October 9th – The Day’s Most Fascinating News

This is Your Brain on Brain Games

From baby boomers trying to improve the quality of their later years to kids whose parents (and schools) want to give them an edge, brain games are in high demand these days. Also in demand is some clear evidence that these brain games actually work. Of course, unlike some other health trends, there’s almost no downside to giving them a shot. As one expert explains: “I’ve never heard of anyone wearing out their brain.” From The Boston Globe Magazine: Do brain games work?

+ Can you train your brain to have more self-control? For an answer to that question, let’s look to the new memoir from a guy who was “a three-packs-a-day smoker, supplemented by a pipe.” Walter Mischel was also the psychologist behind the famous marshmallow test: “Mischel’s team would present a child with a treat … and tell her that she could either eat the one treat immediately or wait alone in the room for several minutes until the researcher returned, at which point she could have two treats.” (If my children were tested like this, you’d find the researchers tied to their chairs and my kids out back making S’mores.)


Blanks Not Tanks

In what has become a key test of the coalition’s ability to stop the spread of ISIS, the US has increased airstrikes near the Syrian border town of Kobane. The idea was American airstrikes followed by Turkish tanks. But the tanks didn’t roll. As Slate’s Fred Kaplan explains, this is how mission creep happens.

+ InFocus: Photos from the battle for Kobane.



I’ve come across a lot of articles telling people to stop overreacting to the Ebola crisis. None of those articles were written by Africans. Maybe the key is to freak out less about Ebola in the US, and freak out more about Ebola in Africa.

+ The experts certainly seem worried. Here CDC Director Tom Frieden: “In the 30 years I’ve been working in public health, the only thing like this has been AIDS.”


Shrinky Pinks

If you’ve watched football lately, you’ve probably been seeing a lot of pink products that are part of the NFL’s Pink October intended to help fight breast cancer. But how much of the money that you spend on pink paraphernalia actually goes to cancer research? Less than you think. And then less than that.

+ Salon: Fracking company teams up with Susan G. Komen, introduces pink drill bits for the cure.

+ Center for Investigative Reporting recently reported on the dirty secrets of the worst charities.


A Mine is a Terrible Thing to Waste

Want your kids to improve their reading skills? Just get them to play Minecraft. In Wired, Clive Thompson makes the case that the “secret lies not inside the game itself but in the players’ activities outside of it. Minecraft is surrounded by a culture of literacy.” Here’s another trick to get your kids to read more. Hand them a Kindle and tell them it’s the new iPad.

+ And hold on tight to your device for a second, because we’re gonna segue from Minecraft to this year’s Nobel Prize winner in literature: French author Patrick Modiano. According to Peter Englund, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy: “His books are always variations of the same theme about memory, about loss, about identity, about seeking. I don’t think he’s difficult to read. You can read him easily, one of his books in the afternoon, have dinner, and read another in the evening.” If that’s considered a key attribute, where do I apply?


I’ll Be Right Here

“People’s basic interactions and their ability to ‘be together’ and collaborate will change in the age of vivid telepresence — enabling people to instantly ‘meet face-to-face’ in cyberspace with no travel necessary.” That and other “good” news about the future can be found in Pew’s new report on killer apps in the gigabit age.

+ Nick Bilton on wearable technology that feels like skin. (I just changed my outgoing message to, “Sorry, I’m away from my epidermis and can’t take your call right now.”)


Skid Pro Quo

Along LA’s skid row, developers have come up with an innovative way to combat homelessness: They built homes for the homeless. There’s a medical clinic on the ground floor and “amenities include a community garden, running track, exercise and art rooms and a library.”


Inside Microsoft’s Office

“The way I think about success is our relevance.” That’s Microsoft’s third CEO, Satya Nadella, on his key challenge. Of course, relevance is relative (and he’s got Uncle Bill breathing down his neck). From Vanity Fair: The Empire Reboots.


Nicer Guys Finish First

Recent studies “suggest that if you want to improve your physical attractiveness, strengthening the content of your character may be the most effective thing you can do.” Scientific American looks at the data and asks: Is Kindness Physically Attractive? (Maybe I misinterpreted it when someone would respond to a date request by saying, “Well, you’re really nice…”)


The Bottom of the News

Don’t you want to know more about a person that drinks anywhere from 300-500 cups of coffee each morning? This is Amanda Juris, coffee quality specialist at Starbucks. What does she do after lunch? She has another cup of coffee.

+ PETA once asked the Pet Shop Boys to change their name to the Rescue Shelter Boys. That is just one important detail contained in the Mental Floss guide to 100 amazing facts everyone should know.

+ A Houston radio station has adopted a new format. They play Beyonce. Just Beyonce. Twenty-four hours a day. (The plan’s obvious flaw: There aren’t 25 hours in a day.)

+ Listen to Howard Stern’s interview of Bill Murray.

+ GQ: The 111 Reasons Why Nicolas Cage Is a National Treasure.

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