September 2007

Seduced at the Barbican

by Limbic on September 21, 2007

Seduced explores the representation of sex in art through the ages. Featuring over 300 works spanning 2000 years, it brings together Roman sculptures, Indian manuscripts, Japanese prints, Chinese watercolours, Renaissance and Baroque paintings and 19th century photography with modern and contemporary art.

Seduced presents the work of around 70 artists including Nobuyoshi Araki, Francis Bacon, Jeff Koons, Robert Mapplethorpe, Pablo Picasso, Rembrandt van Rijn and Andy Warhol among others. Stimulating the mind and the senses, provocative and compelling, Seduced provides the historical and cultural framework to explore the boundaries of acceptability in art. Seduced is curated by Marina Wallace, Martin Kemp and Joanne Bernstein.

12 October 2007 – 27 January 2008 – Barbican Art Gallery


Sworn Virgins of Albania

by Limbic on September 20, 2007

From the Washington Post:

When the Albanian journalist and author Elvira Dones was traveling in the mountains of northern Albania, she asked for directions from someone she thought was a man walking his mule through a village, rifle on shoulder.

After the exchange, her guide whispered, “That is one of them.”

Dones, who lives in Rockville, had just met an adherent of an ancient northern Albanian tradition in which women take an oath of lifelong virginity in exchange for the right to live as men. The process is not surgical — in these mountains there is little knowledge that sex-change surgery is even possible. Rather, sworn virgins cut their hair and wear baggy men’s clothes and take up manly livelihoods as shepherds or truck drivers or even political leaders. And those around them — despite knowing the sworn virgins are women — treat them as men.

….Tirana. The practice has existed at least since the 15th century, when the traditions of the region were first codified, according to Dones. The sworn virgins came into being for emergencies: If the patriarch of the family died and there was no other man to carry on, a provision was needed so that a woman could run her family.

This is a very interesting article but it avoids at least one question I had all along – are these women simply lesbians and this tradition permits “avoiding arranged marriages” and thus serves as a socially approved way of dealing with female homosexuality?
The Sacrifices of Albania’s ‘Sworn Virgins’


Steven Pinker on language and violence

by Limbic on September 20, 2007

Here are two new short videos from Steven Pinker.

The Stuff of Thought

In an exclusive preview of his new book, The Stuff of Thought, Steven Pinker looks at language, and the way it expresses the workings of our minds. By analyzing common sentences and words, he shows us how, in what we say and how we say it, we’re communicating much more than we realize,

A Brief History of Violence

In a preview of his next book, Steven Pinker takes on violence. We live in violent times, an era of heightened warfare, genocide and senseless crime. Or so we’ve come to believe. Pinker charts a history of violence from Biblical times through the present, and says modern society has a little less to feel guilty about.


A Guide to Creating a Minimalist Home

by Limbic on September 17, 2007

The guys at Zenhabits offer a comprehensive primer on how to create a Minimalist home (along with reasons why you might want to do so).


The Dress Of Thought

by Limbic on September 17, 2007


“‘Most of us have, at one time or another, puzzled over such historical-linguistic conundrums as: Why did only Britain, of all the Roman provinces overrun by Germans, end up speaking a Germanic language? Why did the Portuguese language ‘take’ in Brazil, but not in Africa, while Dutch ‘took’ in Africa but not in Indonesia? If the Phoenicians were so important in Mediterranean history, how is it that they left not a single work of literature behind? Since we know of no nation named Aramaia, whence came Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus of Nazareth? What actually happened to Sumerian? Or Mongolian, the language of a vast medieval empire?

‘Plainly, what we have been needing is an account of world history written from the linguistic point of view. Well, here it is. Nicholas Ostler is a professional linguist and currently chairman of the Foundation for Endangered Languages. His loving fascination with languages is plain on every page of Empires of the Word, and in the many careful transcriptions — each with a brief pronunciation guide and a translation — of passages from Nahuatl, Chinese, Akkadian, and a host of other tongues. Ostler actually has a feel for languages that, he has convinced me, goes into something beyond the merely subjective. He speaks of ‘some of the distinctive traits of the various traditions: Arabic’s austere grandeur and egalitarianism; Chinese and Egyptian’s unshakeable self-regard; Sanskrit’s luxuriating classifications and hierarchies; Greek’s self-confident innovation leading to self-obsession and pedantry; Latin’s civic sense; Spanish rigidity, cupidity, and fidelity; French admiration for rationality; and English admiration for business acumen.” (National Review article).”


