Thursday, December 29, 2005

Attibassi coffee

Uncommonly great espresso coffee from Attibassi, in Castel Maggiore Italy.

I buy the whole beans flown from Bolagna to Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzaria on Rainier Ave South in Seattle.

Friday, December 23, 2005

How to board a plane

It doesn't make much difference whether an airline asks people to board at random or by back-to-front seat number, according to this paper just published in Nature.

A slightly better way would be to make window passengers board first.

[via GeekPress]

Innocent English

Innocent English has a hillarious collection of mistakes found in church bulletins. Some of these are absolutely butt-gusting:

The Fasting & Prayer Conference includes meals. The sermon this morning: "Jesus Walks on the Water." The sermon tonight: "Searching for Jesus."

The peacemaking meeting scheduled for today has been canceled due to a conflict.

For those of you who have children and don't know it, we have a nursery downstairs

At the evening service tonight, the sermon topic will be "What Is Hell?" Come early and listen to our
choir practice.

via Kevin Schofield

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Yahoo! Open Shortcuts

Check out Yahoo! Open Shortcuts. Turns the Yahoo Search box into a command line, letting you type things like:

!my to navigate to ""
!wsf to search "weather san francisco" on Yahoo!

To create a common search shortcut, use the keyword: !set with your shortcut name and the query.

!set shortcut_name query

Similar to Yubnub, which also adds a community-based feature.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Looking for people? Argali White & Yellow -

Argali White & Yellow calls itself "the most complete and reliable phone directories search on the Internet" and was featured in today's WSJ.

Supposedly it's a great way to look up addresses, phone numbers, or even emails. Unfortunately to use it you need to install an ad-driven piece of software on your PC.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Iraqis disagree with U.S. on withdrawal

It's not on this week's ballot, but finally somebody asked the Iraqis what they think about the presence of coalition troops and whether or not the U.S. should leave immediately.

Most Americans (including me) would leave immediately if we could. But what do the Iraqis want? According to this ABC/Time poll of 1700 Iraqis, only 26% want the U.S. to leave immediately. The vast majority "oppose the presence of coalition forces", but heck, what do you think they'd say?

Also note that the vast majority (almost 3/4ths) think things are going "quite well" or "very well". Since this is completely at odds with what most of us hear about Iraq, what do they know that we don't?

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Think Labyrinth: Maze Algorithms

Nathan would love this site that tells you everything you ever wanted to know about Mazes.

It points to a free Windows software download that will generate paper copies of any maze. Maybe I'll try it out one of these days after I confirm it's not laden with spyware.

Enhance with Delancey > Delancey is a way to manage your bookmarks with an AJAX-style app.

Weather using Google Maps

Weather Underground uses Google Maps to show you the weather conditions locally, with pushpins in each location that publishes weather from your area.

Unfortunately a search on Mercer Island doesn't include the weather station at St. Monica's High School (or any other Island location).

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Ultrasound and babies

Slate responds to the news that Tom Cruise bought his own ultrasound machine and explains why this can be dangerous: the energy has to go someplace and it's theoretically possible it can cause damage if you use it too much. Unlike X-rays, however, the danger is not cumulative.

Meanwhile look at the burgeoning industry of high-definition sonograms, including the Geddes Keepsake company that does "keepsake" ultrasound images of very high quality:

Monday, December 05, 2005

Cool Tool: Diaper Free Baby

Most of the world's babies are diaper-trained well before the age of 2, but American babies often stay in diapers for much longer. Why? tells you how. Basically, just learn the signs your baby gives when it needs to go.

[via Cool Tool: Diaper Free Baby]

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Monday, November 28, 2005

Sunday, November 27, 2005

USATODAY- Portland as a software hub posts a story that claims Portland, Oregon is a new hub of software, particularly open-source software. IBM's lab, Linus Torvalds Open Source Development Lab, and others are all located in Portland.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005 - Google's Growth Helps Ignite Silicon Valley Hiring Frenzy - Google's Growth Helps Ignite Silicon Valley Hiring Frenzy: "Google, which saw its revenue increase more than sixfold to $3.2 billion between 2002 and 2004, is helping lead the latest charge. Its hiring drive began not long after its initial public offering in August 2004. At that time, the company had about 2,600 employees, a fraction of Microsoft's 60,000 employees and Hewlett-Packard Co.'s 150,000. Google grew to more than 3,000 by year end, to nearly 3,500 by March 31, and to just over 4,100 by June 30. As of Sept. 30, the company had 4,989 full-time employees, 87% more than when it went public."

Monday, November 21, 2005

Goat: the other red meat

No Kidding: Americans Acquiring Taste for Goat - Los Angeles Times

Goat experts are quick to cite the meat's nutritional benefits. A 3-ounce serving of roasted goat has about the same calories as an equivalent portion of chicken, but almost a gram less fat. It has the same amount of protein as beef, and about 10% more iron.
Although detailed statistics aren't as abundant for meat goats as in the cattle and pork industries, Texas Cooperative Extension researcher Frank Craddock said in a recent report that domestic goat slaughter rose 81% from 1996 to 2003. Craddock estimates that consumption will jump 42% from 2003 to 2007, when Americans are expected to be consuming 72.2 million pounds of goat meat annually.

Prices range from $6 to $9.50 per pound.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Camcorder decisions

The Panasonic PV GS400 is reviewed as all-around better than my old DV953. lowest price = $959.59

Sony DCR-PC350 goes for $789.

Conclusion from

The Panasonic PV-GS400 beats the Sony DCR-PC350 in my mind. While the camcorders are tied on video quality, with nearly identical reproduction, the PV-GS400 slightly beats out the Sony on low light performance. The Panasonic offers superior manual control, handling, and options. While I would pick the Panasonic over the Sony, I really should note that they virtually tie each other when it comes to performance. If you are a point-and-shoot user, and you don't prize manual control and want a camcorder that's easy to use, the Sony DCR-PC350 is a much better choice.

Consider this HD camera:
Sony HDR HC1 for $1439.95

Boy I'd love to get that one, but HD still suffers from several problems: you need $13 tapes to avoid framedropping, and Pinnacle doesn't support the HDV editing format. I can probably upgrade to HD-capable software, but you still can't burn to a disc.

Stumbling Goat

We visited Stumbling Goat, a bistro on Greenwood Avenue in Seattle, after hearing rave reviews, particularly from foodies who love nothing but the highest-quality ingredients. But when you cook only the freshest ingredients picked in season, the food quality is variable, and unfortunately my visit I think was on the lower end of the scale. The squash soup was excellent, but my entree, an Alaskan cod served with mushrooms and pea vines was, well, yes it was good but I wouldn't say it was outstanding. I tasted some of the duck leg and that was much better. The restaurant décor was well-appointed with fine woodworking -- fine enough that they proudly displayed business cards of Costwold Carpentry at the front desk. Everything was cozy, good-tasting, and worth visiting but I wish we had come in, say, late-Summer or some season when maybe some of the fresh ingredients would have been more to my taste.

Hurricane Katrina: the movie

The National Geographic Online Store
Recommended by my Mom, who saw it on TV. The DVD is available starting 11/15/06.

Recall Notice on Panasonic camera

Remember my broken camcorder? The one I paid $260 to repair, and just received back in the mail?

Well now I see this from Panasonic:Panasonic 3CCD User - Important Recall Notice On PV-DV953 And PV-GS200#post30514

Panasonic has discovered a premature component failure with a limited number of PV-DV953 (2003 Model) and PV-GS200 (2004 Model) 3CCD camcorders, which may cause an abnormal camera picture (incorrect color reproduction, reddish, noisy image, etc). This anomaly is limited to a specific range of serial numbers listed below.

If your camcorder demonstrates the specific symptom and falls within the serial number range, Panasonic will repair the camcorder free of charge.

