Saturday, April 22, 2006

Office 2.0

Office 2.0 Database

Nice, thorough summary of Web2.0 productivity apps.

SR in Germany

bit blue blog: I'm not really typing this :: Andreas Bitterer :: talks about using Dragon Naturally Speaking to do speech recognition on his computer, but he should check out the reviews that compare Microsoft to DNS.

Wait till he sees the German version in Vista.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Custom T-Shirts for kids (super cheap)

MAKE: Blog: Print a t-shirt cheap enough for one-time use
Instructions for how to make T-shirts with your custom designs. Put any photo or design you like. Might be cute for a child's birthday party, for example, or just a fun activity for a rainy day.

Cost is $2/sheet for the transfers, or maybe $5 total including the shirt (which you can get at Target for super-cheap these days).

Inevitable Surprises

[my thoughts about the book Inevitable Surprises by Peter Schwartz]

Predicting the future is not as hard as it looks. If extra rain in the mountains produces a flood upriver, you can be absolutely certain that eventually there will be problems downriver. Similarly, if you know something about today’s population demographics, you can be virtually certain what the demographics will be decades from now as those people age.

Peter Schwartz has built a career on making those sorts of certain observations about the future, and this book is a 2003 summary of predictions he sees as inevitable, however surprising or non-intuitive they may seem.
Here are a few of my takeaways:
  • A stabilization and then decline in the world’s population will lead to:
    • A rise in the retirement age: people will work productively into their 70s, 80s and 90s.
    • Older people will divorce and start new social relationships after their children are grown.
  • The increased crime, and accompanying incarceration rates of the 1960s and 70s will result in a huge release of prisoners starting in 2010, with unknown consequences for the U.S.
  • China’s one-child policy results in a shortage of women that will cause wife-seeking emigration, ultimately resulting in a net influx of foreign women and families.
  • Rising influence of a separate and unequal Muslim minority in Europe. This book presciently predicted the recent race riots in France, two years before they happened.
  • United States foreign policy
    • The U.S. is a “rogue superpower”, acting unilaterally for better and worse thanks to its unquestioned military superiority that will last at least another generation and beyond.
    • U.S. rejection of international structures is dangerous and breeds mistrust.
  • U.S. culture is about to be transformed from its traditional basis in the European Protestant idea of the ethic of “progress” into something new as Asian immigration brings along an ethic of “fate.” It’s unknown how these two cultures will synthesize.
  • Spanish phrases will migrate into the mainstream. Chinese words will enter our lexicon too, but as much less common phrases.
  • “Soft Power”, non-military influence through things like standards or trade, will be the only option left for other countries and they will learn to wield it for better and worse. The European Union rejection of the GE/Honeywell merger, or the Microsoft anti-trust case are examples.
  • Energy: he predicts alternatives to fossil fuels will become important, notably a resurgence of interest in nuclear power.
  • On the economy, watch out for the 20-40% group of people who are just above the poverty level and not taken care of by policy makers.
  • Global climate change is inevitable but has unknown consequences.
  • Plague and terrorism are also inevitable.

P. 168: “In the near future, speech recognition will become commonplace.”
I saw a few annoying mistakes that suggest the book was edited too hastily, ironic for a guy who likes to take the “long view”. For example, on page 157 he argues that 58M Chinese AIDS sufferers is a trivial 0.05% of the population, in contrast to Russia which may be as high as 10%. That’s bad math that calls into question his central argument.

He also predicts three key areas of technological advance: dark energy, the rise of information theory affecting physics, and space exploration. Notably missing is the whole biotech revolution, which I’m convinced, will be far more influential.

Although he describes the U.S. with the loaded term “rogue”, I think his analysis transcends politics. He correctly observes that U.S. policy toward, say, Iraq would not be much different no matter who the President is. U.S. policy reflects the attitudes of the electorate, on which a single leader has far less affect than most analysts assume.

Generally, I think the overall school of thought represented in this book is powerful stuff and needs wider attention.

March of the Penguins

Emperor Penguins of Antarctica live strange lives. Each year at the end of summer, they walk 70 miles to their breeding grounds, where they mate in monogamous pairs. The females lay a single egg and then walk back to the ocean to feed while the males watch the eggs. There is no food at the breeding grounds, so they wait through more than three months of bitter Antarctic winter until the eggs hatch and the females return to feed the newborn chicks.

The movie is supposed to be inspirational, in the same genre as Winged Migration. And some of it is, such as when newly paired love birds preen on each other, or later when you see the tragedy of the single egg breaking. But overall it felt like just another documentary—interesting, but hardly moving.

It’s rated G, though our kids had to close their eyes in the scene when the predator birds attacked the chicks.

Fast Food Nation goes to kids

A new kids version of the anti-McDonalds book Fast Food Nation will be coming out soon, says the Wall Street Journal.

Better not let it near my book-loving 8-year-old, who will no doubt take it all seriously and refuse to eat fast food ever again.

Monday, April 10, 2006

RFID chips in credit cards - Why Some People Put These Credit Cards In the Microwave

The good news is, MasterCard's PayPass credit cards include an embedded radio chip (RFID) that make it easier to pay. Instead of putting it through the swiper, you just hold it up two inches from the machine.

The bad news is that now there's a new way to steal your money. In theory, somebody with the right equipment could pull your info from your pocket while you are standing in a crowded elevator.

But the good news now is that an industry of counter-measure products is springing up. How about FoeBud, an online store that sells, among other things, radio-proof wallets.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Blog by an Iraqi

Healing Iraq is a blog by an Iraqi dentist, featured in today's WSJ. He originally strongly supported the US invasion, but has since changed his mind.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Stop hiding your opinions

If a journalist holds shares in a company he writes about, you assume ethics would compel him to disclose that fact, no matter how "objective" he claims to be. But if a journalist holds opinions about a matter of politics, why don't we ask that the same rule apply? If virtually all mainstream reporters voted against George W. Bush, how can they pretend that doesn't affect their coverage of his policies? (I would add, "or vice versa", but come on...)

The Twilight of Objectivity By Michael Kinsley argues that journalism ought to get rid of its pretense of objectivity. I've said this for a long time. I enjoy reading the Economist for its honesty; wouldn't the New York Times be better off if it were the same?

Mark Liberman counters that Kinsley's take is a slur against linguistics, but why? Isn't the study of pragmatics, Grice's Maxims, or for that matter anything by George Lakoff, just proof that words are almost never a pure unopinionated representation of objective reality?

Baby travel without baby stuff - Leaving the Baby Gear at Home [subs. required] offers this handy summary of services that let you rent baby equipment instead of lugging it all over: