A privately-funded experiment in a universal basic income

From reason.com: A Privately Funded Experiment in a Universal Basic Income.

A U.S.-based group is preparing a pilot program in Kenya that will test the effects of a universal basic income—the increasingly popular concept of giving virtually everyone in a community unconditional payments on a regular basis. Unlike past large-scale experiments of this sort, this one is being run and funded privately.

The organization behind the effort is GiveDirectly, a charity whose work in Africa is based on the idea of giving people cash without restrictions on how the money can be spent. (The underlying anti-paternalist principle is that the needy know their needs better than outsiders do.) That outlook led naturally to an interest in the basic income, and so the organizers conceived a randomized control trial: [continue]

I’m looking forward to hearing how this turns out.

(I found this on Diaspora*, where it was posted by Max Strube.)

How to talk someone out of a damaging cult

Here’s a bit from an article published at The Conversation:

The most important piece of advice is to not criticise, condemn or judge, even if you have serious concerns. Instead, focus on why this person identifies with the group so much, and what they believe they are getting from it. And try to reinforce the message: “It’s great that you’re developing yourself and your skills so positively and that the group is making you so happy.”

It may feel cheesy, but the point of this approach is to draw on the psychological technique of motivational interviewing, so that these positive statements, similar to those the person has made themselves, will eventually lead them to question whether they are really true – we call this the “strategic and personal oriented dialogue” approach. This means you have to keep talking. Keep the dialogue going and help your loved one measure the group against their own hopes and standards. In time, the scales will start to fall from their eyes, and you can be ready for that moment. [continue]

The authors are Rod Dubrow-Marshall (Professor of Social Psychology and Visiting Fellow, Criminal Justice Hub, University of Salford) and Linda Dubrow-Marshall (Lecturer in Applied Psychology, University of Salford).

Japan’s master of an ancient Muslim art

From The Japan Times: Japan’s master of an ancient Muslim art.

For Kouichi Honda, writing a beautiful line is what life is about. Getting every detail right — the subtle curves, the varying thicknesses and the density of the ink — matters to him as much as life itself.

The 61-year-old professor of international relations at Daito Bunka University in Saitama Prefecture is Japan’s leading authority on Arabic calligraphy, a devotional art form that has evolved over the course of 1,400 years and has detailed rules determining every single facet of the practice, whether the script is executed on paper or vellum or is fired into the gorgeous ceramic tiling that can hardly fail to astonish any visitor to a mosque.

But Honda is not just a rare curio in Japan. He is known around the world as one of the best Arabic calligraphers alive today. Some of his works, including "The Face of God" — a series of Koranic scripts against blue, red and yellow pyramid-shaped backgrounds — were last year accorded the tremendous honor of being included in the permanent collection of the British Museum in London. [continue].

8,000 Beduin stake their claim as the lost tribe of Barack Obama

From The Times Online: 8,000 Beduin stake their claim as the lost tribe of Barack Obama.

He has a host of relatives in exotic locations from Hawaii to Kenya, and during his run for the American presidency he discovered that he had an aunt living in Boston.

Now Barack Obama is being claimed by not one but as many as 8,000 Beduin tribesmen in northern Israel.

Although the spokesman for the lost tribe of Obama has yet to reveal the documentary evidence that he says he possesses to support his claim, people are flocking from across the region to pay their respects to the "Bedu Obama", whose social standing has gone through the roof. [continue].

Atoms and Aldus

From typogrphy.com: Atoms & Aldus.

Last week I mentioned the atomic pen, which scientists used to construct some awfully tiny letters one atom at a time. These are small letters indeed: measuring two nanometers in height, they’re about 1/40000 the thickness of a human hair, which surely gives their inventor sufficient authority to issue the casual throwdown that "it’s not possible to write any smaller than this." But it is, of course, and the technique for doing so has been known to typefounders for more than five hundred years. [continue]

Why some kids aren’t heading to school today

Here’s a bit from Tony Woodlief’s article, Why Some Kids Aren’t Heading to School Today.

