Science Discovers New Six-Foot Lizard

MonitorLizardLuzonIsland2013-08-10.jpg “A 6-foot monitor lizard discovered on Luzon Island in the Philippines.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. D3) The number of lizard species in the world — by most counts, around 4,000 — has just increased by one, with the announcement of a new species found on Luzon island in the Philippines.

But this is not a reptile you’d want in a home terrarium. It’s a 6-foot monitor lizard, gray with a spectacular pattern of colorful dots and other markings on its scales.
How did a species of lizard the size of a human remain undetected all these centuries? The answer is it didn’t. “It’s only new to science,” said Rafe M. Brown, an assistant professor at the University of Kansas and senior author of a paper describing the new species, Varanus bitatawa, in Biology Letters.

For the full story, see:
HENRY FOUNTAIN. “OBSERVATORY; A New Lizard? Well, New to Science.” The New York Times (Tues., April 13, 2010): D3.
(Note: the online version of the article has the date April 12, 2010.)

To Page and Brin Search Speed “Was Like Motherhood, and Scale Was Apple Pie”

(p. 37) The average search at that time, Hölzle recalls, took three and a half seconds. Considering that speed was one of the core values of Page and Brin– it was like motherhood, and scale was apple pie– this was a source of distress for the founders. “Basically during the middle of the day we were maxed out,” says Hölzle. “Nothing was happening for some users, because it would just never get a page basically back. It was all about scalability, performance improvements.” Part of the problem was that Page and Brin had written the system in what Hölzle calls “university code,” a nice way of saying amateurish.

Source:
Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

Philosopher Herbert Spencer Defended Capitalism in America

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Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.

Spencer was sometimes a much better philosopher than the modern caricature portrays, a caricature exemplified by the review quoted below and, perhaps, by the book reviewed. I would like to look at this book sometime, because there may be some interesting history in it—though I am not optimistic about the book’s economic assumptions, or its account of Spencer’s philosophy.

(p. A11) Herbert Spencer, the 19th-century British philosopher, is remembered today as the forbidding — almost forbidden — father of “Social Darwinism,” a school of thought declaring that the fittest prosper in a free marketplace and the human race is gradually improved because only the strong survive. In Barry Werth’s satisfying “Banquet at Delmonico’s,” Spencer is also a querulous 62-year-old celibate whose 1882 American tour culminates in a feast to which are invited the “mostly Republican men of science, religion, business, and government” who shared and spread the Spencerian creed.

Applying Darwinian insights about evolution to political, economic and social life — though he did not himself use the term “Social Darwinism” — Spencer concluded that vigorous competition and unfettered capitalism conduced to the betterment of society. He predicted that the American, raised in liberty, would evolve into “a finer type of man than has hitherto existed,” dazzling the world with “the highest form of government” and “a civilization grander than any the world has known.”
. . .
The public clamor over the visit of a dyspeptic foreign philosopher to these shores was partly due to the indefatigable promotion of Edward Livingston Youmans, Spencer’s chief American proselytizer, who called his beau ideal the most original thinker in the history of mankind. Youmans is among the several critics and apostles of Spencer and Darwin whose profiles Mr. Werth skillfully interweaves in this Gilded Age tapestry.

For the full review, see:
BILL KAUFFMAN. “BOOKSHELF; Darwin in the New World; When the father of Social Darwinism came to America, the place where the fittest were supposed to thrive.” The Wall Street Journal (Fri., January 9, 2009): A11.
(Note: ellipsis added; italics in original.)

The book under review is:
Werth, Barry. Banquet at Delmonico’s: Great Minds, the Gilded Age, and the Triumph of Evolution in America. New York: Random House, 2009.

For a more balanced account of Spencer, see the first review below for the mostly good in Spencer, and the second review below for the mostly bad in Spencer:
Diamond, Arthur M., Jr. “Spencer’s Tragedy: Review of Herbert Spencer’s The Principles of Ethics.” Modern Age 24, no. 4 (Fall 1980): 419-421.
Diamond, Arthur M., Jr. “The State of Spencer: Review of Herbert Spencer’s The Man Versus the State.” Modern Age 28, nos. 2-3 (Spring/Summer 1984): 286-288.

Salt May NOT Be Bad for Our Health, After All

(p. A7) An influential government panel said there is no evidence that very low-salt diets prevent heart disease, calling into question current national dietary guidelines on sodium intake.
The Institute of Medicine, in a report released Tuesday [May 14, 2013], said there isn’t sufficient evidence that cutting sodium intake below 2,300 milligrams per day cuts the risk of heart disease. The group of medical experts also said there is no evidence that people who already have heart disease or diabetes should cut their sodium intake even lower.

