Zippers, Al Sharpton, Intelligence Crows, Tom Stoppard, Political Speech, Anne Naysmith

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A Tale Of Two Zippers

Bunnie Studios | 9th February 2015

A visit to a zipper factory yields a case-study in microeconomics worthy of any text-book. Adding a tiny tab to the top of each puller, so that it falls out of the hopper the right way up, would allow for a fully automated production line. But that doesn't happen. Why not? "The zipper’s designer wouldn’t have it. Even though the tab is very small, a user can feel the subtle bumps, and it’s perceived as a defect in the design" (1,100 words)

The Private Doubts Of Al Sharpton

Eli Saslow | Washington Post | 7th February 2015 | Metered paywall

Superbly done profile. Well paced, well structured, lots of material. Save for an occasional hint of irony the judgements are left to the reader. Sharpton grew up wanting to be the next Martin Luther King; his failure to make a comparable impact both drives and frustrates him. "I ain’t getting any more famous. I’m in the history books now. Question is, when my moment came, could I get real change? Is my chapter good or bad?” (5,900 words)

Crows Understand Analogies

Ed Wasserman & Leyre Castro | Scientific American | 10th February 2015

The revealed intelligence of animals is one of the great running stories of our time. If crows can grasp analogies, they have at least the reasoning power of a five-year-old child. But how do you test for logic in crows? You use cards: "If the middle card displays a circle and a cross, then the correct choice will be the side card containing a square and a triangle rather than the side card containing two squares". The crows aced the test (1,100 words)

Tom Stoppard: Life Is Short

Erica Wagner | New Statesman | 5th February 2015

A conversation with Stoppard during rehearsals of his latest play, The Hard Problem, about neuroscience and consciousness. He doesn't sound completely satisfied with it. “I’d like to write a play which didn’t sound like one of mine. And this one does, doesn’t it? But you are what you write. And you write what you are. And it just came out like this. I still would like to do the thing I’m talking about. But I didn’t, on this occasion" (4,630 words)

The Nun Bomb

Rafael Behr | Guardian | 11th February 2015

Elegant, funny, perceptive short essay on the need to avoid saying the wrong thing in politics. The result is that politicians avoid saying anything new or interesting. "We cherish free speech but have become tyrannically unforgiving of the misspoken word. There is no benefit of the doubt, no concession for an honest motive poorly executed. The presumption takes hold that all players are hiding their true selves" (1,090 words)

Obituary: Anne Naysmith, Pianist

Daily Telegraph | 11th February 2015 | Metered paywall

Her concert career took her to the Wigmore Hall in 1967, where her performance of Rachmaninov’s Preludes, Op 23 was much admired. But she never recovered from being evicted from her London house. For 26 years she slept in her car, and, when that was towed away, she camped outside the local tube station. "She collected pigeon feathers, wrapping them around her feet with carrier bags to keep warm" (990 words)

Video of the day: Painting With Lego

What to expect: Stop-motion animation. An artist "paints" a Lego Mondrian (2'30")

Thought for the day

When you hear hoofbeats, think of horses before zebras
Harley Smith

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