Anti-social software

When Should I Visit Tate Modern takes Foursquare check-in data and shows what days of the week are less crowded at various museums, galleries, and theatres in London.

Also trying to leverage Foursquare checkin data for end user utility, but at the opposite end of the spectrum from the aforementioned website: Where the Ladies At, an iPhone app that tracks high concentrations of the fairer sex in San Francisco.

I'm glad some companies are trying to extract some consumer utility from all that checkin data, because I get very little personal value from Foursquare, Gowalla, Yelp, and other checkin services.

More public rail is always a good thing...right?

Patrick Chovanec explains why China's buildout of high-speed rail is failing to alleviate the congestion there.

The problem is that high-speed rail is expensive both to build and to operate, requiring high ticket prices to break even.  The bulk of the long-distance passenger traffic, especially during the peak holiday periods, is migrant workers for whom the opportunity cost of time is relatively low.  Even if they could afford a high-speed train ticket — which is doubtful given their limited incomes — they would probably prefer to conserve their cash and take a slower, cheaper train.  If that proves true, the new high-speed lines will only incur losses while providing little or no relief to the existing transportation network.

Instead of shifting people from slower modes of transportation to faster ones, the high-speed rail is pushing commuters downmarket by stealing market share from airlines and by displacing slower, cheaper rail lines and pushing those customers to buses that just congest the roads further.

Another example of the law of unintended consequences. Urban planning isn't easy.

Camera apps in photojournalism

Damon Winter defends his use of popular iPhone photography app Hipstamatic to win third prize in a photography contest by Pictures of the Year International.

People may have the impression that it is easy to make interesting images with a camera app like this, but it is not the case. At the heart of every solid image are the same fundamentals: composition, information, moment, emotion, connection.  If people think that this is a magic tool, they are wrong. Of hundreds of images taken with the phone over those six days in Nahr-i-Sufi, only a handful were worth reproducing.

I have no problem with his use of Hipstamatic. People have been manipulating photos forever, even in the darkroom days. It was just more labor-intensive back then. My FB wall has been a bit oversaturated with Instagram and Hipstamatic photos, but a lot of them are more interesting than the thousands of flash-whitewashed portraits that most people post to FB.

If anything, the bad photos from those apps (not every photo benefits from a Lomo or Polaroid look) just proves that what you pay a professional for is some things a camera can't guarantee: composition, their choice of how to maniuplate each photo, getting in the right position to get the right photo, using the best tools at hand, etc. The skill of photography isn't just about buying the right camera and pressing the shutter release.

Rethinking Jordan's minor league baseball stint

In a chat with Kevin Goldstein at Baseball Prospectus a while back, I spotted this Q&A:

Rob (Chicago): Call me crazy, but Michael Jordan showed pretty decent numbers from a guy who was randomly stuck into AA. His OBP was almost 90 points higher than his AVG. You think he could've improved if given more time (and not, for some crazy reason, go back to being the best player in basketball?).

Kevin Goldstein: You are NOT crazy. I actually think Jordan's .202/.289/.266 line in Double-A was an incredible athletic achievement.

On average, spectators underestimate the difficulty of competing at the professional level in sports. I have some sense of how hard it is to hit major-league pitching, but only because I was a failed high school player who couldn't hit the curveball. I'll never forget the first time I faced our closer in practice. He was the tight end on the football team, someone so large (6' 4" and maybe 260) that it made you wonder how he could only be two years older.

Even at his size, his fastball "only" averaged 88, 89mph. In MLB, that's middling at best. To me, it was knee-softening and sweat-inducing. By the time I saw a blur of white of the pitch leave his hand on its way to home plate, my body couldn't fire the necessary muscles to swing the bat quickly enough to even give myself a random chance of hitting the ball by accident. One bag of baseballs, maybe 15 to 20 pitches in all, or just five minutes of futility was enough to effectively end all my dreams of playing professional baseball. This would be the case for the vast majority of human beings, 99.999% of people in the world.

So I don't think it's crazy at all to think that Jordan's performance in double-A, where most MLB teams place their star prospects (triple-A is filled with journeyman major leaguers who just can't quite crack the show and who don't have star potential), was an amazing accomplishment that will never be properly appreciated. To try and switch to playing major league baseball mid-career, with barely any practice for years and years, is crazy, especially to hit. It's one thing to try and break in as a pitcher, where you might survive just on sheer velocity as a short reliever, but hitting major league pitching may be one of the single most challenging feats in sports.

