12/21/10

A reason to stay up

At the Christian Science Monitor, scientists are using tonight's eclipse to get a better idea of how light from an earthlike planet (like Earth!) would look to spectrum analysts (like us!). 
Lunar eclipse tonight: How it helps the search for extraterrestrial life
Over the past two years, two teams of astronomers have been using this effect to figure out what Earth might look like as a distant, extrasolar planet orbiting another star. By analyzing the light reflected off the moon during a lunar eclipse – light that has passed through Earth's atmosphere – they have detected gases in the atmosphere that indicate the presence of organic life on the planet.
If the teams' baby steps are any indication, the techniques they are developing may be able to detect evidence of organic life imprinted in an extrasolar planet's atmosphere – at least for rocky, Earth-mass planets orbiting stars relatively close to the sun – using large Earthbound telescopes.
"It's an exciting experiment – one of the few I've seen that I wish I'd thought of myself," says Sara Seager [well lah dee dah! -J], a physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who studies exoplanets and their atmospheres and who was not involved in either project.
"The Earth is our best laboratory; it's the only planet we know of with life," she says. "So we really want to understand what Earth would look like as an exoplanet far away."
Less seriously, I'd also like to point another possibility that served as a premise of a recent Iain Banks novel: Aliens might come to earth to see the eclipse. 

One of earth's unusual features (we think) is the relative size of and distance to our moon. It is astronomically unlikely to have a huge moon perfectly positioned so that it has the same apparent size in the two-dimensional sky. Other planets don't have moons that can create total solar eclipses, where the corona of the sun shines around the edge of the moon.

So if there were any reason for aliens to come to earth (and let's face it, they aren't interested in Dancing with the Stars) would be to see such an unusual natural wonder. 

Although this is just a lunar eclipse, it's still a sight. So look around. If you see some not-quite-right-looking folks staring at the sky, introduce yourself. You might make some new alien friends. 


12/17/10

For our 2300th post, allow me to introduce

... the future. Holy shit!


I've got this in my pocket right now, and it works as advertised.

12/16/10

Go now and ponder

"Yet the Journal neglected a more important point: There's nothing forcing Apple to manufacture the iPhone abroad. The ADBI researchers estimate that Apple's gross profit margin on iPhones in 2009 was a whopping 64 percent. This leads them to conclude that "profit maximization behavior," and not competition, is what's driving Apple to China. In other words, Apple would rather make a little bit more money than employ more Americans."


via MoJo

12/15/10

How to start a movement and influence people

Over at Neal's Fireside chat, we have this excerpt from John Michael Greer:

The most common source of trouble when a social movement succeeds in entering the collective conversation of politics is the lack of any constructive plan... [upon gaining] access to the halls of power, [the movement] lowers its sights to target only that set of goals it can reach consensus on, and thinks it can get from whichever subset of the political class is currently in charge.
That’s a fatal mistake, in two mutually reinforcing ways. First, it allows the... political class that’s currently in charge to turn the movement into a wholly owned subsidiary, by giving just enough scraps to the movement to keep it hankering for more, while dangling the whole package just out of reach before the movement’s eager eyes.
That’s how the Democrats turned the environmental movement (among others) into one of their captive constituencies, for example, and it’s also how the Republicans turned gun owners (among others) into one of their captive constituencies – and you’ll notice that neither movement, nor any of the other movements thus co-opted, have ever managed to get more than a few token scraps of its shopping list out of the process.
The second difficulty is the natural result of the first. Once a movement is turned into a wholly owned subsidiary of one end of the political class, it can count on losing any chance of getting anything once the other end of the political class gets into power, as will inevitably happen.
The result is an elegant good cop-bad cop routine; each party can reliably panic its captive constituencies every four years by saying, in effect, “Well, granted, we haven’t done a thing for you in years, but think of how much worse it will be if those awful (fill in the blank)s get into power!” 
Those who swallow this line can count on watching their movement sink into a kind of political zombiehood in which, whatever its official goals, the only real function remaining to it is to get out the vote for one or the other set of mutually interchangeable candidates come Election Day.
Combine these two difficulties and you get the graveyard that’s swallowed most movements for change in America in the last half century.
I think this nails the examples of movements that are cited, but what about movements that are more successful and less successful? To wit,

  • Equal rights for African Americans (starting with ending slavery under the Republicans and ending (for the sake of discussion) with the Civil Rights acts passed by Democrats)
  • Equal rights for women
  • Equal rights for homosexuals
  • Social justice for the poor
  • The anti-war movement (w/r/t Iraq and Afghanistan)

In different ways for each, the proposed explanation doesn't add up.

12/13/10

If their general demeanor to date wasn't enough to make you hate the Gawker empire, now there's this.

They thumbed their nose at the hacking community, and got hacked. They didn't realize they got hacked for a month, despite some pretty clear warning signs. And when they found out, they didn't worry about it, because it seemed like only their users, "the peasants" were affected. Classy.

