Thursday, December 28, 2006

Best Vermont Cheese

When we visited Vermont last summer, I made a note to remember the excellent "Constant Bliss" cow milk cheese, made by Jasper Hill Farms.  Also check their Bayley Hazen blue cheese.

They're sold at Zingerman's, in Ann Arbor and at two places in Portland, Oregon, but apparently not in Washington state.

French Press

My other favorite Christmas present is this French Press from Bonjour Products:

It makes 3 cups of incredibly tasty, rich coffee or tea.  Just grind the beans (to the large French press size), plop them in, pour boiling water, and wait 4 minutes.

Cleaning up is the hardest part, but still very easy -- certainly easier than an espresso machine. Pouring water over the filter mechanism seems to get it clean enough for daily use. I should probably soak it in soapy water and rinse it thoroughly every so often just to keep it spotless. has thorough instructions for how to use press pots.

Handy headlamp

For Christmas this year I received this extremely useful headlamp which I'm now using all the time. The bright LED beam lasts a long time on tiny replaceable lithium batteries, making it great for doing little jobs around the house or the garage.

You can get it at Brookstone for $25.

Kevin Kelly (of Cool Tools) recommends the Zipka, from Petzl. It's about the same price but I think more clunky-looking than the Brookstone.

Friday, December 22, 2006

The Truth Behind An Inconvenient Truth

We finally watched An Inconvenient Truth, which is required viewing for anybody who wants an easy-to-understand introduction to the facts behind climate change. Thankfully, this is not a political, Bush-bashing movie like Fahrenheit 911, nor is it fact-stretching in the name of humor, like Supersize Me.  There were one or two brief political jabs, but they were quite appropriate considering who made the movie. 

There are plenty of sites out there that attempt to give a counter-argument, but none are convincing.  Just one example is a publication by The Heartland Institute that tries to refute the claim (mentioned in the movie) by the journal Science that not a single peer-reviewed scientific publication has published evidence in the past ten years that contradicts global warming. This claim should be easy to disprove: produce just one contradictory peer-reviewed article.  Instead, the bashers point to a vaguely-defined survey of "climatologists" who say there is controversy.  No refuting facts, just instilling an ill-defined mood of skepticism where there is none.

Still, I was disappointed to hear that Al Gore, in a desparate attempt to increase profits for the movie, has himself been actively trying to warm the earth through shameful activities such as this:

Aparently he's even making a pathetic attempt to jump up and down on the Greenland ice shelf to hasten its slide into the ocean. 

 For the full story, click here:

Al Gore Caught Warming Globe To Increase Box Office Profits

The Onion

Al Gore Caught Warming Globe To Increase Box Office Profits

Environmental officials claimed that Gore's tire fire in Akron, OH was "completely out of line."

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

No power till Saturday ?!?

It was 47 degrees inside my bedroom when I woke up this morning.  And still no sign of a repair crew at the transmission pole that feeds our neighborhood.

From the official Puget Sound Energy site (updated 6pm Dec 18):

Two of three substations serving Mercer Island have been restored, with the third expected to be energized Monday evening. Many customers have regained service on the north half of Mercer Island. Full restoration of the island's heavily damaged distribution lines likely will continue late into the week, perhaps Friday or Saturday. Our electric system sustained tremendous damage on the island from falling trees and limbs.

Our neighbors were complaining among themselves about unfair it is that Mercer Island always seems to be last in line for help on disasters like this.  "They just assume everyone here is rich and can afford to stay overnight in hotels," says one.  "In fact, it's so bad that we probably won't have power before we leave for Hawaii on Wednesday".

And I'll have you know that the Westin was completely booked all weekend, so don't go assuming that all of us have it easy here!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

West Mercer Mess

Mercer Island has been without power since Thursday night. This tree fell on West Mercer Way near 46th at about 2am, narrowly missing the big house on the left.

West Mercer Way was still officially blocked on Saturday afternoon, though by then some neighbors used chain saws to clear the path enough to allow cars through. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, December 07, 2006

I like young people

I just took the Harvard Implicit Association Test, which concluded that I have a strong automatic preference for young compared to old. That's not unusual -- about 35% of the people who took the same test had the same result.

The same site has tests for attitudes about race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, etc. If I take those tests I probably won't bother tell you the results.

One thing I wish the site did: tell me how I compare with other people from the same demographic. The site collects my zip code, occupation, education level, etc. -- I wish they would expose the results they get.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Free tire repair at Les Schwab

Somehow my tire ran over a nail yesterday and, poof, it was flat. I want to sell the car soon, so I'm not interested in a new set of tires or anything -- I just want to quickly get myself back on the road as soon as possible.

Imagine my surprise when I dropped into Les Schwab this morning and asked them to get me a new tire. The salesman talked me out of it and instead gave me a free repair on the old one. Took about half an hour and now my tire is as good as new!

Saturday, December 02, 2006

The only time Milton and his wife ever disagreed

Milton Friedman was married to his wife, Rose, for 68 years (!) and when he died last week was eulogised by the Economist as the "most influential economist of the second half of the 20th century (Keynes died in 1946), possibly of all of it".  Of course, when two people have been married so long, you really can't credit just one of them for anything -- they were clearly a team, and should be assigned co-authorship to everything they did.

Which is why it's interesting to see this interview they gave to the WSJ last year, talking about Iraq:

Mr. Friedman here shifted focus. "What's really killed the Republican Party isn't spending, it's Iraq. As it happens, I was opposed to going into Iraq from the beginning. I think it was a mistake, for the simple reason that I do not believe the United States of America ought to be involved in aggression." Mrs. Friedman--listening to her husband with an ear cocked--was now muttering darkly.

Milton: "Huh? What?" Rose: "This was not aggression!" Milton (exasperatedly): "It was aggression. Of course it was!" Rose: "You count it as aggression if it's against the people, not against the monster who's ruling them. We don't agree. This is the first thing to come along in our lives, of the deep things, that we don't agree on. We have disagreed on little things, obviously--such as, I don't want to go out to dinner, he wants to go out--but big issues, this is the first one!" Milton: "But, having said that, once we went in to Iraq, it seems to me very important that we make a success of it." Rose: "And we will!"

(The WSJ concludes by noting that Mrs. Friedman had the last word)

[via trunkandbarter and freakonomics]

p.s. Bonus factoid:  Milton was a well-known Reagan fan, but guess who he supported as Reagan's successor?  Donald Rumsfeld (!) [according to the Economist ]

Most authentic Japanese on Mercer Island

I really want Yuzen to be a success. They just opened on the South End of Mercer Island a few weeks ago, filling a sorely-needed hole in the selection of local restaurants. Like a zen koan, it's beautiful and brilliant, but will leave you disappointed if you don't expend the effort to understand the point of it all. [see comments below]

It's authentic -- really authentic, like a hip new restaurant in Shibuya or Harajuku, not one of those stodgy places that tries to be every American's idea of what a Japanese restaurant should be. You notice this when you walk in: they play Japanese pop music instead of some endless koto muzak. There are specials posted in front, though not plastic models like most Americans expect -- but printed in flourescent colors like you'd see in a real place.