Of course, this won't change the public's mind about those two years Jordan left the NBA. And don't forget Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders, who had even more success at baseball than Jordan. It feels like there's a SpikeTV reality show in this concept (Who is the World's Greatest Athlete?).

Pauline Kael is getting canonized

Pauline Kael is getting canonized by the Library of Congress. A lot of her work is out of print, though I've tried to track down as much of it as possible. I'm curious to see what the contents of this collection will be and how much of is rescued from the obscurity of "out of print." It's something to tide us over until someday when we can just buy the rights to the her complete writings.

In a digital age, the idea of some writing being "out of print" sounds like an analog artifact.

Man vs. Machine

IBM's Jeopardy playing computer Watson will challenge the game show's grand masters Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter one game apiece.

I don't use any IBM products; the only one I still see in my day-to-day life is the Thinkpad which is popular among Windows users at the office. But the strongest cultural resonance of their brand is in the software they build to challenge humans at various games. For Watson to be able to mount a challenge to top Jeopardy players so quickly (development only began a few years ago) is really impressive.

Over the next four years, Mr. Ferrucci set about creating a world in which people and their machines often appeared to switch roles. He didn't know, he later said, whether humans would ever be able to "create a sentient being." But when he looked at fellow humans through the eyes of a computer scientist, he saw patterns of behaviors that often appeared to be pre-programmed: the zombie-like commutes, the near-identical routines, from tooth-brushing to feeding the animals, the retreat to the same chair, the hand reaching for the TV remote. "It's more interesting," he said, "when humans delve inside themselves and say, 'Why am I doing this? And why is it relevant and important to be human?' "

The Jeopardy games will air Feb 14-16.

Ferris Bueller's Day Off

BP writer Larry Granillo dons his tweed hat and deduces which Cubs game Ferris Bueller and his friends attended during their day off.

The movie "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" was released on June 11, 1986. The ballgame then must have been filmed either real early in the 1986 season or sometime during 1985. Looking at game logs from those seasons, we see that there was no game in 1986 in which Lee Smith (#46) faced the Braves at Wrigley Field. There were four such games in '85, though Smith left the Braves hitless in one of those. Of the remaining three games, it isn't hard to find the game we're looking for.

The Super Bowl Ads...a day in review

I spent the day at Hulu HQ with a team of folks watching the Super Bowl to release ads to the Hulu AdZone as they aired on TV during the game. It's a crazed day, and I only have a fuzzy recollection of how the game itself actually unfolded.

But here's a running diary of my notes from watching the ads as they aired...


It was a much ballyhooed battle between similarly unstoried franchises with many similarities. Of course I'm referring to the battle between LivingSocial and Groupon. After Groupon confirmed it had bought a Super Bowl spot, LivingSocial quickly followed suit. If this coupon site war is one of scale, LivingSocial didn't want to be left behind.

Which company's ads will come out on top? And will their ads during the Super Bowl help consumers to understand the difference between the two companies?

Both aired spots during the pregame. LivingSocial's spot came with the message that it could change your life, a lofty claim indeed. Strangely, the transformation it showed was the evolution of a Harley Davidson-looking grease monkey into a...woman?! Transsexuals may not be large enough a demo to raise too much of a protest online for being used as a punchline, but regardless, it's an odd way to debut your service to over a hundred million people.

Groupon's first ad features beloved forgotten actor Cuba Gooding Jr. enlisting our help to save the whales. Oh, wait, no, we're not appealing to your environmental sympathies, we're using it as a joke! See how edgy we are! Early votes on the AdZone are not rewarding this strategy. Somewhere, an ad agency is working on his "Any PR is good PR" explanation.

And then Christina Aguilera screws up the lyrics to the National Anthem. This will be amazing if it's a live ad for Southwest Airlines: [ding] "Wanna get away?"

Commercial Break 1

The first of the Doritos crowdsourced ads runs: "Pug Attack." Since the Doritos and Pepsi ads were chosen by user votes, they've already been vetted and should do well in the Ad Zone. If you treat this entire body of work from the crowdsourced creative community as coming from a single ad agency, the style holds up as coherent: the ads are all comedic, featuring some twist of a punchline in which someone either does or doesn't get away with something.

Audi runs "Release the Hounds." It feels like a direct attack on Mercedez-Benz and a more tangential attack at BMW. Mercedez = old luxury. Audi = middle-aged luxury. And an appearance by Kenny G! Where has he been? Does he have a Vegas show?

