Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Sharpen your lawnmower blade

You’re supposed to do it once a season, but Consumer Reports says that 25% of owners never sharpen their lawnmower blades. I’m happy to report that I no longer fit in that lazy category, and found to my delight that it was easier than I thought.

First step was to pin the blade down in such a way that it wouldn’t harm me while taking it off the mower.  The directions say use a 2x4 board, but I didn’t have one handy, and I found that a brick works just fine.  In my case, a quick counter-clockwise turn of the main bolt was enough to remove the blade safely.

Sharpening a lawnmower blade.


How to sharpen the blade: I suppose I could have found my own sharpener (I hear you can buy a small $4 blade sharepner that works with any power drill for example) but that was too much hassle.  People say that local plant nurseries, or hardware stores will sharpen the blade (for free?) but after some calls to Lowes and Home Depot, I came up with nothing.  Eventually I discovered that our local equipment rental place (Eastside Rental, in Bellevue) would do it while I wait.  They charged an exorbitant $11, but it was worth it.

You should see how much better my lawn looks now!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Andy Raskin’s book tour at Queen Anne Bookshop

Andy Raskin and I first met in graduate school, where both of us were interested in Japan, and over the years we somehow keep bumping into each other, often in strange, coincidental ways.  There was the time, for example, when he wrote an article for Wired about the country of Tuvalu and WebTV Networks, which (unbeknownst to him) just so happened to be the company where I was working. 


A year ago, while in San Francisco for a press tour, my PR colleague and I found ourselves with some extra time in the middle of the day.  Knowing that Andy was a writer with ties to the high-tech world, I thought it might be nice to look him up so my colleague suggested we stop at the Apple Store downtown for a bit while I tried to find his contact info.  Of course, right at that moment, who should happen to walk into the Apple Store?  (this photo was taken that day)

He told me he was working on a new book, that he had just signed a contract with Penguin and would be writing about some experiences he’d had with Japan and the inventor of instant ramen (who had died a few years ago). 

Well I was pleased to hear that the book is now finished and that Andy will be in Seattle for a book signing at Queen Anne Bookshop on Tuesday, May 26th at 6:30. [iCal  or Google Calendar ]

Andy’s book, The Ramen King and I, looks very interesting, and has already hit the  San Francisco Best Seller list.  I can’t wait to see him and hear more.


Sunday, May 24, 2009

Digital socialism = capitalism.

In the Jun 2009 issue of Wired, Kevin Kelly uses the loaded term "socialism" to describe how the fragmentation of everything is giving us access to more choice than ever before.  He admits to using a word with much cultural baggage, and it's not clear if by coining the phrase "digital socialism" the result will be to co-opt and re-define the popular meaning of the word, or if careless readers will simply think he's giving a nod of approval to a dangerous meme that of necessity is associated with coercion and top-down control.

Open Source founder and guru Richard Stallman reminds us of the two meanings of "free":  The first ("as in beer")  refers to not having to pay for something. But the second, which embodies the real power of the open internet, means liberty, the freedom to choose what you like, with no coercion from a government or supplier.  Traditional socialism offers a world that is free in the first sense ("free healthcare") but not in the second ("freedom to choose a non-government appointed supplier").  Capitalism, in the original Adam Smith sense, emphasizes the second (liberty) aspect of free. The Invisible Hand won't work unless you can freely choose your suppliers and customers.

Kevin Kelly's insight is that we are moving to a world where we can have both meanings of "free".  The best things in  what the Wired issue calls the "New New Economy" are free in both senses (e.g. Wikipedia, which lets you both access and modify freely without payment).  He calls it "digitial socialism", but he wants us to think of it as a third way that renders irrelevant the old debates about traditional capitalism and socialism.

But it isn't a third way.  What Kevin Kelly calls "digital socialism" is just plain old decentralized, Hayekian capitalism: zillions of independent, free actors whose individual self-motivated choices add up to something bigger than any of us. The real baggage of socialism, and the reason I think Kevin Kelly's term doesn't work, is that it relies on coercion by a third party (government) to make it work.  Capitalism and liberty are always tightly associated because neither can work without the other.  Socialism's "free as in beer" is always associated with a strong (government) Leviathan who can (by force if necessary) redistribute from one person to another.

In the digital world, where redistribution has no cost, Kevin Kelly thinks we can remove the coercive aspect of socialism.  Nobody forces you to contribute your Linux bug fixes or Youtube videos to the collective -- you give freely and selflessly, something he believes you would never do in a world motivated only by money.   But capitalism isn't about money, as  Adam Smith himself notes: "The real price of every thing, what every thing really costs to the man who wants to acquire it, is the toil and trouble of acquiring it."  If Kevin Kelly's digital socialism simply means we no longer need government to reduce the cost of acquiring things, then why not use the term that already describes a system that does exactly that:  capitalism.

update: Lawrence Lessig agrees,  disputing Kevin Kelly’s word choice.  Socialism requires coercion.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

I (heart) technology

Heart CT
Originally uploaded by sprague
At my annual physical this week, my doctor suggested that I get a $99 CT Cardiac Score to find out how good my arteries really are. Rather than guess that my low cholesterol is keeping me safe from heart disease, why not find out for sure?

So this morning I went to Bellevue Medical Imaging and 15 minutes later walked out with this video. No needles, no yukky medicine, no poking. I just laid down (in my regular clothes) for a minute or two while they ran this donut-shaped CAT machine over my chest.
Getting a multi slice CT exam to painlessly measure calcium i... on Twitpic
I have no idea whether this is a good heart or not -- some expert will need to interpret it for me -- but you can't beat how easy it was.