They serve freshly brewed tea without needing to ask. I actually prefer when it comes in a pot you can pour yourself, but that would never happen in Japan. The menu is bilingual, of course, but you get the feeling that the English is there to appeal to Japanese yuppies who want to pretend they're internationally savvy, instead of the other way around. A nice, modern display of sakes is next to the sushi bar, laid out for tasting, just like you'd see in a fresh new restaurant in a hip neighborhood of Tokyo or Yokohama.

Unfortunately, I'm afraid the realism is going to be too much for most Mercer Islanders. The menu is a little pricey ($9 was the cheapest lunch, for a chicken udon -- figure closer to $14 for most lunch sets). I don't mind the prices for such a cheery, clean place, but too many South Island tightwads are going to look at that and wonder why it costs more than one of those Korean-run all-you-can-eat sushi buffets. People here are not going to appreciate the subtle authenticity.

It's tough to bring kids here too. There is no "kids menu" with cheeseburgers or mac-and-cheese cop-out food for parents who've given up. We ordered a regular yakisoba that we split among the two younger kids, and our oldest (a 9-year-old) had the tempura lunch. It was all yummy and healthy, but again, probably a bit more authentic than most people could handle. Our kids are used to more soggy home-cooked yakisoba, so they complained that it was too "crunchy".

I had an excellent tempura udon. I prefer slightly more of a thick flavor, but I know that real Japanese like the milder version served here. There was karashi, though, and the tare was perfect. I'm not sure why they didn't include the oroshi-daikon with the tempura, but when I asked, it came freshly prepared.

The service was outstanding, which is a shame, because it would have been nice for them to have somebody besides us to serve. We had the place to ourselves for lunch the Saturday we visited.

Here's what they can do to make it more appealing to people like me:

  • Do something for the kids. No, you don't need to add chicken fingers, but at least offer half-portion tempura or donburis. How about coloring books with Japanese characters?
  • Expand the menu. I think they're mostly going after sushi lovers, and there is a reasonable fresh-made selection, but I do wish they had some ippin-ryouri or something. They put organic tofu in the miso for crying out loud, you'd think they could offer some hiya- yakko.
  • My biggest suggestion is to offer something seasonal, like oden.

I do hope they make some adjustments. Most of my non-Japanese friends won't appreciate the funky realism and, sadly, will dismiss it as an overpriced imitation of "real Japanese food" -- which couldn't be further from the truth.

Posted by Picasa Yuzen in Mercer Island

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Get out of your cell phone contract

The WSJ has a rundown on companies that will buy your current contract and resell to somebody else, in a legal way to get rid of your cell phone contract. It's good for buyers too, because you can get much cheaper phone service with a shorter contract life.

Social networking for kids and their moms

Two new venture-backed startups go after the stay-at-home market.

Industrious Kid, founded by former execs at Ascend Communications, just got $6M in venture funding to start Imbee, a MySpace-type social networking thing for 8-year-olds (and above).  At $40/year I just don't see it taking off, though.  Any parent involved enough with their kids' internet use will be involved enough to chaperone them on MySpace for free.  Why bother with less?


Club Mom wants to be a social networking site "for moms, by moms".

Again, I'm not sure what the market is.  Everybody wants to create a "community", but rather than force people to come to you, I think the future is in aggregation -- let people go wherever they want, and you come to them.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The gathering storm

Here's the National Weather Service radar showing what we can expect to hit Seattle later today:

Which cars have best resale value?

The Wall Street Journal has this summary, based on Kelley Blue Book's survey for the 2007 model year:

For the first time, Acura beat out BMW for the top spot in the sedan category.  Honda Odyssey was #1 for minivans.  All of these vehicles are expected to retain 48% to 56% of their new value after five years.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Mercer Island School District Survey

You have until December 5th to fill out the Community Technology Survey for the Mercer Island School District.  It's open till December 5th.

The district is auditing their technology operations and invite the community to provide input.

Drinking Liberally on Mercer Island

Looks like there's a regular get-together for Mercer Island liberals:

Maybe they could organize it to be held jointly with the Conservative Enthusiasts (they often meet at the Mercer Island Library). I bet you could get a lot more people to come.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Google Transit does Seattle

They started in Portland about a year ago, but now Google Transit has a site for Seattle. 

For example, it says that for me to get from home to my office right now (at 6:30 on a Saturday morning) would take 58 minutes.  That is, 58 minutes after my bus arrives near home, which won't be till 8:52am.

It seems to be hooked into the same GPS systems used by other sites, but the UI is the best I've seen yet.

Best coffee in Portland

While spending time here for Thanksgiving, I stumbled upon Stumphouse Coffee Roasters, an excellent cafe with stores in several locations including here in downtown Portland (3rd and Pine).  Top-of-the-line fresh hand-roasted taste, free Internet, and cheaper than Starbucks ($2.60 for an 8oz latte).  What more could you need?

Unfortunately they're not open till 7am, so the familiy is awake before I can venture out. 

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Food advice

Kevin Kelly recommends two source of food advice:

Cook's Thesaurus is an online database of substitute foods.  All out of oats for some special recipe?  Try wheatberries or rye flakes or triticale.  Still don't have it?  At least know the alternatives that might be stocked at your grocery:  rolled, steel-cut, groats, etc. each explained with its advantages and disadvantages.

If you really need to be prepared, have this book on hand:

Cooking Ingredients . The Ultimate Photographic Reference Guide for Cooks and Food Lovers (Paperback) by Christine Ingram, contains 1500 different food types and a brief explanation of each.

Next time I'm out of something, I'll try one of the sources above.  And if they're not handy, of course I can always go straight to Wikipedia, which is becoming the ultimate reference for everything.

Great Wall Video

 Here's a video from my trip to China last week.  I went with my boss and another engineer to the Great Wall, at Mutianyu.  Most people go to a slightly closer location of the Wall, so this one is less crowded with tourists. One fun part is that you can ride a toboggan on the way down.  I snuck a video camera for the ride, though I had to shut it off early when one of the guards started to yell "no photo". 

Video: Great Wall of China

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Where's the Math?

A local advocacy group trying to improve math standards in Washington State has made the New York Times front page.

“When my oldest child, an A-plus stellar student, was in sixth grade, I realized he had no idea, no idea at all, how to do long division,” Ms. Backman said, “so I went to school and talked to the teacher, who said, ‘We don’t teach long division; it stifles their creativity.’ ”

Where's the Math was founded by Shalimar Backman from Seattle and thinks kids need to learn the basics of addition/multiplication/division rather than fuzzy "concepts". 

Here's a quote from Mercer Island's school board member:

On Mercer Island, an affluent suburb of Seattle that had the state’s best scores on the 10th-grade test, the pendulum has begun to swing toward emphasizing computational skills, especially in high school.

“We’re looking at texts that have more numbers and less language,” said Lisa Eggers, president of the Mercer Island School Board, who at one point sent two of her three children to Kumon. “And we’re one of the few districts where the math scores are going up.”