We decided when we got married that our home would be better than what we knew as children. The foundation is love, order, and relentless application of rules like: Eat all your vegetables, and Mind your manners, and Don’t push your brother’s head into the toilet.

So we frown on radicalism. Yet we have embarked on one of the most radical endeavors families can undertake: home-schooling. Given preconceptions about this practice, I should note that we are not anti-government wingnuts living on a compound. We like literature, and nice wines, and Celeste would stab me in the heart with a spoon if I gave her one of those head bonnets the Amish women wear. We are not, in other words, stereotypical home-schooling parents. But neither are most actual home-schooling parents.

Even though Ma and Pa Ingalls sent their children off to the little schoolhouse in Walnut Grove, we’ve decided to start our own. In the eyes of Kansas authorities that’s exactly what we’ve done; regulations require us to establish a school and name it. Ours is the Woodlief Homestead School. I wanted to go with something like: "The School of Revolutionary Resistance," but Celeste said that was just inviting trouble. [continue]

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On hiring interns

How would you select a few interns if you had lots and lots of applicants? Seth Godin blogged about his approach.

Unable to just pick a PDF or two, I invited the applicants to join a Facebook group I had set up. Then I let them meet each other and hang out online.

It was absolutely fascinating. Within a day, the group had divided into four camps:

  • The game-show contestants, quick on the trigger, who were searching for a quick yes or no. Most of them left.
  • The lurkers. They were there, but we couldn’t tell.
  • The followers. They waited for someone to tell them what to do.
  • The leaders. A few started conversations, directed initiatives and got to work.

Want to guess who I hired? [continue]

I love the interactive element, but I’m glad I wasn’t an applicant. I would have loved the group thing, but the mere mention of Facebook makes me want to vomit.

The best way to board a plane

From physorg: The Best Way to Board a Plane.

"I remember waiting in line to scan my ticket inside the terminal, I believe it was at the Seattle airport," Steffen told PhysOrg.com. "I remember being quite disappointed when I saw how long the second line was — the one at the entrance to the airplane — and how slowly it moved. . . . That’s when I thought that there had to be a better way to get people onto the airplane than the one that was being employed. I didn’t have the time to work on it right then, so I brooded over it for almost 18 months. Last year, I decided that I either needed to solve the problem or stop thinking about it."

In his analysis, Steffen found that the worst method for boarding a plane is boarding from the front to the back, since passengers have to wait and step over each other to get to their seats. As he explains in a paper submitted to the Journal of Air Transport Management, conventional wisdom suggests that boarding in a manner opposite to the slowest method seems like it should be the fastest method. Quite unexpectedly, then, Steffen found that the common back-to-front boarding method is actually the second worst method possible, only slightly better than boarding front to back. (…)

Using a combination of a Monte Carlo optimization algorithm and intuition, Steffen determined an optimal boarding method, which could make boarding go 4 to 10 times faster than the worst method, depending on the size of the plane. In the optimal method, [continue]

Penniless India trek is underway

From the BBC: Penniless India trek is under way.

A man has started a two-and-a-half year walk from Bristol to India without any money – to show his faith in humanity.

Equipped with only a few T-shirts, a bandage and spare sandals, former dotcom businessman Mark Boyle is set to cross Europe and the Middle East.

On his 9,000-mile trek to Gandhi’s birthplace, he will have to pick his way through war-ravaged Afghanistan.

Mr Boyle, 28, said: "I will be offering my skills to people. If I get food in return, it’s a bonus"

He says he is part of the freeconomy movement — a group which began in the US and aims to bring about a moneyless society.

He said: "My interest started five or six years ago when I was studying economics.

"The more we accumulate wealth, the more it leads to a breakdown of community." [continue]

Michael Schumacher drives taxi in airport dash

From the Telegraph: Michael Schumacher drives taxi in airport dash.

It seems that you can take Michael Schumacher out of racing, but you can’t take racing out of Michael Schumacher.

