Monthly Archives: November 2011


I once tutored a middle schooler for the ISEE–like the SAT, but for admission to private high schools.

“Dearth,” I explained to him one day, “means lack.”

“Dearth can’t mean lack!” He lamented. “Paucity already means lack!”

Good point, but unfortunately it doesn’t work that way.

In other news, the word dearth has a great etymology. You know how “dear” can mean “expensive,” especially in British English or in French (“cher”)? Well, dearth originally meant dear-ness: expensiveness. But because expensiveness often reflects scarcity, dearth evolved to mean scarcity. Per the online etymology dictionary, this word was “originally used of famines, when food was costly because scarce; extended to other situations of scarcity from early 14c.”



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My blog went on a brief hiatus as I flew to L.A. for my Great-Aunt Marcie’s funeral on Sunday.

She was an amazing woman and I wish I’d known her better. She was as beautiful and graceful as she was brilliant and stubborn. Even at 90 she was still driving herself around, fiercely independent.

I learned so much about her that I’d never known, from the fact she had gotten a Masters at Harvard to the fact that she would rubber-band paper towels to the bottom of her mug, lest it stain the table.

Her kids and grandkids are so lovely. Spending time with them made for a bittersweet day.

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No scrubs

Fondly remembering my father’s claim that the lyrics of No Scrubs are tautological:

I don’t want no scrub
A scrub is a guy that can’t get no love from me

Apparently he views the lyrics as equivalent to this:

I don’t want {x|x: what I don’t want}


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In vitro

I just realized that “in vitro” is cognate with “vitrine” and “vitreous”, sharing the root “glass.”

So “in vitro” means “in glass”–like in the glass of a test tube or a petri dish. The opposite is “in vivo,” in the living body.

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Cars vs. smartphones

This New York Times article suggests that among teens, smartphones are in a sense substitutes for cars.

“[Smartphones] offer a degree of freedom and social reach that previously only the automobile offered.”….[I]n 1978, 50 percent of 16-year-olds in the United States obtained their first driver’s license. In 2008, only 30 percent did.


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Think Twice: Harnessing the Power of Counterintuition

Some notes and quotes from Think Twice: Harnessing the Power of Counterintuition:

Harvard’s Law states, “Under the most rigorously controlled conditions of pressure, temperature, volume humidity, and other variables, the organism will do as it damn well pleases.” – p2

Planning fallacy: people consistently and dramatically underestimate how much something will cost and how long it will take. However, this does not apply to people’s judgments about others’ projects. – p10-11

“When asked why doctors generally shun checklists, Joseph Britto, a former doctor, quipped, ‘Unlike pilots, doctors don’t go down with their planes.'” – p69

More than forty years ago, Daniel Kahneman was asked to help flight instructors in the Israeli air force sharpen their training skills. After watching the instructors hurl obscenities at the trainees, Kahneman told the instructors about research with pigeons that demonstrated how positive feedback can motivate batter than castigation. One instructor retorted, ‘With all due respect, sir, what you’re saying is for the birds.’ The agitated instructor went on to explain that pilots almost always did worse on their next flight after praise and consistently did better after a tongue lashing. Initially taken aback, Kahneman soon realized that the instructor was committing our third mistake. The instructor believes that his insults caused the pilots to fly better. In reality, their performance was simply reverting to the mean.” – p128

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Miracle fruit

If you haven’t tried miracle fruit before, you should. Per the Wikipedia entry, “It contains a glycoprotein molecule, with some trailing carbohydrate chains, called miraculin. When the fleshy part of the fruit is eaten, this molecule binds to the tongue’s taste buds, causing sour foods to taste sweet.”

I threw a miracle fruit party a week ago, and sure enough, you can drink balsamic vinegar straight and even delight in eating lemons and limes. Sour cream tastes like Greek yogurt sweetened with sugar.

For a full report on the experience–including advice on hosting your own party–see my friend Patrick’s blog post.

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