[via sound politics]

Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift

I try to keep up with popular movies about Japan, so that explains why this is on my Netflix queue, but oh what a waste. Definitely do not pay to see this movie, and if absolutely forced to watch, be sure to put it on fast-forward the whole time.

It's basically a juvenile car-loving white trash movie about car-racing, where the hero finds himself plopped in Japan in the middle of a bunch of similarly car-loving derelicts. So many things about this comically unreal: as though unemployed Japanese punks have the money to blow on these cars, and yes they use their camera phones everywhere. But our hero has no need for their stupid computer gadgets. Just give him the raw power of a V8 engine and a hot chick and he's a man. Yeah, baby.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

What really happened in the dot-com bubble?

An upcoming paper in the Journal of Financial Economics studied business plans from the dot-com era and concluded that the "bubble" wasn't much different from what happens at the birth of any new industry.  David A. Kirsch from the University of Maryland (see says:

  • the failure rate of dot-coms was only about 20% per year
  • spectacular blow-outs (like or webvan) resulted from the "get big fast" strategy that many pursued in order to gain their first-mover advantage.
  • many success stories happened in smaller niches that are just fine as businesses, though not as well-known as the big names.

This reminds me of the advice in entrepreneurship classes, how it's a myth that "the vast majority of new businesses fail".  In fact, the majority of dumb businesses fail, but well-thought ideas that focus on good, flexible business plans with good execution do just fine.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Dinner's Ready

Our Y-Guides group made a team visit to Dinner's Ready, a food preparation store in Bellevue. It's a nice idea, perfect for franchising: the store has all the ingredients and cooking equipment, all the

My 7-year-old son and I made two dinners: a flank steak with mashed potatoes, and a prawn stir fry.  Both were so easy to prepare that I almost wonder what the point was. And the total price ($36) was far more than I'd have paid in the grocery store.

The flank steak already came in a plastic ziplock bag.  We had to open the bag, dump a scoop of pre-measured ingredients inside and shake it up. That's it.  The garlic mashed potatoes were already mixed and mashed, so there really wasn't much to do.

The prawn dish was even simpler: take a bag of frozen prawns, add it to a bag of frozen vegetables, drop in a few tablespoons of olive oil, some salt, and a few others.  Done.

I came away wondering what the point was. I suppose if you never cook, it would be nice occasionally to eat something besides pizza. But if you have the cooking pots and pans, you almost certainly can do these recipes at home too, and the trouble of dropping by the Dinner's Ready store has got to be more time-consuming than just doing it all yourself.

I think there are two ways to improve the concept. First, make it all social -- and the store is already doing that, by encouraging groups of people to come in for reservations.  Again, why you can't do this at somebody's house, I'm not sure, but still, I suppose some people will do anything to avoid cleaning up.

But a better idea would be to go for more complicated dishes, things that require expensive equipment.  Like one of those really nice dough mixers, or a chocolate melter, or specialized meat grinders. I suppose the higher end you get, the more complicated the recipes become -- in which case you lose the mass market audience.

The LouseBuster

Thankfully, not a problem for my kids (yet), but it's a real scourge in elementary schools.  Now Biologist Dale Clayton has invented the "Lousebuster" and written about it in the latest issue of Pediatrics. I wonder if you'd get similar results from a regular hair dryer?

Clayton studies birds and lice, but after moving to Salt Lake City from England in 1996 he found the air was too dry to keep lice alive on laboratory birds. He had to humidify rooms to keep the bugs alive.

If dry air could kill lice on birds, Clayton reasoned, it might do the same on humans. And the project became personal: His own kids had them.

Clayton found temperature wasn’t as important as the amount of air. The air in his device is cooler than a standard hair dryer.

Larada Sciences, a University of Utah company set to market the LouseBuster to schools and doctors, believes the device could be available within two years.

“The device itself will be definitely under $2,000, and hopefully under $1,000,” Larada president Randy Block said. “While that sounds like a lot, think about the average parent spending $40 or $50 for a treatment.”

Source: A lice treatment to blow problem away? - Children's Health -

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Soccer in the rain

It's been pouring all day, but that didn't stop my daughter's team from playing soccer this morning:


Video: Soccer in the rain

Mercer Island geologic map

The University of Washington has a new map of Mercer Island's geology.  I don't see anything particularly unsettling (so-to-speak)about our neighborhood:

We're sitting on "Vashon subglacial till" (purple), which is between Vashon recessional deposits (orange) and "Pre-Fraser non-glacial deposits" (green). The jagged lines near us are "scarps", which in our case are those big dirt cliffs behind our neighbors across the street.

No fault lines, no artificial fill: just nice glacial deposits from the Pleistocene Era.

Steven Pinker on higher education

Steven Pinker thinks Harvard's new curriculum could be tweaked a little: Less Faith, More Reason

1. Adding an ethical tint to the study of science and technology misses the point that the pursuit of knowledge is a good thing in and of itself. "[S]cience courses should aim to be more than semester-long versions of “An Inconvenient Truth.” "
2. The "Reason and Faith" requirement is a U.S.-centric way to look at religion. "It is an American anachronism, I think, in an era in which the rest of the West is moving beyond it. "

HD Camcorders

Be still my beating heart!  HD video cameras are here at affordable prices.  CNet and CamcorderInfo review the new $1400 Sony HDR-SR1, as the "most forward-facing camcorder of the year".

When I looked into this one year ago, I concluded that HD camcorders aren't worth buying, but that's no longer true.  Some of the features I like:

  • can output to standard def TV sets.  You basically don't need to worry about getting the video out because it will convert to SD when necessary.
  • 30GB hard drive lets you leave tape behind and stores up to 4hrs of video with random access in VCR mode.

What I don't like

  • uses compressed AVCHD format instead of the lossless format you get on miniDV.
  • requires proprietary Sony software to get the video into your computer.  This is a big deal if you need to run the camera on some OS not supported by Sony (like something in the future)

I won't replace my Panasonic GS-400 yet, but it's clear that by next year at this time my tape-based SD camera will look pretty ancient.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Find a Quack

Quackwatch is a site that compiles information about possible quack medical claims.

[via Wired]

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Podcast lists

This weekend I listened to several podcasts while doing yardwork and other "dead time" in the car, etc.

David Shenk interview: he wrote a recent book about Chess.

Adam Bosworth: Former Microsoftie, now Google, thinks content is the only thing that matters.

Richard Dawkins: wants everyone to be an atheist. from Science Friday. 

Future listening

Here's a list of podcasts I've downloaded for future listening.

Lawrence Lessig (Comedy of the Commons)

Malcolm Gladwell: a 30-min presentation he gave in Camden Maine a few years ago.

Six Apart: interview with Ben and Mena Trott.

Neil Gershenfeld, Director, MIT's Center for Bits and Atoms talking about personal device fabs.  (26min)

Thomas Barnett, Assistant for Strategic Futures, Office of Force Transformation Office of Secretarty of Defense: Emerging Worldviews (about Defense transformation) (32min)

I also downloaded a pile of lectures from iTunes by the Stanford Entrepreneur forum.

