Suffering Fools

Leta S. Hollingworth’s Children Above 180 IQ Stanford-Binet is worth reading in its entirety. Her early-20th century recommendations for educating gifted children are spot-on, rooted in decades of experience and observation, and, depressingly, just as ignored today as they were nearly a hundred years ago. Her work brims with tellingly sharp insights.

I first heard about her book from Grady Towers’s classic essay “The Outsiders,” which quoted an abridged version of the passage below. If you don’t read Hollingworth’s book, at least read this passage; every word is gold.

“A lesson which many highly intelligent persons never learn as long as they live is that human beings in general are incorrigibly very different from themselves in thought, action, and desire. Many a reformer has died at the hands of a mob which he was trying to improve. The highly intelligent child must learn to suffer fools gladly—not sneeringly, not angrily, not despairingly, not weepingly—but gladly, if personal development is to proceed successfully in the world as it is. Failure to learn how to tolerate in a reasonable fashion the foolishness of others less gifted leads to bitterness, disillusionment, and misanthropy, which are the ruin of potential leaders.”

Kierkegaard, writing as "Judge William" in Either/Or:

“…through many centuries have not knights and adventurers undergone incredible pains and trouble in order to come to harbor in the quiet peace of a happy marriage?  Have not novelists and novel readers worked their way through one volume after another in order to stop with a happy marriage?  And has not one generation after another endured the troubles and complications of four acts if only there was some likelihood of a happy marriage in the fifth?  However, by these prodigious efforts very little has been accomplished for the glorification of marriage, and I doubt very much if by the reading of such works any man has been made capable of performing the task he set himself, or has felt oriented in life.  For this precisely is the pernicious, the unwholesome feature of such works, that they end where they ought to begin.  After the many fates they have overcome, the lovers finally sink into one another's arms.  The curtain falls, the book ends; but the reader is none the wiser.  For truly (assuming that the first flame of love is present) it requires no great art to have courage and shrewdness enough to fight with all one's might for the good which one regards as the only good; but on the other hand it surely requires discretion, wisdom, and patience to overcome the lassitude which often is wont to follow upon a wish fulfilled.”

What happens after the wedding is the real love story.

On journalism, from G. K. Chesterton's The Ball and the Cross (emphasis mine):

“But they had forgotten something; they had forgotten journalism. They had forgotten that there exists in the modern world, perhaps for the first time in history, a class of people whose interest is not that things should happen well or happen badly, should happen successfully or happen unsuccessfully, should happen to the advantage of this party or the advantage of that party, but whose interest simply is that things should happen.

It is the one great weakness of journalism as a picture of our modern existence, that it must be a picture made up entirely of exceptions. We announce on flaring posters that a man has fallen off a scaffolding. We do not announce on flaring posters that a man has not fallen off a scaffolding. Yet this latter fact is fundamentally more exciting, as indicating that that moving tower of terror and mystery, a man, is still abroad upon the earth. That the man has not fallen off a scaffolding is really more sensational; and it is also some thousand times more common. But journalism cannot reasonably be expected thus to insist upon the permanent miracles. Busy editors cannot be expected to put on their posters, ‘Mr. Wilkinson Still Safe,’ or ‘Mr. Jones, of Worthing, Not Dead Yet.’ They cannot announce the happiness of mankind at all. They cannot describe all the forks that are not stolen, or all the marriages that are not judiciously dissolved. Hence the complete picture they give of life is of necessity fallacious; they can only represent what is unusual. However democratic they may be, they are only concerned with the minority.

Zum Bum “Tester”

I'm not sure how I'm expected to test this Zum-branded "bidet in a bottle" in the middle of the grocery store aisle in which it was found, but I think I'll just give it the benefit of the doubt.

“European music is founded on the artificial sound of a note and a scale; in this it is the opposite of the objective sound of the world.  Since its beginnings, Western music is bound, by an insurmountable convention, to the need to express subjectivity.  It stands against the harsh sound of the outside world just as the sensitive soul stands against the insensibility of the universe.