Commercial Break 2

The second crowdsourced ad: Pepsi's "Love Hurts." Yep, it fits my earlier thought on the style of the crowdsourced ads. I wonder if the tone would be similar if a more luxury brand crowdsourced an ad, though by definition those brands would probably be least likely to try such a move.

Commercial Break 3

Budweiser's places a product ad about product placement in the Super Bowl.

Commercial Break 4

Hyundai's "Hypnotized" is an attack on some of Volkswagen's past spots (like this). Will enough people actually get that? I didn't realize Hyundai was attacking that ad style until the end of the ad, and I enjoy the VW ad style, so the reversal didn't work out quite the way they'd intended.

Commercial Break 5

In Kia's "One Epic Ride" a wealthy tycoon surrounded by bikini-clad babes a 200 foot yacht hires a henchman to steal a Kia Optima with a helicopter and fly it over the ocean to the yacht. The Kia ad ends noting that prices start under $19K. I think that guy on the yacht could just buy a Kia Optima with his black Amex card. I feel cognitive dissonance.

Commercial Break 6

The Bridgestone ad serves as a good time to remind people that the ability to recall an e-mail doesn't really work.

Commercial Break 7

Budweiser's "Wild West": copyright Cameron Crowe.

Teleflora's Faith Hill ad is a historic moment. I have no evidence to support this claim, but I believe it's the first time a nationally televised ad in the U.S. has used the word "rack" in that connotation. You know what connotation I mean. Not like a spice rack. Unless, well, I guess with some people you could use it that way.

Commercial Break 8

The girl in Motorola's "Empower the People" spot looks like the offspring of Eliza Dushku and Sarah Michelle Gellar, if they could actually conceive a child together.

Commercial Break 9

We meet yet another one of the Matthews clan, this brother is starring in Thor.

And then we see an ad that was already unveiled to the world earlier this week, Volkswagen's "The Force." Like most people, I'm a fan. What little boy didn't want so much to believe in The Force when they first saw Star Wars? The boy who lived in the house across the yard from me growing up believed so strongly in the idea that he'd blindfold himself and have me throw objects at him while he yielded a plastic sword and tried to swat them away. What occurred was more of an endorsement for the scientific method than the existence of The Force, though I draw on the visual memory of racquet balls bouncing off of his head whenever I need a laugh.

Incidentally: German auto manufacturer, John Williams "Imperial March" theme song, the well-known intentional visual parallels between the costumes and formations of the Imperial Army in Star Wars and German troops from WWII? Interesting subtext.

Speaking of Hitler Germany, if an advertiser licenses the Hitler rant scene from Downfall and remixes it into a Super Bowl ad one of these days, the Internet will explode.

Commercial Break 10

Snickers is doubling down after its success with Betty White last year. Richard Lewis, Roseanne...can Eric Roberts and Joan Rivers be far behind?

Finally, more footage from J.J. Abrams Super 8. The music (James Horner?) and imagery evoke early Spielberg. My nostalgia for early magical Spielberg (E.T., anyone) is almost as strong as my nostalgia for my childhood.

Also, it features Coach Taylor (Kyle Chandler) from Friday Night Lights. The series finale is this week, and I am beyond sad to see the series end. Why the networks will replace such a fantastic show with some new show that gets cancelled after 3 episodes is beyond me.

Commercial Break 11

Many are disappointed that we live in the year 2011 and haven't achieved the Jetsons future once predicted for us. We don't have jetpacks or robot maids that we can order around just by speaking to them, we can't live forever, we haven't cured cancer, and our cars don't hover or drive themselves...but what's this? Our cars can now read our Facebook news feeds to us? Hah! Advantage...ummm...Facebook?

Paramount unveils its trailer for Captain America: The First Avenger. It looks like the usual paint-by-numbers superhero action flick, but if there was ever a time for a Captain America movie, this might be the year. Given our economic difficulties in recent year, the story of a scrawny American who takes a super serum and turns into a muscular superhero may be the type of escapist fantasy Americans turn to Hollywood for. Let's have him create some jobs at home while he's unseating oppressive regimes around the world.

Commercial Break 12

Given some of the occasional social controversy over where and in what conditions our consumer goods are manufactured (e.g. Foxconn), it's a bold and bizarre move for Sony Ericsson to play into that meme head on with their ad depicting an Android mascot being operated on in some dingy back-alley hovel in some unnamed Asian country. Also, the metaphor of grafting a thumb onto the Android mascot is a strange one as it implies, perhaps unintentionally, that the gaming controls in the ad were grafted onto this smartphone rather than being built into the phone from the start.


