Really late January 2012 links: Innovation, undergrads, TSA, Updike, the evils of JSTOR, and more

* This is our national identity crisis in a nutshell: Do we want government spending half its money on redistribution and military, or re-dedicating itself to science, infrastructure, and health research?

Do STEM Faculties Want Undegratuates To Study STEM Fields?

* “This might seem a small thing — hey, so what if these foreign jet-setters endure some hassle? — but I think it is emblematic of some cumulatively larger issues. Americans are habituated to griping about our airports and airlines, but I sense that people haven’t internalized how comparatively backward and unpleasant this part of our “modern” infrastructure has become.”

* “The scale and the brutality of our prisons are the moral scandal of American life.

* Locked in the Ivory Tower: Why JSTOR Imprisons Academic Research.

* Rabbit at Rest: The bizarre and misguided critical assault on John Updike’s reputation. I suspect there are a couple of things going on:

1) His fiction isn’t easily categorizable, so you can’t lump him in and say he’s part of group X: hysterical realism, postmodernism, whatever.

2) Many of his novels don’t have much plot, so non-academic readers aren’t likely to love him as much as academic writers.

3) When he began writing, explicit sex was rare, or relatively rare, in fiction; now that it’s common, some of the tension in his earlier books is absent for contemporary readers.

4) You can read Updike and figure out who’s speaking and where a scene is occurring, which isn’t fashionable in some literary circles and hasn’t been for a long time.

5) I suspect most average readers would prefer Robertson Davies to Updike, yet Davies is barely known in the United States or anywhere outside Canada; I think over time Updike will share his fate.

* On programmers:

Formal logical proofs, and therefore programs—formal logical proofs that particular computations are possible, expressed in a formal system called a programming language—are utterly meaningless. To write a computer program you have to come to terms with this, to accept that whatever you might want the program to mean, the machine will blindly follow its meaningless rules and come to some meaningless conclusion. In the test the consistent group showed a pre-acceptance of this fact: they are capable of seeing mathematical calculation problems in terms of rules, and can follow those rules wheresoever they may lead. The inconsistent group, on the other hand, looks for meaning where it is not. The blank group knows that it is looking at meaninglessness, and refuses to deal with it.

The “inconsistent group” sounds like many of the humanities grad students and profs I know.

* “In the high-rise offices of the big publishers, with their crowded bookshelves and resplendent views, the reaction to Amazon’s move is analogous to the screech of a small woodland creature being pursued by a jungle predator.

* The Business Rusch: Readers:

When I started, it wasn’t possible to make a living as a self-published writer. It is now. In fact, weirdly, you can make more money as a self-published writer than you ever could as a midlist writer—and in some cases, more than you could make as a bestselling writer.

Honestly, I find that astounding. This change has happened in just the past few years. A number of readers of this blog have commented on how fun it’s been to watch my attitudes change toward self- and indie-publishing. I’m still educating myself on all of this, and I’m still astonished by some things that I learn.

This might be me, shortly.

* “Students aspiring to technical majors (science/mathematics/engineering) were more likely than other students to report a sibling with an autism spectrum disorder (p = 0.037). Conversely, students interested in the humanities were more likely to report a family member with major depressive disorder (p = 8.8×10−4), bipolar disorder (p = 0.027), or substance abuse problems (p = 1.9×10−6).”

(Hat tip Marginal Revolution.)

* A Company Built on a Crisper Gin and Tonic: The quest for a better G&T led Jordan Silbert to start beverage company Q Tonic.

* “If I were a zombie, I’d never eat your brain / I’d just want your heart.”

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