For the full story, see:
JENNIFER CORBETT DOOREN. “U.S. NEWS; Low-Salt Benefits Questioned.” The Wall Street Journal (Weds., May 15, 2013): A7.
(Note: bracketed date added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 14, 2013.)

For a summary of the Institute of Medicine report, see:
Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. “Sodium Intake in Populations: Assessment of Evidence.” Report Brief. Washington, D.C.: National Academy of Sciences, 2013.

Urban Planners Made La Défense an Architectural Statement, But a Terrible Place to Live

LaDefenseFrenchPlannedBusinessHubb2013-08-04.jpg “La Défense can feel like a ghost town after 5 p.m. and on weekends, once the district’s office workers have left.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. B1) . . . La Défense, begun during the presidency of Charles de Gaulle in the late 1950s and built just west of Paris by bulldozing slums and paving over farmland, has always worked better in architectural theory than in anthropological practice.

Rather than the Parisian business hub its founders described, it often seems more like the isolated end of a spoke that has highlighted a crucial flaw in urban planning — a concern with making architectural statements — rather than an affinity for the people in and around the buildings.
When non-French planning experts assess La Défense, they say it shares the same problems as the Canary Wharf complex in London, where developers have tried to supplant the City with Big Architecture and whose artificial origins may be hard to overcome. The experts look more favorably on the somewhat organic mix of (p. B6) business and residential of Lower Manhattan, which has evolved over the last century.
“La Défense has always suffered from a creative hypothermia,” said Wojciech Czaja, an Austrian architecture critic. “It is a sad area because it is atmospherically and emotionally perceived as a business district only.”
The public agency that manages the complex has hired an architectural firm to draft a new master plan in hopes of making the grandiose vision for La Défense a livable reality.
. . .
“There is nothing good about living here,” said Carlin Pierre, 54, who works at a waste disposal center in the district and resides in one of the Brutalist communal, rent-subsidized housing blocks tucked amid the high-rise office buildings. “Sure, it’s a nice area to come as a tourist, or even to work,” Mr. Pierre said, “but it’s terrible to live in La Défense.”

For the full story, see:
GEORGI KANTCHEV. “Plan Aims to Enliven Paris’s Financial District, Long Called Soulless.” The New York Times (Tues., July 30, 2013): B1-B2.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 30, 2013.)

Google Started in Garage

(p. 34) On September 4, 1998, Page and Brin filed for incorporation and finally moved off campus. Sergey’s girlfriend at the time was friendly with a manager at Intel named Susan Wojcicki, who had just purchased a house on Santa Margarita Street in Menlo Park with her husband for $615,000. To help meet the mortgage, the couple charged Google $1,700 a month to rent the garage and several rooms in the house.

Source:
Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

Dubai Has Strong Ruling Clan, But Weak Institutions

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Source of book image: http://www.christopherdavidson.net/sitebuilder/images/DVOS_cover-210×300.jpg

(p. 4) For Mr. Davidson, Dubai’s greatest weakness lies in its autocratic governing system. Politics in the emirate, as in most of the Middle East, pivots not on institutions but on clans — a ruling dynasty and its favorites who own and run Dubai in opaque fashion.

True enough, but most of the Middle East is authoritarian, yet Dubai’s enlightened despotism and welcoming social environment have stood out for fostering economic advance. Like China, albeit on a tiny scale, Dubai is engaged in an experiment of economic liberalization without political democracy.
Mr. Davidson further contends that unstable neighbors threaten Dubai’s success, but here he may have matters reversed. When Egypt and Iran stifle their entrepreneurs, many of them find a wide berth in Dubai. When Saudi Arabia imposes cultural restrictions on its population, Dubai offers a place to drink and let loose. When India and Pakistan have trouble creating jobs for their large populations, Dubai absorbs labor migrants. When Iraq or Lebanon descends into war, Dubai profits from rebuilding them.
In short, until a vast arc of countries from East Africa to Southeast Asia changes substantially, Dubai will remain poised to benefit by providing a relatively open, secure, low-tax, business-friendly alternative.

For the full review, see:
STEPHEN KOTKIN. “OFF THE SHELF; The Glittering Emirate, Revisited.” The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., December 7, 2008): 4.
(Note: the online version of the review has the date December 6, 2008, and the title “OFF THE SHELF; Dubai, the Glittering Emirate, Revisited.”)

The book under review, is:
Davidson, Christopher M. Dubai: The Vulnerability of Success. New York: Columbia University Press, 2008.