Forbes does a very nice sum up slash take down, and says,
And when they have finished hiring a real security person and drafting an incident response plan, they can create a password composition and management policy, a policy on not writing passwords in chat logs, a patch management policy, and maybe for kicks a policy against bad mouthing their own users internally, users that they themselves put in harm’s way.

Amen.

12/8/10

Leave the wiki out of the wikileaks [Updated]

Yglesias says,
I have mixed feelings about a lot of different aspects of this, but there are two key points. One is that the leaker here (presumably Bradley Manning, but that’s not yet been proven in a court of law) has broken the law and needs to be punished. The other is that the ability to republish leaked secrets is integral to the operation of a free press. Creating a new standard of harassing not leakers, but the publishers of leaks, is a very dangerous precedent whose implications go far beyond whatever you may think of the particular circumstances.
I think this is actually pretty well understood. Nobody's proposed any new legislation. The Department of Justice hasn't unveiled any actual charges against Assange or Wikileaks. And while it's very unseemly to see a United States Senator throwing his weight around to get Amazon, Twitter, etc. to drop Wikileaks, at the same time he is not getting the same info pulled from the New York Times.

So everyone instead wants to make this a story about the person of Julian Assange, or the technology of the Internet. (Verbally) attacking Assange is fine, but mostly irrelevant.

And over on the technological side, it's amazing how few people get it. I understand that most of the people I listen to on NPR or whose words I read in the paper are over 50, and probably do not think about the internet as much as I do. But take Josh Marshall, a youngish guy whose whole enterprise is built on the web. He writes:
Let's say that the Wikileaks cables hadn't been State Department cables but rather the final tracks of Lady Gaga's next album or perhaps each episode of next season's Mad Men? How long do you think they would have stayed online?
Say what? There's no difference. That content would have stayed online forever, as the wikileaks will. To miss this important point is to completely misunderstand the current state of the internet.

Wikileaks is alive and well. You can go there, you can donate to them if you so choose, and the "poison pill" insurance file is sitting on many servers around the world, waiting for you to pull it down to your hard drive.

So Joe Leiberman gets to look like a national-security tough guy by bullying Amazon. And it's distressing that Amazon, Twitter, Paypal, etc. have caved. But, in strictly technological terms, it doesn't matter. 


"You can't stop the internet, bitches." -Monkey


Updated Monday @ 10:30. This from the Guardian
Attempts to railroad WikiLeaks off the net quickly failed. Removing its hosting servers has increased WikiLeaks' ability to stay online. More than 1,300 volunteer "mirror" sites, including the French newspaper Libération, have already surfaced to store the classified cables. Within days the WikiLeaks web content had spread across so many enclaves of the internet it was immune to attack by any single legal authority. In some respects, WikiLeaks has never been safer or as aggressively defended.

12/6/10

Check what China is up to

There's some hot shit in this wikileaked cables!
Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak ... was designed to be a controlled nuclear fusion tokamark reactor with superconductive toroidal and poloidal field magnets and a D-shaped cross-section. One of the experimental goals of this device was to prove that a nuclear fusion reaction can be sustained indefinitely, at high enough temperatures, to produce energy in a cost-effective way. In 2009, IIP successfully maintained a 10 million degree Celsius plasma nuclear fusion reaction for 400 seconds. IIP also successfully maintained a 100 million degree Celsius plasma nuclear fusion reaction for 60 seconds. ...
The Chinese Academy of Science ... has developed a biometrics device that uses a person’s pace to identify them.  The device measure weight and two-dimensional sheer forces applied by a person’s foot during walking to create a uniquely identifiable biometrics profile. The device can be covertly installed in a floor and is able to collect ... biometrics data on individuals covertly without their knowledge. When questioned about the device’s potential applications, IIM officials stated the device was being used by “secret” customers and was not available on the commercial market. ...
Hefei National Laboratory for Physical Science at the Microscale (HFNL). HFNL has 95 faculty members and roughly 400 graduate students. HFNL research focuses on quantum communication, nanoscience, superconductors, spintronics, and cognitive sciences. In the area of quantum communication, HFNL was conducting research in quantum teleportation and free space quantum cryptography that scientists hope will result in “totally secure” communications. USTC also oversees China’s “Program 178,” although they did not describe the nature of this program. (COMMENT: A cursory walk through their labs seemed to indicate they had already succeeded in single-particle quantum teleportation and are now trying to conduct dual-particle quantum teleportation. END COMMENT)

via wikileaks | img

12/2/10

Can anyone explain how this happens?

In what amounts to an epic constitutionality #fail, Senate Democrats may have blown their chances to see their food safety bill signed into law.
The U.S. constitution requires that any revenue-raising bill must originate in the House of Representatives. To honor this provision, the Senate often finds a discarded old House bill, strips it bare, and uses it as a "shell" and passes it back to the House.
They somehow forgot to do that this time.
....
According to Hoyer, this has happened multiple times this Congress, causing severe legislative angina.

