: High on the Hog Blog
Purveyor of Idle Observation

Please note: I'm no longer updating this particular blog, but keep it around for archival purposes. Visit me at the current blog at


Cyberchondria, the practice of leaping to dire conclusions while researching health matters online, is the subject of a recent study proviled in the New York Times’ Microsoft Examines Causes of ‘Cyberchondria’. Markoff elegantly sums it up thus:

If that headache plaguing you this morning led you first to a Web search and then to the conclusion that you must have a brain tumor, you may instead be suffering from cyberchondria.

Sites like WebMD contain the standard disclaimers one might expect. I gave the symptom checker a quick test drive and could see how easy it would be for someone to reach dire conclusions in the absence of information on likelihood of risks.

Consider the following scenario input at the Mayo Clinic’s symptom checker

Input under “Sore Throat – Adult” with (1) chills (2) cough (3) Difficult or painful swallowing and (4) raspy breathing yielded Epiglottitis as the first result:

Epiglottitis is a life-threatening condition that occurs when the epiglottis — a small cartilage “lid” that covers your windpipe — swells, blocking the flow of air into your lungs.

Gee, I can’t imagine how I’d leap to dire conclusions from reading that. A fundamental assumption of the internet is that more information is a good thing. Here’s an instance where it’s not necessarily true. Less clear is what would solve this issue – less information or more.

The Life Magazine Photo Archive, hosted by Google

Life Magazine, the standard bearer of photojournalism for so many decades, may have closed up shop but its images are getting new life in a joint-project with Google to host an archive of the magazine’s photographs, many of which never made it into the magazine itself. The Life photo archive at Google represents 97% of the collection, 10 million images from 1860 to today.

In addition to some of the iconic photographs of history, the Life/Google Archive has a huge cache of historical photographs of seemingly every corner of the world. Here are a few from some of the places I’ve lived.

Joe Sherschel, Texas Football – A&M Vs. Villanova, Bryan/College Station, TX

Bernard Hoffman, Children watching a boy skiing over a makeshift, ME, US, 1942

George Strock, Mail order co. L. L. Bean’s famous Maine hunting shoes lined up by size fr. 6-1/2- to 18-in. top of elk leather w. rubber sole, Freeport, ME, US, 1941

Arthur Rickerby, Snow Mobiles – Maine – ’69

Walter Sanders, Men standing outside St. Stephen’s Catholic Church in the Italian district, Boston, MA, US, 1944

Dmitri Kessel, A view of a housing project in Houston, Houston, TX, US, October 1946, Life Magazine.

Dmitri Kessel, A view of the Southern Dinner Club, Houston, TX, October 1946, Life Magazine.

J. R. Eyerman, Multimilionaire Hugh Roy Cullen (2L) University of Houston pre-game cocktail party with caged cougar, Houston, TX, October 1956

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Learned to Love Hosting All My Mission-Critical Data with Google

So I lost my phone this week. Given the lifeline that my crackberry had become, you might think (or at least I would have thought) that this would be a big deal, of weeping and gnashing proportions. Oddly, not so much.

Verizon gave me a loaner crackberry until their shipment of Storms comes in, a now quaintly antiquated 8703. Once I figured out how to work the jog dial, I was up and running in about 20 minutes. I had restored all 500 or so contacts, my calendar and assorted task lists, etc. Only very recently, this recovery would have been a painful and laborious data restoration project. So why wasn’t it a big deal? One word – Google.

This revelation came to me while reading David Carr’s article The Media Equation, Google Seduces With Utility. I’m so used to having Google in my life that my dependence on it doesn’t even occur to me until someone else mentions it. I’ve come to think of Google as a benevolent borg-like overlord. When a new start up comes out that shows promise, I may start including in my nightly prayers that Google buys them up. This typically means the start up I once loved will become instantly free, gradually more stable and able to be integrated into the wider digital ecosystem. The alternative, being bought by Microsoft or Yahoo, generally means they’re about to screw it up. Google’s concessions to its Blogger fiefdom is to my recollection the anomalous and disappointing exception.