Any suggestions?

What does Mercer Island do with seized property?

When the owner of a stolen or found item can't be located, the Mercer Island police department sells it at

You can also register your items at If they are ever found by the police, you'll get them back for free.

Apparently Mercer Island was the first in Washington State to join this service.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Richard Pope is a sleaze: don't vote for him

Until I started to understand the importance of local politics, I never took local elections all that seriously. What difference does it make who wins the race for district judge?  The "will of the people" will ensure that in the long run the right person will win.

But some people really are crooks and sleazes.  Take this guy for example:  Bellevue "lawyer" Richard Pope:

He's rated "Not Qualified" by the King County Bar Association, having been cited for "unprofessional conduct" as a lawyer in four cases.

The bad news is that he actually won the primary!  I guarantee that anybody who looks at his record or the things said about him would never vote for him.  So who did?

Maybe people thought he had a nicer name than the other candidates.  Maybe they vaguely remember seeing one of his signs out on Island Crest Way.  Maybe his name rings a bell because he's run ten times in the past, so after a while you just start thinking he's already somebody important.

Fortunately, several legitimate organizations have come together on a non-partisan basis to post objective facts about each of the candidates on  I am definitely going to look at that before the next election.

What's a Viiv PC?

Our home PC(s) are getting old and will need to be replaced in order to take advantage of the coolest Vista features.  Having a Media Center PC would also let us do some things on our TV (like Hi-Def, Tivo-like DVR) that are long overdue for a family like ours.  But how do you know which PC is future-proof?

An easy way is to follow Intel's Viiv specs. According to this nice summary in Byte, Building A Viiv PC requires the following components:


A chipset that is from one of the Intel 945/955/975 Express chipset families. Viiv also specifies an Intel dual-core processor, including the Pentium D, Core Duo and Pentium Extreme Edition.


Another important Viiv ingredient is an NCQ SATA Hard Drive. NCQ stands for Native Command Queuing, which increases a SATA drive's performance by letting it receive more than one I/O request at a time and letting the drive itself determine the order in which to carry out the requests. A remote control is not required for Viiv compliance, but Windows MCE does require a Phillips Key Code MCE-Type remote for full functionality.


A Viiv-compliant motherboard featuring a 945, 955 or 975 chipset must also include an Intel ICH7-DH chip (the DH stands for Digital Home). The ICH7-DH enables Intel's Matrix Storage Technology which supports NCQ hard drives and RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10. The ICH7-DH can take advantage of NCQ without needing an actual RAID array or more than one hard drive. Viiv also specifies a gigabit NIC, which all three chipsets support.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

My recent podcasts

Here are some of the podcasts I've played during the past few days:

Radio OpenSource: I heard Steven Pinker host interviews asking various intellectuals about their most dangerous idea. As always, Pinker is so articulate and describes what I think (e.g. regarding the unlikelihood of intelligent life in outer space).

Incidentally, I also found a page dedicated to Steven Pinker Multimedia: all known audio and video of Steven Pinker.

I listened to Jennifer Burns, a professor from UC-Berkeley. Her lectures on US History are available on iTunes, including the one I listened to called "Rise of the Religious Right".

Harvard professor Niall Ferguson discusses his new book War of the Worlds on Open Source.  He's a historian who claims big wars result from the three E's: economic volatility, empire descent, and ethnic tension.  All three are in place now in Iraq and portend a big WWII-style conflict.  I originally heard about this book in an NPR interview, so it was nice to get a longer version of it.  (Incidentally, the Economist thinks it's an okay book by a brilliant, if too populist, historian).

Plus, I listened to several short news podcasts by The Economist, Wall Street Journal, and Scientific American.


 This week's story about IllyCaffe's Head barista reminded me of that excellent espresso I have every time I'm in Europe.  I no longer remember exactly, but it's possible that my very first espresso was an Illy, on my trip to Italy in 1993.  From the article, it sounds like Mr. Illy should exchange coffee-making tips with David Schomer from Espresso Vivace:

He says that his firm is inching ever closer to delivering “perfection in every cup”. His particular obsession is with technical innovation. He claims (though some espresso-lovers dispute this), that Illycaffe has been responsible for three of the seven big innovations in coffee-making in the past century, as a traditional Italian craft has become an industrial process. The firm standardised espresso-making, and developed the paper pod containing a single dose of pre-ground coffee for an espresso machine. (Others invented decaffeination, instant coffee, multiple packets and liquid coffee.) Mr Illy is a chemistry graduate—at university he wrote a thesis on the “Quality of Espresso from a Chemical Perspective”—and is as enthusiastic about the science of coffee as he is about its taste. Now Illycaffe is implementing what it regards as its third big innovation. This is a two-stage espresso-making process involving “hyper-fusion” (which intensifies the drink's aroma), and “emulsification” (which makes it smoother).

Can you buy Illy whole beans in Seattle?  Yes, at Williams-Sonoma at Bellevue Square, plus a few QFCs like the one on NE 8th in Bellevue or on Capitol Hill.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Stepford Wives II

The critics panned it, but I thought Stepford (2004) was a worthy remake of the original, which was terribly out of date and becoming irrelevant. As I said previously, the women of Old Stepford seem lazy when looked at from today's world, where we take it for granted that women work in corporate jobs. The new version accepts that, and turns the women into powerful business icons. But now, the men and women are lazy. They've all taken early retirement so they can spend quality time together in their palatial suburban mansions. Sure, there's still a Men's Association, but it's stocked with guy stuff: high tech video games and robots that fight each other. The women have their own "association": the Stepford Day Spa. Now seriously, given a choice is there an MBA woman on earth who really feels like this is discrimination?

The acting is not as good (am I the only person who thinks Matthew Broderick is an amateur?) and the whole movie feels like the Big Name stars had more fun making it than we have watching, so it disappoints in the sense that I left hoping they'd do more. For example, one of the key characters is a powerful woman who moves to Stepford after finding her husband in bed with her 20-something assistant. Would it be more satisfying for her to just dump the creep and go back to the Boardroom where she can take revenge by making piles of money -- rich, divorced, alone ? Or should she accept early retirement and a robotic implant so she can spend her afternoons at the Day Spa and her evenings dressed glamorously, in the arms of her happy husband?

The remake, like the original, just takes it for granted that men will do anything to keep their women. Somebody should do a movie that asks what women will do to keep their men.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Rachel Ray and Me

Since she joined my life, I have never been more than 30 minutes away from dinner, so why is there a web site devoted to her called "Rachel Ray Sux"?

Look at this pin-up pose she did for FHM:


[see this nice Slate review]

Alternate social networking sites

MySpace's New Rivals Are Winning Friends -
Lists Piczo (most popular site in Canada),, (with a built-in music player), and (for high school kids).

It's going to be very hard to make any social networking site sticky. By definition, these sites make it easy for you to talk with your friends -- and mobilize them all to another site if you want.