Writing sensible email messages

by Limbic on September 17, 2007

Writing sensible email messages: “

As we’ve seen before, getting your inbound email under control will give you a huge productivity boost, but what about all the emails you send? If you want to be a good email citizen and ensure the kind of results you’re looking for, you’ll need to craft messages that are concise and easy to deal with.

First: Understand why you’re writing

Before you type anything into a new message, have explicit answers for two questions:

  1. Why am I writing this?
  2. What exactly do I want the result of this message to be?

If you can’t succinctly state these answers, you might want to hold off on sending your message until you can. People get dozens, hundreds, even thousands of emails each day, so it’s only natural for them to gravitate toward the messages that are well thought-out and that clearly respect their time and attention. Careless emails do not invite careful responses.

Think through your email from the recipient’s point of view, and make sure you’ve done everything you can to try and help yourself before contacting someone else. If it’s a valuable message, treat it that way, and put in the time to making your words count.

Get what you need

Although the possible topics and content of messages are theoretically endless, I’d propose that there are really just three basic types of business email.

  1. Providing information – ‘Larry Tate will be in the office Monday at 10.’
  2. Requesting information – ‘Where did you put the ‘Larry Tate’ file?’
  3. Requesting action – ‘Will you call Larry Tate’s admin to confirm our meeting on Monday?’

It should be clear to your recipient which type of email yours is; don’t bury the lede. Get the details and context packed into that first sentence or two whenever you can. Don’t be afraid to write an actual ‘topic sentence’ that clarifies a) what this is about, and b) what response or action you require of the recipient.

Since the Larry Tate meeting on Monday has been moved from the Whale Room, could you please make sure the Fishbowl has been reserved and that the caterer has been notified of the location change? Please IM me today by 5pm Pacific Time to verify.

This isn’t the place to practice your stand-up act. Keep it pithy, and assume that no one will ever read more than the first sentence of anything you write. Making that first sentence strong and clear is easily the best way to interest your recipient in the second sentence and beyond.

Write a great Subject line

You can make it even easier for your recipient to immediately understand why you’ve sent them an email and to quickly determine what kind of response or action it requires. Compose a great ‘Subject:’ line that hits the high points or summarizes the thrust of the message. Avoid ‘Hi,’ ‘One more thing…,’ or ‘FYI,’ in favor of typing a short summary of the most important points in the message:

  • Lunch resched to Friday @ 1pm
  • Reminder: Monday is ‘St. Bono’s Day’–no classes
  • REQ: Resend Larry Tate zip file?
  • HELP: Can you defrag my C drive?
  • Thanks for the new liver–works great!

In fact, if you’re relating just a single fact or asking one question in your email, consider using just the subject line to relate your message. As I’ve mentioned before, in some organizations, such emails are identified by adding (EOM)—for end of message—at the end of the Subject line. This lets recipients see that the whole message is right there in the subject without clicking to the view the (non-existent) body. This is highly appreciated by people who receive a large volume of mail, since it lets them do a quick triage on your message without needing to conduct a full examination.

Sadly, good email subjects have become something of a lost art, especially among more recent additions to the Interweb. It’s a pity, because you’re far more likely to get a favorable response from a busy person when they can quickly grok your message.

Brevity is the soul of…getting a response

It’s completely depressing to check your email at 4:55 in the afternoon to discover a gothic novel of a message waiting for you, spilling down your screen the distance of 2 or 3 scrolling pages. It’s certainly not the kind of thing that excites the desire to engage and respond. I mean just look at all that!

So, although—in typical Merlin fashion—I have only anecdotal evidence and hunches to prove this point, I’d wager that there’s one visual trick most likely to improve your message’s success: fit it onto one screen with no scrolling. There’s a reason those web ads placed ‘above the fold’ cost a lot more than the ones stuck down at the bottom; it’s the only part of the page that you’re virtually assured that anyone will see.

Whenever you can, try to distill your beautiful epistle down to just one or two points about a given topic, and then whittle that down to the point where there’s plenty of white space left underneath your closing. Got more to say? Put it in separate emails with—again—excellent Subject lines, and a descriptive, concise opener.

What’s the action here?

If your message includes any kind of request—whether for a meeting, a progress update, a pony ride, or what have you—put that request near the top of the message and clearly state when you will need it. Do not, under any circumstances, assume that your overwhelmed recipient will take the time to sift through your purple prose for clues about what they’re supposed to be doing for you.

Depending on the style of your team and the volume of mail they create, you might even consider adding functional text headers to the top of the body outlining the exact nature of the message.

