22 março 2010

The Story of Bottled Water, from the fellas that brought us The Story of Stuff


A Perfect Shot

A Nuthatch is relected in a pool of still water at a private woodland in Hanbury, Worcestershire. Photographer Mark Hancox waited for a month in a specially built hide just yards from the pool for the opportunity to get the perfect shot.


World Water Day 2010

Official website

Some 4,000 baby bottles are placed on the Swiss federal square in Bern to mark World Water Day, during an action by relief organisation Helvetas

The most ambitious simultaneous worldwide publication ever undertaken (and wishlist ;)

Myths are universal and timeless stories that reflect and shape our lives — they explore our desires, our fears, our longings, and provide narratives that remind us what it means to be human.The Myths series brings together some of the world's finest writers, each of whom has retold a myth in a contemporary and memorable way. Authors in the series include: Margaret Atwood, Karen Armstrong, AS Byatt, David Grossman, Milton Hatoum, Natsuo Kirino, Alexander McCall Smith, Tomás Eloy Martínez, Victor Pelevin, Ali Smith, Su Tong, Dubravka Ugresic, Salley Vickers and Jeanette Winterson.
The series launched on 21st October 2005.

These are the ones I still don't have ;)

Philip Pullman, Mythmaker

Philip Pullman is well-accustomed to disapproval from the Christian community: he's been on the US's most "challenged" books list for the last two years for his bestselling Northern Lights trilogy, which portrays God as a senile old man and the church as an oppressive tyrant. So it's unsurprising that he remains sanguine in the face of letters condemning him to "eternal hell" for his new book, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ.
The book, out at the end of this month, will argue that the version of Jesus's life in the New Testament was actually transformed by the apostle Paul. Despite the fact that The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ is not yet published, the author told the Sunday Times yesterday that he had received "scores" of letters accusing him of blasphemy and condemning him to "damnation by fire" and "eternal hell". "Many refer to the title itself, for which there is clearly a passionate objection from some out there," Pullman said. "The letter writers essentially say that I am a wicked man, who deserves to be punished in hell. Luckily it's not in their power to do anything like sending me there."
There will be heightened security at Pullman's event at the Oxford Literary Festival next Sunday as a result of the letters. His publisher, Canongate, which is bringing out Pullman's book as part of its Myths series, said this morning that it had also received letters of complaint about the book, just as it did in 1998 when it reissued 19 books of the Bible with introductions from the likes of Nick Cave and Will Self. "Publication of this book was always going to spark debate — books and ideas of note often do," said sales and marketing director Jenny Todd. "Once people get the chance to read it they will see that Philip has written a thoughtful and considered piece of fiction about the power of stories and storytelling."
Pullman was equally calm this morning, saying that he had "been getting letters of disapproval and condemnation for
years". "[It's] water off a duck's back," the author added. He suggested that the Sunday Times article "was making bricks without straw."

21 março 2010

Metropolis at Brandenburg Gate - now this must have been something ;)

After 83 years, Fritz Lang's Sci-Fi classic "Metropolis" has returned to Berlin in its full glory. On Friday night 2,000 fans braved the snowy weather to watch the restored classic at the Brandenburg Gate. It took restorers a year to repair the damage to the newly discovered scenes. They say the original film was much more complex and interesting than just a sci-fi cult classic.
For over eight decades it was just a tantalizing El Dorado for film historians, but on Friday night a restored version of "Metropolis," Fritz Lang's silent masterpiece, returned to Berlin. Over 2,000 people turned up on a snowy night in Berlin to watch the film projected onto a screen in front of the Brandenburg Gate, with an orchestra performing the original score in a simultaneous broadcast at a theater across town.

The event was the highlight of this year's Berlin Film Festival, marking the return of one of Germany's most influential films to the city where it made its debut 83 years ago. When the sci-fi classic was first shown in 1927 there was huge anticipation about what was then the most expensive German film ever made. But the 150 minutes of idealism and dystopia were a flop with critics and the public alike, despite the ground-breaking techniques and futuristic vision.

Once the US distributors got their hands on "Metropolis" they lobbed off a quarter of the film, making it all but incomprehensible in the process. While that did little to redeem it at the box office in the 1920s, the film went on to become an icon of German cinema and a reference point for many future sci-fi films from "Blade Runner" to "The Fifth Element."
The story tells of a towering city of the future, where the idle rich enjoy their decadent pleasures while the workers toil beneath the ground. However, once Freder, the son of the ruler of Metropolis falls in love with a proletarian prophet Maria and a mad scientist, Rotwang, creates a robot in her image, chaos ensues. Finally Freder secures a reconciliation between the workers and the elite.
Yet Lang, who fled to Hollywood after the Nazis came to power, wanted nothing to do with the bowdlerized version of his film. "Why are people always asking me about a film that doesn't exist?," he would plead.
For decades the prospect of recovering the missing sections obsessed many a film archivist and historian. Then, in 2008, the miracle happened. A long version of the film was discovered in the cinema museum in Buenos Aires. The 16-milimeter copy was severely damaged but film historians were able to ascertain that it contained most of the missing original scenes.
Reconstructed Using Musical Score
The Murnau Foundation, based in the German city of Wiesbaden, then set about the painstaking work of restoring the film. And it was the original score that helped historians to ascertain how exactly to reconstruct the film.
"The most important sources were the Argentinean version and the score," Anke Wilkening, the chief film restorer, told SPIEGEL ONLINE. She explained how the sheet music contained notes on particular events, such as "explosion" or when a new character appeared. "And the music itself was full of gesture, so that the movement on the screen is also in the music itself."
Frank Strobel, who conducted the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra at the gala performance on Friday, explained how important Gottfried Huppertz' original score was for reconstructing the film. "The music played a big role in the making of the film. During the writing of the script there were discussions about the music." He pointed out that the original score was "the only original document that we have from 1927."
Strobel was closely involved in the restoration work, which took a year to complete. Although the film is now close to its original version, there are still a few minutes missing. And the newly inserted scenes are still very apparent because it was difficult to deal with the damage to the original 35 milimeter film that had been copied over to the smaller 16-milimeter negatives. "We couldn't work a miracle with such extreme damage," Wilkening says.
Theme of Friendship Returns
Martin Koerber, of the Murnau Foundation, says that the restoration shows that "Metropolis" can no longer be "misunderstood as a science-fiction pioneer film." For Wilkening the elements of sci-fi and horror that made the film such a cult classic are pushed into the background in the newly restored version.
Wilkening says that the theme of friendship has now returned, through the reinsertion of three important male characters. Josephat, a former assistant to Metropolis ruler Joh Fredersen, Georgy, a worker who Freder changes places with, and a spy The Thin Man, are much more prominent in the restored version. "With these characters Lang tells the story of a friendship, betrayal, loyalty -- all themes that reappear in his films."
Chief restorer Wilkening says that in the shortened version, the film was pared down to simplified themes of sci-fi and boy meets girl. "It was the American way of storytelling to reduce a film to a central story line," she explains. "But we knew from the sources that Fritz Lang's film was far richer and contained much more."

