May 17, 2005
Antti Lovag 'Bubble House' — For Sale
The house (above and below), in Tourette–sur–Loup, high on a hillside behind Nice, France, is only 35 years old yet it's already listed as a historic monument by the French Ministry of Culture.
Though construction began in 1970 and has so far cost $7,500,000 the house is unfinished, with completion estimated to require another $1,250,000.
Lovag is an 85–year–old Hungarian architect committed to the concept of organic architecture inspired by shapes and forms found in nature.
The bubble house has been his consuming passion; he still lives on the grounds.
The owner, a French financier in his nineties, is offering the house for $3,000,000, less than half what he's spent on it.
The house has panoramic views of the sea and is totally secluded, a rarity on its stretch of the Côte d'Azur.
It consists of a series of bubbles covered in oval, convex windows, the whole assemblage set into the volcanic rock hillside.
Lovag has agreed to help the new buyer finish the house without any additional fee.
According to an article on the house by Michael Cassell that appeared in the May 14 Financial Times, Lovag is in love with "freedom, serenity and well–being," and believes the sort of living space he creates can achieve that.
The architect has designed three other bubble houses on the same stretch of coastline, one of which is now the summer villa of Pierre Cardin.
Back in the early eighties Cardin was looking for a house in Cannes but couldn't stand the prospect of one of the cookie–cutter villas that had multiplied all along the Côte d'Azur.
He happened across a construction site where Lovag was building a house for an industrialist.
The industrialist died before the house could be completed, so Cardin stepped in and bought it.
Thought termed by some "one part house, two parts hallucination," Cardin considers it his dream house.
Hands–Free Bottle Holder
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'The Convergence of Science and Religion' — by Charles H. Townes
Published in THINK, IBM's in–house journal, in 1966, the above–titled article established Charles Townes (above), winner of the 1964 Nobel Prize in Physics, as a maverick among scientists.
The 1966 article in THINK stemmed from a talk Townes delivered in 1964 to a congregation at New York's famed Riverside Church.
After the THINK article was reprinted in the Technology Review, published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the journal's editor received a letter from a prominent alumnus who threatened to have nothing more to do with MIT if it ever again printed anything like it on religion.
On March 9 of this year Townes was awarded the $1.5 million 2005 Templeton Prize for Progress Toward Research or Discoveries about Spiritual Realities, which was presented to him on May 4 in a ceremony at London's Buckingham Palace.
Townes said upon learning of his award, "Wonderful things in both science and religion come from our efforts based on observations, thoughtful assumptions, faith and logic."
He has long argued that science and religion are far more alike than different and are destined to merge.
In his 1966 paper he wrote, "Understanding the order in the universe and understanding the purpose in the universe are not identical, but they are also not very far apart."
In that same paper he noted that there was little difference between the epiphany he experienced in 1951 while he sat on a park bench in Washington, D.C., and conceived of the idea that would become the laser and the religious experience of revelation.
Townes wrote a piece for the Wall Street Journal which appeared on March 11 of this year, two days after the Templeton Announcement.
- Our Special Universe
What is the purpose or meaning of life?
Or of our universe ?
These are questions which should concern us all.
As a scientist, I have been primarily trying to understand our world -- the universe , including humans -- what it is and how it works.
As a religiously oriented person, I also try to understand the purpose of our universe and human life, a primary concern of religion.
Of course, if the universe has a purpose, then its structure, and how it works, must reflect this purpose.
This obvious relation brings science and religion together, and I believe the two are much closer and more similar in nature than is usually recognized.
My study of the connection between science and religion began when, back in the 1960s, the Men's Class of Riverside Church in New York asked me to talk as a scientist about my view of religion -- perhaps because I was the only scientist they knew who regularly attended church.
The editor of IBM's THINK magazine happened to be in the audience and shortly afterwards telephoned to ask if, of all things, he could publish the talk in THINK.
I was again surprised when the editor of MIT's alumni journal asked if he could also publish it.
The latter resulted in a serious objection on the part of an MIT alumnus, who would have nothing more to do with MIT if such were ever done again.
I certainly agree that university journals should not be used to sell religious views.
On the other hand, I believe that serious intellectual discussion of the possible meaning of our universe , or the nature of religion and philosophical views of religion and science, need to be openly and carefully discussed.