A more interesting business, I think, is something truly complementary to Myspace. What if MySpace were a platform, with an API, and you could build sites that preserve some of your identity at Myspace but allow a richer experience targeted say, to kids who like bugs, or for that matter, moms who like politics.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Elementary-school students shouldn't do homework. By Emily Bazelon - Slate Magazine

Slate has a nice summary of three new books that argue that homework is a waste of time. The books claim that all the studies fail to show any lasting benefit to kids. Alfie Kohn's book The Homework Myth, while more controversial, is the "meatier read", according to the reviewer. Harris Cooper's The Battle Over Homework is more balanced, but still concludes that there is no evidence homework makes a difference.

Without reading the books, my initial take is that this is not inconsistent with Judith Rich-Harris' claims that nurture by itself is a poor lever of influence over how kids turn out. The fact is that some kids, in some schools do phenomenally better than other kids in other schools. Ironically, the fact that schools and peers care enough to assign it might be more important than the homework itself. From the review:
"It has been drilled into our collective psyche that rigorous schools assign rigorous homework," [a school principal] wrote. "I recognize that this is a ridiculous thought process, particularly since your research suggests otherwise, but it's hard to break the thinking on this one. How could we be a high-achieving school and not assign homework?"

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Class sizes don't matter?

I just listened to an interesting 30-min Econtalk podcast interview with Rick Hanushek from Stanford, talking about education and how to make schools better.

The most interesting part was the discussion about a study that shows that class sizes don't affect educational outcomes much.  After accounting for things like socioeconomic background, teacher education level, geography, etc., it turns out that the difference in outcomes is negligible, even between a 25-student classroom and a 15-student classroom.

In fact, he claims that if the goal is to improve student performance, only one thing really matters: teacher quality.  The difference between "good" teachers and "bad" teachers is so dramatic that it makes everything else irrelevant. 

 It just turns out that some teachers have the ability to take a classroom of kids at any performance level and increase their performance, consistently, year-after-year, regardless of starting level and regardless of all the other variables we ordinarily try to control (salary, class size, textbook spending, etc.)

Unfortunately it's very hard to say what makes some teachers better than others. We do know what doesn't matter: graduate degree, years of experience (after a few year start-up period), salary, school district. 

Here are some of the references:

About the failure of spending and smaller class size to improve test scores:

About the importance of teacher quality:

About the economics of education

Everyone shops CostCo

See, I knew I wasn't the only one who loves that place. Their prices aren't as i-cant-believe-its-so-cheap (like Fry's) but they usually only stock high quality items, so you also know you're getting something good.

Costco "accounted for 11 percent of the organic milk and 40 percent of the Tuscan olive oil sold in the states during the same time period. It also sold $805 million worth of wine, a figure that included $390 million of fine wines. "

[from: Costco: Where tech changes, but hot dog prices don't CNET ]

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

NYTimes suggests best items for your pantry

Here's their list

Beans, canned: Goya.

Butter: Land O’Lakes unsalted.

Chicken broth: Swanson 99 percent fat-free, in a resealable carton.

Extra virgin olive oil: Private labels like Master Choice (A&P stores) and Private Selection (Kroger) can be buttery, excellent and inexpensive.

Frozen foods: Peas and spinach (no sauce); peaches, cherries and berries (no sugar).

Mustards: Plain Dijon for cooking (Roland is cheap and hot; better than the American Grey Poupon); Gulden’s Spicy Brown for sandwiches and hot dogs.

Peanut butter: Smucker’s Natural.

Peanut oil: For frying.

Tomatoes, canned: Redpack, Italian San Marzanos, Pomì (in a carton).

Tomato paste: Amore, in a tube.

Vinegars: White vinegar for brightening a dish without adding noticeable flavors; store-brand red wine vinegar for dressings and cooking. (Supermarket balsamics and sherries tend to be of poor quality.) JULIA MOSKIN


Also see their suggestions for real gourmet you can buy at the supermarket.  Including:


and more

Monday, September 18, 2006

New Pace STB at Best Buy

Best Buy is now selling a $299 DirecTV receiver that was made in part by Jeff Phillips, a friend from my MSTV days.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

MaximumPC's utilities

    MaximumPC (Nov 2006) recommends the following utilities that caught my eye:

    WinDirStat: to help understan where all your hard disc space went.

    File Shedder: to completely, thoroughly, erase and permanently delete a file.

    TrueCrypt: really,really encrypt a file. Apparently works with USB keys.

    Ccleaner: recover hard drive space wasted on temp files, unused regedit entries, etc.

    Belarc Advisor: audit your system's drivers, logins, etc.

    ExplorerXP: much better than the Windows Explorer. Also chop up large files into smaller ones for easier FTP.

    This issue has a How To article about streaming video from a webcam. They recommend a $20 utility from

Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Pope versus the World

Reading the New York Times editorial, it sounds like the Pope really put his foot in his mouth, apparently calling Muslims "evil and inhuman".  An obvious insensitive remark requiring an immediate and heartfelt apology, right?

My first reaction is to think how could a leader with as much public experience as Benedict XVI say something so stupid?  So I read the speech transcript and now I wonder the exact opposite:  How could journalists or thinking Muslims possibly interpret his remarks as offensive?

The speech, addressed to scientists at the University of Regensburg, is about religion and reason and a response to the question posed by some scientists for why universities would have theology and religion departments with faculty devoted to the study of something (God) that doesn't exist.

The Pope's answer is that in the West, with its Greek-inspired traditions, God and reason (science) are fundamentally bound together.  By contrast, he quotes the Islamic philosopher R. Arnaldez who argues that God is absolutely transcendent and unbound by anything at all, even reason itself.  The remark about Muslims, quoting from a 14th Century dialog between a Byzantine emperor and an educated Persian, is given as an example for how under the Greek tradition, you couldn't convert somebody through violence -- only through reason.

Here's the full quote:

[The 14th Century Byzantine emperor] addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached". The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable.

If an apology is justified, the Pope has to first understand what he said that makes people angry.  Should he apologize for saying or implying that:

  1. It is evil and inhuman to spread faith by the sword?
  2. Islam advocates such behavior?
  3. Something else, like the hypocritical assumption that Christians never use the sword?

 I hope nobody disagrees with the first statement. Presumably we all agree that forcing someone to convert is evil and inhuman.

He should apologize if people misunderstood him as saying that Islam advocates violence. It's not his place to pontificate (so-to-speak) about Islam. Note that his real point, however, was not about Islam but rather about the idea that God transcends reason. I wonder: do Muslims agree or disagree?

The third statement -- that Christians are sometimes hypocritical -- is something I bet the Pope would not deny.  But he would say that Christians fail their Greek-inspired heritage of reason when they resort to violence.

 Either way, I wish I understood the logic of those people who are firebombing Christian churches over this. "You defame us by calling us violent, so we're going to kill you!"