Restored 'Metropolis' Comes Home

Hypatia - one of the first women to study math, astronomy and philosophy

[and my previous post about the movie Agora, with the infallible Rachel Weisz]

One day on the streets of Alexandria, Egypt, in the year 415 or 416, a mob of Christian zealots led by Peter the Lector accosted a woman’s carriage and dragged her from it and into a church, where they stripped her and beat her to death with roofing tiles. They then tore her body apart and burned it. Who was this woman and what was her crime? Hypatia was one of the last great thinkers of ancient Alexandria and one of the first women to study and teach mathematics, astronomy and philosophy. Though she is remembered more for her violent death, her dramatic life is a fascinating lens through which we may view the plight of science in an era of religious and sectarian conflict.

Founded by Alexander the Great in 331 B.C., the city of Alexandria quickly grew into a center of culture and learning for the ancient world. At its heart was the museum, a type of university, whose collection of more than a half-million scrolls was housed in the library of Alexandria.

Alexandria underwent a slow decline beginning in 48 B.C., when Julius Caesar conquered the city for Rome and accidentally burned down the library. (It was then rebuilt.) By 364, when the Roman Empire split and Alexandria became part of the eastern half, the city was beset by fighting among Christians, Jews and pagans. Further civil wars destroyed much of the library’s contents. The last remnants likely disappeared, along with the museum, in 391, when the archbishop Theophilus acted on orders from the Roman emperor to destroy all pagan temples. Theophilus tore down the temple of Serapis, which may have housed the last scrolls, and built a church on the site.

The last known member of the museum was the mathematician and astronomer Theon—Hypatia’s father.

Some of Theon’s writing has survived. His commentary (a copy of a classical work that incorporates explanatory notes) on Euclid’s Elements was the only known version of that cardinal work on geometry until the 19th century. But little is known about his and Hypatia’s family life. Even Hypatia’s date of birth is contested—scholars long held that she was born in 370 but modern historians believe 350 to be more likely. The identity of her mother is a complete mystery, and Hypatia may have had a brother, Epiphanius, though he may have been only Theon’s favorite pupil.

Theon taught mathematics and astronomy to his daughter, and she collaborated on some of his commentaries. It is thought that Book III of Theon’s version of Ptolemy’s Almagest—the treatise that established the Earth-centric model for the universe that wouldn’t be overturned until the time of Copernicus and Galileo—was actually the work of Hypatia.

She was a mathematician and astronomer in her own right, writing commentaries of her own and teaching a succession of students from her home. Letters from one of these students, Synesius, indicate that these lessons included how to design an astrolabe, a kind of portable astronomical calculator that would be used until the 19th century.

Beyond her father’s areas of expertise, Hypatia established herself as a philosopher in what is now known as the Neoplatonic school, a belief system in which everything emanates from the One. (Her student Synesius would become a bishop in the Christian church and incorporate Neoplatonic principles into the doctrine of the Trinity.) Her public lectures were popular and drew crowds. “Donning [the robe of a scholar], the lady made appearances around the center of the city, expounding in public to those willing to listen on Plato or Aristotle,” the philosopher Damascius wrote after her death.

World's largest house of cards

Thanx to Sangue Fresco ;[

20 março 2010

L'Art Du Fromage

For turophobics, it is a new and rather pongy circle of hell. In fact, even for those without the (admittedly rare) fear of cheese, the smorgasbord of nearly 100 fromages, sourced in Lyon and shipped weekly, is the stuff of nightmares.
The inebriating whiff of Roquefort draws one to the door of L'Art Du Fromage, the first speciality cheese restaurant in Britain. The menu is built around cheese-based dishes: there are fondues, raclettes, a glorified version of cheese on toast and even cheese ice cream. One of the few dishes not to arrive with cheese are the snails. Because that would just be wrong.
Step inside and Julien Ledogar clutches a wedge of Le Marechal to the light, for inspection. "This is the first cheese that I fell in love with!" declares the co-proprietor.
Mr Ledogar and his business partner Jean-Charles Madenspacher, who are both 24, have left their village outside Strasbourg, Alsace, to move to the UK. Their mission: to banish the British obsession with mild cheddar and ignite an altogether fierier relationship with aged milk curd.
Their restaurant, off London's King's Road, near Chelsea, has just opened for business. Experts believe they could have a battle on their hands. Cheese has traditionally failed to capture the imagination in the UK beyond the dinner party set. "Much of this is down to the running order of the traditional British meal," says Bob Farrand, chairman of the Guild of Fine Food and author of The Cheese Handbook. "In France, it comes before the pudding. In Spain, it's accompanied by tapas before the meal. In Britain it's stuck in a limbo – after pudding, if at all, where most diners barely have any appetite left."
Indeed, yesterday, it transpired that the sole debonair couple tucking into their cheeseboard lunch at L'Art Du Fromage were actually French relatives of the proprietors. But Mr Ledogar is convinced that things are changing. "The English are naturally nervous about trying new things," he says, citing the cheese ice cream offer which initially made diners recoil in horror. A few big reviews later and it's now a favourite. "Someone just needs to give the green light and then everyone follows."
Unsurprisingly, cheddar has missed the cut. Instead, the cheeseboard offers Roquefort (replete with the Penicillium roqueforti fungus and its "healing properties") and Langres (bathed in Champagne). One of the dearest, the Salers de Buron, emerges from an awkward production process. "The trick is to convince the cow that it is feeding her calf not a farmer," explains Mr Ledogar. "So you carefully remove the calf from the udder and continue extracting the milk while maintaining the illusion that the baby is still there." Running a cheese restaurant is a fiddly business too: after opening all windows and doors every morning, a deep clean begins.
Several cheese shops around the country have "tasting cafés" – notably La Fromagerie in Highbury, north London – but there is nothing, Mr Ledogar insists, quite like sitting down with an entire meal of the stuff. Clutching a piece of Camembert, he exclaims: "If you close your eyes and taste this, you can almost feel the variety of fauna that the cow has consumed, sense the maturity of the cheese."
From the menu: L'Art Du Fromage
*Fondue Savoyarde – combining Emmental, Comté and Beautfort fondue flambéed in Kirsch.
*Triolet de glaces au frontage – Assortment of home-made cheese ice creams and sorbet.
*Munster pané – Munster cheese coated with breadcrumbs, served with Bayonne ham and walnut and baby leaves.
*Plateaux de Fromage L'Epicurien – board allowing the taster to discover the seven cheese families.
*L'Assiette de l'Etable – an Assortment of three cheeses on toast, served with lettuce and cooked sliced ham.
*Cloche à Fromage – Cheeseboard served in a cheese bell with jams, fresh and dry fruits.

19 março 2010

Stop the Presses ;)

All of Popular Science magazine now on Google Books

Guardian alert ;)

The 137-year-old magazine has put all its back numbers online, including articles by Darwin, Pasteur – and predictions of orbiting space-hotels.