Please call the following toll-free number for assistance in receiving a free repair:

Panasonic Call Center: 1-800-973-4264

Ask the Iraqis

House spurns calls for immediate Iraq pullout - Conflict in Iraq - "�It is the sense of the House of Representatives that the deployment of United States forces in Iraq be terminated immediately.�"

I think the best idea is to have the Iraqis vote on this. The next election there should include this yes/no referendum: "The Iraqi people call for Coalition troops to leave Iraq within the next 90 days." If a majority says yes, we should stick by their wishes. Then our departure would be way more honorable than under any of the other scenarios being debated.

But what if the Iraqis say no? Of course a lot of people would suspect the result was rigged, so the referendum should also include a promise to hold the same election again regularly. But what would American politicians (particularly on the left) say if it were obvious that most Iraqis want us there?

Saturday, November 19, 2005

CompUSA is selling the The Linksys Wireless-B Media Adapter for only $29, so I couldn't resist anymore and brought one home.

The Linksys Wireless-B Media Adapter lets you bring the digital music and pictures stored on your computer to your Home Entertainment Center, without running cables through the house. Using a wireless connection, the Media Adapter displays your digital photographs on the TV for the whole family to enjoy. And your digital music collection is finally freed from those little computer speakers and can play in full glory through your stereo system.

It's working now, but I had an awful time setting it up. The wireless part worked just fine, but it just sat there displaying the message "Waiting for host" on my TV. After hours of frustration and a long wait on Cisco's telephone support line, I found the culprit: my Windows firewall software. I unblocked the port for the adapter and now it works great.

Friday, November 18, 2005

More lies about Iraq

Hey Bob, hindsight is 20/20. Now we're pretty sure there are no WMD, but if you had been President in the post-9/11 world, would you have been willing to take a chance based on the evidence you saw at the time?

Ignore all the politics for a minute. Of course the Democrats are going to accuse Bush of misleading them--what would you say if you once voted for something you now find was a mistake? It won't fly politically to say "Oops, I'll be more careful next time." Part of the principal of government checks and balances is that Senators are supposed to be able to get access to intelligence information if they feel the administration is misleading them. Did those who voted for the war just blindly believe everything they were spoon fed?

Again, hindsight is 20/20. We'll never know what would have happened if we'd waited on the inspectors report. But one possible outcome that Bush must have been considering is this: the inspectors find nothing, and France/Russia lead a charge to drop sanctions. Today we might have been looking at a world where Saddam & sons were more powerful than ever: no sanctions, huge oil wealth and control, end of no-fly restrictions, and full speed ahead on a quickly reconstituted WMD program.

Rewriting History

Now here's a real scandal involving the rewrite of an important part of our history: [via NYTimes]

The back cover of this children's classic:

is modified in the latest printing to get rid of the cigarette in the author's hand:

Click here if you think this is over-the-top PC.

Bill Clinton lied about Iraq too

The New York Times says Bush lied about Iraq:
It's hard to imagine what Mr. Bush means when he says everyone reached the same conclusion. There was indeed a widespread belief that Iraq had chemical and biological weapons. But Mr. Clinton looked at the data and concluded that inspections and pressure were working

I just looked up on Factiva to see what Bill Clinton thought:
YOU KNOW, I HAVE REPEATEDLY DEFENDED President Bush against the left on Iraq, even though I think he should have waited until the U.N. inspections were over. I don't believe he went in there for oil. We didn't go in there for imperialist or financial reasons. We went in there because he bought the Wolfowitz-Cheney analysis that the Iraqis would be better off, we could shake up the authoritarian Arab regimes in the Middle East, and our leverage to make peace between the Palestinians and Israelis would be increased.
At the moment the U.N. inspectors were kicked out in '98, this is the proper language: there were substantial quantities of botulinum and aflatoxin, as I recall, some bioagents, I believe there were those, and VX and ricin, chemical agents, unaccounted for. Keep in mind, that's all we ever had to work on. We also thought there were a few missiles, some warheads, and maybe a very limited amount of nuclear laboratory capacity.
After 9/11, let's be fair here, if you had been President, you'd think, Well, this fellow bin Laden just turned these three airplanes full of fuel into weapons of mass destruction, right? Arguably they were super-powerful chemical weapons. Think about it that way. So, you're sitting there as President, you're reeling in the aftermath of this, so, yeah, you want to go get bin Laden and do Afghanistan and all that. But you also have to say, Well, my first responsibility now is to try everything possible to make sure that this terrorist network and other terrorist networks cannot reach chemical and biological weapons or small amounts of fissile material. I've got to do that.
That's why I supported the Iraq thing. There was a lot of stuff unaccounted for. So I thought the President had an absolute responsibility to go to the U.N. and say, "Look, guys, after 9/11, you have got to demand that Saddam Hussein lets us finish the inspection process." You couldn't responsibly ignore [the possibility that] a tyrant had these stocks. I never really thought he'd [use them]. What I was far more worried about was that he'd sell this stuff or give it away. Same thing I've always been worried about North Korea's nuclear and missile capacity. I don't expect North Korea to bomb South Korea, because they know it would be the end of their country. But if you can't feed yourself, the temptation to sell this stuff is overwhelming. So that's why I thought Bush did the right thing to go back. When you're the President, and your country has just been through what we had, you want everything to be accounted for.
Time, 6/28/2004

Thursday, November 17, 2005

The Google Story -- An Excerpt From David A. Vise's Book

The Google Story -- An Excerpt From David A. Vise's Book: "Over dinner and plenty of wine in February 2005, Sergey Brin discussed the prospects for genetics and Google with the maverick biologist Dr. Craig Venter. Venter, who had decoded the human genome, was in the midst of gathering oceanic samples from around the world and sending them back to the U.S. for analysis of nature's DNA. Despite millions of dollars in funding and thousands of hours of computing time from the federal Department of Energy, Venter needed more help to unlock the molecular myster- ies of life. It seemed to him that Google's mathematicians, scientists, technologists, and computing power had the potential to vault his research forward. He pressed Brin hard to get Google involved.
Also at the table was Ryan Phelan, chief executive officer of DNA Direct, one of the foremost Internet companies providing individuals with genetic testing and counseling. DNA Direct gets nearly all of its patients through ads it buys on Google. The ads appear to the right of the free search results when users type in 'blood clotting,' 'breast cancer,' 'cystic fibrosis' or certain other diseases. Brin, Venter, and Phelan were among those who had been invited to a dinner of the wealthy and wise at Cibo, a trendy Italian bistro in Monterey, California. Brin had brought along his friend Anne Wojcicki, a health care investor whose sister is a senior executive at Google. Seated nearby was early Google investor Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon.
'What [Venter] was talking about with Sergey was, 'How can you use Google to really help access everything at the genetic level?' ' Phelan recalled. 'What Craig was after was pure raw science. What I was hearing was, 'What if Google was the repository for the distribution of this information?' Serg"

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Cheapest house on Mercer Island

NW Cable News did a report on housing prices in Western Washington, including this property they called the cheapest house for sale on Mercer Island:
$519K for 4BR, 2B.

Compared to California, I'd call that a bargain!

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Whole Foods Market Blog

John Mackey has a Blog : he's the CEO of Whole Foods Market, one of my all-time favorite stores and a wise stock pick I made several years ago that netted me 5x return on investment.

His first post is a debate with Milton Friedman and TJ Rogers about corporate responsibility. I have one question for John Mackey: Your profit margin is an objective, quantifiable way to measure how well you serve your investors, but how do you know what's in the best interest of your community? Say you donate a bunch of money to turn a rundown low-income housing complex into a beautiful new park. Is that good for the community? What if results in a bunch of people no longer having a place to live? Is that good for the community? What if the only people who are displaced are crack dealers?

That to me is the biggest hole in the corporate responsibility argument. What's truly good for the community is almost always good for a corporation in that community.

Here's a test of whether Mackey is truly a believer: give away your money anonymously. If it's so good for your community, it shouldn't matter that you get the credit. If anything, the recognition you gain is cheapening your intent. So stop telling everyone how responsible you are, and do it anonymously.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Sound Door Service

Our garage door wouldn’t open, leaving our car trapped inside. We called Sound Door Service at 10pm and got an instant quote and appointment for the next morning. “First thing” starts at 8am for them, which is fine.