The ads for (here and here) were shot to bookend the halftime show by the Black Eyed Peas, so they may not play as well out of context. Actually, they didn't play that well in context, either. Were they meant to be abstract? Their only saving grace was the fact that the Black Eyed Peas' halftime show was so awful it served as a much larger target for vicious feedback on Twitter.

Commercial Break 15

Not content to just offend environmentalists, Groupon airs its second ad: "Tibet." Perhaps the blowback from the ad will fade in time. How many people still nurse a grudge over the homophobic Snickers ad or the two racist ads from Super Bowl XLII? But for now, it serves as an distasteful nudge to unsubscribe from the Groupon mailings, none of which have been topically or geographically relevant to me for months now.

Coca Cola doesn't dance anywhere near the line of controversy. Their second ad, "Border," and their first ad, "Siege," are two data points that draw a straight line. This is the Watchmen plot remixed. It's not a common foe that will unite is in world peace but our love of sugary carbonated sodas.

Commercial Break 17

This entire ad break is one epically long two-minute ad, and it's a great one. It builds to a dramatic and unexpected twist, signaled by the quiet fading in of that great guitar riff from "Lose Yourself." Who better than Eminem as the symbol of Detroit reborn: raw, blue collar, tough, steeled by rehab? B-Rabbit! B-Rabbit!

By the way, when is Eminem going to act again? He was good in 8 Mile.

Commercial Break 20

Looking for the Angry Birds secret code in the Rio trailer? It's in this moment embedded below.

Or if you just want to see it...

Hulu - AdZone 2011

Commercial Break 21

With their second ad "Black Beetle" it seems that Volkswagen will be the big winner in the Super Bowl ad battle. Some brands and agencies might extrapolate from this that they should also release their Super Bowl ads before the game itself, but that's the wrong conclusion.

Commercial Break 24

Kim Kardashian for Skechers. You know, I think that sex tape worked out for her after all.

And your Mr. Irrelevant for 2011: Fox's house ad for their new program Terra Nova. The tagline should read: Lost, except on Fox.

Okay, I'm headed home to catch up on this football game that happened today. It's amazing how much people have started caring about that football game that runs during the ads each February. I really think this whole Super Bowl concept might turn into something for the NFL.

Variable rate parking in Seattle

Seattle is launching market-based pricing for parking. This is possible now that they've installed those curbside machines that you pay to print out a parking slip for your curbside window (as opposed to the old-school parking meters for each space that took quarters). The machine adjusts pricing based on time of day and could conceivably other factors like geography, parking utilization, weather, local events, etc.

Consumers probably won't enjoy having to pay more for parking at certain times, but from an economic and environmental standpoint this makes all sorts of sense. Curbside parking has always been underpriced, overdemanded, and undersupplied. Anyone versed in microeconomics would predict higher pricing as a more optimal scenario in these cases. Variable pricing of tolls in Singapore and London has been one of the only successful means of reducing traffic there.

Over the holidays, I drove into NYC once, and at many curbs they've now installed these parking machines in the place of parking meters. I wouldn't be surprised to see variable parking pricing arrive in NYC in the next two years.

The article mentions two logical extensions of this technology, and which of the two is positive depends on your perspective:

During an interview in Seattle's Central District, Streetline rep Paul Toliver pulled out his iPad and tapped his map of Hollywood. Red and green showed filled and open spots. Parking officers can see exact spots where cars are sitting overtime, and head out to write tickets. The firm just announced an iPhone app that can send real-time price and space updates to motorists.


Nicholas Felton is famous for his gorgeous annual reports on his personal life. I was excited a few weeks back to hear that he'd partnered with Ryan Case to release a free iPhone app to help you track events in your own life: Daytum.

Unfortunately, the app is still so buggy that I gave up using it just a few days after installing it. I'd add events to find they had either cloned themselves or committed suicide by the next morning, and removing duplicate events sometimes caused both the original and the clone to evaporate. It's already a burden to track events in one's life; having to then clean up after the app's whims is a nonstarter.

Good idea, solid visual design, but reliability? Not so much. Maybe in the next update.


Design Observer visits the Manhattan incarnation of Torino's Eataly food emporium and finds the American version lacking in the charm of the original.