It has a list of authors that would make a publisher's eyes water and includes Charles Darwin, Thomas Huxley, Louis Pasteur and Thomas Edison. They are all great scientists, and all writers who have put their names to articles that have appeared not in dry academic journals such as Nature but in Popular Science, a mass-market American guide to science, new inventions and wacky gadgets.
This strange mixture has been newly revealed to British readers, because every issue of the 137-year old monthly magazine (now published in 30 languages in more than 40 countries) has just been made available through Google Books. Thus you can now log on and peer into the past and note not just the occasional article by distinguished scientists, or frequent features on the fledgling subject of personal computers, but observe how journalists predicted the shape of things to come: the monorail trains that would criss-cross the planet, the planes that would replace cars as our chosen means of personal transport, and of course, the obligatory space station and orbiting hotel that would be flying round the planet before the end of the 20th century. "Will space travel lengthen your life?" the magazine asked in 1957.
This formula has proved startlingly successful: a mix of occasional erudition, large chunks of practical advice for techies and the odd splurge of scientific forecasting, all clearly written and imaginatively packaged. The magazine covers frequently invoke nostalgia for a time when we were more optimistic about science's bounty.
Even so, this month's issue exemplifies the Popular Science mix perfectly: a guide to building earthquake-proof airports, a feature on transgenic, muscle-bound trout and the story of Per Segerbäck, the man who lives in a remote Swedish nature reserve – because he is allergic to electromagnetic radiation and an urban environment would kill him. Classic.

It has long been said that travel "broadens the mind"

It's 4.15 in the morning and my alarm clock has just stolen away a lovely dream. My eyes are open but my pupils are still closed, so all I see is gauzy darkness. For a brief moment, I manage to convince myself that my wakefulness is a mistake, and that I can safely go back to sleep. But then I roll over and see my zippered suitcase. I let out a sleepy groan: I'm going to the airport.
The taxi is late. There should be an adjective (a synonym of sober, only worse) to describe the state of mind that comes from waiting in the orange glare of a streetlight before drinking a cup of coffee. And then the taxi gets lost. And then I get nervous, because my flight leaves in an hour. And then we're here, and I'm hurtled into the harsh incandescence of Terminal B, running with a suitcase so I can wait in a long security line. My belt buckle sets off the metal detector, my 120ml stick of deodorant is confiscated, and my left sock has a gaping hole.
And then I get to the gate. By now you can probably guess the punchline of this very banal story: my flight has been cancelled. I will be stuck in this terminal for the next 218 minutes, my only consolation a cup of caffeine and a McGriddle sandwich. And then I will miss my connecting flight and wait, in a different city, with the same menu, for another plane. And then, 14 hours later, I'll be there.
Why do we travel? It's not the flying I mind – I will always be awed by the physics that gets a fat metal bird into the upper troposphere. The rest of the journey, however, can feel like a tedious lesson in the ills of modernity, from the pre-dawn X-ray screening to the sad airport malls peddling crappy souvenirs. It's globalisation in a nutshell, and it sucks.
And yet here we are, herded in ever greater numbers on to planes that stay the same size. Sometimes we travel because we have to. Because in this digital age there is still something important about the analogue handshake. Or eating Mum's turkey at Christmas.
But most travel isn't non-negotiable. (In 2008 only 30% of trips over 50 miles were made for business.) Instead we travel because we want to, because the annoyances of the airport are outweighed by the visceral thrill of being someplace new. Because work is stressful and our blood pressure is too high and we need a vacation. Because home is boring. Because the flights were on sale. Because New York is New York.
Travel, in other words, is a basic human desire. We're a migratory species, even if our migrations are powered by jet fuel and Chicken McNuggets. But here's my question: is this collective urge to travel – to put some distance between ourselves and everything we know – still a worthwhile compulsion? Or is it like the taste for saturated fat: one of those instincts we should have left behind in the Pleistocene epoch? Because if travel is just about fun, then I think the new security measures at airports have killed it.
THE GOOD NEWS, at least for those of you reading this while stuck on a tarmac, is that pleasure is not the only consolation of travel. In fact, several new science papers suggest that getting away – and it doesn't even matter where you're going – is an essential habit of effective thinking. It's not about a holiday, or relaxation, or sipping daiquiris on an unspoilt tropical beach: it's about the tedious act itself, putting some miles between home and wherever you happen to spend the night.
Let's begin with the most literal aspect of travel, which is that it's a verb of movement. Thanks to modern engine technology, we can now move through space at an inhuman speed. The average walker moves at 3mph, which is 200 times slower than the cruising speed of a Boeing 737. There's something inherently useful about such speedy movement, which allows us to switch our physical locations with surreal ease. For the first time in human history, we can outrun the sun and segue from one climate to another in a single day.
The reason such travels are mentally useful involves a quirk of cognition, in which problems that feel "close" – and the closeness can be physical, temporal or even emotional – get contemplated in a more concrete manner. As a result, when we think about things that are nearby, our thoughts are constricted, bound by a more limited set of associations. While this habit can be helpful – it allows us to focus on the facts at hand – it also inhibits our imagination. Consider a field of corn. When you're standing in the middle of the field, surrounded by the tall cellulose stalks and fraying husks, the air smelling faintly of fertiliser and popcorn, your mind is automatically drawn to thoughts that revolve around the primary meaning of corn, which is that it's a plant, a cereal, a staple of farming.
But now imagine that same field of corn from a different perspective. Instead of standing on a farm, you're now in the midst of a crowded city street, dense with taxis and pedestrians. (And yet, for some peculiar reason, you're still thinking about corn.) The plant will no longer just be a plant: instead, your vast neural network will pump out all sorts of associations. You'll think about glucose-fructose syrup, obesity and Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food; ethanol made from corn stalks, popcorn at the cinema and creamy polenta simmering on a wood stove in Emilia Romagna. The noun is now a web of tangents, a loom of remote connections.
What does this have to do with travel? When we escape from the place we spend most of our time, the mind is suddenly made aware of all those errant ideas we'd suppressed. We start thinking about obscure possibilities – corn can fuel cars – that never would have occurred to us if we'd stayed back on the farm. Furthermore, this more relaxed sort of cognition comes with practical advantages, especially when we're trying to solve difficult problems.
Look, for instance, at a recent experiment led by the psychologist Lile Jia at Indiana University. He randomly divided a few dozen undergrads into two groups, both of which were asked to list as many different modes of transportation as possible. (This is known as a creative generation task.) One group of students was told that the task was developed by Indiana University students studying abroad in Greece (the distant condition), while the other group was told that the task was developed by Indiana students studying in Indiana (the near condition). At first glance, it's hard to believe that such a slight and seemingly irrelevant difference would alter the performance of the subjects. Why would it matter where the task was conceived?
Nevertheless, Jia found a striking difference between the two groups: when students were told that the task was imported from Greece, they came up with significantly more transportation possibilities. They didn't just list buses, trains and planes; they cited horses, triremes, spaceships, bicycles and even Segway scooters. Because the source of the problem was far away, the subjects felt less constrained by their local transport options; they didn't just think about getting around in Indiana – they thought about getting around all over the world and even in deep space.
In a second study, Jia found that people were much better at solving a series of insight puzzles when told that the puzzles came all the way from California and not from down the hall. These subjects considered a far wider range of alternatives, which made them more likely to solve the challenging brain teasers. There is something intellectually liberating about distance.
The problem is that most of our problems are local – people in Indiana are worried about Indiana, not the eastern Mediterranean or California. This leaves two options: 1) find a clever way to trick ourselves into believing that our nearby dilemma is actually distant, or 2) go someplace far away and then think about our troubles back home. Given the limits of self-deception – we can't even tickle ourselves properly – travel seems like the more practical possibility.
Of course it's not enough simply to get on a plane: if we want to experience the creative benefits of travel, then we have to rethink its raison d'être. Most people escape to Paris so they don't have to think about those troubles they left behind. But here's the ironic twist: our mind is most likely to solve our stubbornest problems while we are sitting in a swank Left Bank cafe. So instead of contemplating that buttery croissant, we should be mulling over those domestic riddles we just can't solve.
The larger lesson is that our thoughts are shackled by the familiar. The brain is a neural tangle of near-infinite possibility, which means that it spends a lot of time and energy choosing what not to notice. As a result, creativity is traded away for efficiency; we think in literal prose, not symbolist poetry. A bit of distance, however, helps loosen the chains of cognition, making it easier to see something new in the old; the mundane is grasped from a slightly more abstract perspective. As TS Eliot wrote in the Four Quartets: "We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time."
But distance isn't the only psychological perk of travel. Earlier this year researchers at Insead, a business school in France, and at the Kellogg School of Management in Chicago reported that students who had lived abroad were 20% more likely to solve a computer simulation of a classic psychological task known as the Duncker candle problem than students who had never lived outside their birth country.
The Duncker problem has a simple premise: a subject is given a cardboard box containing a few drawing pins, a book of matches and a waxy candle. They are told to determine how to attach the candle to a piece of corkboard on a wall so that it can burn properly and no wax drips on to the floor. Nearly 90% of people pursue the same two strategies, even though neither strategy can succeed. They elect to pin the candle directly to the board, which would cause the candle wax to shatter. Or they say they'd melt the candle with the matches so that it sticks to the board. But the wax wouldn't hold; the candle would fall to the floor. At this point most people surrender. They assume that the puzzle is impossible, that it's a stupid experiment and a waste of time. Only a slim minority of subjects – often fewer than 25% – come up with the solution, which involves attaching the candle to the cardboard box with wax and then pinning the cardboard box to the corkboard. Unless people have an insight about the box – that it can do more than hold drawing pins – they'll waste candle after candle. They'll repeat their failures while they're waiting for a breakthrough. This is known as the bias of "functional fixedness", since we're typically terrible at coming up with new functions for old things. That's why we're so surprised to learn that an oven can be turned into a small closet or that an apple can be used as a bong.
What does this have to do with living abroad? According to the researchers, the experience of another culture endows us with a valuable open-mindedness, making it easier to realise that a single thing can have multiple meanings. Consider the act of leaving food on the plate: in China this is often seen as a compliment, a signal that the host has provided enough to eat. But in America the same act is a subtle insult, an indication that the food wasn't good enough to finish.
Such cultural contrasts mean that seasoned travellers are alive to ambiguity, more willing to realise that there are different (and equally valid) ways of interpreting the world. This in turn allows them to expand the circumference of their "cognitive inputs", as they refuse to settle for their first answers and initial guesses. After all, maybe they carry candles in drawing-pin boxes in China. Maybe there's a better way to attach a candle to a wall.
OF COURSE THIS mental flexibility doesn't come from mere distance. It's not enough to just change time zones or to schlep across the world only to eat Le Big Mac instead of a quarter pounder with cheese. Instead this increased creativity appears to be a side-effect of difference: we need to change cultures, to experience the disorienting diversity of human traditions. The same details that make foreign travel so confusing – Do I tip the waiter? Where is this train taking me? – turn out to have a lasting impact, making us more creative because we're less insular. We're reminded of all that we don't know, which is nearly everything; we're surprised by the constant stream of surprises. Even in this globalised age, slouching toward similarity, we can still marvel at all the earthly things that weren't included in the Lonely Planet guidebook and that certainly don't exist back home.
So let's not pretend that travel is always fun. We don't spend 10 hours lost in the Louvre because we like it, and the view from the top of Machu Picchu probably doesn't make up for the hassle of lost luggage. (More often than not, I need a holiday after my holiday.) We travel because we need to, because distance and difference are the secret tonic of creativity. When we get home, home is still the same. But something in our mind has been changed, and that changes everything.