This email is:    [ ] actionable   [x] fyi        [ ] social
Response needed:  [ ] yes          [x] up to you  [ ] no
Time-sensitive:   [ ] immediate    [ ] soon       [x] none

Sure, it’s geeky, but how many minutes have you wasted panning through a sloppy ‘project update’ email only to completely miss the changed deadline or work request buried in the penultimate paragraph?

Remove the guesswork from your messages by thinking of them like friendly, civil work orders; you must not be afraid to ask for what you want, especially if you have any desire to actually have the recipient give it to you.

More good ideas

  • Make it easy to quote – Power email users will quote and respond to specific sections or sentences of your message. You can facilitate this by keeping your paragraphs short, making them easy to slice and dice.
  • Don’t chuck the ball – Emails to a thread are like comments at a meeting; think of both like your time possessing the basketball. Don’t just chuck at the net every chance you get. Hang back and watch for how you can be most useful. Minimize noise.
  • A reminder never hurts – If you’re following-up or responding to an email that’s more than a few days old, provide context right at the opening. For example, ‘You wrote in February asking to be notified when the new asthma inhalers are in stock; here’s a link to the items we’ve now made available on our site….’
  • Never mix, never worry – Unless your team really prefers to work that way, do not mix topics, projects, or domains of life in a given email. Inform everyone of Baby Tyler’s adorable antics in a different message than the one with the downsizing rumors and budget warnings.
  • No thanks – I’m not married to this one, but I know a lot of people who swear by it. In more informal settings and in high-volume mail environments, it’s not necessary to respond with a ‘Thanks’ email whenever someone does what you asked. Save your gratitude for the next time you pass in the hall; a one-word ‘Thanks’ email can be crufty and unnecessary. On the other hand, don’t hesitate to thank someone for their time if they’ve truly done you a proper.
  • RTFM – If you’re asking for help, make sure you’ve exhausted all the documentation and non-human resources you have at your disposal. When you do ask for help, be sure to quickly cover the solutions you’ve already tried and what the results were.
  • Skip the overture – If you’re writing to a busy person with an actual question or request, resist the desire to swoon for 2,000 characters. Either write a fan letter or a useful email, but mixing them can seem tacky and disingenuous. Just go ahead and ask Gary Gygax for his autograph already.

[Thanks to Cory for exchanges and thoughts that contributed to this.]

(Via Clippings.)


Five Business Book Classics – The Essay by Todd S.: “

I wrote a piece for the July/August issue of Corporate Dealmaker. The magazine did eight pages on business books and their impact on the M&A industry. Here is my contribution where I discuss books that should be on every executive’s reading list:

And Don’t Forget The Classics

There are M&A books, and there are business books that should be required reading for every executive. Here are five guaranteed to help you be more productive and make smarter decisions.

by Todd Sattersten

Books on mergers and acquisitions often take a distinct nuts-and-bolts approach. No mystery there: Deals are complex projects and dealmakers want practical advice on how to execute them. Even for dealmakers, though, transactions are just part of a bigger strategic picture, on where decisions of many kinds are needed. Every executive, dealmaker, or otherwise, is ultimately judged on the quality of the decisions he or she makes, and there’s no shortage of books aimed at helping those managers make smart choices. Here are five that should be on every executive’s reading list.

1 – ‘Competitive Strategy’ by Michael Porter

If you boil business down to its essence, you are left with two key elements–strategy and execution. Strategy is deciding what direction to go, and execution is how to get there. Michael Porter’s ‘Competitive Strategy’ gives us the clearest view of the first element. Strategy is about competition, and prior to the book’s 1980 publication, competition was defined as other companies operating in the same industry. Porter’s five forces model created a much richer view, adding suppliers, buyers, substitutes, and new players to the definition. Those added dimensions made Porter’s work ground-breaking. Without Porters’ model, it is hard to see how PC manufacturers’ margins quickly shrank in the 1990’s. The cause was not competition among industry players, but the superior bargaining power of their two primary suppliers–Intel and Microsoft. In my industry of publishing, substitutes have become the primary source of competition as readers’ attention is diverted to other forms of media.

2 – ‘Execution’ by Larry Bossidy, Ram Charan, and Charles Burck

But strategy is only one half of the equation. An organization must be able to carry out the plan and ‘Execution’, released in 2002, is one of the best book out there on the topic. In their book, Bossidy, who spent 40 years running industrial conglomerates, Charan, who provides insights as a guru to Fortune 500 CEOs, and writer and editor Burck mapped out ‘a system for getting things done through questioning, analysis, and follow-through.’ Identifying and developing leadership talent lies at the core with the goal not to evaluate people for what they are doing today, but for the positions they will hold tomorrow. Leaders then lay out clear goals everyone in the organization can understand, follow-through to clear internal obstacles, and reward the doers who are producing results. Finally, organizations that understand execution inject a healthy dose of realism into their culture through open, informal dialogue to eliminate false consensus and by making needed changes today rather than waiting for tomorrow for things to get better.

