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January 25, 2005

What if Google ranked artists?


It's not just web pages or songs or colleges that get ranked these days, it's artists as well.

ArtFacts has created a Top 100 list of all artists - living or dead.

Well, that's not exactly true: they only ranked 16,059 artists last year.

How did you do?

Check yourself out - if you dare.

Who's #1?

Who do you think, booboo?

Picasso -


as he's been since the rankings started in 1999.

Andy Warhol's held steady at #2.

Gerhard Richter, #3 in 1999, has since dropped a bit, to where he's now #5.

The highest ranked living artist is Bruce Nauman, who came in a strong #4 last year.

Like the results of Google's searches, ArtFacts' rankings are calculated entirely by computer, and recalculated every day.


The site uses proprietary algorithms to weight shows by venue and participants; where a show is held - whether in a small museum or at the Met - counts for a lot.

Sarah Boxer wrote an excellent story for this past Saturday's New York Times on the site and its rankings.

In it, she noted that when she herself explored the site over a period of days, its rankings seemed to change somewhat irrationally.

For example, Miró at first showed up in the #3 spot, for the past five years;


two days later, he appeared never to have reached #3 at any time during that same five year period.

So who are you gonna believe: their rankings? Or your lying eyes?

January 25, 2005 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Naming names: France enters the 21st century


A few months back I touched on the curious rigidity of otherwise quite free Denmark in how it strictly regulates and specifies children's permitted first names.

Now I find that only this past New Year's Day did France finally abolish its centuries-old law that parents must give a child the father's last name.


Le Figaro called the new law a "societal disruption."

The Roman Catholic newspaper La Croix wrote, "This reform – we decree it silliness without a name."

The new law allows couples to give babies either the mother's last name, the father's last name or both names in the order the parents choose.


The statute has 26 articles and is over 100 pages long, so detailed are its prescriptions.

The reform is important primarily because of France's changing demographics: 45% of French children are born to unwed mothers at present.


You can read more in Elaine Sciolino's story, which appeared in last Thursday's New York Times.

January 25, 2005 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack



You knew it would come to this.

How many times have you said to yourself or your friends, "All men are dogs?"

So why not cut to the chase with a dandy new site that lets you judge an owner by his or her pet?

There's all the usual boilerplate about yourself to fill out, but then the differentiating factor enters: "About My Pet's Date."

You describe what your pet's looking for, then elaborate on your pet's ideal date.



The happy bichon frisé owner above, by the way, is member ef380.

And the guy who says his lab Jake, below (first Jake,


then the guy,


whose member ID is Fotobliss) is the "center of his life" looks like the sort you could bring home to mom.

It can't be long before PetMyDate.com springs forth from the virtual quantum foam.

Wonder what that - PetMyDate.com, not the virtual quantum foam: the latter is all around us - might be like?

January 25, 2005 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

MorphWorld: Anne Heche into Cate Blanchett


How do I happen to choose subjects for this feature?

Well, yesterday, while waiting in line at the post office, I was reading the Washington Times (that's the Reverend Moon's paper; one of the few I don't subscribe to), and on page 2, up top where they have little items with attached photos, there was Cate Blanchett.


Except when I read the little item, it was about Anne Heche.

Fooled me.

So I figured I'd let you see if you'd be as easily fooled.


Fool me once - my bad.

Fool me twice - it's really no harder than the first time, trust me on this.


After all....

January 25, 2005 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack



Reader SB bestows on this vegetable a 2005 Natural Design Award.

I agree.

It's a piece of romanesco broccoli (a cross between broccoli and cauliflower).


SB bought and ate some over the weekend and - like William Blake, when he stopped a moment and really looked at a grain of sand - found himself not playing with but, rather, staring at his food.

So he thought I should have a look.

He was right.


Read much more about fractals, of which romanesco broccoli is a wonderful living example, here.

If you'd like to learn more about Benoît Mandelbrot, who invented the word "fractal," you can do so right here.

[via SB and callalillie.com]

January 25, 2005 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Mecca - 'By far the Muslim world's most diverse city'


Surprised me, too, when I read the above in Hassan M. Fattah's story in last Thursday's New York Times.

He went on to explain that the reason some 100 ethnicities can live in the city, with almost every sect and creed at peace, is that the hajj - the religious pilgrimage which every Muslim must make - has for 1,425 years been attracting believers from all over the world, of whom many simply remain.

In order to live there, they must adapt to the fact that others, from myriad other countries, have and are doing the very same thing.


The average Meccan is just as likely to be Asian as Arab, light-skinned as dark-skinned, just as likely to speak English as Arabic.

Almost everyone who lives there is bilingual.

However, there are limits to the city's tolerance: no non-Muslims are allowed to enter - much less live in - the city.

Fattah wrote that the city has "an unlikely liberalism - not quite a Berkeley-style liberalism, but still a striking oasis of open thought and discussion in a world of hardened politics and interest. Increasingly, Meccans see themselves as a bulwark against the creeping extremism that has overtaken much Islamic debate."


"In this city," he continued, "the fundamentals are neither militancy nor dogmatic intolerance, but openness and free thought."

January 25, 2005 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

'Jennifer Lopez's butt is so big, it needs its own limousine'


So said Chris Rock during the 1999 MTV awards.

The fact he's been chosen to host next month's Academy Awards is the reason I'm going to watch the show for the first time in years.

A bold, dicey choice is Rock.

