Read more: Leaving the Right

Big Plastics v. Consumers on BPA exposure

A chemical that’s been shown to be a factor in all sorts of serious conditions, including cancer, is found in 92 percent of the population. More than 200 studies have implicated the chemicals, called BPAs. Industry defenders point to questions in a handful of rodent studies, and that is the evidence that the FDA has been relying on in not banning the chemical.

Read more: Something Scary in the Pantry – NYTimes.com.

Happiness is … the remastered Beatles’ White Album

Santa came early this year. Thank you FedEx for delivering The Beatles stereo boxed set today. Where does one start? I figured that the remastering would show itself best on the work I’m most familiar with, so I started here. Good choice. The audio is substantially clarified, the stereo separation outstanding. Most dramatic is the bottomless depth and virtuosity of Paul’s bass, and the extraordinary revelation of Ringo’s drums. You can hear the kick, the subtlety of the fills. Incredible.

I remember the vinyl as having longer pauses between the songs, but this remaster restores brilliant details to those passages, making the whole package far more cohesive. The booklet’s notes from George Martin said the final session was a 24-hour marathon in which he and the band sequenced the sings and worked on the transitions and cross fades. I wouldn’t have believed it until listening to this package.

Prime cuts: The acoustic tunes, such as Blackbird and Julia, come through with a new level of intimacy. Dear Prudence brings a tear to the eye. The construction of Revolution #9, its sonic sweep … and to think that they created this on an eight-track? I’m running out of superlatives!  I’m So Tired: you can actually hear the mumbling at the end of the song. (I still don’t know what’s being said.) Other standouts: the overlooked tunes Long, Long, Long; Savoy Truffle; Cry Baby Cry.

Wow. There is much to be discovered in this massive collection.

Verizon’s Future Looks Like FairPoint’s

Like many people in northern New England, I carry a grudge against Verizon, and not just because my cell phone service has gotten worse since its takeover of Unicel. Nope. We all remember the promises of fiber-optic cable to our homes. Never happened, never will (until we choose to do it ourselves.)

In fact, Verizon shrewdly opted instead to dump its landline business to FairPoint Communications, for top dollar at the height of the stock market. Now FairPoint has fulfilled the prophesies of so many observers and proven itself completely incapable of running its business. (Also revealed: the incompetence of the regulators in three states who approved the deal.)

It’s going to be a long time before anyone goes the extra mile to run about a hundred bucks’ worth of broadband wire to my house. I mean that literally, because Comcast literally stopped wiring for cable less than a mile from my house.

So it’s with some schadenfruede that I read Bob Tedeschi’s article on smart-phone technologies that are within two years of hitting the market. For those who read the article to the end, here’s the payoff:

Dr. Lippman, of MIT, and Dr. Winarsky, of SRI, said they could envision a not-so-distant generation of smartphones communicating more intensively with others nearby via Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.

Smartphone apps could, for instance, recognize when a doctor is in the building, and alert him if another person nearby had dialed 911. Or, your phone might capture images from a video camera around the corner from a subway station.

This idea, labeled “the third cloud” by David P. Reed of MIT, underscores the most profound change for smartphones currently coming to the market — namely, that they need not communicate with the carrier at all.

“Carriers used to control everything, and now the tables have utterly turned,” Dr. Lippman said. “That’s what’ll make the future so interesting.”

This obviously won’t matter much in rural areas like ours, but it will be huge in the big cities that have the population densities to make this happen on the required scale. Think of it: disintermediation of the carriers. They go away, like travel agents. How awesome would that be?

What do we do in the areas that still need broadband? Cooperatives would work, if backed by revenue-anticipating bonds sponsored by state agencies. A variation of this approach, tapping massive public works spending at the federal level, is underway in Vermont. Let’s go, New Hampshire! And good riddance to the empty shirts at Comcast and Verizon.

Read more: Phone Smart – What Your Phone Might Do for You Two Years From Now

Hard Times in the Newsroom

Investing in quality may help newspapers, both large and small, weather out the recession.

The Los Angeles Times, which once aspired to the top ranks of national dailies, has cut newsroom staff by half. Meanwhile, The New York Times has limited cuts to about 10 percent of newsroom staff, and has actually added staff overseas and in its Washington, D.C., bureau.

Closer to home, my alma mater, the Valley News, expanded into Claremont, N.H., where the local daily went into sudden bankruptcy. It’s been great as a reader to learn more about the city, and it’s has got to be good for the city’s own self-esteem to see itself through the lens of an intelligent and respectful observer.

Quality is a legitimate and shrewd long-term strategy for companies that take that risk. It worked brilliantly for the NYT during World War II; when newspaper rationing forced New York dailies to only five or so broadsheet pages per day, the NYT spent far more heavily on news than its competitors. At war’s end, the Times’ reputation for quality led it to become the nation’s first national newspaper — a core strength that will help them weather out this recession.

(Hint to Valley News: People would pay for quality content online – it’s worth paying for some market research to investigate this further.)

Read more: The Public Editor: Recession, Revolution and a Leaner Times

The long summer

Yes, it has been a while since I last posted … on a different URL, to boot. But I have excuses, lots of them.

There were the trips that we took: to visit with the Reynolds clan in Seaside Park on the Jersey shore, to NYC twice for the preliminaries to DBS surgery, and of course, the annual trek to Chebeague Island, Maine. Somehow the weather turned dry and warm whenebver we were on the road, but otherwise it was cold and rainy damp.

Then there was the volunteer activity. The summer was consumed primarily in the never-ending quest to hurry up and hire an administrator for the school whose board I’ve chair. Even with hurry-up authority from the board, and a committee that was active despite the vacation schedules, it took nearly six weeks to resolve the first round with a single (outstanding) candidate. A similar hurry-up process with a second, outstanding, candidate resolved itself last week — hooray!

I’ve been happily practicing some of my InDesign chops on the congregational newsletter. Unfortunately, two of the last three were done while I was on the road, either at Chebeague or, for the last issue, the night after flying into Pittsburgh for the funeral of my wife’s grandmother, age 100. That came directly on the heels of a funeral for a favorite uncle in NYC, with the two nights in between occupied by a school board meeting and a speech to more than 200 in Burlington (we flew to Pittsburgh the next morning).

Not that I’m complaining. It’s a miracle that I can do any of this, and I’m thankful for it several times a day. The laptop was in for repairs overnight last night, and I hardly knew what to do with myself. So I started cleaning the office … and plotting my return to a weblog. So here I am. Welcome to all who find their way to this post. Hopefully you got here only after slogging your way through loads of even fresher content!