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

American attitudes toward God

A recent survey by Baylor University (summarized in today's USAToday) found that:

  • 28.5% of Americans have read The Davinci Code.
  • 44% have seen The Passion of the Christ.
  • 19% have read at least one of the Left Behind novels.
  • 25% of US women have read The Purpose-Driven Life.

The study authors also decided that the respondents (a statistically-valid representative sample of all Americans) divided their attitudes toward God into these categories:

  • Authoritarian (28%): God is angry at sinners and won't hesitate to throw disaster at the unfaithful.
  • Benevolent (23%): God sets absolute standards but is inclined to be nice to us.
  • Distant (24.4%): God is a cosmic force that launched the world and now lets it run on its own.  [This is the God most common among Catholics and Jews]
  • Critical (16%): God is judgmental, but isn't going to intervene one way or the other.

[source: Baylor University's Institute for Studies of Religion, funded by the John Templeton Foundation]

Monday, September 11, 2006

Flavorpill city events

The New York Times Magazine (Sep 10) has a gushing review of Flavorpill , a new site for cultural events that is gaining a wide audience for its nice whats-new coverage. You get an email each Tuesday that describes all the music, lectures, and other events happening for the next week, all very web2.0 with forwarding to your cell phone, etc.

It's available now for NYC, San Francisco, Chicago, London, and (soon) Miami. I'm sure they're also working on a Seattle version.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

The Economist on Climate Change

Global warming is real, it's caused by humans, and there is much we can do about it. That's the position convincingly argued in a special "Survey of climate change" in the Economist 9/9/2006. Here are some interesting facts I took away:

  • What causes CO2 emissions?
    • Not cars. Put them together with planes and ships and you still only get 13.% of the total.
    • The biggest contributor is power generation (24.5%), of which coal is the biggest contributor. Going nuclear would bring more benefits than if you switched every car to a Prius
  • The industrial revolution started us on a warming trend that was interrupted in the mid-20th century by heavy sulfur emissions that blocked sunlight and cooled the earth again. That's why there were false alarms like the 1975 Newsweek cover predicting a cooler earth. Anti-smog and other policies started reducing sulfur by the late 1900s and now we're back to warming again.
  • The biggest CO2 emitter will be China by 2015, mostly thanks to coal-fired power generation. The energy elasticity of GDP rose from 0.5 (2000) to 1.5 (2004), demonstrating that China is becoming more, not less, energy dependent.
  • This is not just Al Gore's issue. Besides tree huggers, the alliance includes ethanol-loving farmers, cheap hawks who hate dependence on foreign oil, and evangelicals, according to Jim Woolsey, former head of the CIA and a supporter of fuel-efficiency and more.
  • Gradual mitigation through gradual turnover to more efficient alternatives is the best solution economically, but imprecise knowledge about climate makes it hard to see if that's possible. Some serious models predict a small but non-zero probability of utter disaster unless we make big changes now, but do you want to take the chance?
  • Hurricanes are becoming more common. A minority of scientists question the degree to which man-made causes are responsible, but there is one thing humans can do: fix the perverse incentives created by current insurance regulations. Government subsidies make it financially possible to build on Florida beach fronts that will not last. With correct price signals, Florida would look more like Grand Bahama, a desirable area where nobody builds because there is no insurance.

Lose weight on Mercer Island

Today's Pacific Northwest Sunday Magazine in the Seattle Times had us chuckling in the middle of an article on why it's so hard to lose weight:

A TREND IN obesity research is to look beyond individuals and at environments, says Streichert of the exploratory center.

The new obesity conversation includes urban planners, architects, grocers, school boards, economists, politicians, transportation experts.


What if schools banned high-fat and high-sugar foods? (The Seattle School District did just that in 2004; last year, high-school students said they consumed 20 percent less soda and 13 percent less candy and chips during the school day.)


What if sidewalks, bike trails and nearby parks and shops encouraged people to make exercise part of their daily routine?

What if we could all afford to eat as if we lived on Mercer Island?

Obesity rates would plummet, predicts Dr. Adam Drewnowski, who specializes in obesity, economics and taste preference at the UW.

Mercer Island has its fair share of chubby people, so I'm not sure what this is saying. Maybe it's because we have so few restaurants?

What I liked in Wired Sept 2006

ArXiv and PLoS are growing as the way scientists share knowledge.

Digital Cameras: They recommend Casio EX-Z600 ($279), Canon Powershot SD600 ($350) and more.  All have 6MP and great specs, including min 800ISO sensitivity.

Hospital-grade air filters can clean your air for about $500.

See John Maeda's book The Laws of Simplicity for UI and design hints.

Lessig's column tells about new opensource-inspired business models. See (for videos, with ads inserted automatically),, Eric von Hippel's book Democratizing Innovation.

Netflix has a production company Red Envelope that secures distribution rights for overlooked DVDs, and turns them into money through its recommendation engine finding viewers.

Charles Mann (the 1491 author) writes about the splog industry.

[movie] The Stepford Wives

    I know the real reason the wives of the Manhattan suburb of Stepford are so happy. While their husbands work 80-hour weeks, they spend mornings leisurely reading the paper, afternoons playing tennis and socializing, evenings walking the dog through quiet, peaceful neighborhoods. As far as I can tell from the movie, the husbands do all the real work around the house too: planning and supervising new construction projects (like putting in a new swimming pool), doing the yardwork, organizing family vacations and dates with the wife. Even when grocery shopping, the husband comes along with the checkbook to pay for it all.

    I watched the 1975 version of the movie, so I noticed much of the dialog feels anachronistic and even silly today. At one point the main character confides to her friend that she once "dabbled in Women's lib", like it was some secret outlaw organization. None of the wives have, or apparently ever had, careers of any kind, and they show no detectable interest either. It's hard to tell whether that's part of the script -- to make you feel the pain of their lack of self-fulfillment -- or whether it was simply not something audiences would have understood.

    Today we live in an odd time of transition. The Post-Stepford America of the 70s and 80s went through a long period where it became not just an option, but an expectation that women hold down full-time business-oriented careers. Through today's eyes, the Stepford wives look not so much suppressed as, well, lazy. Instead of sitting around all day waiting for their husbands to come home, why aren't they doing something? Meanwhile, today's post-70s men have moved on. There are no men-only associations. Fathers drop the kids at daycare because the mothers need to get to work early. The ironic legacy of Stepford is that most families can't afford to have one person stay home all day, even if he or she wants to.

    The reviews for the 2004 remake are disappointing, but now I want to watch it anyway just to see how the filmmakers dealt with the cultural transition. Are the wives at work too now?  Are there Stepford husbands who are programmed only to please their wives?   Or -- I hope not -- did they leave the basic premise alone and recreate a world that no longer exists?


Saturday, September 09, 2006

Corn Zipper

This looks interesting. A $15 device that claims to make it easy to "unzip" corn on the cob.  From FactoryDirect2You.Com


I read about in Wired Sep 2006.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Plus Addressing on Gmail

Here's a neat trick to give yourself an arbitrarily large number of email addresses.  On Gmail, just use whatever username you normally use, followed by the character '+' followed by anything else. For example: gets delivered to

I'm going to use plus addressing whenever I fill out an online form so I can track how people get my email address.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Feld's 80-19-1 Rule

Brad Feld has the interesting insight that a content publisher should worry most about the 19% who are left after the 1% of people who will actively participate in any new online venture (give up on the remaining 80% who are contributors only and won't actively participate).  He also points to Tom Evslin's site where you can even download an Excel file to model this.