Our serviceman, Joel, was super-friendly and helpful. He worked quickly and efficiently, and went out of his way to explain what he was doing so I can do it next time. He really knows doors, suggesting which parts would make it last longer and showing me how to do future maintenance. As a bonus, he even fixed (no charge!) the keyless entry system that we havent been able to get working.

He charged about $350 to replace the spring, two pulleys, and miscellaneous supplies. The entire process took about 45 minutes

My only nit was that he arrived 30 min late for the 8:00am appointment, but he called well before that to let us know he was stuck in traffic.

Edgeio is about to launch!

Edgeio is about to launch!

A potential competitor to Googlebase.

How King County Determines Voter Intent

A team of people in the elections office goes through ballots to determine "voter intent" in close races. [see Sharkansky]. But the decisions can be very arbitrary, and in my opinion directly manipulable if those doing the counting are biased. What do you think the intent was on each of these ballots?:

(note: the green and red marks are from the elections official determining the intent)

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Amazon Mechanical Turk

Got a few minutes? Earn a couple cents with Amazon Mechanical Turk.

I tried it briefly. They offered me 3 cents to look at five pictures and select the one that looks like a storefront. Amazon sends trucks through neighborhoods, snapping photos every second or two, and now they need to pick the best ones for a database of street-view scenes. Some of the photos were clearly not appropriate (a tree was in the way, there was no store, etc.) It's the kind of task that's trivial for any human over 3 years old, but extremely hard for a computer.

The cool part is that Amazon is trying to franchise this business by letting other companies contract to their marketplace for a percentage of the fee. If you have a stash of images (or other pattern-recognition problems that humans do easily), Amazon will expose your problem to their Mechanical Turk users.

It's named "Mechnical Turk" after a famous 19th Century Chess-playing machine that turned out to really have a person inside.

Babies gazing and speech

Watch for the point when a developing baby starts following your gaze. | University of Washington News and Information: "UW psychologists Rechele Brooks and Andrew Meltzoff have pinpointed this developmental step as beginning somewhere in the 10th or 11th month of life, and have found that infants who are advanced in gaze-following behavior before their first birthday understand nearly twice as many words when they are 18 months old. "

Monday, November 07, 2005

Evangelical Environmentalists

More evidence for my prediction that environmental policy is an issue that favors the Republicans long-term:

The NY Times reports on a draft policy statement from the National Association of Evangelicals that quotes Genesis 2:15 as proof that people need to be wise stewards of the environment.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Meteor Shower Nov 5-12

NASA says there's an unusually fiery meteor shower this year. Best time to watch is around midnight, directly overhead in the Taurus constellation.

[via Barry Briggs]

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Boutique doctors

In the Seattle Area, Dr. Daniel Frank sends a mass-mailing to us on Mercer Island advertising his "personal physician on retainer" system, where he charges $99/month (in addition to whatever insurance you have) to be your personal doctor. No waiting, plus instant attention to every ache and pain -- it sounds pretty appealing to me, and I'd probably sign up if I were a little older and thought I'd need more doctor services.

Now the New York Times weighs in with an article about
Lavish Care by 'Boutique Doctors' - [subs required]. After discussing some of the benefits, they add the obligatory reminder that this raises ethical concerns for how it's not fair to the people who don't pay.

Huh? The Super-Rich have always had this kind of medical care, and they always will. Same goes for people with a doctor in their family, or who for whatever reason are blessed by circumstance to be tied into the medical community. What's wrong with expanding this kind of service to everyone? The fee is within the paying ability of almost every American who values it enough to forgo other necessities. For people with chronic medical conditions or who for other reasons find themselves visiting a doctor regularly, I bet this is actually cheaper than the alternative because you get personal attention before an otherwise bothersome condition becomes serious.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Environmental Heresies

This is an old one, and I'm not sure how I missed it. Stewart Brand is the California thinker behind the Whole Earth Catalog and a bunch of other hippie-tech ideas dating back from the 70s. In May 2005 Technology Review, he makes several strong claims about how the environmental movement will reverse its position on the following issues over the next 10 years: population growth, urbanization, genetic engineering, and nuclear power.

I'll add another one: Republicans, not Democrats, will be seen as having the innovative solutions to environmental problems. Today's Sierra Club, Greenpeace, and others are so anti-Republican that they are turning off mainstream people who are otherwise sympathetic to what's happening to the earth. Smart environmental organizations are already working to show their appeal to progressives on the right as well as the center-left.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Napoleon Dynamite (Movie Review)

This is probably a good movie to watch with your high school friends. It’s clean but not particularly funny humor focused on an awkward teenage boy named Napoleon who lives in a small town with relatives who are even more dull than he is. If you no longer harbor a grudge against your parents for forcing a clueless family on you, you probably will find this movie boring.
I watched it because there was a reference to it in a company meeting a few weeks ago, when it was the subject of a funny skit with Bill Gates finding himself back in college rooming with Napoleon. Unfortunately, the skit was funnier to me than the movie itself.

My Son the Fanatic

I watched this movie because I wanted to understand more about the circumstances for how an immigrant family can turn radical. A Pakistani taxi driver loves England, the country he adopted with his family decades ago. He is honest and hard-working, longs for a better life for his only son, who was born here and is now an adult contemplating marriage to the daughter of the local (white) police captain. Life is good. But although the father rather enjoys the freedom and diversity of life in a secular society, the son suddenly begins to reject it, turning to Islam for meaning in his life. Events unfold that ultimately pit the father’s secular life, including a prostitute he has befriended, against the son’s radical view of the world.

Unfortunately the movie focuses on the driver and his secular life, not on the on the religious fanaticism of the son, so I don’t recommend this movie if you want a view on why terrorism can become appealing to a native-born and otherwise well-integrated Muslim.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Apple Computer on a roll

Apple has a new software packaged called Aperture that finally goes seriously after the photo processing market. It's designed for professional photographers, letting you edit photos like you can't imagine.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

The Unshaming of America

Reason: Echo Chamber in the Superdome: A Louisiana National Guardsman explains how he dealt with false rumors being piped into Ground Zero of Hurricane Katrina

Lots of things we heard about New Orleans after Katrina just aren't true:

  • Rescue helicopters were never fired on

  • There were hundreds of National Guardsmen in the Superdome the entire time, equipped with radio communications and responding to all security issues.

New Orleanians have been kind of cheated, because now everybody thinks that they just turned to animals, and that there was complete lawlessness and utter abandon, when that wasn't the case. Because if there was, we would have completely lost control of the Dome. And we never did. People just kind of hung on, through the heat and through everything, until they got on a bus and left.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005


End-User License Agreements (EULA) are so common these days that few people, if any, take them seriously. When you want some software, you download it, then you quickly click through all the "I Agree" buttons until you have the software running. But aren't you worried that there might be a strange clause in there? You could do a quick search for "firstborn child", or you could use EULAlyzer. This free Java applet claims to analyze a EULA for common clauses, flagging those that you might want to read twice.

BillG talks about economics and inheritance

Fortune.comhas an interview with Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. Some key quotes:
GATES: It's too bad that economics isn't taught or a hobby for lots of people, because you do run into those who seem to say, 'There's only a certain number of jobs.' That's not the case. Let's say tomorrow we could decide that everyone in India is as rich as we are. Would the world be a better place? Certainly. Would the U.S. thrive more because of the great products and work that would be done over there? Absolutely. The world getting richer is a great thing. It has been a great thing. It will continue to be.

Gates was influenced by a Fortune article that argues why inheritance money is bad: "Should You Leave It All to the Children?" [Sept. 29, 1986]

BUFFETT:It's interesting that the same people who talk about the terrible cycle of dependency that welfare brings will then hand their kids when they emerge from the womb a lifetime supply of food stamps. But some poor woman who's had two pregnancies by the time she's 17, they say, Oh, this is terrible to give her anything.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Camp Orkila

I’m back from a weekend at Orkila, a YMCA campground on Orcas Island that hosted over 300 father-son pairs from Mercer Island. If you do the math, that’s something like 25% of all the K-3rd Grade kids on the Island—which sounds like an incredible turnout to me. Apparently it’s quite the tradition, operating continuously for at least fifty years.