My set-up is pretty lo-fi in most respects, but I’ve run into a number of blackberry users who weren’t even aware of the possibilities, so consider this post a public service announcement:

  • Download and install Google Mobile for Blackberry; then open Google Apps on your phone and
    1. Install Gmail if you use that for personal mail like I do.
    2. Install Google Sync and set it up sync your calendar and contacts
  • Download and install the Google Talk app from Blackberry

The main advantage is that it weens you off clunky intermediaries such as Microsoft Outlook, which I used to use to keep all my contacts and calendar items synced up. Now I can update it from any computer with an internet connection, which gives me a lot of freedom in managing my schedule. I’ve experimented with other methods/technologies in the past, which have always fallen prey to ease of use (specifically lack thereof) and relying on myself to sync my data when I get busy and the fur starts to fly.

An Interview with Psychologist Daniel Kahneman (video)

An interview with Princeton Psychology Professor and Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman.

Townes Van Zandt, Be Here to Love Me

I posted on the Townes Van Zandt documentary Be Here to Love Me a couple years ago. The full video is available on Snag Films.

Charles Murray on Education

Charles Murray of Bell Curve fame, has a series of excerpts in the Washington Times of his new book on education, Real Education: Four Simple Truths for Bringing America’s Schools Back to Reality. The thesis isn’t a new one in my opinion – but still a valid critique of American education. Whether or not it could be turned into useful policy is another matter.

Patty Griffin Live Set Online from KUT 50th Anniversary Show

KUT kicked off it’s 50th anniversary with a live set from Patty Griffin. It’s a great set. Subscribe to the Texas Music Matters blog for more of the same.

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[via Texas Music Matters on KUT]

Charlie Rose Talks Hedge Funds with Bill Ackman (Video)

Bill Ackman is a major investor and hedge fund manager of Pershing Square Capital Management LP. He talks with Charlie Rose on the mortgage crisis and financial bail out.

Malcolm Gladwell on the Value of the Adversity in Personal Success and of the Outsider in Institutional Growth

Malcolm Gladwell is a master explainer, a keen observer and a facile pen who has introduced a generation of American readers to cutting-edge thinking on split-second decision-making, epidemic processes, and social trends. See his excellent work in The Tipping Point and Blink as well as his regular contributions to The New Yorker.

His latest work, out in in less than two weeks, is Outliers: The Story of Success. A preview is available in the New Yorker, The Uses of Adversity: Can underprivileged outsiders have an advantage?

The rags-to-riches story—that staple of American biography—has over the years been given two very different interpretations. The nineteenth-century version stressed the value of compensating for disadvantage. If you wanted to end up on top, the thinking went, it was better to start at the bottom, because it was there that you learned the discipline and motivation essential for success.

Gladwell charts the path of Sidney Weinberg from assistant janitor to CEO of Goldman Sachs and the treatment of Weinberg’s narrative arc in Charles D. Ellis’s book The Partnership: The Making of Goldman Sachs.

Today, that interpretation has been reversed. Success is seen as a matter of capitalizing on socioeconomic advantage, not compensating for disadvantage. The mechanisms of social mobility—scholarships, affirmative action, housing vouchers, Head Start—all involve attempts to convert the poor from chronic outsiders to insiders, to rescue them from what is assumed to be a hopeless state. Nowadays, we don’t learn from poverty, we escape from poverty, and a book like Ellis’s history of Goldman Sachs is an almost perfect case study of how we have come to believe social mobility operates.

Interestingly, as Gladwell notes, while we at least nominally celebrate those who “overcome the odds” we refuse to acknowledge the potential for positive value in the experience – “The man who boasts of walking seven miles to school, barefoot, every morning, happily drives his own grandchildren ten blocks in an S.U.V.” – one wonders if we deprive our children – in so carefully shielding them from risk failure we might also prevent them from discovering their potential.

Al Gore is on Twitter

No really, that Al Gore… on twitter. I find this vaguely unsettling.