12/1/10

A game for you to play

Loondon. It's not hard, just point and click. Because politics is really depressing today.

11/29/10

"Obama Administration Weights Indefinite Detention"

In part, because Ahmed Ghailani was "almost aquitted" (he wasn't). 
"The jury came within one count of acquitting him entirely," says Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. "And had that happened that would have put the government in an enormously difficult position because if you hold a trial and somebody is acquitted, it kind of violates our sense of what a trial is to say, well, we're going to hold him anyway."
Hmm, seems like there's something else that violates our sense of what a trial is. 

11/22/10

Let's take a moment to talk about videogames

For you who care not for our national art, come back after Thanksgiving for less dorky postings. Meanwhile, those of you who know of which I speak, skip past the jump and join me.

11/18/10

Well I hope Neil Young will remember

...a recharging LincVolt car don't need leavin' unattended, anyhow.

"...LincVolt suffered a disastrous accidental fire stemming from human error. The car was plugged in to charge and left unattended. The wall charging system was not completely tested and had never been left unattended. A mistake was made. It was not the fault of the car."

Long term deleterious effects

"We have to be clear about getting the message out that marijuana isn't really a benign substance," she said. "It has a direct effect on executive function. The earlier you begin using it, and the more you use of it, the more significant that effect."
The study included 33 chronic marijuana smokers and 26 control subjects who did not smoke marijuana. They were given a battery of neurocognitive tests assessing executive function, including the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test, which involves sorting different cards based on a set of rules given. During the test, the rules are changed without warning and subjects must adjust their responses to the new rules.
The findings showed habitual marijuana users made repeated errors even when told that they were wrong. Users also had more trouble maintaining a set of rules, suggesting an inability to maintain focus. Early onset users and those who used the most marijuana had the most trouble with the test, making more than twice as many errors and fewer correct responses than later onset smokers."

11/10/10

Noted for future reference

"... exclusive access to 311 data gives incumbent politicians -- like, say, Michael Bloomberg -- a distinct advantage when it comes to getting reelected. For instance, when campaigning on a neighborhood level, the incumbent can look at the 311 data for each neighborhood and tailor their message appropriately, e.g. promising to help combat noise in a neighborhood with lots of noise complaints or fix the streets in a neighborhood with lots of calls about potholes."


via

11/3/10

The 2010 Congress Must Pass a Second, Sweeping Stimulus Package During Its Lame-Duck Session

One might say it's political suicide for the Democratic Party. But consider:

  • There is no chance that the GOP-controlled house will authorize stimulus dollars next year.
  • Without more stimulus, we will face close to 10 percent unemployment in November, 2012. 
  • With 10 percent unemployment, Obama will lose in 2012 and we will all wake up to this man as president.


I am not kidding. Rick Perry is like a Sarah Palin who can talk to you about what magazines he reads. He's really, really dangerous. 

So, Congressional Democrats, what's it going to be?

11/2/10

One more reason to hate baseball

So, the SF Giants win a "World" Series. I don't know what the big deal is about the championship of a dying and irrelevant sport.

What I do know is that the partying that ensued in San Francisco may leave so many hung over today that the kids don't get out and vote for Prop 19.

11/1/10

10/29/10

FAA gives first-ever approval for a flying car

By day, the I-Tec Maverick is a canvas covered car that does 0-60 in under 4 seconds.



Also by day, the Maverick flies!


The I-Tec Maverick, which is a roadworthy dune buggy powered by a Subaru engine, has finally been granted the first certification from the Federal Aviation Administration for a flying car. Developed by the Indigenous People’s technology and Education center, The I-Tec Maverick is certified as a “powered parachute,” which comes with a 170-hp, 2.4 liter Subaru four-cylinder built into a canvas-covered frame. The Maverick can do up to 60mph in under 4 seconds, and can take off within 100 yards. The car priced at $80,000 deploys a cloth wing on a 22-foot mast and takes flight.


via

10/26/10

To serve and protect

"On Saturday, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported that a man had called the police to report that he'd been sold bad marijuana. "It was nasty," he said. (But probably not as nasty as the revelation that he was being charged with a crime). This dude's cluelessness could translate into brilliance in California. If the cops are worried about losing their jobs eradicating marijuana, why not just change the job description and have them eradicate criminally awful schwag? Now that would really put the Mexican cartels out of business."


source for text and img

10/15/10

Meanwhile, there have been reports of cabbage rustling

I'm a fan of kimchi, and would like to see more variety of it available in the States. Most of the kimchi I've had has been pretty much of the same variety. Anyone in the area have any suggestions?

I have to agree with Troisgros here:
For most Westerners, however, kimchi remains an unacquired taste. It can offend not only with its taste but also with its odor, which can linger on a person for hours. And for those unused to its fire and fury, even a small dish of kimchi can appear less as a delicacy than as a kind of incendiary device.