Pronounced "Or-kai-la", it's a beautiful site overlooking the ocean in the San Juan Islands. You only get there by ferry, an hour-long trip from Anacortes, two stops after Lopez Island. Anacortes itself is almost two hours' drive from Seattle, so it really is quite remote.

We were part of the “Y-Guides” program of the YMCA, which organizes groups of 5-10 boys and their fathers. Most people refer to the groups as “tribes”, though apparently they are trying to get away from the Native American references and use the neutral term “circle” instead. Unfortunately none of the members of our circle were able to make this weekend, so Nathan and I were unattached—the wrong way to participate in the program. Everything revolves around the circles, so although everyone was gracious and tried to get us integrated into their activities as much as possible, we weren’t able to take advantage of the real benefits from circles, like carpooling up to the site or sharing the burden of the first night’s cookout.

It’s a good tradition, one that feels like the kind of thing we did when I was a boy in rural Wisconsin, but one I can’t imagine happening in Silicon Valley, for example. Californians are too transient, so there aren’t enough people who live in the same place long enough to participate in (much less start) traditions like this.

The event happens twice a year, once with fathers and sons, and again with fathers and daughters. Several of the fathers I met had been here half a dozen times already. We'll see if I integrate well enough into Mercer Island life that I someday match that record.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Free Internet at hotels

Today's WSJ has a list of the status of Internet access at major hotels. Ironically, Internet is more likely to be free at the low-end "cheap" brands, like Best Western, than at the high-end "luxury" places like Hilton or Marriott.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Obnoxious comments on Freakonomics blog

steven Levitt, author of Freakonomics, is having a problem on his blog with people who post annoying comments.

Here's what I said to him:

Yes of course you should ban anonymous comments. Registration is free and easy, and it ensures the legitimacy of anyone motivated enough to respond.

You might check into the "trackback" feature available on many blog sites. People's comments appear on their own sites, not yours, but anyone can still read and respond by doing a simple search for comments to your original post. That way you can still get the feedback you want from the world at large while ignoring the obnoxious posters

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Uninterruptible Power Supply

After years of living vicariously, I finally bought myself this APC Back-UPS RS 1500 for my home PC system. The 1500 has enough extra juice to power my entire system, with 21" CRT for an hour or two, which sounds like overkill until I remember that my computer will become more central to our home life in the future as I upgrade our A/V system to use Media Center, and switch to VOIP for phone service, etc.

Since Katrina, my wife has been on a home disaster preparedness rampage, setting up our emergency supplies container, buying extra flashlights/radios/water/etc, so it has me thinking about a Real Disaster: my computer dying. So I paid about $200, which sounds like a lot of money until I realize how much more it would cost to replace a new system that got fried in a thunderstorm. Actually, I'm less worried about thunderstorms than I am about a sudden power blackout that could hose my computer right in the middle of writing an important email or blog entry :-)

Waste in Iraq

Gideon wonders why more attention isn't paid to the waste and corruption in Iraqi defense ministry procurement. I wonder what the point of such a story would be:

  1. Help the fledgling Iraqi democracy become more efficient. Our troops fighting the War on Terror need to know we are doing everything possible to increase the legitimacy of the Iraqi government.

  2. Expose the War for the sham that it is. Wake up a few more people to the madness of it all, so we can just get out.

  3. Impeach Bush. His incompetence in Iraq is equalled only by his incompetence on domestic issues.

The Left is in long-term decline because it no longer appeals to "normal" Americans. It would be hard (impossible?) to find a journalist in the Mainstream Media who could write honestly from the perspective of #1, so most Americans will just glaze over the story, essentially ignoring it as yet another trumped-up variation on #2 or #3--ideas which a slim (but solid) majority of people find revolting.

Absolutely everyone, George Bush most of all, wishes we didn't have to be in Iraq. What we really need are constructive, realistic proposals for what we should do now.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Curb Your Enthusiasm

If Larry David had never been co-creator of Seinfeld, this sitcom would be considered the work of a pretty good, though not great, amateur. The improvised acting is frustratingly slow if you're used to professional TV but not bad if it were somebody's video blog.

We watched the first couple of episodes from Season 1 on DVD last night, including a funny one about their visit to a dinner party only to be kicked out by the hostess after Larry knocks over a lamp. The comedy seems vaguely Seinfeld-esque, with everyone at slightly increased levels of insanity the further removed they are from Larry. There are several interesting characters, but the show doesn't quite get the level of development you see in Kramer or Elaine -- everyone's too busy improvising, often ending in a too-amateurish feel.

I'm a very picky TV viewer, so don't look to me for recommendations. I'm glad I saw the show, but it doesn't meet my standard for something I'd record and watch again. Maybe if they hired a crew of professional writers and actors and had it expensively produced and marketed, but I'd rather spend the time catching up on all the excellent old Frasier or Seinfeld reruns I still haven't seen.

If you're thinking of Salmon Days in Issaquah...

Issaquah Salmon Days Festival is not as fun as it looks

We went there yesterday. It was very crowded, in spite of the threat of rain, so lots of people must like it. The kids exhibits are fine, especially the one sponsored by AXA where our kids got to make their own toy propeller thingy.

You should definitely try to park in a pay-lot, one of the ones closer to downtown. The bus from the offsite lots (we parked near CostCo) take forever to get you there, and cost $1/person--which ends up being the same price as one of the closer lots anyway.

We thought the Kiwanis salmon BBQ was a rip-off: $11/adult for not-a-whole-lot-of-food. And $8/child (over 5). I'm not sure why they bother serving cole slaw, especially to kids. Does anybody ever eat it?

What if we hadn't invaded Iraq?

Victor Davis Hanson finally answers the questions I've been asking for a while. It's very easy to pick on the U.S. involvement in Iraq [insert all your favorite reasons why the place is a mess], and by the way what happened to all the WMD we were supposed to find there? "Bush lied, people died". "Why didn't we give the inspectors a chance?"

But what if we hadn't invaded? Saddam & crew would still be out there...doing what? The sanctions would almost certainly have ended by now. Of course the U.S. government would have continued to refuse opening diplomatic and trade relations, but what about France and others? The oil-for-food program enriched Saddam, but at least it placed some superficial constraints on his cronies' ability to spend the money. What if there had been no constraints? What if Iraq were just like North Korea today, only wealthy and strategically located?

Sean Crotty: Article catches fire

Sean Crotty: Article catches fire
Ebay is an open API that lets you, say, get an up-to-date list of the most popular search terms and add that to your application. That becomes powerful when you combine it with other web services, like Google Maps or Virtual Earth.

Sean points to this web service that shows all the used cars for sale near you.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Downfall (movie review)

What happens when an all-powerful man must “think the unthinkable, bear the unbearable” as Hirohito famously told the Japanese at the end of World War II? Adolph Hilter’s entire image was built on invincibility, strength, complete lack of tolerance for weakness; what happened when he faced defeat?

Downfall is a movie based on the recollections of Hitler’s personal secretary, a young woman who was at his side during the war and right to the end in his Berlin bunker. She remembers him as an inscrutable, a man who could be privately very gentle, forgiving, and kind, but in public reverts to "The F├╝hrer", an unchallengeable, unsympathetic, unforgiving tyrant intolerant of failure. When his generals lose and must face their inevitable self-destruction, he calls them traitors, humiliating them in front of the survivors, yet when she through nervousness makes a typing mistake he calmly and gently encourages her to start over.

The others in his coterie face the inevitable in different ways. Many of the adjutants spend their final days in drunken stupor, laughing and telling jokes among themselves (“Berlin has been turned into warehouses. Everyone is running around saying ‘where’s my house?”). Frau Goebbels, loyal wife of the Nazi propagandist, gently kills her children in their sleep because “I can’t let them grow up in a world without National Socialism”. Eva Braun has a happy, joyful disposition throughout, insisting on good food and drink, forcing reluctant soldiers to dance with her even as the bombs fall.