My quick take: you engage the 19% by offering them a way to participate that is brain-dead simple. For example, Amazon's "Did you like this review" feature--just click yes or no and you're done. No registration, no typing, just click on a link and you're done.

I also think the world needs something to expose your passive activities (e.g. surfing from link to link) in a way that helps you build content and maintain privacy without specifically needing to enter something.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

[book] The End of Medicine

The End of Medince by Andy Kessler

This is another of those "lucky-rich Silicon Valley guy writes a book just for fun" books, with a style similar to Randy Komasar's Monk and the Riddle, though not nearly as good. As a former technology analyst, he could have written an excellent and detailed summary of the companies working on medical technology, with keen insights on their various prospects (and for all I know, maybe he did write a private book like that), so to be fair, I think he wanted his book to be interesting.

On the other hand, it's a fun read if you're interested in how many rich friends he has, or the countless important people who love to chat with him in various vacation spots. He's trying to be chatty, and "regular-guy", so there are way, way too many irrelevant side remarks and bad jokes (at least 300 out of the 335 pages), but there are a few interesting items in all that fluff.

I learned two things:

  1. Cholesterol drugs are a great business, but they don't prevent that many heart attacks. The latest study (ASCOT-LLA) showed that 98.41% of high-risk people on placebos did just fine. Statins dropped their risk 35%, but that's still only 50 people out of 20K who were saved. Not terribly exciting.
  2. A cool new chip is in the works that might revolutionize personalized medicine. Remember the names Sam Ghambir, Hong Dai, Jim Heath, Bob Sinclair and others doing protein detection with chips.

I admire Andy's insight for how Silicon Valley-style entrepreneurship and technology will reinvent medicine, but if you want to learn about the future, this is not the book.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Mercer Island's #1 real estate agent

Jane Potaschnick is # 1 on the list of realtors on Mercer Island. The site claims they crawl the web for data about number of homes sold, length of time on market, etc., in order to produce the rankings.  Stephanie St. Mary is #177.

Jane Brace is #23 for Dover, Massachusetts.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Pay $10,000 to ride in a Realtor's Lexus?

The New York Times has a lengthy article about pressure on that 6% commision that real estate brokers make, regardless of how much work they do and regardless of the price of the home. The Seattle comany Redfin, featured prominently in the article, is a fully-licensed broker that gives buyers a rebate on the sales commision and is making traditional agents mad.

Quotes from Chang-Tai Hsieh, an economist at UC-Berkeley is quoted for pointing out that the 6% system benefits nobody, not even the brokers, who spend most of their time searching for new clients--a fixed system like a retainer or salary would benefit them more.

Redfin looks like a cross between an online store (like Amazon) and a traditional hands-on broker. You have to log into their site to get all the info they promise (e.g. neighborhood reports that are more detailed than MLS), so I couldn't check for myself, but the site looks like they understand the online experience. 

One thing I thought was neat is how when agents refuse to sell to online buyers, Redfin contacts the seller directly.

Home Prices on Mercer Island

Today's Seattle Times has a front-page article predicting that home prices nationwide are going to fall. They quote from PMI Mortgage Insurance calculations that show a 50% or greater likelihood of housing price drops for Boston, San Francisco, and San Jose, in contrast with Seattle where the risk of falling prices is only 11%.

But who cares about averages? What matters to you is how your own neighborhood is doing. The online edition of the paper offers a more detailed breakdown that shows

  • Mercer Island is #28 (out of 108 neighborhoods) for 5-year price appreciation.  We're 10.8% (vs. 15.7% for #1-ranked Medina).
  • Median home price on Mercer Island is $825K, putting us #3 in the region, behind Madison Park ($869K) and Medina ($1.14M).
  • Price per square food, we're #9 ($332), well behind Madison Park ($408), Medina ($394), Queen Anne ($359) and others in North Seattle.
  • Appreciation in 2004-2005, we're ranked #27 (18.2% -- same as Medina), behind super-hot places like Southpark (27.2%), West Seattle (22%), or Green Lake (19.4%), all of which are much more affordable of course. 

The bottom line is that long-term I still think Mercer Island is about as protected pricewise as you can get. It's an island, with its own (strong) school system, with a fixed number of homes and residents.  People will always want to live here, making home prices about as secure as they can get.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Cheapest gas near the airport

[Kiplinger's Sept 2006 says] check to find the best place to fill up before returning your rental car. Or jump to the source and use (the place Expedia gets its data).

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Blogging gets easier with Live Writer

The Windows Live team has just released the best blogging tool ever: Live Writer.  I've been using it for a few weeks now and it really has made it so much easier to write blogs. So far I have it working effortlessly with my Work blog (this one), my personal one (with Blogger--which I've been using long before they it became Google) and one I keep at WordPress (which, once I've had more time to work on it might become my main one).

I like blogging for several reasons, but the main one is that it makes it easier for me to keep track of what my friends find interesting. I follow hundreds of RSS feeds, scanning them regularly for updates, which is relatively easy these days because most people only post once a week or so. Hopefully that will change when they see how super-easy it is to post with Live Writer.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Movie: Nightwatch

NPR had a nice review, saying this Russian-made film based on the science fiction novels of Sergei Lukyanenko is a horror movie with effects like The Matrix and some unusual plots. They’re right. The special effects are not only good – lots of the “bullet time” of stop-action that you see in Matrix for example – but they actually add to the story.

The basic idea is that the world is full of “Others”, otherwise normal-looking people who have been born with special powers. These Others are divided into two warring factions, Good and Evil, with the world basically at peace because of a truce whereby the factions agree never to force a new Other to one side or the other—everyone must choose for him- or herself. The truce is alternately enforced by good Others at night (Nightwatch) and bad Others during the day (Daywatch).

The story would be hard to follow except the special effects help you see the otherwise ordinary world through the eyes of the Others, with battles everywhere until the climatic ending.

This is one of those films that I’m glad I saw just for cultural reasons: it's Russia's highest-grossing film. It’s new and original enough that I’m sure I’ll hear about it in conversation with somebody someday and it would be very difficult to explain without seeing.

Global Warming

There is no serious controversy among scientists over whether the earth is getting warmer or not—it clearly is. People can have legitimate differences of opinion over what (if anything) to do about it, but

I haven't seen Inconvenient Truth, but I bet it's pretty good if it's anything like this podcast by Al Gore that I heard recently courtesy of the Stanford Center for Social Innovation.

Oh, and remember that question I had last month about ice at the north pole? Well Al Gore answered my question. Of course ice melting at the North Pole won't directly raise sea levels, but there's not that much ice there in the first place. Something like 90% of the world's landlocked ice is in Antarctica.

