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To Win Over Users, Gadgets Have to Be Touchable

Whoever said technology was dehumanizing was wrong. On screens everywhere — cellphones, e-readers, A.T.M.’s — as Diana Ross sang, we just want to reach out and touch.

The End of Tenure?

The labor system, for one thing, is clearly unjust. Tenured and tenure-track professors earn most of the money and benefits, but they’re a minority at the top of a pyramid. Nearly two-thirds of all college teachers are non-tenure-track adjuncts like Matt Williams, who told Hacker and Dreifus he had taught a dozen courses at two colleges in the Akron area the previous year, earning the equivalent of about $8.50 an hour by his reckoning. It is foolish that graduate programs are pumping new Ph.D.’s into a world without decent jobs for them. If some programs were phased out, teaching loads might be raised for some on the tenure track, to the benefit of undergraduate education.

Computers as Invisible as the Air

“The thing that is happening right now is that we’re drowning in data,” said Stan Williams, director of H.P.’s Information and Quantum Systems Lab. “The amount of data is increasing at an absolutely ferocious pace, and unless we can catch up it will remain useless.”

If he is right, and the memristor makes possible superdense computing memories — one computer chip will hold as much data as an entire disk drive holds today.

A Taste of Home in Foil Packets and Powder

Each year, among the countries with troops in Afghanistan — the current number is 47 — tens of millions of dollars are spent researching how to fit the most calories, nutrition and either comfort or fun into a small, light package. The menus and accompaniments are intended not just to nourish but also to remind the soldier of home. Some include branded comfort foods — Australians get a dark-brown spreadable yeast-paste treat called Vegemite, for example — while others get national staples like liverwurst (Germany), or lamb curry (Britain’s current culinary obsession).

Some of the contents are practical. Italians get three disposable toothbrushes per day of combat. Americans get pound cake, which military folklore says reduces the need for toilet breaks.

People and Places That Innovate

Good ideas and their successful execution are a result of connections and existing knowledge embedded in a particular context. The individual, of course, plays an important role, but it is defined more by collaboration than by solitary brilliance.

Words Cannot Express

Is language first and foremost an artifact of culture? Or is it largely determined by human biology? This issue has been argued back and forth for a couple of centuries with no clear resolution in sight. Guy Deutscher’s 2005 book “The Unfolding of Language” placed him firmly in the pro-culture camp. Now, in his new book, “Through the Language Glass,” he examines some idiosyncratic aspects of particular languages that, in his opinion, cast further doubt on biologically based theories of language.

America’s History of Fear

Americans have called on moderates in Muslim countries to speak out against extremists, to stand up for the tolerance they say they believe in. We should all have the guts do the same at home.

The Meaning of ‘Man Up’

But man up isn’t just being used to package machismo as a commodity. Its spectrum of meanings runs from “Don’t be a sissy; toughen up” all the way to “Do the right thing; be a mensch,” to use the Yiddishism for an honorable or upright person. The Man Up Campaign, for instance, is a new global initiative that engages youth to stop gender-based violence: “Our call to action challenges each of us to ‘man up’ and declare that violence against women and girls must end,” its mission statement reads.

The Many Iterations of William Shatner

Outside Starbucks, Shatner said to me: “If someone criticizes my acting, they may be right. Sometimes you shouldn’t work so hard” to entertain. Then, softly, he said: “I never thought of myself as a great actor, like Olivier. I was a working actor. I entertained people and always tried to be terrific at whatever it was.” His problem and his salvation. He played so many different roles that “people couldn’t define me like they could De Niro. I took whatever work came my way to pay the bills, even if it wasn’t a decent role.”

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