Alien vs. Facebook

April 5, 2009

When chessboards are shown in ads and film, a common mistake, if there are no real chess players on the set, is to arrange the board incorrectly with a black square in the right-hand corner.  An advertisement for Alien vs. Predator makes an even more elementary error, which I haven’t seen before:  Black appears to be moving first.  Maybe I shouldn’t be so picky because the habitues of Alien vs. Predator are more known for engaging in gory fights than in  playing leisurely cerebral board games.

Alien vs. Predator advertisement

Al least the guys at Facebook (co-founder Mark Zuckerberg playing White and product director Chris Cox playing Black) know who goes first and how to set up the chessboard.  Zuckerberg will be a piece up after he takes the bishop that has just checked his king.  Maybe Cox is giving up the cleric on purpose, believing that it’s a good career move to let his boss win, or maybe Cox just made a mistake because he was giddily distracted thinking about his company just having reached 200 million users.

Facebook (Facebook photo from the NY Times)


Gillibrand’s Smoky Past

March 27, 2009

Pundits have already commented on Governor Patterson’s astounding ineptness in managing to anger the three most powerful political families in New York State–the Kennedys, the Cuomos, and the Clintons–by his fumbling appointment of Kirsten Gillibrand to the Senate.  But what disturbs me the most is that Patterson blew the chance to appoint a card-carrying liberal to the Senate, at a time when liberal senators are an endangered species, with the most influential of them, Teddy Kennedy, fighting brain cancer.  New York is one of the few remaining states in which a man or woman espousing progressive positions can still get elected, and so it was a waste to hand the seat to a conservative chameleon.

The story in today’s New York Times about her legal work for the tobacco industry confirms my view that she was the wrong choice.  Tobacco companies were entitled to legal representation in their unscrupulous bid to suppress from the public their internal scientific studies showing a link between smoking and cancer.  Fundamental to our judicial system is the idea that even the devil deserves a legal advocate.  But Gillibrand did not have to choose to be the one to defend their dirty work.

Neuroscience Majors Have More Sex Than Math Majors

March 21, 2009

This chart of virginity rates by major at Wellesley comes from the college’s Counterpoint Magazine.  Unfortunately, we do not know how many students are in each category.  For example, if there was only one studio art major and she wasn’t a virgin, then the rate reported here would be zero.  But if there were 47 art majors, then the zero result would be meaningful. The data is apparently from 2001.


I’m Now Rich and am Helping Poor South Africans!

March 20, 2009

Long gone is the time when my inbox was jammed with emails promising how I could be longer and stiffer and please her more.  I doubt the purveyors of male-anatomical nirvana have concluded that I do not suffer from penile dysmorphophobia.  Perhaps they’ve stopped sending out these emails because too few respondents are falling for their herbal enhancers and science-fair vacuum pumps.  Or else maybe spam filters have gotten better and are diverting their sales pitches.  I looked in my spam box to find out.  There were 868 messages that had accumulated over the past month.  I wasn’t about to read them, and so I did a word search on manhood, big, satisfy her, penis, and all the slang terms for penis I could think of.  Weeding out duplicates, I found 17 such messages.

What then were the other 851?  I scanned the subject fields and saw that the vast majority were make-big-bucks-now and get-rich-quick schemes.  The spam filters now do a good job of intercepting messages of the kind from the Bank of Ghana offering you a piece of a long dormant savings account of a deceased gazillionaire with no identifiable next of kin.

This week, though, one of these crazy bank messages slipped past Google’s spam censors and into my inbox.  Google is a greenish company, and maybe the message made it by because it appealed to their liberal sentiments: Not only had I won the South African lottery, I was helping to eradicate world poverty (although I’m not sure how).  The email is so delightful that I want to share it, despite the warning that revealing the contents could expose me to “impersonation or double claiming” of my substantial winnings.  I’ll take the risk.

Attention: Winner

This is to inform you that your email Address has been selected as one of this year winners in the 2010 SOUTH AFRICA LOTTO INTL. PROMOTION..