“To a Western palate, with all the other options out there, kimchi won’t rank very high,” Mr. Chinn said.

A gathering was held in Seoul last week to promote Korean food, with European master chefs coming in for panels and demonstrations. Michel Troisgros, the renowned French chef from Roanne, listened to a Korean official hold forth on the wonders of fermentation and an ambitious project to export Korean foods like kimchi.

“I think you have to stop talking about fermentation,” Mr. Troisgros told the man. “It’s not sexy.”

10/11/10

If you think this is going to happen, you are probably high right now

Ex-heads (not to be confused with X-heads) of the DEA take to the WSJ to explain that California can't just go and legalize the weed. Scott Morgan of stopthedrugwar.org responds. I've highlighted the crux of Mr. Morgan's argument in red, and I've hilighted the marijuana-incded wishful thinking in leafy green.


For another layer of absurdity, consider that one of the authors, Karen Tandy, presided over the DEA during a dramatic expansion of the medical marijuana industry that she now claims is legally impossible, even though it actually happened in real life while she was in charge of federal drug enforcement. She knows as well as anyone that California can make its own drug laws whether the DEA likes it or not. It's true that she could have prosecuted everyone in sight under federal law, but for a variety of practical and political reasons, that isn't what happened. It's not likely to happen if Prop 19 passes either, at least not unless Obama has a masochistic desire to further alienate his base as we heads towards 2012.
Morgan's absolutely right that the law is one thing, and politics is very much another. And he's right that the success, to date, of medical marijuana has definitely been one of pragmatism and politics trumping the letter of the law.

But let's take a step back and and stop projecting our pothead wish fulfilment onto our President. B-Rock's got things he's trying to accomplish, and greening up the west coast is probably not at the top of his list.

If Prop 19 passes, Obama is going to have three choices.

1. Come down on California like a stern parent, and explain that this is not a choice they get to make until they move out and go to college. 

Morgan's right, that's going to disillusion a lot of people. But half of them were going to forget to vote.

2. Hold up California as an example of the way forward, and instruct his Justice Department to disregard relevant federal law in California, and maybe on the whole Pacific coast. 
Can you imagine? While some of us would be celebrating a move towards sanity, Republicans would be popping champaign corks as well as they began drawing up strategy for the ultimate 2012 wedge issue. It could cost Obama his second term.

3. Try to ignore it, hoping it will go away. 
Same result as #2, just slower to take shape.

What do you think, stoners?

img credit

10/7/10

0.05-0.07

Texas State Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire (D - Houston) thinks there might be a problem:
“Some people shouldn’t be driving after one drink — probably below the 0.08 limit — and this could address that. It might also free up courts and prosecutors to focus on the repeat offenders.”
Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo agrees:
He noted that one person may drive dangerously at the 0.08 level — the nationally accepted standard for being drunk — while others “may be at 0.05 or 0.06. It depends on the person.”

“People sometimes focus on how many drinks they can have before they’ll go to jail,” Acevedo said. “It varies. ... A person may be intoxicated at 0.05, and you don’t want them out driving.”
 Acevedo testified before Whitmire's committee on the subject and supported 'mandatory blood samples for repeat offenders, allowing police to operate DWI checkpoints, and adding a new offense of aggravated DWI for offenders who are found to have a breath-alcohol reading of 0.18 or higher.'

I have two problems with all of this.  For one thing the presumption that a person exists who is too intoxicated to safely operate a motor vehicle at a blood alcohol level between 0.05 and 0.07 also implies that a person exists who is not too intoxicated to safely operate a motor vehicle at a blood alcohol level above 0.08.  If one is possible the other is equally possible.  If human physiology is variable it must be variable in both directions.

But my real gripe here is with Acevedo, or any other active police official for that matter, making policy suggestions above the level of police department administration.  Police officers are hired to enforce laws.  Police chiefs are hired to manage departments of police officers.  Politicians are elected to make laws.  There's a distinct and important difference there.  The People don't elect police officers at any level.  The People hire police officers to enforce the laws made by the elected politicians. 

Members of the US military are forbidden by law from participating in most politics beyond voting.  This includes publicly advocating for or against particular issues, especially in uniform.  There are many reasons that this is a good idea, not least of which is that it is desirable to have a stark separation between elected civilian government, accountable to the The People, and military chain of command, ultimately accountable to the the elected civilian government.  We don't want generals deciding who we attack, we want elected officials who must stand for re-election to make those decisions so we can fire them when they fuck it up.

Similarly we shouldn't ask police officers who should get arrested or why.  We should tell them who to arrest and then give them the support they need to do so safely and efficiently.

Source

10/3/10

Austin wants YOU... to provide input on the future of Austin

Hey Austin-based readers. You may think you are powerless to affect the future of the city, and I wouldn't say you are wrong, exactly. But the public forums and surveys do make a difference, and since very few people actually participate, those that do wield a fair amount of power.

And right now, this very week, those people can be us!