Fifty years later we automatically think failure when we remember Hitler, but for the people who surrounded him in those final days—people who had grown up assuming they were part of something that would last a thousand years—there was some terrible soul-searching and a real lesson in humility. I can't help thinking that some of the same lessons must have been faced by Saddam's loyalists in their final days too.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Seattle bus tracker

Seattle bus tracker is based on Virtual Earth. Looks way better than BusMonster. The best part is you can actually see where the bus is right now.

Buying used books on line

The Book Industry Study Group calculated the size of the used book market and the results are published today in Seattle Times as well as - The Growing Market For Slightly Used Books: "While the market's size is still modest -- about $600 million, or 2.8% of the $21 billion that readers spent on consumer books in 2004 -- it is growing at 25% annually. Jeff Hayes, group director for InfoTrends Research Group, suggests that it could reach $2.25 billion in U.S. sales by 2010, or 9.4% of a projected $23.9 billion in consumer book sales."

Some of my thoughts:
  1. Textbooks already work this way and publishers have adapted by insisting on more frequent updates. The market for the 14th edition of a popular Calculus textbook disappears when the 15th edition comes out.

  2. It's a matter of time before the same thing happens to lots of other businesses. Why buy a new anything if you can buy a slightly-used version for less money.

Kid's Programming Language

Microsoft's MSDN is helping to promote Kid's Programming Language, an easy-to-use development environment meant to give young programmers the kind of start people like me had with BASIC years ago.

via [Techweb]

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Fixing a camcorder

I mentioned that my 3CCD Panasonic PV-DV953 camcorderdeveloped some problems. Today after a few phone calls I found that I need to send it for repairs to:

Bigston Digital
1590 Touhy Ave
Elk Grove Village, IL 60007

They charge $261.50 for any repair (includes shipping). Takes 17-20 business days, up to a maximum of 30 business days if they need to order special parts.

That's expensive, but still cheaper than buying a new camera. I'll need to check the web a bit to see what sorts of experiences others have had with Bigston repairs.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Pledge a Picket!

Planned Parenthood Southeastern Pennsylvania has a brilliant way to deal with protesters:

Here's how it works: You decide on the amount you would like to pledge for each protester (minimum 10 cents). When protesters show up on our sidewalks, Planned Parenthood Southeastern Pennsylvania will count and record their number each day from October 1 through November 30, 2005. We will place a signoutside the health center that tracks pledges and makes protesters fully aware that their actions are benefiting PPSP. At the end of the two-month campaign, we will send you an update on protest activities and a pledge reminder.

It seems to me that this same technique can be used to counter all kinds of protesters: annoying unions who picket in front of a business you need to visit, anti-government protesters who don't stand for a thing but just hate Bush or whoever else is in charge, whacko far-fringe environmental or "animal rights" groups who use intimidation to get their way, etc., etc.

Protesters often forget that free speech works both ways. This is a clever way to use their own tools against them.

via Freakonomics

Eilyon is now ZoomInfo: searching for people

I previously mentioned Eilyon as a place to look for people on the Internet. Apparently they've changed their name to ZoomInfo.

They still don't seem to know me very much. Type Richard Sprague Microsoft and you'll get a couple of old links from other people.

Just Google me and you'll see much more, like my blogs and recent info about me.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Sushi Kyo: Unexpected pleasure

After reading a detailed on-line review, we gave Sushi Kyo a try with our family of five. Clean and cozy, easy-to-find right on 1st ave a few blocks from the Space Needle, the food is basic but well-prepared. The place obviously hasn't been discovered yet: on a Saturday night it was full but no waiting. I came with my family. Our oldest, an 8-year-old, had no problem with her sushi tempura dinner. Four big tails of shrimp, fried just right without too much oil. The two younger kids split an order of Yakiudon (beef): tasty, not too spicy, large portions. We also tried a broad selection of sushi, from the "normal" (California roll and maguro) to the slightly off-track (azura). It was all fresh and cleanly presented. The natto-maki was a little chewy, but that's a nit: I rarely find places that serve natto well. But the pickled ginger was unbelievably fresh and sharp. Our total bill was about $100, which felt a little expensive, but we left feeling completely stuffed.

I'd recommend it: parking is easy, service is fast, reasonable environment for families. And your prime card works.

Stay-at-home Ivy League Moms

We already know that a huge proportion of women graduates from top schools suspend their careers to raise children, but most of these appear to have been caught in this situation by surprise as they discover how difficult it is to be a "Super Mom". Now the New York Times says many are already planning this while in college:

"According to a 2000 survey of Yale alumni from the classes of 1979, 1984, 1989 and 1994, conducted by the Yale Office of Institutional Research, more men from each of those classes than women said that work was their primary activity - a gap that was small among alumni in their 20's but widened as women moved into their prime child-rearing years. Among the alumni surveyed who had reached their 40's, only 56 percent of the women still worked, compared with 90 percent of the men.
A 2005 study of comparable Yale alumni classes found that the pattern had not changed. Among the alumni who had reached their early 40's, just over half said work was their primary activity, compared with 90 percent of the men. Among the women who had reached their late 40's, some said they had returned to work, but the percentage of women working was still far behind the percentage of men.
A 2001 survey of Harvard Business School graduates found that 31 percent of the women from the classes of 1981, 1985 and 1991 who answered the survey worked only part time or on contract, and another 31 percent did not work at all, levels strikingly similar to the percentages of the Yale students interviewed who predicted they would stay at home or work part time in their 30's and 40's.

Top quote from one of the Ivy League students interviewed:
"Parents have such an influence on their children," Ms. Ku said. "I want to have that influence. Me!

Also read this critical Slate commentary, which thinks the NYTimes is making a mountain out of a molehill.
I suspect a Times editor glommed onto the idea while overhearing some cocktail party chatter—"Say, did you hear that Sam blew hundreds of thousands of dollars sending his daughter to Yale and now she and her friends say all they want in the future is to get married and stay at home?"

Friday, September 23, 2005

Don't buy vinyl lunch boxes for kids

Urban Legends Reference Pages: Toxins (Pail by Comparison)

There's an email circulating the Internet warning that some children's vinyl lunch boxes contain lead. It's true. Worse, since there's no list of exactly which boxes are affected, the advice is to simply not use any vinyl boxes.

(book) On Intelligence

I just finished Jeff Hawkins' book, On Intelligence.

I first became interested in computers in the late 1970s because I thought it might be a way to make me smarter. At the time this led naturally to an interest in Artificial Intelligence (which was much more fashionable then than now) and I hung out with friends who were interested in neurology. For college I applied to Stanford and MIT, the two Centers of the Universe for that sort of thing, and I soaked it all up. After graduation I considered AI grad schools and I moved to Japan because I thought it was the place where a lot of the new innovation would happen. Eventually, partly out of the influence of people like Terry Winograd and others, I gave up on AI and moved into the mainstream of PC software.

Jeff Hawkins is just like me! Well, almost. He’s a bit older, so he had more exposure to the Real World than I did, and he turned his natural entrepreneurial talents toward start-ups, eventually founding Palm and then Treo. His business success enabled him to devote all his time to his real passions, including an in-depth look at how to make computers intelligent. That’s what I admire most about him: in contrast to other successful people, he is devoting his money and time to an intellectual passion rather than, say, collecting big boats or houses. In short, he’s doing what I would be doing if more good fortune had come my way.

I mention all of this to say that I am naturally sympathetic to the cause, and I think I understand Hawkins’ Mission. I wish more people with the means to explore these topics would do what he is doing.

He is heavily influenced by the observations of Vernon Mountcastle, who notes that the uniformity of the neocortex is best explained by a uniformity in the way all our senses operate. Sight, sound, touch—by the time they hit your neocortex, they might as well be the same thing.

By the way, you have more than the five senses than you were taught in grade school: Vision is really the separate senses of motion, color, and luminance; Touch is pressure, temperature, pain, and vibration; you have a sense of balance; and there is an entire sense called the proprioceptive system that tells you about joint angles and the body position. But all of these senses enter and are processed by the brain in the same way.