Reading, and Laughing, is Believing: 5 People Who Actually Predicted the Future

Lately, with the Mayan 2012 Apocalypse scheduled to rip humanity a new asshole in less than 3 years now, the idea of clairvoyance has been hotter than 2 Tabasco-smothered lesbians making out on the surface of the Sun. Is it at all possible to foresee the future? It would seem that… yes, it is. Throughout history there have been at least five people who’ve successfully predicted some of the most important events of the 20th century. They are:

William Gibson

Predicted: The Internet, in 1984

The notion of a bunch of telecommunication outposts connected in one worldwide web was hardly Gibson’s idea and has in fact existed for decades in various shapes and sizes, from the telegram cables right till the early ARPANET. Still, those networks were basically only good for sending out one-sided communications and emoticon penises. Similar, but not really THE internet.
However, in Gibson’s 1984 novel “Neuromancer”, the author first presented his vision of an entire global computing network which operated like an actual cyber world. It was supposed to be a whole separate universe with constantly updated content, a virtual marketplace of ideas where people from every corner of the globe could connect in a meaningful way, but which was mainly used to feed the darkest and most twisted vices of humanity. You know, just like the internet of today.
 Though hidden under a metric crapton of cyberpunk malarkey, what was proposed in “Neuromancer” sounds so eerily similar to the intertubes we use nowadays that it would get Gibson burned at the stake for witchcraft no more than 40 years ago. You should definitely check the book out, if not for its future-predictions, then at least for the cyborg-samurai chick heroine.

Arthur C. Clarke

Predicted: Global Satellite Communication, in 1945

In a time when carrier pigeons were still considered a viable communications option, famed author Arthur C. Clarke dreamt of a future where flying antennas in the sky would be used to transmit audio and visual signals (i.e. porn) to any place on the planet. The problem was the Earth with its apparent ADHD, constantly spinning around and around, meaning such contraptions would always inevitably fall out of range.
But what if, Clarke thought, we construct “satellites” which rotated around the planet with the same speed as Earth? It would mean that from our point of view, these aerials will appear like most British women in bed – motionless. Clarke’s theories, as described in “Extra-Terrestrial Relays”, have today come true in the form of geosynchronous satellites, the little buggers which make it possible for modern TV sets to receive those exotic smut-channels your parents/wife don’t know about.
To be fair, geosynchronous satellites did bounce around in the scientific community a few years earlier, but it took the combination of Clarke’s knowledge of science and literary flair to completely flesh out this idea, producing a very accurate vision of the future, albeit without all the cheap Bulgarian pornography.

