The Six Best Things on the Web this Week

In case you spent your week "working," here's what you missed online: card-counting iPhones, Mac Mini spy-shots, Depression predictions, and two refreshing arguments against Malcolm Gladwell and intelligent design. Oh, and a sleep-walking dog, to keep things highbrow.

Malcolm Gladwell Is Wrong

Writing for Time, John Cloud reviewed a new book that argues that nature and nurture are equally responsible for the rearing of a genius. Author Dean Simonton, a professor at UC Davis, has been studying intellectually superior men and women since the 1970s. The theory he lays out in his book, Genius 101, is that the achievement of genius requires a potion of "intelligence, enthusiasm and endurance" a kind of mashup of special circumstances and genetic predisposition.

That assertion contrasts the argument made by Malcolm Gladwell in his recent book Outliers, that hypothesizes that persistence and practice are more vital to genius-level achievement than raw intelligence or circumstance. Gladwell's book leans heavily on the research of an FSU professor named Anders Ericsson, who coined the "10-year rule": that it takes an individual 10 years--or 10,000 hours of practice--to master any effort, academic or physical.

Other interesting bits: Simonton's definition of the "genius" persona, that he defines as "open to experience, introverted, hostile, driven, and ambitious," and his definition of a genius-level contribution to a given field: work that peers consider equally original and "highly exemplary."

The Cheating iPhone

Sales of an iPhone app called Blackjack Card Counter have been booming on the iTunes store, but using the device in Las Vegas could get an unsuspecting tourist thrown in jail. Using electronic devices to count cards is a felony in Nevada, although mental card counting--which is hard to prove--is not criminalized.

“The program calculates the true count and does it significantly more accurately,” read a memo sent to casino operators last week by the Gaming Control Board in Las Vegas.

By Thursday, the card counting app had been featured on CNN, the AP, Fox News, MSNBC, and other news outlets, driving thousands of sales of the app, that was initially priced at $4.99 and later dropped to $0.99. It was developed by an Australian coder named Travis Yates, who told the Review Journal he never intended for users to take the app to an actual casino--even though he built in a "stealth mode" button that quickly clears the app from the screen.

Bizkit Makes Your Day

The last couple of weeks have been harrowing for Internet-surfing animal lovers, who watched the plight of Dusty the cat unfold on YouTube. The cat was abused by a ski-masked teenager who recorded the entire episode and uploaded it for the world to see. After 30,000 views, members of the Web community (including hacker consortium Anonymous) used evidence from the video to track its origins to a boy in Comanche County, OK, where local police took action.

So it was a relief when a new Internet mascot took the stage: Bizkit, the sleepwalking dog, who runs at full speed while asleep and occasionally pops up and careens into a wall, waking up only after impact. There are several of the Bizkit videos, but the one below is no doubt the best.

A Universal Take on Intelligent Design

This video isn't new, but it has gained new relevance with the recent news that a major science conference has snubbed its planned Louisiana location because of a new law that may promote intelligent design in schools. The president of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology wrote this letter to Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who signed a piece of legislature in 2008 that critics say has opened the door to the introduction of faith-based creationism into school curricula. The conference, scheduled for 2011, will be moved from New Orleans to Salt Lake City.

Intelligent design advocate Ben Stein also made news this week after he bowed out of an agreement to make the commencement speech at the University of Vermont, after students and parents inundated school administrators with protest.

But biologists and Vermonters aren't the only vehement critics of intelligent design; apparently, the hands of God seem equally absent to students of astrophysics. Neil de Grasse Tyson, a renowned astrophysicist, author and director of the Hayden Planetarium at New York's Museum of Natural History, is seen here in 2007 explaining why the conditions of the universe--and of earth itself--are far from intelligently designed to accommodate life. In fact, he explains, everything from our eyes to our frequent need to feed suggests features that, even after billions of years of multi-cellular life, are still staggeringly inefficient. For a look at research into genetic predisposition for religious belief, published late last year, click here.

The Seeds of Economic Recovery

Paul Krugman's Thursday column has an excellent synopsis of what transpired at the Federal Open Market Committee meeting this week (the FOMC is the semi-governmental body that sets interest rates.) He lays out why this recession (or, more accurately, this incipient Depression) is unlike the slump of the early 1980s, and why it's unlikely to be solved the same way as the Great Depression or Japan's "Lost Decade." But he also argues that it won't last forever.

Krugman says that although housing starts have dropped and car sales have flatlined, our population will continue to grow and our cars will continue to wear out. That will create pent-up demand for homes and vehicles, he argues, that will in turn jump-start the economy once conditions--presumably in the credit markets--improve a little.

The bad news: Unemployment, the FOMC predicts, will remain high through the next two years, even without any other economic disasters. The good news: Even the pessimists are saying that growth, unemployment and inflation should reach sustainable rates after just five or six years.

The New Mac Mini?

MacRumors has posted spy-shots of what may be the new Mac Mini, rumored for March release. The photo shows the back of the enclosure, which seems to assume a similar form factor to old Mac Minis. The specs: A 2GHz Intel [INTC] Core 2 Duo with 3MB of level 2 cache, 2GB of double-data rate III RAM running at 1.06GHz, and a SATA SuperDrive for burning CDs and DVDs. Perhaps the coolest part: Five USB 2.0 ports, as well as one FireWire 800 port and two display ports--Mini DVI and Mini DisplayPort.

Earlier reports said that the new Mac Mini would run on NVIDIA's [NVDA] Ion platform, that includes an Intel Atom chip--the kind usually reserved for netbooks--and an integrated GeForce 9400 graphics card. An Atom-powered Mini would certainly be a less appealing proposition than one with a Core 2 Duo chip, but it might finally get the device to the ultra-low price-point it has lacked in years past.


New Mac Mini