The seven-time Formula One world champion took over from his taxi driver in order to make it to the airport in time for a flight, it has emerged.

Cabbie Tuncer Yilmaz watched in awe as the racing legend, 38, showed him how his job ought to be done.

"I found myself in the passenger seat, which was strange enough, but to have ‘Schumi’ behind the wheel of my cab was incredible," Mr Yilmaz told German newspaper the Muenchner Abendzeitung. [continue]

Undercover restorers fix Paris landmark’s clock

From the Guardian: Undercover restorers fix Paris landmark’s clock.

It is one of Paris’s most celebrated monuments, a neoclassical masterpiece that has cast its shadow across the city for more than two centuries.

But it is unlikely that the Panthéon, or any other building in France’s capital, will have played host to a more bizarre sequence of events than those revealed in a court last week.

Four members of an underground “cultural guerrilla” movement known as the Untergunther, whose purpose is to restore France’s cultural heritage, were cleared on Friday of breaking into the 18th-century monument in a plot worthy of Dan Brown or Umberto Eco.

For a year from September 2005, under the nose of the Panthéon’s unsuspecting security officials, a group of intrepid "illegal restorers" set up a secret workshop and lounge in a cavity under the building’s famous dome. Under the supervision of group member Jean-Baptiste Viot, a professional clockmaker, they pieced apart and repaired the antique clock that had been left to rust in the building since the 1960s. Only when their clandestine revamp of the elaborate timepiece had been completed did they reveal themselves. [continue]

Isolated tribes

From the Guardian: ‘We said to them, ‘Come closer’ but they said to us, ‘Go further back”.

"First just one came out, then two, then three, four, five, six, seven, but there were more than that in total. We had a dozen machetes, a dozen knives and some axes and pots with us. We gave these to them. Not by hand, but by leaving them on the beach. We said to them, ‘Come closer’ but they didn’t want to. They said to us, ‘Go further back, further back,’ so we did."

The encounter between José, a Peruvian from the Las Piedras river area near the border with Brazil, and members of the large isolated Mashco-Piro tribe living in the deep Amazonian rainforest, took place this year and was described to the anthropologist Richard Hill, of Survival, the international campaign for tribal peoples.

Following a series of similar encounters and incidents, such as one this week when a Peruvian government team photographed a group of 21 Indians from the air, Mr Hill and other anthropologists are reassessing how many tribes there may be left who have chosen to shun the 21st century.

"Only 30 or so years ago, it was believed there were just 12," said Stephen Corry, the director of Survival. "Now we think there are 107 living in isolation. As more and more incursions are made into the forest, more and more groups are being found. The more people look, the more are being found," he said. [continue]

Pacific tribesmen come to study Britain

From the Independent: Strange island: Pacific tribesmen come to study Britain.

In March this year, a British TV company invited a small tribe called the Kastam, from the tiny South Pacific island of Tanna, to send a delegation to England, a country none of its people had ever visited before. They spent a month living here, learning our customs, and making a film about the way the strange and alien inhabitants of a modern western democracy live. The five men walking up the Mall are this delegation. We are witnessing the final chapter of their incredible journey.

…until now, anthropology has always been a one-way street; alien cultures have never ” gone native” over here. The project was an experiment in what one might call reverse anthropology.

A very strange experiment it was too. The five men, whose names are Yapa, Joel, JJ, Posen and Albi, come from a small hillside village on Tanna, which is the southern tip of the archipelago that makes up the island nation of Vanuatu. At home, they live in mud huts, wear nothing but penis sheaths made from grass, and while away days conforming to a sort of tropical cliché: tending crops, looking after pigs and sitting contentedly in the shade of the banyan tree.

The hurly-burly of central London, where I was invited to follow the group for a day, couldn’t be more different. For men who had grown up in a place where the only form of currency is pigs, and innovations such as electricity, television and the internal combustion engine never caught on, the land of skyscrapers and unbridled capitalism isn’t just another country. It might as well be another planet. [continue]

Uncertain future looms for ancient Thai silk

From csmonitor.com: Uncertain future looms for ancient Thai silk.