You have won the sum of £800.000.00 Pounds (Eight hundred thousand Great British Pounds) cash
credited to you or your company’s email address, attached to file number
EML.26EPG/0012-5526/0905.1/6/27/39/47-1-8 which falls into our European booklet.

All selected winners were selected through our Email Lottery Random System Selection (ELRSS) from
700,000,000 emails submitted from Middle East, Asia, Africa, Canada, Europe and North America and
Oceania as part of our International promotions Program.

This amount is from total prize cash of (£ Pounds) randomly distributed among ten (10)
international winners selected email address by our Email Lottery Random System Selection (ELRSS)
and your email address With the International Association of Gaming Regulators (IAGR).

This promotional lottery is the 3rd of its kind with the intension to sensitize the public. This
promotion is to enhance the standard of living and to help eradicate poverty around the world.

For further processing of the claim of your winning prize, you are to contact our Europe fiduciary claims department for more information as regards procedures to claim your prize.


Please you are advice to keep your winning information from the public and relatives to avoid
impersonation or double claiming and anybody under the age of 24 is automatically disqualified from this program.

Congratulations again from all our staff and thank you for being part of our promotional program.


Fear of 27

March 16, 2009

“Twenty-seven has long had negative connotations, as it is the age at which many popular musicians died, including Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Brian Jones, Janis Joplin and Kurt Cobain.”  So concludes an article in London’s Telegraph.

But the bad news for my younger friends is that mental powers start to deteriorate at age 27, according to new research at the University of Virginia.


March 15, 2009

Psychologists seem to have a fancy word for every conceivable fear known to man or woman. Nyctophobia, fear of darkness. Phagophobia, fear of swallowing. Agyrophobia, fear of crossing the street. Blennophobia, morbid fear of slime. On National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered,” I talked about the phobia de jour triskaidekaphobia.

You can listen to the piece here.

Meryl and Me

February 24, 2009

As a shy and retiring science writer who has never dined at Spago, I like to think I am above the Oscars and all the glamour, glitz and dreamy diversions that Hollywood offers. And yet every year, for weeks after the Academy Awards, I find myself obsessing over the few movie stars I’ve actually met in real life.

There was the rushed morning at the Greenwich Village espresso bar when the woman behind me, Julia Roberts, watched me wimpishly dilute my coffee with half-and-half. How different my life would be, I now think, if she had seen me down it black. Or if she had caught me taking out a flask — not that I own a flask — and dumping Polish vodka into my brew. Or if I had had the nerve to offer her a swig and we skipped merrily, hand in hand, out of the place together. I’ll have to ask Julia, when we meet again, if it would have made a difference.

[continued on National Public Radio, which reports that Meryl Streep could have had a date with me at the Oscars if she had not been so preoccupied with tomatoes.]

Brain Freeze at the Chessboard

February 20, 2009

Only two Americans have ever made it to the very pinnacle of championship chess, and both of them were crazy.

[So starts my NPR piece, which continues at]

War Games

November 7, 2008

In the next few days, I’m off to Soho to participate in Surrender, a provocative interactive play by Josh Fox and my friend and Hudson Valley neighbor Jason Christopher Hartley.  Jason is an Iraq War veteran who got busted by his military superiors for posting a blog from Iraq that rawly chronicled the ordinary details of his life as a soldier.  In Surrender, audience members don army jackets and combat boots and are trained for two hours by Jason.  Then we go on a mission and maybe accidentally kill civilians.

“It’s a Google,” says McCain

June 9, 2008

Al Gore may have invented the Internet, but now John McCain has discovered the utility of Internet search engines, even if the presumptive Republican presidential nominee is still befuddled about using Google as a verb.  From Reuters: “‘You know, basically it’s a Google,’ he said to laughter at a fund-raising luncheon when asked how the [vp] selection process was going. ‘What you can find out now on the Internet — it’s remarkable.'”