Hawkins then argues that sensory inputs are tied to another rich channel of predictive outputs that he calls the memory-prediction framework of intelligence. In short, your brain is constantly outputting predictions for how the world works, which it then confirms with your sensory inputs: if the two match, the inputs are ignored. If they don’t match, then more high-level
processing is applied until you reach a state where your senses match your expectations.

He suggests that if you built a similar system in silicon, you’d have a brain—intelligence. It would be infinitely scalable and could be applied to super-human problems like weather forecasting, which depend on massive pattern recognition of the type that humans can do instantly.

I’m not up to date on modern neuroscience or studies of intelligence, so I don’t know how Hawkins’ ideas have been received by “mainstream” academics, but I have no quibbles with his basic idea, which seems plausible to me. The one big hole I see is that he doesn’t allow for all the hard-wired aspects of intelligence. To be “intelligent” is not just to be able to do massive pattern recognition or the other cool things that Hawkins machine would do. Human intelligence is much
more, and it’s far more hard-wired than I think Hawkins’ framework allows.

Why do all cultures have a taboo against incest? Why do all humans know what it means to sing and dance? Why do most girl babies throw balls under-handed while boys throw over-hand? Many (and I argue, most) activities that we often think of as arbitrary consequences of our intelligence are really hard-wired and built into our brains as much as the more abstract aspects of intelligence that Hawkins’ framework explains.

I bet someday, when all of this is eventually explained, we’ll realize that you can’t make something recognizably intelligent unless you make it human. To be intelligent is to have human experiences: unless that computer had the experience of getting dumped by his girlfriend the night before his algebra test, nobody will recognize it as intelligent. Very clever, yes; able to solve extremely complicated general-purpose problems like Chess or Go, sure. But you still won’t think of it as intelligent, and humans will still be able to outsmart it in areas that we think of as important.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Dig a hole through the earth

Here's another silly Google Maps application. Click anywhere on the globe and find out where you'd end up if you started digging till you reach the other side of the earth.

Mercer Island's opposite is somebody in the south Indian Ocean.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Phone answering machine

We just bought a new digital cordless phone + answering machine, the Panasonic KX-TG2357 at CostCo for $100. Ask me in a few weeks what I really think, but so far it seems to work great.

It has talking CallerID, with some type of letter-to-sound rules that attempt to pronounce the incoming names. The rules don't work very well: for example "Microsoft Corp" is pronounced "Mick-ROW-suft C-O-R-P". The CallerIQ feature (also known as appears to be a rip-off: pay a monthly fee of $10 or so to a company that promises to give your phone some cool updates like personalized weather or ring tones. I'm not sure how it works, but for that money I don't intend to find out.

I may switch to Vonage for phone service one of these days, and I'm not sure what that will do to the features. One Amazon reviewer says that he bought it for VOIP purposes but turned out that it wasn't necessary. I'm not sure what that means.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Roe vs. Wade

Whenever something bad happens, blame it on George Bush.  He’s responsible. Whether in the U.S. or abroad, just remember: if it’s bad, it’s his fault.  Keep repeating until all those morons who support him finally figure out that he is the worst thing that ever happened to the world, ever. That's right, keep repeating: we're all morons!

Q: What does George Bush really think about Roe vs. Wade? 

A: He doesn’t really care how you get out of New Orleans—row or wade, either way, just go.

(a friend sent me this joke, along with this image from Political Humor. “Bush’s Vacation”)


Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Silver thief

[via Freakonomics]

"The 2005 edition of The Best American Crime Writing offers the year's most shocking, compelling, and gripping writing about real-life crime, including ... a piece from The New Yorker by Stephen J. Dubner (the coauthor of Freakanomics [sic]) about a high-society silver thief."

Hey, I remember that New Yorker article!

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Good news for my brother

Good news: we were able to make contact with somebody from my brother's neighborhood in Kenner who stayed behind. He'll check out Gary's house (on Champaign Drive just north of the Esplanade Mall) today, but says that most of the other houses in that area are just fine: no structural or flood damage.

Here's a satellite image taken a few days ago and available on Google Earth. I couldn't get an image of Gary's house exactly, but this is only a few blocks south.

I don't see any obvious problems, in contrast to the awful destruction in similar images around downtown New Orleans.

Thanks to several people who helped find more information.

By the way, this is a good time for those who are safe to be extremely thankful, and for all of us to be extra sensitive and generous to the hundreds of thousands who have been devasted. A lot of us are offended by the brutal, insensitive comments of film-maker Michael Moore, for example (I won't link to it), or from anyone on the right or left who tries to make this into a political issue.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

More New Orleans blogs

Metroblogging New Orleans has an on-going set of first-person observations of what it's like in the area now. They point to as another good source of information.

Also you can listen to an online live police scanner here.

Blog from somebody in Kenner

I saw this entry apparently from an EMT who visited Kenner last week: "The official estimate was that the town of Kenner was
going to get ten more feet of water. The first floor
of the police station would be swamped, the generators
and radios would be knocked out, and the only
transportation would be on the single flatboat. Not to
mention the jail, which would be flooded also. The
Captain assigned a sergeant to get cheap
battery-powered walkie-talkies from Wal-Mart�the kind
you use for hunting or skiing and have a range of a
few hundred yards�because with the power out, the
police radios were going to be useless. A lieutenant
was ordered to come up with a simple system of hand
communication that the officers could learn in a few
minutes. Despite all their preparations, the Kenner
police department was headed back to the Stone Age. "

How do you pay for a house that no longer exists?

Slate's Avi Zenilman answers the question: How do you pay for a house that no longer exists?

FEMA sends you to the Small Business Administration for a disaster recovery loan: up to $200K for your house and $40K for personal property. FEMA can pay if you just can't afford the loan.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Summary of New Orleans and Kenner news

I'm still concerned for my brother and his family, who though safe in Houston, have no idea what happened to their house in Kenner (not far from the Esplanade Mall). Summarizing my search for blogs about Katrina and Kenner:

My favorite info source so far is this map, where people post tags stating whatever information they have about specific neighborhoods.

Babytreese writes about conversations with refugees in Memphis:

Rene Mejia, a waiter at Antoine's who lives in the Lower 9th Ward, said he is on the fence whether he will go back or find work elsewhere. "I'm single, I speak four languages, I've got 27 years in the restaurant biz, I can start over anywhere I want."He's in Memphis with nine family members and said ultimately he will go where his family goes. His sister has a condominium in Chateau Estates in Kenner that may be dry, and if his family goes back to New Orleans, he will probably stay with her. He knows he has no home anymore because he lives in the Lower 9th Ward. "Why go back if there is nothing there?"

A refugee from Kenner, who is now in Memphis posts this.

Karen Quinn has this quote from her friend Brad on the front lines:
...the bricks buried the front of my car and the cab of my sister' truck. (one good thing I GET A NEW CAR!!!!!) my brother threatened suspicious people gathered a few belongings and met my dad in kenner where the business took in 2 inches of water.

Another blog mentions:
Jimmy stayed behind at another location, but inspected the Kenner home before also leaving for Orlando. He said therugs inside were water-logged.

(but I can't see any evidence of exactly which location in Kenner)

I've stayed at a La Quinta, not too far from my brother's house, and there is an announcement that it's closed. Not sure if that's due to any kind of damage. The Marriott near the airport says it is not accepting reservations and has "marginal operations".

A single dad posts this:
Life has changed, hard part is not knowing what is going on at my home. I live in Kenner near the airport and things are not as bad there as what is on the news, Im near the Esplanade Mall. Hoping to just have water damage but who knows, so excuse me for not laughing or having much funny to say.

Bigezbear describes his escape from the French Quarter on Sunday morning and says:
We saw the city of Kenner under water. The mayor says the damage there is 100%.

Lots of pictures on this Hurricane Watch site, including this one of the Backyard Barbecue on Veteran's Boulevard.

Anybody else have information about Kenner? Better yet, do you know of a blog or other source of regularly-updated information?

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Katrina Information Map

Katrina Information Map is a great site where people post information on a big map. The sparse info about my brother's neighborhood seems to indicate flooding there is not too bad. (the road near the Kenner hospital is dry, for example).

Katrina blog summary

Oh dear, my brother and his family are devastated.