Deep in the steamy thicket of low-rise wooden houses of this city’s Ban Khrua Muslim quarter, the din of teak hand looms thudding and clacking fills the air. Here in the canal-side workshop of Nipon Manuthas, three women surrounded by the kaleidoscope of vibrantly dyed silk spools pump the pedals of the looms with bare feet. The weavers manage to carry on an animated conversation over the racket as they pass spools back and forth across the looms.

It’s a scene straight out of another century, but the lustrous swaths of fabric that Mr. Nipon’s little workshop produces in this humble old neighborhood are in demand from bespoke tailors for a jet-setting clientele of European diplomats and dignitaries. [continue]

Simpsons win over Kenyan carvers

From the Beeb: Simpsons win over Kenyan carvers.

A group of carvers in western Kenya are looking forward to the first Simpsons movie hitting big screens around the world, even though they are unlikely to see it.

Although most of them in the remote village of Tabaka in Kisii have never watched the animated TV show, Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie have changed their lives and the new film should see demand for their work soar, they hope.

Soapstone carving is a traditional craft passed down from generation to generation, and the Abagusii tribe is renowned for their carving prowess.

So when Twentieth Century Fox designated the Tabaka soapstone carvings as official Simpsons merchandise in July 2006, their lives improved overnight. (…)

Pauline Kemunto and her husband work with the Simpsons team in Tabaka; he carves the figures and she smoothes the soapstone afterwards.

"I don’t know who they are," she says about the dysfunctional cartoon family. "But I like them because I earn from them." [continue, see photo]

Leave those kids alone

From the Boston Globe: Leave those kids alone.

What could be more natural than a mother down on the rec-room floor, playing with her 3-year-old amid puzzles, finger-puppets, and Thomas the Tank Engine trains? Look — now she’s conducting a conversation between a stuffed shark and Nemo, the Pixar clown fish! Giggles all around. Not to mention that the tot is learning the joys of stories and narrative, setting him on a triumphal path toward school.

A "natural" scene? Actually, parent-child play of this sort has been virtually unheard of throughout human history, according to the anthropologist David Lancy. And three-fourths of the world’s current population would still find that mother’s behavior kind of dotty. [continue]

The sheer hell of bossy Britain

From the Guardian: The sheer hell of bossy Britain.

Last month, the public address system at Earl’s Court tube station in London was served with a noise abatement order. Passengers, it seems, had had enough of being told the blindingly obvious. "They come over with these bizarre messages that you would know already unless you were simple," says Peter Wakeham, director of the Noise Abatement Society. "’Stand back or the train will run you over.’ ‘Don’t lean on the doors.’ ‘Stand back from the opening doors.’ ‘Mind the gap.’ ‘Do this.’ ‘Don’t do that.’ We don’t need to be told so many obvious things in these deafening ways. It’s not rocket science."

There are reports that some London Underground staff have sensibly decided to satirise the bossy pointlessness of their colleagues’ PA announcements. According to passenger website Going Underground, commuters at Holborn station waiting to board a train were recently told: "This is a train. Get on it. Go home. See you Monday." [continue]

Tree drawings

What does it look like when a tree does some drawing? Like this.

Drawings produced by pens attached to the tips of tree branches, as the branches move in the wind the tree draws on to a panel or drawing board on an easel. Like signatures the trees drawings tell of the tree’s character; a Hawthorn producing a stiff, scratchy & spikey drawing an Oak a more elegant flowing line.

It’s all from Tim Knowles’ site, where you can see Weeping Willow on circular panel, 4 Panel Weeping Willow, Larch (4 pen), Scots Pine, Larch, Oak on Easel #1, and Ivy.

Now I can imagine the rest of you creeping into the woods to try this on your local trees.

Firstborn children are the cleverest?

From New Scientist: Firstborn children are the cleverest.

Firstborn children score significantly higher in IQ tests than their younger siblings, according to a large study of 250,000 military draftees in Norway.