Enough, said ABC, of the blandness and niceness and screwball comedy of Billy Crystal, Steve Martin, and their ilk: time to step out on the ledge, take an edgy walk on the wild side, what?

Every year the ratings for the show go down as more and more of its prime audience, America's older generation, die off.

Ratings for NBC's recent Golden Globes broadcast were down 40% from a year ago, so it would appear panic has set in at ABC and its brethren.

What were once "can't miss" shows have become "can't stand" events.

Rock's already flaming out: he told Lola Ogunnaike of the New York Times, in a story that appeared last Thursday, "I am rooting for Jamie [Fox, as Ray Charles in "Ray"], and if he doesn't win, I'm going to talk about it on the show."


He added that if Fox doesn't win the Oscar for Best Actor, "I'll take an Oscar from one of the sound or light people that win and give it to him. Jamie Fox is not going to walk out of that place without an Oscar."

January 25, 2005 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (36) | TrackBack

BehindTheMedspeak: If constipation's the question, fiber's not the answer


Oh, no, you say: not another cherished belief down the drain. [I simply could not resist]

It's even worse than you thought: not only is fiber not helpful in opening up your pipe: it makes things even harder. [Oops, I did it again]


And that's not all: drinking more liquid is useless, and exercise won't help, contrary to what you've been told (and which I too believed, I must admit).

But wait - there's more. [This is getting to be a - dare I use the word? - habit]

Laxative are perfectly safe: they do not, as some experts state, increase your risk of bowel cancer.

Nor are they psychologically habit-forming; they don't cause physical dependence either.

Laxative do not lead to "rebound" constipation, nor do they damage the nerves and muscles that control the bowel.

As to what's normal in terms of how often you poop, Dr. Stefan Müller-Lissner, professor of medicine at Humboldt University in Berlin, said it's up to you.

Müller-Lissner is the lead author of a review article in the January issue of the American Journal of Gastroenterlogy which debunks these and a number of other apparent urban medical myths.

Said Müller-Lissner, "The statistical range of normality is from three stools a day to three stools a week. But in clinical terms, this is irrelevant. A low stool frequency by itself does no harm."

Now, don't you feel better?

I know I do.

Here's Nicholas Bakalar's reassuring article, from the January 18 New York Times Science section.

    Is Fiber the Answer? Researchers Doubt It

    Despite the barrage of television commercials that insist otherwise, a diet low in fiber is usually not the cause of constipation, and taking fiber supplements is probably not the cure, according to a new study.

    In fact, a fiber supplement can actually make symptoms worse in some patients, particularly the most severely afflicted.

    A review study published in the January issue of The American Journal of Gastroenterology suggests that many other common beliefs about constipation are also little more than durable myths.

    According to the American College of Gastroenterology, constipation is the reason for at least 2.5 million doctor visits annually in the United States, and ACNielsen, the marketing information company, reports that Americans spent more than $700 million last year on over-the-counter laxative medicines.

    Yet much of the advice they got - including many suggestions from doctors - was probably not helpful.

    Fiber is far from a panacea.

    In one study, fewer than half of the patients with self-described constipation had any response to added fiber, and studies comparing people with chronic constipation to comparison groups without the condition show no difference in their dietary fiber intake.

    At best, a diet low in fiber may be a contributory factor in a minority of patients, and fiber supplements may help them, the reviewers, led by Dr. Stefan Müller-Lissner, a professor of medicine at Humboldt University in Berlin, found.

    Drinking more liquid is often recommended, but studies show it does not work.

    Although it may seem that adding water to hard stools will soften them, adding liquid does not accomplish this, nor does it relieve constipation.

    If fiber and liquids do not help much, will increasing exercise?

    The studies say no.

    Despite its other benefits, exercise is largely ineffective in preventing constipation.

    It seems to help in the elderly if it is part of a broader program, but it does not work in young, severely constipated patients.

    While workouts like marathons can increase gut activity, moderately increased exercise in healthy people has no discernible effect on bowel function.

    What really works for constipation? "I do start with a trial of dietary fiber," Dr. Müller-Lissner said. "Prunes and other fruits may be effective, although bloating can occur as a side effect."

    If those measures do not work, Dr. Müller-Lissner recommends laxatives.

    In addition to the fiber additives, there are three other types: stool softeners (Colace, for example); saline laxatives like milk of magnesia; and stimulant laxatives, including Dulcolax, Correctol, and others.

    "I prescribe macrogol," the active ingredient in Colace and many other brands, he said.

    He added, "If this is ineffective or not tolerated, I switch to bisacodyl" in Correctol and other stimulants, "or a related compound."

    These drugs are not harmful in normal dosages, Dr. Müller-Lissner said.

    Some experts believe that stimulant laxatives that amplify bowel motility can increase the risk for colorectal cancer, but the evidence is weak.

    Chronic constipation is itself associated with an increased risk of the cancer, but no evidence supports a belief that laxatives used in recommended doses increase the risk.

    Other doctors suspect that the drugs have a host of adverse side effects - that they can be psychologically habit-forming, that they cause physical physical dependence, that they lead to "rebound" constipation, or that they damage the nerves and muscles that control the bowel.

    But studies have found no evidence.

    Dr. Müller-Lissner says he believes that what constitutes a normal frequency of bowel movements is up to the patient.

    "The statistical range of normality is from three stools a day to three stools a week," he said.

    "But in clinical terms, this is irrelevant. If there is no organic disease underlying the constipation, a low stool frequency by itself does no harm. The only motivation for treatment is the patient's complaint."

January 25, 2005 at 04:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

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