But the moment could come (in the life of a man or of a civilization) when sentiment (previously considered a force that makes man more human and that relieves the coldness of his reason) is abruptly revealed as the ‘superstructure of brutality,’ ever present in hatred, in vengeance, in the fervor of bloody victories.”

Milan Kundera, quoted from Encounter

The first paragraph is a keen and valid observation.  The second… I'm usually a fan of Kundera's philosophical writings (which are most of his writings in one way or another), but I'm disappointed by this.  Maybe it's lost something in the translation from the French, but at least in English it's wishy-washy (just about anything "could come") and worse, trivial.

Yes, "sentiment"—and emotion, and empathetic feelings, and tribalism, and even nostalgia—can drive both love and hate.  There will be no abrupt revelation; the duality of sentiment has always been obvious.  I think Kundera's constant crusade against kitsch has gone a little too far here.  And frankly, I'm surprised that an atheist existentialist novelist, of all people, might suggest dismissing anything that "relieves the coldness of his reason." I'm inclined to value whatever relief I can get.

“Our age reminds one vividly of the dissolution of the Greek city-state: everything goes on as usual, and yet there is no longer any one who believes in it.  The invisible spiritual bond which gives it validity no longer exists, and the whole age is at once comic and tragic—tragic because it is perishing, comic because it goes on.”

— Kierkegaard, Either/Or

Topical Ovine Afterbirth

I'm sure this stuff might work great, and the Chingjing Veteran's Farm where it's sold is worth a trip if you're in the area in Taiwan, but I'm not sure the extremely straightforward packaging would work so well in the U.S. And yet, on the long list of bizarre stuff people willingly smear all over their faces in the name of beauty, sheep placenta isn't even the strangest.

Removing The Pandora Skip Limit

Pandora Radio is where I find most of my new music these days.  When I hear a song I really like for the first time, I bookmark it, and usually end up going over my bookmarks sometime later and buying a lot of the tracks on Amazon. Unfortunately, the big music companies, for reasons unfathomable to sane and rational people, are still trying their hardest to prevent anyone from buying their music, and have mandated a 6-track "skip limit" for Pandora.  Looking for new music, and already own (or dislike) the next few songs Pandora plays?  Tough – after 6 skips (12 if you switch stations), you're stuck with whatever happens to be playing.

Well, I think that's pretty stupid. If you'd like to get your 6 skips back after you've used them up, here's one way to do so.  Generic instructions for any browser first:

  1. Go to the Flash Settings Manager's Website Storage Settings panel, find the entry for, and delete it. (In case you were unaware, as most folks are, Flash plugins get their own semi-secret cookies that are not deleted when you delete regular browser cookies.)
  2. Delete any normal browser cookies from the domain.
  3. Reload  Ta-da!

This takes advantage of the fact that Pandora allows anonymous listening for a period of time. It probably doesn't work with a registered account (because your skips can be tracked with more persistent server-side state). So you won't get to save stations, bookmark songs, etc. But if you really want to skip more than 6 times in a row, you can.  As a special bonus for Safari users on OS X, here's a bash shell one-liner that'll accomplish steps 1 and 2 for you automatically (this deletes some files and is potentially dangerous if copy/pasted incorrectly – be careful):

export PATH=/usr/libexec:$PATH && export C=$HOME/Library/Cookies/Cookies.plist && PlistBuddy -c print $C |awk '/Domain =/{x++; print x-1,$0}'|grep ""|cut -d ' ' -f 1|sort -rn|xargs -I "{}" PlistBuddy -c "Delete :'{}'" $C && find ~/Library/Preferences/Macromedia/Flash\ Player/\#SharedObjects -name ""|xargs -I "{}" rm -rf {}

For the curious, Safari stores its cookies in .plist format, which can be primitively read and manipulated by a command-line utility that comes with OS X called PlistBuddy.  Due credit to this code snippet for hints on how to use it to delete cookies.  Safari's cookies are stored in ~/Library/Cookies/Cookies.plist .  Flash stores its cookies in ~/Library/Preferences/Macromedia Flash Player/#SharedObjects/ .