3 – ‘In Search of Excellence’ by Tom Peters and Bob Waterman

‘In Search of Excellence’, published in 1982 was the result of a McKinsey project started five years prior to find out what successful organizations look like. The authors found that the most effective organizations were those that recognized the irrationality of the humans that inhabited them. Those companies were clear about their beliefs and created a strong value system that acted as a compass for organizational decision-making. Inside companies like Boeing, 3M, and Hewlett-Packard, Peters and Waterman found small, passionate teams accomplishing big, game-changing feats and meetings taking place in hallways as executives exercised management by walking around.

4 – ‘Good to Great’ by Jim Collins

Jim Collins also looked at successful companies in his 2001 best-seller. Using a methodical approach, Collins identified companies that went from average to sustained periods of growth. Walgreens, Pitney-Bowes, and Nucor were among the 11 companies that made the cut and his book’s metaphors have become a lexicon for business in the 21st century-the flywheel, BHAGs (big hairy audacious goals), level 5 leadership, to name a few.

5 – ‘The Effective Executive’ by Peter Drucker

Before Stephen Covey’s ‘Seven Habits’ and David Allen’s ‘Getting Things Done’, Peter Drucker det the standard for books on productivity with ‘The Effective Executive’. Decision-making, playing to your strengths, and ‘first things first’ are all presented with the signature clarity Drucker brought to the study of management.

Todd Sattersten is vice-president of 800-CEO-READ and author of an upcoming book from Portfolio on the 100 best business books of all time.

(Via Clippings.)


Dieting and Health

by Limbic on September 17, 2007

From Mark Forster:

An article Advocacy for Whom? on Sandy Szwarc’s blog Junkfood Science has given me furiously to think. An excerpt:

… the strongest evidence for more than half a century is that voluntary weight loss, regardless of the method, is associated with increased rates of premature deaths, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and cancers — by as much as several hundred percent, as the National Institutes of Health found in 1992 and the medical literature continues to support. The other problems that have been documented include the physiological effects of restrictive eating, dieting and weight loss, such as eating disorders, diminished mental acuity and work productivity, loss of concentration, nutritional shortages, reduced bone mass, cardiac arrhythmias, long-term exacerbation of high blood pressure and long-term weight gain.

The medically-documented consequences of inadequate calories, protein and deficiencies in nutrients, especially being seen among older people, include delayed wound healing, increased risks of infection, damaged heart and intestinal functions, longer hospital stays and higher rates of complications and higher mortality rates, depression, apathy, functional decline, loss of muscle strength, falls and increased fractures.

No one dies of fat, but they do from weight stigma. And they do die from bariatric surgeries, which bring objectively documented risks of dying far and above those even associated with the most ‘morbid obesity.’

The whole article is well worth reading.


Mike Brodie

by Limbic on September 17, 2007

From Cool Hunting:


I love Polaroids. And everyone out there who believes that you need a lot of fancy equipment to take great photographs needs to look at the wonderful Polaroid pictures of Mike Brodie, aka The Polaroid Kidd.

More here.


From: Book Discussion: Chip and Dan Heath’s “Made to Stick”: ”

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die

Imagine: a teacher stands in front of a classroom filled with bored, listless students. As he repeatedly fills the board and erases it, fills the board and erases it, he drones out a list of names and dates, formulae and proofs, theories and evidence. His students drop one by one into a dazed stupor, drool puddling beneath their vacant faces, necks craning to catch quick glimpses of the clock, thumbs twiddling against phonepads beneath their desks. Neither teacher nor students are inspired; six months later, neither will remember what was said or done that day or, indeed, any day.

Now imagine: A period later, a different teacher stands in front of a different group of students teaching her section of the same class. As she goes over the same material from the same book, her students buzz with excitement, falling over themselves to answer every question she poses to the class, their gazes riveted tightly to hers as she spins out ever-more-fascinating details. Years later, her students remember vividly the material from her class, and look back at their semester together as a crucial turning point in their lives.

Same material, same subject, very different outcomes. What is it that makes some teachers — along with some politicians, pundits, authors, scientists, novelists, corporate executives, advertisers, designers, engineers, and others — able to totally capture their audience’s attention while others communicate the same ideas an get ignored?

Find out by reading this excellent primer over at