In the intellectual world, we shouldn't try to sell ideas, but we should be able to examine them freely.
A well-established scientist and philosopher was once asked to define the "scientific method."
Oh, he said, it is "to work like the devil to find the answer, with no holds barred."
I believe the same can be said of religion.
We use all of our human resources to understand either one -- instincts, intuition, logic, evidence (experiences or observation), postulates or faith, and even revelations.
We all recognize that science has produced remarkable results.
It allows us to do so many things and to think we already understand so much.
Science is indeed wonderful, and yet there are still mysteries, puzzles and inconsistencies.
We are now convinced that the matter we can identify in our universe is only about 5% of all that is there.
What is the rest of it?
Scientists are trying hard to detect this strange unknown matter.
Will they, and when?
Relativity and quantum mechanics have been remarkably successful, and we believe they explain and teach us many things.
And yet, in certain ways they seem logically inconsistent.
At present, we simply accept such inconsistencies and use these two fields of science with pride and pleasure.
The mathematician Gödel noted that to prove something we must start with a set of postulates, but then demonstrated that we can never prove the set of postulates are even self-consistent unless we make a new overarching set of postulates which themselves cannot be proven self-consistent.
So, in science, too, we need faith -- or what we normally call postulates.
An extreme and somewhat amusing statement of our lack of firm proof was that of Bishop Berkeley, for whom my town of Berkeley, Calif., was named.
He noted that we cannot absolutely prove that the people and things we think we see are really there -- we may not be seeing them at all but only have such things in our imagination.
The bishop was perhaps correct, but nevertheless we all believe those people and things we see are real.
The most basic of sciences, which is physics, has been increasingly concentrating on problems which are pertinent to the interaction of our ideas in science and religion, such as the origins of the universe, cosmology, the nature of matter, and of the physical laws.
This has recently focused attention on what a special universe is ours, and the strikingly special laws of science required for the existence of life.
Why does such an improbable universe exist?
As we try hard to learn and understand more, where will that take us, and how much of our present sense of reality and meaning will be changed?
I believe physics provides an illustration of the possible nature of future changes.
Classical, or Newtonian, physics has been remarkably successful, explaining and predicting many things very accurately and convincingly.
But, as scientists began to look closely at very small things such as atoms and molecules, they were forced to modify their ideas basically, and "quantum mechanics" was discovered.
Quantum mechanics and classical mechanics are philosophically very different, and the behavior of atoms and molecules can only be understood by this radically different quantum mechanics.
But quantum mechanics must and does also apply to larger objects such as planets, balls, or our own motions.
Classical mechanics was in principle quite wrong.
But, it was a good approximation, explaining very accurately the motions of everything much larger than atoms, such as planets, balls, or ourselves.
We still teach and use classical mechanics.
It's a very good approximation to reality and much simpler to understand than quantum mechanics, even though philosophically incorrect.
As we understand more, will our views in science and also in religion be revolutionized as science already has been by quantum mechanics?
My guess is yes.
We must be open-minded and without completely frozen ideas in either science or religion.
But even with future changes, I also guess that, like classical mechanics, our present understanding may be a good and useful approximation even though new and deeper views may be revolutionary.
Overall, I believe we must try hard to understand both how our universe works and what is its meaning as well as we can, and for now, live by our best understanding.
I hope very much that humans will in the future understand more and more deeply, which can change our views.
And, just as classical mechanics still works well, I expect our present ideas and principles will still have a useful and functional validity.
piPod — 'An iPod–based guide to NYC pizzerias'
Version 1.2 of piPod is now available, with a free download available here.
(What Was Once) The World's Longest Pencil
You will find it (above) in Keswick, Cumbria, about 110 miles north of Liverpool, England.
It resides at the Cumberland Pencil Museum.
At nearly 26 feet long, weighing in at 984.05 pounds — that's nearly half a ton — it had pride of place in the Guinness Book of World Records until late November of 2002, when Faber–Castell of Selangor, Malaysia eclipsed it with a 64.79 foot monster 2.6 feet in diameter, with a lead measuring 6 inches across.
You could look it up.
The Pencil Museum didn't just happen to end up where it is: 400 years ago the locals stumbled upon a huge graphite deposit.
It looked like coal but didn't burn.
The shepherds found it useful for marking their sheep, and slivers were used for drawing.
