Saturday, August 07, 2004

But the greatest of these is...

There is an excellent version of Boggle on the web at WEBoggle.shackworks.com where you compete against other players online. (You can also buy the traditional Parkers Brothers version of Boggle at Amazon.com.) When WEBoggle first appeared, I played it obsessively for a couple of days...okay, for a couple of weeks. Now I just play every once in a while.

Fairly often, the letters FAW come up on the board. There is no word "faw", but I once worked with a lovely young lady named Faith Faw, when I was working at the Intimate Bookshop in Chapel Hill. She was the eldest of three girls (this is a true story). The three sisters were named Faith, Hope, and Sandra.

I'm still amused by this almost twenty years since I first heard it.


Wednesday, August 04, 2004

I see in a post at kottke.org that Malcom Gladwell is writing a book one the topic based on his 2002 New Yorker article "The Naked Face." There was an earlier discussion there about the article and whether a cop was justified in shooting a suspect, as described in the article.

There was an article on the same topic in the January 2004 Smithsonian Magazine (abstract online) and there the cop gives a slightly different version of what happened.

He [Paul Ekman] believes the best answer to the complexities of the human face lies not in computers but in the human mind-particularly in a handful of minds with a special gift for reading faces. Over the years, Ekman has identified about 30 such savants, people who consistently score 80 percent or better on his one-hour test of their ability to detect lies. He calls this group the Diogenes Project, after the Greek philosopher who peered into the faces of fellow citizens by lantern light in search of one honest man. Most, such as Sgt. Robert Harms of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, are in law enforcement.

But even the Diogenes types are not "walking lie detectors," says Harms. They're simply people who have developed the habit of listening harder and watching more closely, because their work depends on it. "It isn't magic, it isn't voodoo," says Harms. "It's just one other tool that we have in our bag of tricks."

If Harms sounds cautious, it's because he's leery of inducing false confidence among people desperate for a simple solution to terrorism. The "Pinocchio syndrome," he says, encourages people to hope there might be one telling facial expression as obvious as Pinocchio's nose. An August 2002 article in the New Yorker, for instance, suggested that it was reasonable for a cop with the Diogenes gift to have shot and killed an approaching assailant based on "a hunch, a sense of the situation and the man's behavior and what he glimpsed inside the man's coat and on the man's face."

But being right 80 percent of the time on the Diogenes test is hardly shoot-to-kill accuracy. The cop in the New Yorker article, in fact, was Harms, who got out of the car afterward and held the assailant in his arms as he died. Harms says what he actually glimpsed, long enough to read the brand name, was a can of hair spray in one of the assailant's hands, and, in the other, a cigarette lighter. It was a weapon, a makeshift flamethrower capable of torching Harms and his partner. "It wasn't something I was reading in his face, or any kind of cues," Harms says. "It was the totality of the situation."


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