As far as I can tell, none of this violates Pandora's Terms of Use.  The closest prohibition is one against "[circumventing] any technology used by Pandora or its licensors to protect content accessible via the Pandora Services or the Licensed Application", but I'd really like to see someone argue with a straight face that a user cleaning out his or her browser cookies counts as "circumventing technology".  Then again, these are record companies we're talking about – if anyone would try it…

Saving Voicemail on a non-Jailbroken iPhone

A colleague of mine recently asked if I knew of any applications that would allow him to save and backup voicemail off his iPhone. He had found The Missing Sync, but frankly $40 is a bit steep just to save voicemail; he didn't need to do anything else.

A quick search turned up an article describing how to save voicemail from a jailbroken iPhone, but nothing so simple for a non-jailbroken phone. The article did, however, drop a clue: voicemails are stored in AMR format.

iPhone backup files are conveniently all stored in a directory named for the phone's ID in "~/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/Backup/". The files all have a .mddata or .mdinfo extension. Could any of them contain an AMR file? According to the AMR format RFC, plain, single-channel AMR files should start with the ASCII string "#!AMR\n". A simple grep revealed that several files in fact contained the AMR header. As it turns out, Apple has politely stored each voicemail in its own, separate file – no file carving is necessary to extract the voicemail.

It's so simple to find the voicemail in an iPhone backup, it can be done with a bash shell one-liner (credit to Seren in the comments for finding a slightly more compatible "find" syntax):

pushd ~/Library/Application\ Support/MobileSync/Backup ; for I in `find . -name *.mddata -exec grep -la '#\!AMR' {} \;` ; do cp $I $OLDPWD/`basename -s mddata $I`amr ; done ; popd

That'll copy all the voicemail for the current user's iPhone(s) to the current directory, named with a .amr extension. (Both QuickTime and iTunes can play .amr files.) Note that this can take a minute or two – so be patient for at least a couple minutes if it looks like nothing is happening.

For those less familiar with bash, I'll break down the one-liner a bit:

pushd ~/Library/Application\ Support/MobileSync/Backup ; \<br />
for I in `find . -name *.mddata -exec grep -la '#\!AMR' {} \;` ; \<br />
do cp $I $OLDPWD/`basename -s mddata $I`amr ; \<br />
done ; \<br />

1. pushd changes the current directory and stores the previous current directory in the $OLDPWD environment variable. The "Application Support" directory has an unfortunate space in it, which makes it a bit tougher to throw around pathnames using it without getting the escaping just right – I didn't want to bother with it.
2. The find command looks for only those files that end in .mddata to save a small amount of time (there are no voicemails in .mdinfo files) and then passes each to grep. grep is used to look for files with the AMR header; the -la options are used to quit looking through a file after the first match (again, this is for a small speed improvement – the AMR header ends with a newline and must be the first thing in an AMR file, which means grep is able to move on quicker on the few files that match) and to treat files as text.
3. Use basename to strip off the .mddata filename extension so we can make a copy of the .mddata file with a .amr extension.
4. End of loop.
5. popd restores the current directory to the original working directory.

There are tons of different ways of doing the same thing; I tried for a little while to find one that was functionally equivalent (using xargs rather than a for-loop and bash substring manipulation rather than basename, etc.) but would fit in a Twitter update, but alas, I'm not a bash expert, and failed. If you can come up with a shorter one-liner, feel free to leave it in the comments. It needs to be general (it can't assume a specific iPhone ID, for example), and needs to assume a very large number of files in the backup directory (such that "grep '#\!AMR' *" would likely fail due to "*" being too long; that happens to be the case for me). Other than that, have fun.

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