Jimmy Peterford

Predicted: The Wii, in 1991

Imagine it’s the early 90s. The Soviet Union has literally just fallen changing the modern world forever, and you are just a dumb kid interested only in your December ’91 issue of “Nintendo Power”. But inside it—hidden somewhere in the letter section you never read—there lied the correspondence of one Jimmy Peterford, who wrote the magazine about his dream console. A console which sounds suspiciously like the 2006 Nintendo Wii.
Peterford’s wet-dream was supposed to be a 512-bit system (Wii’s 512 Mb flash memory), which could run games from other systems (Wii’s Virtual Console), had a built-in band that played your favorite music (Wii Orchestra) and would be operated by 27 buttons (Wiimote + Nunchuk + Axis of sensitivity + Lateral movements = ~27). Jimmy’s console also came with a “Super Mario Galaxy” game, a title that did not exist until 2007, and the overall cost of it all was set at $259.95. During its launch in the US, the Wii went for $249.99.
Some of those are admittedly a stretch but Nostradamus has had an entire cult of crazy people built around him for way more ambiguous predictions. Where are Jimmy’s crazy people, huh?! WHERE ARE THEY?!!

Robert A. Heinlein

Predicted: The answering machine and the waterbed, in 1942 and 1956 respectively

Together with Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke, Robert A. Heinlein was one of the most famous science-fiction writers in the world. Interestingly enough, Heinlein, same as Clarke, also happened to be one of the few true prophets on Earth, meaning that he and his writer buddies were undoubtedly future-seeing aliens from another dimension.
For example, in “Beyond this Horizon” (1942) Heinlein wrote about a futuristic robot-secretary message-recording telephone – essentially a modern answering machine, which was only first patented in Japan a whooping 41 years later. But that’s nothing compared to Heinlein’s depiction of the waterbed, as described in “Double Star” (1956) and “Stranger in a Strange Land” (1961). This device was not a simple background ornament boiling down to “a bed filled with water”. It was very thoroughly thought-through and described in great detail in the books. So much detail in fact, that in 1968 when Charles Hall tried to patent HIS waterbed—an actual real-life invention, mind you—he was turned-down because what he had built was virtually identical to Heinlein’s fictional contraption.
What’s really cool though is that Heinlein also foresaw a future where multiple sex-partners were a social norm. That’s something to look forward to.

Morgan Robertson

Predicted: The sinking of the Titanic, in 1898

You know, there probably is a humorous way to begin this entry, but the 1898 novella “Futility, or the Wreck of the Titan” by American writer Morgan Robertson is just so damn freaky it’s impossible to write or talk about it without a feeling of dread in the deepest corners of your soul. The story freaking predicted the sinking of the RMS Titanic 14 years before it happened. In the novel:
- The Titan was the biggest ship in the world, at 800 feet long, dubbed the “unsinkable”. Now, there are of course some disparities here… The Titanic, for instance, measured something like 882 feet, which is an important difference, only not really.
- Both ships sunk on April in the Northern Atlantic after hitting an iceberg because their captains were a bunch of speed freaks.
- The ocean liners carried about 3000 passengers and both prepared too few lifeboats (~20 each). No info if any of Titan’s passengers stood at the head of the ship yelling something about being royalty of the entire planet though.
- Oh yeah, their names are virtually identical…
If you’re still not convinced that Robertson was some kind of psychic sorcerer, then definitely pick up his 1914 short story “Beyond the Spectrum”, about a sneak Japanese attack on the US somewhere near Hawaii and a new destructive American weapon characterized by a surge of blinding lights.
Jesus Hell, that Nostradamus kid has NOTHING on Mr. Robertson. Quick, someone make-up a religion based on his books! We can all become stinking rich by getting on the ground floor of something big here, people!

You are one weirdworm, your are ;)

Our favourite foods are making us fat, yet we can't resist, because eating them is changing our minds as well as bodies

Obesity: The killer combination of salt, fat and sugar

 For years I wondered why I was fat. I lost weight, gained it back, and lost it again – over and over and over. I owned suits in every size. As a former commissioner of the FDA (the US Food and Drug Administration), surely I should have the answer to my problems. Yet food held remarkable sway over my behaviour.

The latest science seemed to suggest being overweight was my destiny. I was fat because my body's "thermostat" was set high. If I lost weight, my body would try to get it back, slowing down my metabolism till I returned to my predetermined set point.

But this theory didn't explain why so many people, in the US and UK in particular, were getting significantly fatter. For thousands of years, human body weight had stayed remarkably stable. Millions of calories passed through our bodies, yet with rare exceptions our weight neither rose nor fell. A perfect biological system seemed to be at work. Then, in the 80s, something changed.

Three decades ago, fewer than one Briton in 10 was obese. One in four is today. It is projected that by 2050, Britain could be a "mainly obese society". Similar, and even more pronounced, changes were taking place in the US, where researchers found that not only were Americans entering their adult years at a significantly higher weight but, while on average everyone was getting heavier, the heaviest people were gaining disproportionately more weight than others. The spread between those at the upper end of the weight curve and those at the lower end was widening. Overweight people were becoming more overweight.

What had happened to add so many millions of pounds to so many millions of people? Certainly food had become more readily available, with larger portion sizes, more chain restaurants and a culture that promotes out-of-home eating. But having food available doesn't mean we have to eat it. What has been driving us to overeat?

It is certainly not a want born of fear of food shortages. Nor is it a want rooted in hunger or the love of exceptional food. We know, too, that overeating is not the sole province of those who are overweight. Even people who remain slim often feel embattled by their drive for food. It takes serious restraint to resist an almost overpowering urge to eat. Yet many, including doctors and healthcare professionals, still think that weight gainers merely lack willpower, or perhaps self-esteem. Few have recognised the distinctive pattern of overeating that has become widespread in the population. No one has seen loss of control as its most defining characteristic.

"Higher sugar, fat and salt make you want to eat more." I had read this in scientific literature, and heard it in conversations with neuroscientists and psychologists. But here was a leading food designer, a Henry Ford of mass-produced food, revealing how his industry operates. To protect his business, he did not want to be identified, but he was remarkably candid, explaining how the food industry creates dishes to hit what he called the "three points of the compass".

Sugar, fat and salt make a food compelling. They stimulate neurons, cells that trigger the brain's reward system and release dopamine, a chemical that motivates our behaviour and makes us want to eat more. Many of us have what's called a "bliss point", at which we get the greatest pleasure from sugar, fat or salt. Combined in the right way, they make a product indulgent, high in "hedonic value".

