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Archive for January, 2015

Blogging is very much alive — we just call it something else now

Gigaom

All it takes is the retirement of one blogger — namely, Andrew Sullivan, founder of The Daily Dish and long-time thorn in the side of the liberal blogosphere — and the social web explodes with a mixture of praise, recriminations, eulogies for the death of blogging as we know it, and righteous indignation about whether he was one of the first or not. I don’t think Andrew’s departure is the end of the world, but I confess that it did make me stop and think about the nature of blogging, and where it has gone, or is going.

One of the reasons it made me think is that Andrew (who I consider a friend) said he decided to stop blogging in part because the pace of publishing multiple items a day had worn him down after 15 years, and he was getting too old for such things. As I…

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In Defense of Academic Writing

judgmental observer

Academic writing has taken quite a bashing since, well, forever, and that’s not entirely undeserved. Academic writing can be pedantic, jargon-y, solipsistic and self-important. There are endless think pieces, editorials and New Yorker cartoons about the impenetrability of academese. In one of those said pieces, “Why Academics Can’t Write,” Michael Billig explains:

Throughout the social sciences, we can find academics parading their big nouns and their noun-stuffed noun-phrases. By giving something an official name, especially a multi-noun name which can be shortened to an acronym, you can present yourself as having discovered something real—something to impress the inspectors from the Research Excellence Framework.

Yes, the implication here is that academics are always trying to make things — a movie, a poem, themselves and their writing — appear more important than they actually are. These pieces also argue that academics dress simple concepts up in big words in order to exclude those…

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How strong would a magnetic field have to be to kill you?

Gravity and Levity

There’s a great joke in Futurama, the cartoon comedy show, about a horror movie for robots.  In the movie, a planet of robots is terrorized by a giant “non-metallic being” (a monsterified human).  The human is finally defeated by a makeshift spear, which prompts the robot general to say:

“Funny, isn’t it?  The human was impervious to our most powerful magnetic fields, yet in the end he succumbed to a harmless sharpened stick.”

The joke, of course, is that the human body might seem much more fragile than a metallic machine, but to a robot our ability to withstand enormous magnetic fields would be like invincibility.

But this got me thinking: how strong would a magnetic field have to be before it killed a human?

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Unlike a computer hard drive, the human body doesn’t really make use of any magnetic states — there is nowhere in the body where important…

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