Check out the Imagine Austin trend survey. Read about it. Fill it out right away, or come back to our humble blog and discuss it. If five of us come to an agreement on our top issues, we might just be able to skew the results in a direction we like!

The deadline for the survey isn't printed, but I think it's the end of next week.

image: Austin Skyline; March 2010, by John Rogers

9/27/10

9/22/10

When you say "scalable," I hear "I don't value your work"

It's completely natural. When a particular process within a business expands rapidly, the business tries to reduce or eliminate the most human-resource-intensive aspects of that expanding business. Because if a process takes individual attention from smart, well trained humans, that shit be way expensive, yo.

So, businesses cut corners. They replace individual attention with standardized processes that can be handled more quickly, handled by computers, or outsourced to Mumbai.

Sometimes it works. Sometimes it's my job to make it work, and I'm not too bad at my job.

But more often it fails, and things just don't run as well as they ought to.

If the business is, say, a huge computer and mobile device manufacturer, failure to scale just isn't that bad. Maybe some customers are upset. Maybe the bottom line loses a couple percents of a percent of a percent from last quarter's billions.

But if the business in question is a bank, and the process in question is signing a legal affidavit about a foreclosure, failure can equal a miscarriage of justice. And if it's as widespread as this MoJo article suggests, it could also be another blow to our fragile economy.

img: Mr. Burns, by Johnny Tirita

9/21/10

That's mighty white of you


Guy Consolmagno, who is one of the pope’s astronomers, said he would be “delighted” if intelligent life was found among the stars. “But the odds of us finding it, of it being intelligent and us being able to communicate with it – when you add them up it’s probably not a practical question.”
Speaking ahead of a talk at the British Science Festival in Birmingham tomorrow, he said that the traditional definition of a soul was to have intelligence, free will, freedom to love and freedom to make decisions. “Any entity – no matter how many tentacles it has – has a soul.” Would he baptise an alien? “Only if they asked.”

Of course, the Mormons won't wait to be asked.

img: "Alien Smoking Pot" by liber

9/15/10

My life*


via Penny Arcade


* I don't play Halo, I play better games, but still

9/14/10

Um.

via Josh Marshall,
The guy who tried (and failed via skateboarder) to burn a Koran over the weekend down in Amarillo and runs a group dedicated to detering "promiscuity, homosexuality and non-Christian worship practices through confrontation and prayer" has a day job guarding plutonium at local nuclear weapons production facility.
img

9/12/10

The next big thing in weight loss: Freeze your ass off

ZELTIQ out of Pleasanton, CA has received FDA approval to market its CoolSculpting system for noninvasive reduction of fat in 'love handles'. The device essentially freezes fat cells under the skin, killing them in the process. It then takes a few weeks for the apoptosis to work itself out and the company claims patients can expect an average 20% fat reduction in the treatment area. The CoolSculpting procedure is not meant as a tool for weight-loss, but to specifically help shape the flank.
I give it less than a year before we hear about some idiot nearly killing himself trying this @ home with liquid nitrogen. Hey, it beats giving up krispy kreme. 


Source: News, image

9/9/10

Won't anybody think about the children?



Via NPR,

Based on surveys Barnes collected, the top five worries of parents are, in order:
• Kidnapping
• School snipers
• Terrorists
• Dangerous strangers
• Drugs

Terrorists? Snipers? Really? What the hell is wrong with this country?

But how do children really get hurt or killed?
• Car accidents
• Homicide (usually committed by a person who knows the child, not a stranger)
• Abuse
• Suicide
• Drowning

Car accidents are definitely my biggest fear, so I guess I'm… realistic? That's depressing. 

9/8/10

All the kids from Beaver Lick, Ohio, didn't even try in the first place.

Microsoft bans a player from Xbox Live for saying he's from "Fort Gay," even though he really is from the actual town, Fort Gay, West Virginia.

Oh, the hapless Xbox Live moderator. Hired at 9 bucks an hour to intercede in verbal race wars on a nightly basis; how is he to know that when a kid who sounds like Beavis says, "Yeah, I'm from, uh.. uh... FORT GAY," that he's just another kiddo from West Virginia who wants to spawn camp for a few hours?

Times is tough all around.

9/7/10

Real Journalism. Brought to you by Goldline.

My love affair with Glenn Beck's "The Blaze" continues. Here's a story from today's front page.
In New York Area, Stealing Buses is Easy
An investigative report finds that a joyride is well within the realm of possibility.

9/5/10

One might, in fact, blame the patriarchy

Slate's DoubleX column: "Is the New York Times' book section really a boys club?"

[Note that the Slate column chooses to show Franzen instead of any of the widely quoted female authors, such as Jennifer Weiner (pictured), which leads this blogger to ask: Is Slate's DoubleX column really a boys club?]