The researchers say the difference is due to social, not biological, factors, as younger siblings have higher IQs if they are raised as an eldest child following the death of an older brother or sister. The findings could suggest better ways of parenting the youngest children in a family.

Petter Kristensen, at the University of Oslo in Norway, and colleagues reviewed data collected from 18- and 19-year-old men drafted into the country’s military between 1985 and 2004. These young men took intelligence tests as part of their compulsory military service.

Researchers then looked at the Norwegian birth registry to determine whether these men had older or younger siblings. Medical records also indicated whether their siblings had died shortly after birth, or at a relatively early age. [continue]

Thanks to Sarah for telling me about this article.

Social lending gains net interest

From the Beeb: Social lending gains net interest.

Pouring your cash into the far reaches of the world wide web may sound like a crazy idea.

After all, the internet has seen its fair share of nasties from phishing e-mails posing as a bank to key logging software pinching our passwords and personal information, all in an effort to steal our identity and cash.

But now there is a wave of sites trying to convince people that the web is the place for their money.

The concept is called social lending and the idea is to introduce people who need money to people who want to lend some – cutting out the middlemen like banks and mortgage companies. [continue]

Interesting! The best part is what this can do for really poor people – read on for what the article says about Kiva.

Continue reading

Spain’s collection agents practice public humiliation

From csmonitor.com: Spain’s collection agents practice public humiliation.

Jose Romero remembers the farmer from Alicante. The man owed money – a lot of it – and Mr. Romero sent one of his agents to collect the debt. When the collector arrived, the farmer told him to wait while he went in the house to get the payment. A few minutes later, the farmer came out with his rifle, shooting and yelling "Take that, Zorro!" The collector ran for the car, his black cape flapping behind him.

It wasn’t a scene from a movie. Every day in Spain, collectors disguised as monks, bagpipe players, bullfighters, and, yes, Zorro, attempt to get the recalcitrant to make good on their debts. (…)

"Personal honor, your public image, is still very important in Spain," says Zorro’s Romero. "If one of our agents shows up at an apartment, everyone in the building is going to know there’s a debtor there." Sometimes, the agent doesn’t even have to say a word — the briefcases and cars emblazoned with the words "debt collectors" do the work for him. "If a guy goes into a restaurant and four ‘monks’ come in after him and sit down at the next table," says González, "everyone is going to know he owes money." [continue]

Le Mont Solaire

From the Proceedings of the Athanasius Kircher Society: Le Mont Solaire.

This past September the French army installed 600 one meter square reflective panels in the shape of Roman numerals on the sands of Mont Saint-Michel, a small rocky island off the coast of Normandy. The island’s 150-foot abbey spire cast a shadow three quarters of a mile long that swept across the numerals, making the timekeeper the largest sundial ever constructed, [continue, see photo]

Wine labels with Braille text

From Radio Praha: Czech wine company produces labels with Braille text.

Studying wine labels can be a daunting business if you are not a connoisseur and if you spend hours making up your mind what to select from your local wine-shop think how much harder things are for the blind, who would need to bring a friend or depend entirely on the shop assistant. Now a wine producer in Moravia has taken a step to change that. The Galant winery from Mikulov has started producing the first wine labels with letters in Braille. [continue]

Sign language cell phone service created

From physorg.com: Sign language cell phone service created.

The world’s first sign language dictionary available from a mobile phone has been launched by the University of Bristol’s Centre for Deaf Studies.

Mobilesign.org is a video dictionary with over 5,000 British Sign Language signs. Produced by staff at the Centre for Deaf Studies, it is a mobile accessory to people who work with Deaf people, have Deaf customers or just want to learn to sign.

There is also help for parents with signs included that are specific to children like "Father Christmas", "potty" and "naughty".

The interface is extremely simple and is especially designed for mobile phone displays. Users either type in the word they want translated to sign or they choose from an alphabetic list. The signs do not appear until users ask for download, to avoid unnecessary charges for unwanted material. The signs can be played as often as users wish. [continue]