Before long, rods of Cumberland graphite encased in blocks of wood — what we now call pencils — were prized by artists throughout Europe.
The museum's website is chock full of useful information, such as a page on how to properly sharpen a pencil.
Where else are you gonna learn things like this?
[via John Kelly and the Washington Post]
Does economic development lead to gender equality?
Answer: sort of.
Look at the figure above, summarizing atttitudes toward gender in three type of societies: agricultural, industrial, and postindustrial.
Women do seem to do better in general with increased development but there are notable outliers.
Japanese women, for example, lag far behind those of Peru.
The data summarize work by U.S. political scientists Ronald Inglehart and Pippa Norris and are featured in an article just published in the June issue of Scientific American.
- Leveling the Playing Field
Economic development helps women pull even with men
Conventional wisdom has long held that attitudes toward the role of women in agricultural societies are much more conservative than those in economically advanced societies, such as western Europe and the U.S.
Political scientists Ronald Inglehart of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and Pippa Norris of Harvard University have now put this assumption to the test.
They analyzed data from the World Values Survey, an ongoing study of attitudes that gauges reactions to various statements such as whether a university education is more important for a boy than a girl and whether women must have children to be fulfilled in life.
The researchers constructed a 0-to-100 scale to measure attitudes toward gender equality in 61 countries.
The chart depicts the scale for selected countries and shows that attitudes toward gender equality become increasingly more liberal as societies progress from one economic stage to the next.
In agricultural societies, fertility is all-important because of high infant and child mortality.
Anything that interferes with childbearing—such as divorce, homosexuality, abortion, and jobs for women outside the home—is therefore strongly discouraged.
With industrialization, infant and child mortality decline markedly, lessening the pressure on women to reproduce.
Women enter the paid labor force in large numbers, typically in factory, clerical and retail jobs, and at the same time become more literate and better educated.
They begin to participate in representative government.
In postindustrial societies women have a substantial share of management and professional jobs.
Fertility falls, late marriage becomes more acceptable, and the traditional two-parent nuclear family erodes.
But even in these societies, women still lag far behind men in political participation.
In every society women hold slightly more liberal views than men.
The difference in economic stage does not fully account for the disparities among societies.
Religion, political tradition, education and other characteristics exert powerful influences.
In Islamic nations, for example, women tend to have less of an economic role than in those with a Christian tradition, which may explain at least part of the difference in scores between agricultural societies such as Peru and Bangladesh.
Japan’s Confucian heritage may help explain why its views are more conservative compared with those of other postindustrial societies.
Attitudes toward gender in postindustrial societies will most likely continue to liberalize as groups espousing more traditional views—older people, the less educated and women not in the paid workforce—decline in economic importance.
What is not clear is how more liberal thinking will affect people’s everyday lives.
Some evidence suggests that marriages in postindustrial societies are becoming more problematic because of the changing role of women.
According to a study reported in 2000, Americans who married between 1981 and 1997 experienced significantly more discord than those who married between 1964 and 1980.
'Foreign Babes in Beijing: Behind the Scenes of a New China' — by Rachel DeWoskin
Back in 1994 Rachel DeWoskin (below),
fresh out of Columbia University, went to China to improve her "nerdy college Chinese."
She found work as an account executive in the Beijing satellite of an U.S. public relations firm.
On a lark she auditioned for a television show to be called "Foreign Girls in Beijing."
She got the part, then learned the name of the show was "Foreign Babes in Beijing."
A year later, when the show was released, it became the Chinese equivalent of "Dynasty" or "Sex and the City, " with an audience of 600 million Chinese.
DeWoskin overnight was a Chinese sex symbol and superstar.
I happened on a wonderful interview with her.
Fun in the kitchen with Jenn-Air
Last year the Jenn–Air division of Maytag introduced its Attrezzi line of mixers.
Now they've expanded their offerings and in the process created a website that lets you have tons of fun — if this is your idea of fun — at Jenn–Air's expense.
You mix and match five mixer finishes with any of ten bowl colors, then order just the combination that most appeals to you.
You'll never find just the one you want in a store: no single retail outpost will stock enough varieties to do more than demonstrate the possibilties.
The mixer and bowl cost $359.99; the bowl by itself is $59.99.
Kathy Lally wrote about her secret lust for one of these new wave mixers in this past Sunday's Washington Post.