"I write books that are entertaining, but are also, I hope, well-constructed and thoughtful and funny and have things to say about men and women and families and children and life in America today. Do I think I should be getting all of the attention that Jonathan 'Genius' Franzen gets? Nope. Would I like to be taken at least as seriously as a Jonathan Tropper or a Nick Hornby? Absolutely." 
Weiner seems most concerned about how we, as a literary culture, draw the boundaries around a certain group of books. Let's call this category zeitgeist fiction—commercial fiction that is for some reason deemed worthy of serious analysis, either because of sales (Twilight), cultural impact (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), or surprisingly spry writing (High Fidelity).*Weiner and Picoult raise the following question: Is pop fiction written by men more likely to be lifted out of the "disposable" pile, becoming the kind of cultural objects august institutions like the New York Times feel compelled to pay attention to? And are the commercial genres most commonly associated with male writers and readers—science fiction, legal thriller—more likely to be taken seriously than their female equivalents (chick lit, romance novel)? Or as Weiner puts it, would certain male writers—Nick Hornby, Jonathan Tropper, Carl Hiaasen, or David Nicholls—"be considered chick lit writers if they were girls?"
It's a totally valid question.

Another question for you readers: Is Franzen really that good? I've avoiding reading his stuff so far. I'd rather pick up almost any of the other mentioned authors. 

9/2/10

Blazing new trails!

"The Blaze is experiencing a high load at the moment. Please be patient while we get things back up and running."

9/1/10

The Case Against College Football


It is September, which means that NCAA sanctioned intercollegiate football is about to begin a new season.  Each year at this time students, alums, and pundits eagerly await a new opportunity to experience the tradition and pageantry that is complaining about NCAA Football.

While there are as many differing complaints as there are teams, most of the loudest complaints revolve around the notion that the NCAA does not sanction a National Championship at the highest level of intercollegiate football.  Instead, a coalition of the six most powerful (read: richest) conferences (The Southeastern Conference, Pac 10, Big 10, Big 12, Atlantic Coast Conference, and the Big East)(Oh, and Notre Dame) has formed a scheme called the Bowl Championship Series, or BCS, to artificially create five post-season games involving (hopefully) the best 10 teams from those conferences.

Then, to make matters worse (or so goes the loud complaining), the BCS relies on a complex system that involves human polling (the USA Today/Coaches poll and the Harris Interactive College Football Poll) and six different computerized ranking systems (Anderson/Hester, Richard Billingsly, Wes Colley, Kenneth Massey, Jeff Sagarin, and Peter Wolfe) to create a ranking of the top 25 teams.  It is from these rankings that teams are selected to play in the five BCS post-season games.  The top two teams in the final version of the BCS rankings play in the fifth and final game which is known as the BCS National Championship Game.  It's also worth noting that, regardless of ranking, the winners of the six member conferences are automatically granted a slot in the five BCS games.

The reason any of this matters is, of course, money.  The BCS, thanks to it's shiny new TV contract with ESPN, will dole out about $143 million this year, mostly to its member conferences, with slightly under 20% going to any other conference lucky enough to get a team in.

Obviously this scheme does not make the members of the other, lesser, poorer conferences very happy, but even more obviously, the BCS and its member conferences don't give a damn.

All of this is cause for complaint, I'm told, because the BCS system doesn't generate an actual national championship.  There are several reasons given as to why this is so, but most of them revolve around the notion that no championship is valid unless some form of tournament was employed to determine the winner.  I say hogwash.

There is no need for a national championship in college football.  There's no need for a national championship in any intercollegiate sport.  The various institutions have, for mutual benefit, arranged themselves into conferences.  Each conference determines an annual champion according to rules agreed upon by the members.  In all cases those rules are based on the notion that each team in the conference plays a schedule of games each season against some or all of the other teams in the conference, and based on the win/loss records generated by those games a champion is determined.  This is a perfectly valid outcome.

Greed is the only reason there's any talk of a national championship in college football.  Greedy TV networks want to broadcast it so they can gouge their advertisers for more money.  Greedy stadium owners want to sell tickets and parking and hot dogs.  Greedy fans want to claim that their favorite team is better than some other teams.  The irony is that for all the hyperventallating about a national championship, it is greed that has kept the current system in place.

There are 120 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division 1-A).  If we assume, for the sake of argument, that there was a national championship tournament of eight teams, and that a committee (similar to the selection committee that selects the teams for the NCAA basketball tournaments) was responsible for choosing the participants, there would only be about 25 or so teams out of those 120 that would ever have even a remote chance of being included.  Which is to say that less than 25% of all the FBS teams would ever have a chance to play for the title.

Currently there are 35 post-season bowl games, which means that 70 teams have an opportunity to participate in a post-season game.  That's 58% of the 120 teams in the FBS.  Each of those games pays out money to the annual participants and to the participants conferences.  So, wisely, the presidents of the 90 or so schools in the FBS who cannot possibly hope to ever compete for a national championship have opted to keep the current system.  A system that generates revenue, that encourages participation, and that doesn't give a damn about a national championship.

8/31/10

Now you're blazing!