This week's Economist adds

If all these weather forecasts come true, where will be the best place to live? Probably not fast-growing south-western cities such as Phoenix or Las Vegas. With few trees and plants to cool things down through evaporation, and with heat pumping out of buildings and cars (what is called the "urban heat island effect"), these cities may roast. Up in the mountains, skiers too will have a tough time of it, as snowpacks melt.

For those who like rain, Canada may do nicely. Most models show Mexico getting drier and Canada wetter in the future, according to Isaac Held, a researcher with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. By extension, northern parts of the United States will generally get wetter, and southern parts generally drier. The Pacific north-west may not be too bad. Summer temperatures west of the Cascades will rise by up to 1.7° C, as against up to 2.2°C for areas east of the mountains, predicts Clifford Mass of the University of Washington. Seattle may get cloudier in the spring and early summer. That is a bright spot of sorts, on an otherwise unhappy canvas.

Pasted from <>

Monday, July 24, 2006

Unfreeze a hard drive

I've had two hard drives crash over the past few years. The data is (mostly) backed up, so I'm not willing to pay hundreds of dollars to have a professional do something that I consider optional, but it would be nice to get the data back if possible. For example, I have most of my CD collection on one of them. I can always reburn those CDs, but that would be a huge hassle.

Anyway I keep dreaming of a magic way to get the data off the drive for free, and I thought my day had come last week when somebody suggested that I put the drive in the freezer. "A pro I talked to says half the time, that fixes it long enough to recover the data," he said.

So I put the drive in the freezer overnight and the next morning I gave it a whirl. At first it seemed to work -- there was none of the usual unnatural beeping sound. But after the drive warmed up a bit (literally), it started making its funny noises.

So, cross that idea off the list. Any other suggestions?

Sunday, July 23, 2006

What's interesting in Wired July 2006

Here are the articles I thought were interesting in Wired July 2006:

What kind of genius are you? A theory of genius proposed by economist David Galenson of U-Chicago. Divides the world into conceptualists, who peak early and then drop off, and experimentalists, who start slowly and often produce their best work well into their 50s and beyond.

See the profile of geneticist Eddy Rubin, at UC's Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and his analysis of DNA that shows humans and Neanderthals never intermixed.

Lawrence Lessig thinks Al Gore's inconvenient Truth is an absolute must-see.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Print your own books for cheap

The New York Times today has a survey of the companies that offer print-on-demand for books.

When Steve Mandel, a management trainer from Santa Cruz, Calif., wants to show his friends why he stays up late to peer through a telescope, he pulls out a copy of his latest book, “Light in the Sky,” filled with pictures he has taken of distant nebulae, star clusters and galaxies.

“I consistently get a very big ‘Wow!’ The printing of my photos was spectacular — I did not really expect them to come out so well.” he said. “This is as good as any book in a bookstore.”

Mr. Mandel, 56, put his book together himself with free software from The 119-page edition is printed on coated paper, bound with a linen fabric hard cover, and then wrapped with a dust jacket. Anyone who wants one can buy it for $37.95, and Blurb will make a copy just for that buyer.

Other companies that do this:, which goes after high-end photographers ($39 for 20pp), b/w novel-type books they'll sell through Amazon ($8 for 150pp) says most of its customers are moms with kids

I have previously used to print a storybook for my daughter. The prices on Lulu are low enough that it might be fun to print a collection of her stories and distribute them at her birthday party.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Online Video: The Market Is Hot, but Business Models Are Fuzzy - Knowledge@Wharton

My alma mater discusses the future of TV, especially given the rise of Youtube and Guba. My old marketing prof says:
Fader's view of the future includes scenarios such as the following: A consumer is watching a baseball game on TV and has a laptop by the couch. With the laptop, the viewer calls up a replay of recent action via 'Things are clearly moving in that direction,' says Fader. 'I'm never going to watch 'Grey's Anatomy' over a [portable] wireless device, but I may watch a preview before seeing it on TV.'

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

What's the lowest airfare?

The Wall Street Journal does a summary of new airfare comparison sites. None of these sites actually lets you buy the ticket -- they search through large databases to point you to the best place to buy. is one I've used since it was in Beta. The UW professor who made the site got started by reverse-engineering the pricing strategies of airlines like Alaska, and now the site tries to predict how prices will go up and down over the next few weeks and months. So far it's limited to flights out of Seattle or Boston. looks similar, though it uses historical info.

Here's the WSJ's sample of how Farecast did:

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Did Chinese discover America?

The Jan 14 Economist mentions the Zheng He map, supposedly dated 1418, showing the world with remarkable precision. If true, it would be astounding evidence that Chinese sailors went around the world long before Europeans, and vindicate many of the controversial claims by Gavin Menzies in his best-seller 1421 The Year the China Discovered the World. Turns out that radiocarbon dating confirmed the dates mentioned by Economist, but controversy remains.


I'm surprised that nobody links this with discovery of steel implements found in the Ozette community, in Western Washington. A mudslide in the early 1400's buried the village long before Europeans arrived. Where did they get the steel?

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Our new Odyssey

After months of thinking about how best to replace our aging Windstar, we finally bought a brand new Honda Odyssey 2006 EX-L. We bought it at Honda Auto Center in Bellevue, Washington from their Internet salesman, Craig Jorgensen.

The car is wonderful, and I’m sure we made the right decision, though I am disappointed with Craig and I don’t recommend him or the dealership because of their last-minute bait-and-switch tactics (read details here at the OdyClub forum).

We considered buying a used one, on the theory that “you lose thousands of dollars in value just driving it off the lot”, but eventually concluded it doesn't apply in our case. Why? First, because used low-mileage Odysseys are harder to find and more expensive than you’d think. Almost by definition, a two or three year old car will have tens of thousands of miles on it, yet unbelievably the prices are only a few thousand dollars lower. Since we plan to own it for a long time (at least seven years, which is how long we owned the last one), the difference in remaining warranty coverage practically pays for the depreciation. I really wish we had bought a Japanese minivan the first time. The price when you buy a car is not nearly as important as the resale value when you ultimately sell it, and Hondas hold up so well they easily justify any extra cost.

Here's what else I learned in the experience.

  • Don’t bother with Consumer Reports' car buying service. Their reports had the same invoice prices that are posted for free at
  • Definitely read the Edmunds article written by a journalist who worked at a car dealership undercover. Gives you a whole different perspective on how sleazy car dealers can be.
  • CostCo is not a good deal. Their no-hassle car-buying club gives a standard discount that in our case worked out to about $1500 above invoice. We were able to get $500 above invoice through normal Internet channels.
  • Sell your old car yourself. I found Expo Live to be a reasonable way to generate hits and with some effort you'll get a lot more money than the dealer will give you. If that's too much hassle, at least do yourself the favor of convincing the dealer that you are willing to make that be your alternative if he doesn't give a good deal.
  • Get a Japanese car. Nothing else comes close to the reliability and resale value.

    Anyway, we are very proud of our new Odyssey and now understand why you see so many of them on the road.