During the past two decades, there has been an explosion in our ability to access and afford what scientists call highly "palatable" foods. By palatability, they don't just mean it tastes good: they are referring primarily to its capacity to stimulate the appetite. Restaurants sit at the epicentre of this explosion, along with an ever-expanding range of dishes that hit these three compass points. Sugar, fat and salt are either loaded into a core ingredient (such as meat, vegetables, potato or bread), layered on top of it, or both. Deep-fried tortilla chips are an example of loading – the fat is contained in the chip itself. When it is smothered in cheese, sour cream and sauce, that's layering.

It is not just that fast food chains serve food with more fat, sugar and salt, or that intensive processing virtually eliminates our need to chew before swallowing, or that snacks are now available at any time. It is the combination of all that, and more.

Take Kentucky Fried Chicken. My source called it "a premier example" of putting more fat on our plate. KFC's approach to battering its food results in "an optimised fat pick-up system". With its flour, salt, MSG, maltodextrin, sugar, corn syrup and spice, the fried coating imparts flavour that touches on all three points of the compass while giving the consumer the perception of a bargain – a big plate of food at a good price.

Initially, KFC meals were built around a whole chicken, with a pick-up surface that contained "an enormous amount of breading, crispiness and brownness on the surface. That makes the chicken look like more and gives it this wonderful oily flavour." Over time, the company began to realise there was less meat in a chicken nugget compared with a whole chicken, and a greater percentage of fried batter. But the real breakthrough was popcorn chicken. "The smaller the piece of meat, the greater the percentage of fat pick-up," said the food designer. "Now, we have lots of pieces of a cheaper part of the chicken." The product has been "optimised on every dimension", with the fat, sugar and salt combining with the perception of good value virtually to guarantee consumer appeal.

He walked me through some offerings at other popular food chains. Burger King's Whopper touched on the three points of the compass – then was altered for further effect. In its first, stripped-down form, the burger was explosively rich in fat, sugar and salt. Then the chain began adding more beef, extra cheese or a layer of bacon. McDonald's broke new ground in another way – by making food available on a whim. "The great growth has been the snacking occasion. You get hungry, you want something, your mind pushes off the reality of what you ought to eat, and you end up picking up a hamburger and a giant soda or french fries."

Next they introduced a high-fat, high-salt morning meal. "They took what they learned from the core lunch and dinner menu, and applied it to breakfast. The sausage McMuffin and the egg McMuffin are stand-ins for the hamburger. In effect, you are eating a morning hamburger."

This kind of food disappears down our throats so quickly after the first bite that it readily overrides the body's signals that should tell us, "I'm full." The food designer offered coleslaw as an example. When its ingredients are chopped roughly, it requires time and energy to chew. But when cabbage and carrots are softened in a high-fat dressing, coleslaw ceases to be "something with a lot of innate ability to satisfy".

This isn't to say that the food industry wants us to stop chewing altogether. It knows we want to eat a doughnut, not drink it. "The key is to create foods with just enough chew – but not too much. When you're eating these things, you've had 500, 600, 800, 900 calories before you know it." Foods that slip down don't leave us with a sense of being well fed. In making food disappear so swiftly, fat and sugar only leave us wanting more.

According to food consultant Gail Vance Civille, of management consultants Sensory Spectrum, fat is crucial to this process of lubrication, ensuring that a product melts in the mouth. In the past, she says, Americans typically chewed food up to 25 times before it was swallowed; now the average American chews 10 times. "If I have fat in there, I just chew it up and whoosh! Away it goes," she says. "You have a 'quick getaway', a quick melt."

The Snickers bar, Civille says, is "extraordinarily well engineered". Unlike many products whose nuts become annoyingly lodged between your teeth, the genius of Snickers is that as we chew, the sugar dissolves, the fat melts and the caramel picks up the peanut pieces, so the entire candy is carried out of the mouth at the same time. "You're not getting a build-up of stuff in your mouth."

Kettle chips are another success story. Made of sugar-rich russet potatoes, they have a slightly bitter background note and brown irregularly, which gives them a complex flavour. High levels of fat generate easy mouth-melt, and surface variations add a level of interest beyond that found in mass-produced chips. Heightened complexity is the key to modern food design.

Not so many decades ago, a single flavour of ice-cream was a special treat. Our options ran to vanilla, chocolate and strawberry – and when we could buy all three in a single carton, we saw that as a great innovation. Now ice-cream has countless flavours and varieties; it comes mixed with M&M's or topped with caramel sauce.

When layers of complexity are built into food, the effect becomes more powerful. Sweetness alone does not account for the full impact of a fizzy drink – its temperature and tingle, resulting from the stimulation of the trigeminal nerve by carbonation and acid, are essential contributors as well.

"The complexity of the stimulus increases its association to a reward," says Gaetano Di Chiara, an expert in neuroscience and pharmacology at the University of Cagliari in Italy. Elements of that complexity include tastes that are familiar and well liked, especially if not always readily available, and the learning associated with having had a pleasurable experience with the same food in the past.

Take a bowl of M&M's. If I've eaten them in the past, I'm stimulated by the sight of them, because I know they'll be rewarding. I eat one, and experience that reward. The visual cue gains power and stimulates the urge we call "wanting". The more potent and complex foods become, the greater the rewards they may offer. The excitement in the brain increases our desire for further stimulation.

In theory there's a limit to how much stimulation rewarding foods can generate. We are supposed to habituate – to neuroadapt. When Di Chiara gave animals a cheesy snack called Fonzies, the levels of dopamine in their brains increased. Over time, habituation set in, dopamine levels fell and the food lost its capacity to activate their behaviour.

But if the stimulus is powerful enough, novel enough or administered intermittently enough, the brain may not curb its dopamine response. Desire remains high. We see this with cocaine use, which does not result in habituation. Hyperpalatable foods alter the landscape of the brain in much the same way.

I asked Di Chiara to study what happens after an animal is repeatedly exposed to a high-sugar, high-fat chocolate drink. When he'd completed his experiment, he sent me an email with "Important results!!!!" in the subject line. He had shown that dopamine response did not diminish over time with the chocolate drink. There was no habituation.

Novelty also impedes habituation, and intermittency is another driver. Give an animal enough sugar-laden food, withdraw it for the right amount of time, then provide it again in sufficient quantities, and dopamine levels may not diminish.

There's still a lot we don't know about the relationship between the dopamine-driven motivational system and our behaviour in the presence of rewarding foods. But we do know that foods high in sugar, fat and salt are altering the biological circuitry of our brains. We have scientific techniques that demonstrate how these foods – and the cues associated with them – change the connections between the neural circuits and their response patterns.

Rewarding foods are rewiring our brains. As they do, we become more sensitive to the cues that lead us to anticipate the reward. In that circularity lies a trap: we can no longer control our responses to highly palatable foods because our brains have been changed by the foods we eat.