Here are some more links I found:

Wizbang is a long summary of other blogs, most of them filed by locals.

Bunch of photos on FlickR, interesting because they are all taken by amateurs, many of whom are roaming the city in ways the new media doesn't.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Katrina links

My brother and his family live in Kenner, so we are following the disaster with deep personal interest.

Here are some links of note:
New Media Musings: Citizen journalism storm chasers
links to amateur videos of the hurricane aftermath.

Craigs List has special help for people affected.

One ambitious blogger is posting a collection of other good links.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Snapfish lets you pick up prints at Walgreens

[from] Soon you'll be able to upload your prints, then pick them up at your local Walgreens in as little as an hour, for less than the price of doing it online since there are no shipping costs.

This article notes that Snapfish is the largest online photo printer, with something like 700,000 users per month. I'm impressed that they're bigger than Kodak's Ofoto (now called Easysomething).

Sunday, August 28, 2005

New Camcorders

My Panasonic PV-DV953 developed a terrible disorder last week: it no longer can see reds, and the entire image has a greenish tint. It's unclear what it will cost to fix, so I glanced quickly at the state of replacement cameras. Here's one that looks good: JVC GR-X5 Camcorder Review

Saturday, August 27, 2005

More on Peak Oil

The frenzy over ever-higher oil prices is approaching a bubble, and I bet it is time to consider shorting energy prices. New substitutes will start emerging, people will conserve more, and oil will no longer be king.

Here’s a summary from Slate’s Today’s Blogs (Monday, Aug 22, 2005)

Levitt gets plenty of cheers from peak-oil skeptics. "I think I probably agree with Levitt that the big effect of peak oil will be to simply cut the fat … out of oil consumption," writes Snarkmarket's Robin Sloan. "This will probably not involve roaming bands of petro-pirates in wind-powered gun-skiffs." At Reason's in-house blog Hit & Run, Jesse Walker commends Levitt's critique and compares peak oil hysteria to apocalyptic, Left Behind eschatology.

Not everybody pooh-poohs the article's alarmism. "[A]n excellent article. Well researched. Balanced. Thoughtful," praises Cultural Economist Ronald R. Cooke. "Bravo." At's Pokkari Blog, Mike stakes out a middle ground. "I think the market is already correcting, and that the introduction of alternative fuel vehicles will only accelerate," he writes. "The electricity sector will compensate, too, and we'll end up using oil mostly for plastics."

Read more about the Times Magazine article; and more about peak oil.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Freakonomics meets Peak Oil

The Freakonomics Blog continues to dissect the Peak Oil arguments:

John Tierney wrote a great New York Times column in response
to the Maass article on Peak Oil in the Sunday NY Times Magazine
that I criticized. Tierney and Matthew Simmons, who is the point man for the Peak Oil team, made a $10,000 bet as to whether in 2010 oil would be above or below $200 a barrel (adjusted for inflation to be in 2005 dollars). The bet was designed in the spirit of the famous bet between Julian Simon and Paul Ehrlich, which the economist Simon won when the five commodities Ehrlich said would rise in price, actually fell substantially.

I made an similar bet with a guy at work, though on a smaller scale. After some studying of the Peak Oil arguments, I am convinced that this whole “we’re running out of oil” argument is just another example of an irrational panic meme that will end in tons of even cheaper energy.


Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Testing Blogjet

Here’s another test of BlogJet, which I am trying to try as a new offline blog editor.

I already tested it on my .Text Blog, so now I’m trying it on Blogger. It appears to have a few advantages over what I’ve used previously:

  • It’s truly WYSIWYG, including things like support for bullets.
  • Apparently can easily be configured to upload directly from an FTP server (but I don’t have that part working yet).
  • It’s paid software, so presumably you get better support than from freeware.





Sunday, August 21, 2005

Religious values and biotech

In America most Christians are members of denominations (Catholic, Baptist, etc.) that oppose research into stem cells, on the grounds that only God can take a life once it's been conceived. But what do other religions think?

Here's a summary of what Hindus think: How India Reconciles Hindu Values and Biotech - New York Times

(basically, Hinduism thinks life begins at conception but it's okay to experiment because it's not possible for science to manipulate what is fundamentally a spiritual existence).

I wonder what other religions think? Islam? Shinto? Buddhism?

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Target in The New Yorker

Slate summarizes the history of Target, which bought every ad in this week's New Yorker.

Some quotes:

The now-famous "Tar-zhay" pun, emphasizing Target's exalted place in the discount world, dates back to the store's founding in 1962.

As Target prepared to open its first store in metro New York in 1997, its image became synonymous with inexpensive indulgence. In a Christmas photo op, Michael Bloomberg was seen exiting a local Target clutching a George Foreman grill and a cheese grater, gifts that would surely please one of the gardeners at Gracie Mansion.

The rich (at least in Manhattan) profess to visit Target because of its social progressivism. Target, they insist, is a more enlightened corporate behemoth. Viewed through the Upper West Side prism in which "enlightened" equals "liberal," there is some truth to this contention. Sam Walton's heirs donate to the GOP, while Target scion Mark Dayton serves as a Democrat in the U.S. Senate.

The Brooklyn Target has an in-store Starbucks.

white coffee

Dave Winer points to Ancora Coffee, in Madison Wisconsin as a place you can get "white coffee". Apparently this is a drink made from beans that were only lightly roasted; doesn't taste like coffee but has more caffeine.

Thursday, August 18, 2005 Books: The Rule of Three: Surviving and Thriving in Competitive Markets Books: The Rule of Three: Surviving and Thriving in Competitive Markets: "Business school professors Sheth (Emory University) and Sisodia (Bentley College) argue forcefully that competitive forces, free of government interference or other special circumstances, will inevitably create a situation where three companies and only three will dominate any given market. Whether it's U.S. fast food restaurants (McDonald's, Burger King and Wendy's) or South Korean chipmakers (Goldstar, Hyundai and Samsung), three large firms hold most of the market share. To be successful, everyone else is forced to specialize either by product or market segment. Sure, there are the 'Big Two' in U.S. soft drinks, and there really aren't three dominant advertising agencies but these are the exceptions that prove the rule. Markets, the authors explain, are inherently efficient, and efficiency's favorite number is three: two companies would lead to monopoly pricing or mutual destruction, while four guarantees consistent price wars. For managers who follow this logic, the implications are clear. Companies faced with three established competitors may want to battle them indirectly by specializing. Sheth and Sisodia also discuss strategies firms should pursue if they are one of the three major players in a field: e.g., the market leader should be a 'fast follower' rather than a consistent innovator, while it's the job of the number three firm to create new products to stay competitive. While the writing veers toward the academic, senior managers of all types are bound to be intrigued by these arguments. Agent, Rafe Sagalyn. "

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

More Long Tail theory

CSVEN CONCORD has an interesting extension of Chris Anderson's Long Tail argument, how the Internet helps mine business among the vast masses of people underserved by normal commerce.

Concord 3-dimensionalizes the idea to allow for fads, like Rocky Horror, that are popular but never really mainstream.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

More on PFBLog

More reading of PFBlog has me more impressed.

It's an active account of how a normal guy is trying to pursue his financial goals, including his thoughts on ways to save money (this this review of Vonage phone service). The real interesting part, to me, is that he is apparently a Microsoft employee living in Sammamish. He posts his thoughts on changes to benefits programs, ESPP, etc. It's just like talking to somebody in my hallway at work, only better because it's confidential: he doesn't reveal his actual identity (come to think of it, who knows, maybe he really is in my hallway).

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Personal finance blogs

Is this a new trend? People seem to bare their souls on blogs, so why not their finances too? - The Unique Personal Finance Weblog is a site run by a guy who tells you his exact financial situation, including the amount he spends on various purchases and the return on his various portfolio investments. He is also apparently a Microsoft employee, since he mentions that in his 401(k) and stock options summaries.

Consumerism Commentary is a similar site, though with lower assets.