Without having visited either Eataly, I still wonder how much of this isn't just a function of the human crush of Manhattan. Instead of just blaming the New York Eataly for being crowded and less charming, the more interesting question to ponder is how the Manhattan Eataly could have been designed to handle the higher population density of its new context.

Global food shortage

Global warming is the environmental movement's pinup (though it faces perhaps its own crisis of coverage fatigue and noise that is a critical drag on momentum*). One ever growing and related crisis that may be underestimated by the public is the global food crisis. The issues are related because whether it's wind farms or a roast chicken, it's all about energy: "The core of the climate problem lies in the reality that  the world doesn’t have the energy options it needs for a smooth ride toward roughly 9 billion people by mid-century, all seeking decent lives."

Tonight, there will be 219,000 additional mouths to feed at the dinner table, and many of them will be greeted with empty plates. Another 219,000 will join us tomorrow night. At some point, this relentless growth begins to tax both the skills of farmers and the limits of the earth's land and water resources.

Beyond population growth, there are now some 3 billion people moving up the food chain, eating greater quantities of grain-intensive livestock and poultry products. The rise in meat, milk, and egg consumption in fast-growing developing countries has no precedent. Total meat consumption in China today is already nearly double that in the United States.

The third major source of demand growth is the use of crops to produce fuel for cars. In the United States, which harvested 416 million tons of grain in 2009, 119 million tons went to ethanol distilleries to produce fuel for cars. That's enough to feed 350 million people for a year. The massive U.S. investment in ethanol distilleries sets the stage for direct competition between cars and people for the world grain harvest. In Europe, where much of the auto fleet runs on diesel fuel, there is growing demand for plant-based diesel oil, principally from rapeseed and palm oil. This demand for oil-bearing crops is not only reducing the land available to produce food crops in Europe, it is also driving the clearing of rainforests in Indonesia and Malaysia for palm oil plantations.

The combined effect of these three growing demands is stunning: a doubling in the annual growth in world grain consumption from an average of 21 million tons per year in 1990-2005 to 41 million tons per year in 2005-2010. Most of this huge jump is attributable to the orgy of investment in ethanol distilleries in the United States in 2006-2008.

The underexposure of this crisis is one reason I was so excited that the most acclaimed science fiction novel last year centered around food shortage. I've just started Paolo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl, 2010's Hugo Award winner for Best Novel (tied with China Miéville's The City & the City), and so far it's as original as advertised.

A socially valuable role for art in society is to present critical issues to people in the most emotionally compelling manner, and that's one reason the success of this novel is exciting. While I'm skeptical anytime Hollywood tries to adapt one of my favorite books, this might be an exception. We may need to push the food crisis through every means available to mobilize the world so we can avoid a soylent green future.

*FOOTNOTE: In the NYTimes article "Climate News Snooze," Randy Olson is quoted:

Perhaps it’s just my bias as a communicator, but I think this is THE most important variable of the future. Things can be hot, flat, and crowded, yet still civil if there is effective leadership AND the people are able to hear the voices who know how to lead. But try starting a food fight in a crowded, NOISY lunch room and see what happens. Pretty hard to impose order.

I have a feeling that Al Gore would agree with this speculation. He tried to lead, but got shouted down by an already-noisy society. There is a coming “dark ages


Lebron James sent a tweet last night after the Lakers demolished the Cavaliers:

Crazy. Karma is a b****.. Gets you every time. Its not good to wish bad on anybody. God sees everything!

Most people widely interpreted it as James retort to Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, who used the word karma in trashing James in a letter to the fans Gilbert published after James left for the Heat.

Today, Lebron is claiming "It wasn't even a comment from me, it was someone who sent it to me and I sent it out." But a search of Twitter doesn't show a tweet of that wording from anyone prior to Lebron's version, the usual Retweet indicator was absent, and Lebron didn't use the RT attribution that's become a de facto standard on Twitter to indicate a manual retweet.

I think most everyone will accept this as a technological Freudian slip on James' part, and revealing of his feelings about how the Cavs reacted to his departure.

One more way Lebron is not like Michael Jordan: he is terrible at PR. Not that I'm complaining. The sports world is a more interesting place with athletes one cell phone button press away from sharing their inner thoughts, unmediated by PR reps. And at least, unlike Palin with her target maps images which she claims to stand behind, Lebron has left his tweet live and public.

OkTrends - The Mathematics of Beauty

One of the ascendant blogs last year was OkTrends, the data analysis blog of dating site OkCupid. Two of the most discussed posts last year were "The REAL stuff white people like" and "Gay Sex vs. Straight Sex."