I wanted to know how much the industry understood about how the food we eat affects us; about what I have termed "conditioned hypereating" – "conditioned" because it becomes an automatic response to widely available food, "hyper" because the eating is excessive and hard to control. I turned to Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate in economics.

"Does the industry know that what it feeds us gets us to eat more?" I asked.

"The industry has jacked up what works for it," Stiglitz said. "The learning is evolutionary." Practical experience has been its guide – it does not need lab rats when it can try out its ideas on humans. Its decision-makers do not have to analyse human brain circuitry to discover what sells.

A venture capitalist who knows the business intimately cited Starbucks as a company that has recognised and responded brilliantly to a cultural need. The caffeine and sugar in the coffee, with their energising effects, are certainly part of the equation, but the chain also offers something much more primal. "It's about warm milk and a bottle," he says. "One of my colleagues said, 'If I could put a nipple on it, I'd be a multimillionaire'."

But it was thinking creatively about how to attract more consumers that led Starbucks to the Frappuccino, the venture capitalist told me. Although its stores were crowded early in the day, by afternoon "they were so empty you could roll a bowling ball through them". The creation of a rich, sweet and comforting milkshake-like concoction utterly transformed the business. A Starbucks Strawberries & Crème Frappuccino comes with whipped cream and 18 teaspoons of sugar: all in all, this "drink" contains more calories than a personal-size pepperoni pizza, and more sweetness than six scoops of ice-cream. By encouraging us to consider any occasion for food an opportunity for pleasure and reward, the industry invites us to indulge a lot more often.

Starbucks learned a basic lesson: make enticing food easily and constantly available, keep it novel, and people will keep coming back for more. With food available in almost any setting, "the number of cues, the number of opportunities" to eat have increased, while the barriers to consumption have fallen, says David Mela, senior scientist of weight management at the Unilever Health Institute. "The environmental stimulus has changed."

Of course, when food is offered to us, we're not obliged to eat it. When it's on the menu, we don't have to order it. But this takes more than willpower. As an individual, you can practise eating the food you want in a controlled way. As a society, we can identify the forces that drive overeating and find ways to diminish their power. That's what happened with the tobacco industry: attitudes to smoking shifted. Similar changes could be brought about in our attitudes to food – by making it mandatory for restaurants to list calorie counts on their menus; by clear labelling on food products; by monitoring food marketing. But until then few of us are immune to the ubiquitous presence of food, the incessant marketing and the cultural assumption that it's acceptable to eat anywhere, at any time.

Call it the "taco chip challenge" – the challenge of controlled eating in the face of constant food availability. "Forty years ago, you might face the social equivalent of that taco chip challenge once a month. Now you face it every single day," Mela said. "Every single day and every single place you go, those foods are there, those foods are cheap, those foods are readily available for you to engage in. There is constant, constant opportunity."
How to take back control

Plan when and what you will eat There should be no room for deviation; the idea is to inhibit mindless eating and eliminate your mental tug-of-war. Once you've set new patterns, you can become more flexible.

Practise portion control Eat half your usual meal; see how you feel one and two hours later. A just-right meal will keep away hunger for four hours.

List the foods and situations you can't control Cut out those foods; limit exposure to those situations. If offered something you overeat, push it away.

Talk down your urges Learn responses to involuntary thoughts: eating that will only satisfy me temporarily; eating this will make me feel trapped; I'll be happier and weigh less if I don't eat this.

Rehearse making the right choices Before entering a restaurant, imagine chosing a dinner that's part of your eating plan. Think of this as a game against a powerful opponent. You won't win every encounter, but with practice you can get a lot better.

This is an edited extract from The End Of Overeating: Taking Control Of Our Insatiable Appetite, by David A Kessler

17 março 2010

Happy St. Patrick's Day !

Yep, blame it on the Translation: Book Reviews, Portuguese style :|

Não sabemos se é das traduções à letra ou mal feitas, se é por estarem fora do contexto, o certo é que não conseguimos deixar de rir com algumas citações de book reviews da imprensa estrangeira, colocadas nas contracapas e badanas de alguns livros editados em Portugal. Para além das traduções descuidadas, das muitas incongruências, encontramos também por diversas vezes a mesma frase, com a mesma origem, em livros completamente diferentes. Sinceramente, não percebemos bem se elas são um elogio ao livro ou o seu contrário Deixamo-vos um aperitivo. Se quiserem mais, é só entrar numa livraria e deslocarem-se à secção de novidades.

1- «Um livro que atrai um leitor como o aroma de uma caçarola ao lume.»

Financial Times

2 - «Profundo, elegante e poderoso… Tão memorável como a sua própria personagem.»

The Washington Post
3- «Não parece fácil mas, com as dicas certas, pode ser mais simples do que imagina conseguir devorá-lo.»

The Wall Stret Journal

4 - «Um delicioso conto de fadas urbano, onde sapatos assassinos e mitos astecas se confrontam com o amor verdadeiro pelo poder sedutor do chocolate.»

Daily Mail

5- «Este livro está cheio de crianças e elas podem ser tão apetitosas.»

The New York Times

6 - «Um testamento. Ninguém escreverá como ele. Este é o seu corpo e o seu sangue.»

El Mundo

7- «Não é por ter falecido que este escritor se juntou aos imortais.»

The Washington Post
8 - «Um relato cativante, sobre a Pandemia da Sida em África.»

9 – «Este thriller é a mistura perfeita de uma escrita de terror e originalidade.»

Bristol Evenig Post

10 – «A escrita deste thriller é um autêntico pesadelo.»