(found via FreeMoneyFinance)

Pepakura 3D paper printing

Kevin Kelly -- Cool Tools describes a shareware application from Japan called Pepakura (Paper Craft)

You enter 3D design information from any popular CAD application and it produces lines on paper that you can print and assemble. The makers of the software provide lots of samples on their web site including racecars, Godzilla figures, houses, and more. Anything you can model, you can build!

Thursday, August 04, 2005


Like I mentioned before, sometimes too many choices can be a problem. Stephen J. Dubner describes a famous experiment in behavioral economics where:

In an upscale grocery story, researchers set up a tasting booth first with 6 jars of jams, and later with 24 jars. In the first case, 40 percent of the customers stopped to taste and 30 percent bought; in the second, 60 percent tasted but only 3 percent bought. The point is that too many options can flummox a consumer - and if 24 jars of jam pose a problem, imagine what 8,000 mutual funds can do.

This seems understandable to me, but it can't be the whole story. If people want fewer choices, then why do grocery stores stock more items now than they did 20 years ago? Why do megastores like Home Depot or Wal-Mart crush their local competitors? If it were all about restricting the number of options, you'd think the world would settle on something that offers fewer choices. Wait a minute, maybe it has: CostCo is successful partly because they stock only one choice in each product category.

Digital libraries

CNET summarizes the state of college libraries going digital, particularly Stanford with its projects with Grokis (aka Grokker) and the TopicMap project from Highwire Press.

MIT has been running a project called "D Space" that stores tons of digital material, and the "Lockss" open source software that can harvest electronic journals from the web.

Amazon wish list

Neat hack I found today, courtesy of Xanadb:

My blogspot homepage now includes a graphical listing of my Amazon wish list.

(unfortunately there doesn't seem to be an easy way to include it in a blog post, but you can view it by going directly to my Blog site).

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Why housing is so expensive

Slate has a nice summary of work by Ed Glaeser (Harvard) and Joe Gyourko (of U-Penn) on an alternative reason why housing prices are high, growing, and so variable from city to city.

The great mystery is on the supply side. Instead of the traditional formula "housing price equals land price + construction costs + reasonable profit," we seem to be seeing something more like "housing price equals land price + constructions costs plus reasonable profit + mystery component." And, most interestingly, the mystery component varies a lot from city to city.

The answer is zoning regulations, as measured by time it takes to get a permit for all those environmental impact and fire safety and other red tape necessary for new construction projects.

Glaeser & Gyorko's paper includes some of the data behind their analysis and just eye-balling it I see that Seattle appears to be tightening up and coming to resemble cities like San Francisco more than more affordable places like Dallas. Between 1989 and 1999, Seattle went from 72 to 90 by one measure, where Dallas went from 58 to 52. Anaheim (96 to 96), Boston (87 to 86), and San Francisco (98 to 97) were more stable.

[via Marginal Revolution]

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

TV in bedrooms linked to lower test scores

TV in bedrooms linked to lower test scores

a study from the Stanford Report proves that you shouldn't let kids have a TV in their room, but giving them access to a PC is good.

Getting Things Done

Omar Shahine is a Microsoft blogger who posts a summary of how he improved his personal productivity. Of course personal attempts to organize yourself usually work for a few days or weeks and then peter out, but it's interesting to read his results of - Getting Things Done 2 months later

He uses the David Allen techniques that were reviewed in Atlantic Monthly last year.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Microsoft is more popular than Sony in Japan

Microsoft tops Sony in survey according to Nihon Keizai.

Microsoft is #1 in the business survey, #3 in the consumer survey.
Toyota is #2, Canon #3.
Sony fell to #4 from it's top position last year.

I wonder how Google does in Japan?

Cell phone towers

Cell Phone Tower Search is a site that uses Google Maps to show you the nearest cell phone towers around a given location.

Unfortunately it appears that Mercer Island has only two main towers, near Pioneer Park, which may explain the terrible reception I seem to get near my house.

Bill Clinton agrees with Bush on Iraq

Speaking at the Aspen Institute's Ideas Festival Bill Clinton says: "'This is not Vietnam. I wouldn�t set a deadline [for the withdrawal of troops]. I agree with the president.'"

[from New York Metro], which adds: If anyone but him had said the same thing about Iraq, there would have been boos and hisses.

Sunday, July 24, 2005 | 07/24/2005 | In the '80s, Japan was the new big threat, like China now | 07/24/2005 | In the '80s, Japan was the new big threat, like China now

This is not an especially enlightening article, but I'm glad somebody agrees with me about today's situation with China and how it resembles the scare talk fifteen years ago with Japan. When Japanese investors were buying the major American movie studios, the Rockefeller Center, and other important icons, many people at the time talked like it was proof of the short-sightedness of Americans. Ultimately it turned out that most of these assets were obscenely overpriced, and it was really just a big rip-off for the Japanese.

Why is the recent talk about IBM/Lenovo or Unocal any different? If these companies are so strategic and so valuable to American interests that their sale should be blocked, why are American investors being outbid? Do the Americans know something that the Chinese (or the Japanese before them) don't?

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Pacific Northwest accents

An interesting piece on KUOW yesterday morning ( transcript and audio (3 min)) about research at U-W and Portland State on regional accents.

  • To NW speakers, the vowels are the same in "odd" and "ought".

  • Natives often drop the ending -ed, saying "can fruit" instead of "canned fruit"

Quotes from Jennifer Ingle, who did a whole study on accents in Ballard that was written up in the Seattle PI a few months ago, which noted that Northwesterners
  • say "bucket" instead of "pail"

  • emphasize the 's' in words
  • use only 14 out of 15 American English vowel sounds.

Guess I'll have to start watching my kids carefully to keep them from losing their God-given right to all 15 vowels.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Iraq has nothing to do with terrorism (New York Times)

Why Do They Hate Us? Not Because of Iraq - New York Times: "If the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine are at the core of the radicalization, why are there virtually no Afghans, Iraqis or Palestinians among the terrorists? Rather, the bombers are mostly from the Arabian Peninsula, North Africa, Egypt and Pakistan - or they are Western-born converts to Islam. Why would a Pakistani or a Spaniard be more angry than an Afghan about American troops in Afghanistan? It is precisely because they do not care about Afghanistan as such, but see the United States involvement there as part of a global phenomenon of cultural domination."

People forget that 9/11 (by far the worst terrorist incident in history) happened before the invasion of Afghanistan or Iraq.

One Day in September

Last night I watched One Day in September, directed by Kevin McDonald. This Academy Award-winning (1999) documentary is an excellent summary of the events, combining extensive archive footage with contemporary interviews of the people involved.

The world first began to associate Arabs with terrorism through the Munich Olympics in 1972. Eight Palestinian terrorists captured and ultimately killed 11 unarmed Israeli athletes in a tragic attack that is notable for the tragically amateur way it was handled by German authorities. All attempts to storm the terrorists were doomed by pathetically poor planning and communicationamong the untrained beat officers at the scene. Only five snipers, without helmets or bullet-proof vests were assigned to shoot eight terrorists. The media swarming the area prevented additional police reinforcements. Live TV cameras broadcast the police plans and activities to the terrorists watching in the compound. Most pathetically of all, the terrorists were released a few weeks later in capitulation to a sham hijacking demand that is now known to have been carried out by the German government.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Kids spend too much time in organized activities

Marginal Revolution: Why are we organizing our kids so much?: "Since 1995, the portion of children ages 7 to 11 who swim, fish or play touch football has declined by about a third. Canoeing and water skiing are down by similar amounts.
The relationship between kids and their bikes is especially telling. In 1995, 68% of children ages 7 to 11 rode a bike at least six times a year. Last year, only 47% did. The sales of children's bikes fell from 12.4 million in 2000 to 9.8 million in 2004, a 21% decline, according to Bicycle Industry and Retailer News,an industry magazine...
Children today tend to get outdoor exercise by appointment. "

This quote and analysis comes from USA Today , but they don't look closely enough at what I think is the bigger issue: kids today spend 6-8 hours a day watching TV during the school year. The most popular show among kids isn't on one of the 14 TV networks devoted to kids: it's American Idol. If you take away that TV watching (which we do), they have plenty of time for both organized activity and free playtime.