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.

    Are U.S. schools really that bad?

    The official statistics seem bleak. High school graduation rates in places like Detroit or Cleveland are under 50% and we all know that American kids score worse than the international average on math tests. But don’t confuse the nationwide average with what happens to your kids. In school districts like Mercer Island, where there is little poverty, look at how scores compare:

    The highest-rated country, Sweden, had a 562 on the PIRLS (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study). Remember that the U.S. has wider disparities of income than the rest of the industrialized world, so our best and brightest really can be better than theirs.

    Of course, even if your school system is wonderful, you are still worse off living in a country with lots of under-educated people. Inequality is a big problem for lots of reasons and this is only one of them.

    [From an excellent article by Gerald W. Bracey, author of Reading Educational Research: How to Avoid Getting Statistically Snookered (Heinemann, 2006). in the July 07 Stanford Alumni Magazine.]

    Monday, July 03, 2006

    Espresso Vivace in the Seattle Times

    I'm not kidding when I say that a non-zero percentage of the reason I moved from Silicon Valley to Seattle was to be closer to Espresso Vivace, one of the world's best coffee houses, according to the Financial Times.

    David Schomer, the 50-year-old coffee-obsessed owner in this photo, was featured in an article in the Seattle Times this weekend. They just opened a new store, across from REI, because the one I usually visit on Capital Hill is being taken over by a light rail station.

    The coffee is not only incredibly good, but incredibly, it's cheaper than Starbucks. Why Mercer Island doesn't have a true gourmet coffee place instead of the dozen or so Starbucks we have now, is beyond me.

    Sunday, July 02, 2006

    Ford Windstar SE 60K Miles For Sale

    I posted my Windstar for sale on Windows Live Expo

    Only 60,000 miles on a 1999 Windstar SE. Original owner (me) purchased in California.

    Kelly Blue Book price is $5,600 - $6,518 for a private sale like this one.

    Some dents and needs new O2 sensors. I am buying a new car and the dealer is offering $4,500 for a trade-in.

    And now I'm trying to get it published to Edgeio as well with the following tags:

    Saturday, July 01, 2006

    Selling a used car through sounds like an interesting service: you give them their car and they sell it at auction, giving you the proceeds minus a roughly 20% fee.

    I saw them in a Google ad, but I'm unable to find any reference to them anywhere but their web site. Nothing shows up on Factiva, and an Internet search includes a page or so of listings that are mostly just the web site.

    If you have a car that doesn't run, and your only options are to donate it or junk it, this seems like an ideal system. But what about a person like me, with a perfectly good car that's not fetching what I see as a reasonable trade-in value at a new car dealer? With, I'm at the mercy of the auction, with a completely unknown sales value.

    The site claims they have relationships with car wholesalers--presumably the same people that used car dealers use.

    Has anybody ever heard of these people?