Daily Mirror

Feminist pilgrimages are a great way to connect with history

Despite my best efforts, my three-year-old daughter Vera hasn't exactly been celebrating her girlhood of late. In fact, influenced by her six-year-old brother, she can frequently be heard muttering, "Girls are boring. I want to do boys' things." I can see her point. Her brother's life is full of Star Wars, pirates, football and other action-packed phenomena. Vera gets Hello Kitty. She clearly finds this unsatisfying, and the situation is coming to a head. "I am not a girl, Mummy, I am a boy," she told me recently. "My name is Peter."
But it's good to be a girl, I tell her. Being a girl is fun. There are women's successes to be celebrated. There is joy in the female condition. How can I prove this though? In our home city, London, there is just not that much physical evidence of women's greatness. The Alison Lapper statue in Trafalgar Square was taken down in 2007. There are nine male statues in Parliament Square – and no female ones. London's first public statue of a black woman, Bronze Woman by Aleix Barbat, in Stockwell Memorial Garden, did not appear until 2008. Germaine Greer has frequently complained that women are underrepresented in public monuments, noting that one of the only recent sculptures of a woman is of the actor Diana Dors at the Shaw Ridge leisure complex in Swindon. Now, I like Diana Dors. But this is pathetic.
I was not about to frogmarch Vera to Swindon, but I loved the idea of an adventure, exploring women's hidden imprint on our streets. So I decided it was time for her first feminist pilgrimage. My mother-in-law reeled: "That poor child." But I knew how to sell it to Vera. "Would you like to come and find out what lots of important ladies did, and then we'll have cake?" "Yes," she replied seriously. "I would like cake."
Rachel Kolsky, a London tourist guide, has run women's walking tours since 2005. "They open people's eyes to the hidden history of an area," she says. "There is a great women's story on every corner." Vera and I set off on a three-hour walk around the East End of London, starting at the Royal London Hospital, the focal point of the Wonderful Women of Whitechapel and Spitalfields Tour. Here, Kolsky tells a story about Eva Luckes, the famous hospital matron, whose successes included the containment of a typhoid epidemic. The hospital's inner courtyard has a magnificent statue of Queen Alexandra, who was instrumental in bringing a new treatment for tuberculosis to the hospital. "Look at that strong, proud lady, Vera!" I say. "You said I could have cake," she says. "I'm cold."
Then Vera starts to cry, bringing our adventure to a sudden end. This is the problem with Kolsky's brilliant London tours: in order to showcase women's buried history, they cover a lot of ground. Great for an adult, but slightly too ambitious for a three-year-old.
I am not deterred though. Quite the opposite. As we head home I am hatching plans for future feminist pilgrimages. In the UK, we can follow in the footsteps of Virginia Woolf, Jane Austen, and the Brontës. Or, next time we are passing the Houses of Parliament, we could check out the statue of Emmeline Pankhurst, one of London's few female landmarks, in Victoria Gardens. Then there's a trail of Pankhurst family blue plaques to be followed in London, from 50 Clarendon Road in Holland Park to 120 Cheyne Walk in Kensington.
Further afield there is Gertrude Stein's apartment in Paris at 27 Rue de Fleurus. Now a private home, this address was once host to weekly salons and packed with paintings by Renoir, Gauguin and Cézanne; Picasso was a regular dinner guest. You may only be able to walk past these days, but you can still reminisce fondly on key passages in Stein's classic work The Auto- biography of Alice B Toklas. Or, in the same city, you could visit Simone de Beauvoir's grave – next to Sartre's – at the Cimetière du Montparnasse.
In New York there is a lengthy Dorothy Parker trail leading from the Ansonia at 2108 Broadway (one of New York's most famous apartment blocks: Parker lived around the corner), to the 1925 birthplace of the New Yorker magazine at West 47th Street, where Parker worked, and on for cocktails at the Algonquin Hotel. Then there are all the great feminist museums: the Elizabeth A Sackler Center for Feminist Art, for instance, at the Brooklyn Museum in New York, which includes a gallery devoted to Judy Chicago's "vaginas on plates" sculpture, The Dinner Party.
Maybe I will even start a "Sylvia Plath does New York" fund for when Vera turns 16. We will stay at the Barbizon Hotel at 63rd and Lexington – which was once women-only – wearing dresses with matching bags, as Plath did. We'll lunch near the one-time offices of Mademoiselle at 575 Madison Avenue where Plath was an intern. Or we'll criss-cross Massachusetts in a turquoise 1966 Thunderbird Convertible à la Thelma and Louise in honour of Louisa May Alcott, tattered copies of my favourite childhood book, Little Women, in tow. More likely though, we might just go to Stockwell when the weather warms up and take a look at that Bronze Woman, holding her baby triumphantly aloft. As long as there's an ice-cream van nearby, I'm sure Vera will be up for it.
For anyone who wants to explore women's lives and history, here are some other great ideas for feminist pilgrimages.
Bath: Jane Austen
Austen lived in Bath from 1801 to 1806. The Jane Austen Centre at 40 Gay Street is gearing up for September's Austen Festival which features "the opportunity to dress throughout the week in 18th-century Regency costume". You can have "tea with Mr Darcy" (a £10.50 high tea with cucumber sandwiches, scones and cream) all year round. Those keen for an Elizabeth Bennett-style constitutional can download a free audio walking tour "In the footsteps of Jane Austen" at visitbath.co.uk. There is also a "Jane for the day" suggested timetable: "12.45pm: Visit the Assembly Rooms: in Jane's day, guests assembled for balls, to drink tea, play cards, listen to music or just to talk and flirt. 3pm: Stroll around the streets Jane would have known."
Sussex: Virginia Woolf
"It is not so much a house as a phenomenon." So wrote Quentin Bell of Charleston, the country home between Eastbourne and Lewes that was used by the writers, artists and thinkers known as the Bloomsbury group in the early 20th century. Virginia and Leonard Woolf originally spotted this late-17th-century Sussex farmhouse, situated at the foot of the South Downs, and coaxed Virginia's sister, Vanessa Bell, to move there in 1916. It reopens for the summer on 31 March, with special tours on Fridays.
The Woolfs' own country home was Monk's House near Lewes, East Sussex (nationaltrust.org.uk). This property is occupied by tenants so is open only for short visits on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons between April and October. But there is the ideal pilgrimage on Saturday 26 June: an eight-mile walk "In the Footsteps of Virginia Woolf", from Monk's House to Charleston, with lunch at local stately home Firle Place (£25). To book tickets, call Charleston on 01323 811626 (charleston.org.uk).
Washington: Michelle Obama
The Smithsonian's National Museum of American History (on the National Mall, 14th Street and Constitution Avenue) has hundreds of exhibits commemorating the women's reform movement. The museum's First Ladies' Collection celebrates the influence of presidents' wives and has been one of the most popular exhibitions for the last 100 years, including archive material, diaries, memorabilia and costumes. This week, the white chiffon Jason Wu gown Michelle Obama wore to the inaugural balls went on show for the first time.
For another tribute to Obama, head to her favourite takeout joint, Good Stuff Eatery at 303 Pennsylvania Avenue SE in Washington DC for a "Prez Obama" burger or to Ben's Chilli Bowl at 1213 U Street NW for the Obamas' favourite half-smoke chilli dog. Nearby Busboys and Poets (2021 14th Street), a cafe and bookshop, hosts feminist events and has a huge feminist book collection.
Amsterdam: Anne Frank
"Now our Secret Annexe has truly become secret . . . Mr Kugler thought it would be better to have a bookcase built in front of the entrance to our hiding place. It swings out on its hinges and opens like a door." The canal house at 163 Prinsengracht was the hiding place of the young Jewish girl Anne Frank and her family during the Nazi occupation of Amsterdam, and there are numerous tours of the city that include the house, where you can visit the annexe where Frank wrote her secret diary. The house opens at 9am, and it is best to visit early to avoid queues (annefrank.org).
As the French travel bible Guide du Routard notes, "In the winter Simone de Beauvoir came always first thing in the morning to the [Café] Flore to have a seat near the stove. Sartre recreated the atmosphere of an English club. Everybody listened to jazz, read poems or played little acts." Pay homage to the great feminist philosopher over a café au lait at Café Flore, before downloading a walking tour from St Germain to the Louvre at girlsguidetoparis.com for $1.98 (£1.30). This takes in 60 Rue de Seine where de Beauvoir once lived, and while you are strolling, remember: one is not born a woman, one becomes one.