I can already tell that Glenn Beck's new website ("we hired some actual journalists"!) is going to be one of my favorites. Here's a sub-header from today:

"Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the man behind the Ground Zero mosque, claims to be a Jew, Christian, and a Muslim. But some say that's impossible."

8/23/10

Might just be crazy enough to work

Via Daring Fireball, I submit to you Google CEO Eric Schmidt (not pictured):
 “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”
and..
"Would you prefer someone else [gather and store all this information about we the people]?” Schmidt shot back – to laughter and even greater applause. “Is there a government that you would prefer to be in charge of this?”
Gruber replies,
"Maybe the question isn’t who should hold this information, but rather should anyone hold this information."
Yeah, it's a little late for that. Despite the fervent wishes of some of this blog's readers, it seems highly unlikely that we will reverse the penetration of the information age into our lives. First, more of us would have to want to. People gotta have their facebooks.

As I've been saying for some time, the task now isn't to try to stop the inevitable leaking of information, but to build social institutions and norms for coping with a world bereft of privacy.
"[Schmidt] predicts, apparently seriously, that every young person one day will be entitled automatically to change his or her name on reaching adulthood in order to disown youthful hijinks stored on their friends’ social media sites."
Gruber says this makes Schmidt "creepy," but at least it's acknowledging the real problem and proposing a solution.

I think that solution is somewhat fantastical and naive, but I'm sure the rest of you think that my hazily defined "politeness" standards are equally unrealistic.

What do you think? If you've got kids, do you want them avoiding adult embarrassment by changing their name  when they get out of high school (or, if they were like us, college)? And won't Google just create a widget for collating your two histories.

8/12/10

Episode IV, Now We're Really Screwed [Updated]


If you think about Star Wars episodes 1-3 (which I tried very hard not to do, because they were traumatic enough without me applying my brain) there are some serious inconsistencies between the back story alluded to in the original films and the same story revealed in the new ones.

Via Kottke, Keith Martin finds a way to reconcile the differences. And in his version, R2D2 and Chewbacca are master spies who are ready to assassinate either Luke or Leia without mercy if they show the slightest tendency towards sithiness.


On first seeing R2, Obi-Wan has a twinkle in his eye and calls him "my little friend". Well, he is. However, when Luke wakes up and says that R2 claimed to be owned by an Obi-Wan Kenobi, he blandly says "I don't seem to remember ever owning a droid." Ben has in fact owned several but the remark is aimed at R2 and translates as "You keep quiet. I'm not about to tell him everything just yet." Obi-Wan thinks fast and tells Luke a version of his past that does not involve a father who became a dark lord of the Sith. He wants to examine Luke a lot more closely before he risks telling him the real truth. 

img via



UPDATE: Here's the link

8/10/10

Son of Return of Dumb Games

Sorry for the lack of posting. I'm fixing it.

To get things going again, I invite you... GO TO HELL!

8/3/10

I brought in some marketing guys to whip up a social media strategy for this blog

... and here it is:
Increase organic growth by exposing audiences to the brand through breakthrough viral communications 

via WTF is my social media strategy? Making it up so you don't have to.

8/2/10

Also, my wife never answers her phone

Clive Thompson reports that we (we the people, not he and I) are making fewer phone calls, and the length of the calls is also going down. He explains this as follows:



This generation doesn’t make phone calls, because everyone is in constant, lightweight contact in so many other ways: texting, chatting, and social-network messaging. And we don’t just have more options than we used to. We have better ones: These new forms of communication have exposed the fact that the voice call is badly designed. It deserves to die.
Consider: If I suddenly decide I want to dial you up, I have no way of knowing whether you’re busy, and you have no idea why I’m calling. We have to open Schrödinger’s box every time, having a conversation to figure out whether it’s OK to have a conversation. Plus, voice calls are emotionally high-bandwidth, which is why it’s so weirdly exhausting to be interrupted by one. (We apparently find voicemail even more excruciating: Studies show that more than a fifth of all voice messages are never listened to.)
The telephone, in other words, doesn’t provide any information about status, so we are constantly interrupting one another. The other tools at our disposal are more polite. Instant messaging lets us detect whether our friends are busy without our bugging them, and texting lets us ping one another asynchronously. (Plus, we can spend more time thinking about what we want to say.) For all the hue and cry about becoming an “always on” society, we’re actually moving away from the demand that everyone be available immediately.[)]


Much of this has been so obviously true for some time that Thompson shouldn't need to write it and I should not need to blog about it. 

I'm interested in the next step here, though. Tons of my friends and virtually all of my coworkers have iPhones. But many do not like to enable instant messaging or their work email account on the phone. For them, it crosses a line in terms of their availability to the man. But having all of those tools available makes it so much easier for the rest of us to creatively cope with workload that depriving oneself of that flexibility seems absolutely insane to me. 

In old movies, people would take the phone off the hook when they didn't want to be reached. These days, we just don't answer every chat. 

What about you, dear readers? Does your smartphone keep you tethered to work, or help you get free?


img credit

7/29/10

Comment moderation has been turned on

... your comments will have a slight delay before they appear. I'm hoping to dissuade the five chinese gentleman from visiting my blog with their spammy non-sequiters. Once they are out of the habit of coming here, maybe I'll be able to un-moderate.

In the mean time, I've turned off word verification for the rest of you. We'll see how it goes.

7/28/10

Well that's just great. Just... great.

World's Stocks Controlled by Select Few
WASHINGTON -- A recent analysis of the 2007 financial markets of 48 countries has revealed that the world's finances are in the hands of just a few mutual funds, banks, and corporations. This is the first clear picture of the global concentration of financial power, and point out the worldwide financial system's vulnerability as it stood on the brink of the current economic crisis.
A pair of physicists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich did a physics-based analysis of the world economy as it looked in early 2007. Stefano Battiston and James Glattfelder extracted the information from the tangled yarn that links 24,877 stocks and 106,141 shareholding entities in 48 countries, revealing what they called the "backbone" of each country's financial market. These backbones represented the owners of 80 percent of a country's market capital, yet consisted of remarkably few shareholders.
"You start off with these huge national networks that are really big, quite dense," Glattfelder said. “From that you're able to ... unveil the important structure in this original big network. You then realize most of the network isn't at all important."

via livescience, img via spineyhead

7/22/10

Let's alienate some readers by talking about Doctor Who

Not the show, really, just the theme music. This video stitches together every Doctor Who opening theme since the 60s into one video. Woohoo!

The main takeaway for me is that the current theme music ranks amongst the tackiest of the versions.

7/21/10

Q. What do you read, my lord?


Answer is, obviously, "words, words, words."

Q. What's the matter? The matter is contained in the words. Not in the cover art. Not in the spine. And not in the typeface. Groooober says, about typeface:
So the knock against e-books, in my opinion, is that they’re not carefully dressed like print books are. They’re wearing generic uniforms.
Fair enough. But think back to your favorite book in the world. Do you have a strong association with the cover art? With the spine of the book? With the size or color of the page?

For me, the answer to the above is yes, but barely. Even the smell of an old book (which is a powerful and distinctive memory) is amazingly secondary to the matter of the words. The ability to read book after book after book on my (lightweight, always in my pocket) phone is, for me, an extraordinary evolution and enhancement of the written word.

What about you, dear reader? Do you like ebooks, or is your relationship with books less about the words and more about the paraphernalia?

7/19/10

You've got my vote, Mr. Greene


Greene spoke for about seven minutes, and reportedly told Jessica Yellin of CNN, who was in Manning, that his speech was "handwritten on double lined notebook paper."
He began by saying that he is the best choice for the Senate seat, and is "also the best choice for the Image Award next year."

7/15/10

Migrating birds can see the earth's magnetic field out of their right eyes


... but not their left eye. If the theory is correct, the magnetic field is represented by a dark shading over the rest of the visual image.

From a User-Experience standpoint (yes, I'm a nerd), that's friggin brilliant. I am looking forward to when I can get compass-equipped contact lenses.

source, img credit

7/13/10

This is why we don't let people guest blog on The Bellman

"The Trig obsession has also, I'm sad to say, damaged Andrew Sullivan's reputation. I'm stunned by the anger he's generating not just among random Tweeters but among people who've been online for years, part of the rough-and-tumble of blogging. They know that 99% of what Sullivan writes is challenging, smart, and addictive, and that he's very capable of honing in on bigger political and philosophical debates. People want him to take a deep breath and stop obsessing over this conspiracy theory. Count me among those people."


--  Dave Weigel, guest blogging for Andrew Sullivan

P.S., We do let people guest blog on The Bellman.

7/12/10

Taking the "P" out of "GDP"

Recorded in our humble blog of record:

The financialization of the American economy has been a disaster. Forget all that stuff about the hollowing out of our manufacturing base or increased global competition or waves of immigrants taking away our jobs. Those are all legitimate issues of one stripe or another, but the far bigger issue is that a gigantic chunk of our productive capacity — Wall Street — is deployed almost solely to make money for one sector of our economy: Wall Street. Until that changes, until the financial industry is focused primarily on providing capital and services toother people, we're always going to suffer from either (a) underperformance in the real economy or (b) an endless boom and bust cycle. Take your pick.
There's one key metric that will tell us whether financial reform is working: the size and profitability of the FIRE sector. (That's Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate.) If it shrinks considerably, it means financial reform, despite all the watering down, has basically done its job. But if the FIRE sector remains enormous, it hasn't. We'll know in a few years. | Drum, emphasis mine |

It is an enduring mystery to me how we have sufficiently abstracted our economy to the point that a huge segment of our economy is devoted to producing exactly nothing. "Services" are a legitimate segment of the economy, but "services" are there to serve people, not rob them.

img credit
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