They're sprinting out of the gates in the new year with another gem: The Mathematics of Beauty. Feels like research Malcolm Gladwell will resummarize in a New Yorker article in about a year and a half.

Football is Socialism, and other stuff

Clearing out some random links from last year, my lowest blog output year in history. Writing is a muscle, I'm committed to working it more this year (as well as my literal muscles, whose atrophy is more visible).


Football is Socialism [The Awl]

The vainglory of the alpha wide receivers—demanding the damn ball, willfully ignorant of how much has to go right for the ball to reach them—is so ridiculous precisely because it doesn't admit the obvious and incredible difficulty inherent in all this. Consider: a player misses a block and things get screwed up. The quarterback overthrows or underthrows and things get screwed up. The coach misreads the defensive scheme and sends in the wrong play, and things get screwed up. Everything has to go right for even the simplest play to work. Even on a play where the raw ingredients are individual genius—perfect throw, brilliant catch—there's a ton of prosaic, self-sacrificing stuff that has to happen before all the fun stuff. This is the socialistic part, the real grace in the game that makes the stupid, atomized dude-ism of those commercials look that much dumber. You can't watch a football game and not understand this—that nothing succeeds unless everything and everyone succeeds, that no one wins unless everyone wins.


Don't fret, liberals. A divided government is more productive. Jonathan Rauch has explained his theory on this before and summarizes it again in this NYTimes op-ed.

In Mode 2 — divided government — the dynamic is reversed. Both parties, responsible for governing, have a stake in success. Forced to negotiate and compromise, they drag policy toward the center, allowing moderates to feel represented instead of ignored. Most important, the country itself becomes more governable and meaningful laws stand a likelier chance of passage, because neither side can easily blame the other for whatever is wrong and because any major legislation needs support from both parties to pass.

Hendrik Hertzberg of the New Yorker challenges Rauch's assertion.

The data cover from 1952 only through 2004. But there’s no reason for the pattern to have changed wildly since then. The percentage of voters opting for divided government ranges between 10 and 30 per cent.

Which is to say that between 70 and 90 per cent of voters do not prefer divided government. Some prefer united Republican Party government. Others prefer united Democratic Party government. All, presumably, would prefer having part of the government controlled by the party they support to having all of the government controlled by the party they oppose. But that hardly means they think that divided government is somehow desirable in and of itself.


The good news is that a young child who doesn't seem to be aging may hold the secret to immortality. The bad news is that it may involve being a mental infant for the rest of your life.


What is the best "hair of the dog"? One vote here for the Bloody Mary.

(Doctors in my family vouch for the science behind "hair of the dog." I thought it was just an excuse conjured by alcoholics.)


One of the most important but less-cited technologies that has fundamentally altered the game of tennis: copoly strings. It's one of the major reasons the net game is so rare today as copoly strings make previously impossible passing shots easier to pull off. I miss the higher variety in playing styles in modern tennis.

The mythical cricket-beast

I read Gordon Grice's The Red Hourglass over holiday break, and one question it left lodged in my head was what insect was the "cricket-beast" Grice wrote about in the mantid chapter. Grice placed this giant bug, which he found in his driveway, into a jar with a mantid (praying mantis) and the cricket-beast devoured the mantid with ease.

I owned a pet praying mantis in high school. While I was touring Japan with a youth symphony, the young son of the host family I stayed with gave me a praying mantis he grabbed out of a tree while we were sightseeing. No doubt in violation of some U.S. tourism laws, I brought the mantis back to the U.S., keeping it in my shirt pocket the whole flight home.

I kept it in a jar, and each day I'd catch some different insects to toss into the jar as an experiment. I didn't know what praying mantises ate, but given the famous configuration of their two barbed front legs, I was fairly certain they weren't vegetarians.

What I discovered was that the mantis had a wide and worldly palate. Crickets, moths, wolf spiders, grasshoppers, flies--the mantis ate all of them whole. In just two weeks, my mantis had eaten enough that it molted and emerged even larger than before. I was enthralled by the glorious violence of its feeding.

So when Grice wrote about a cricket-like beast that caused the mantis to retreat in fear and that mauled said mantis with a casual efficiency, I was intrigued.

Sometimes it seems like the internet was invented for such questions. On his blog, Gordon Grice reveals the identity of the cricket-beast.

Incidentally, doesn't it feel like a huge miss that this annotation can't be added to the Kindle version of the book for future readers?