Mike Beversluis

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Beatles

Rooftop Concert - Part 1

As a commenter points out, the best part is the old guy climbing the ladder smoking a pipe. Worst part? Lennon sings "Nobody loves me like she does," and they cut to Yoko.

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I know, it's not easy to stand up and go, "Why don't we set all of Proust on fire?"

Well, it would burn for a long time, like a viola.

I Can't Stand This Book (and the comments) [via Dr. Frank] made me think (it happens) about what books I hate. Since I don't teach (ergo I do?), I'm not going to get stuck trying to foster learning from books I hate, or books that aren't even wrong - but still, what am I supposed to like, but read and hated... Honestly, I'm drawing a blank. And it feels awkward, because not hating anything suggests that I am a white-bread, uncultured philistine. There's a strong temptation to just say "I hate Moby Dick!" But, like Bartleby, I would prefer not to.

There are books I had read but didn't like (the Aeneid, Second Sex...) but I don't loath them. In fact, teaching them might be fun in an adversarial way. Should I dress up in a suit of armor and attack the ice-cream sundae that is Ulysses? I suspect that you have to live in constant, unrelenting contact with the text - have your nose shoved into it - to develop true-book hatred.

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The Straight Dope

From the oft-entertaining Straight Dope
Question: Who figured out that you could eat a part of the fugu without getting poisoned?

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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Don't Believe the Hype

Big Pharma is not suppressing cheap cures for cancer.

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The Seven Deadly Sins

Take the seven deadly sins, and then you can name the (7 2) = 7*6/2 = 21 2nd order deadly sins. Image via the void.

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Distance from Earth

The Universe: It's a big place. I wonder about the Doppler-shift velocity measurements because of the Wolf effect. Things like inflation, dark matter, and time-varying Universal constants seem ad hoc, and so I am curious if something about the base assumptions going into the measurements is wrong.

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Monday, January 29, 2007

Journal of Negative Results

I'm curious about the future of "open-source journals." You don't need to drive by the swank Dupont Circle office of the OSA or AAAS to suspect they may have become about more about a leadership that was to the manor born than producing quality scientific publications. But it helps.

I am pessimistic, and believe that the optimism about these publications will disappear when the new boss is found to passing resemble the old one. There is a need to allocate money and so many of the problems (cronyism, falsification of data, hype, etc.) with are symptomatic and not causes.

Still, it's good to have a debate [=> @Nature]. And there's plenty of room for crazy ideas: The Journal of Negative Results. I'm curious about how the reviewing criteria will work out. Anyway, here's a quote I stuck on the front of my dissertation:

We have a habit in writing articles published in scientific journals to make the work as finished as possible, to cover up all the tracks, to not worry about the blind alleys or describe how you had the wrong idea first, and so on. So there isn’t any place to publish, in a dignified manner, what you actually did in order to get to do the work. . .
- Richard P. Feynman - Nobel Lecture, December 11, 1965.

Pretty much.

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Portraiture PS


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Portrait Gallery

I took a stab at health and spiritual enrichment on Sunday: In the morning oatmeal, tai-bo, and a visit to my oddly progressive church. Odd, and also charming, because of it's mixture of white-bread liberal Presbyterians and Gambian immigrants. Also, Francis Collins spoke last month. The early afternoon was spent speed-reading Remembrance of Things Past, and then I made a visit to the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery.

It was fun to see the art - some of which was actually very good*, but also, the gallery is full of interesting people. Like Jonas Chickering, who invented the modern piano frame. Which I suppose is why you get your portrait taken. Incidentally, mea culpa, I would like to get a portrait done by one of the stipple artists from the Wall Street Journal [e.g.] - it seems to be a flattering, or at least forgiving, technique. So, that's on the todo list.
*This painting is luminous in person. The camera cannot reproduce the color.

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"When he cut off his own ear that was simply psychotic; When he then mailed that severed ear to his favorite hooker, that was Dutch."
Adam Beversluis

"There is a refrigerator that will tell you how much milk is left in the carton. What are we, idiots?"
Ron Reagan Jr., on CNET’s TV.COM

[Yes? - ed.]

"People who say they sleep like a baby usually don't have one."
Leo J. Burke

"Never give a party if you will be the most interesting person there."
Mickey Friedman

"With Epcot Center the Disney corporation has accomplished something I didn't think possible in today's world. They have created a land of make-believe that's worse than regular life."
P. J. O'Rourke

"A conference is a gathering of important people who singly can do nothing, but together can decide that nothing can be done."
Fred Allen

"If it weren't for my lawyer, I'd still be in prison. It went a lot faster with two people digging."
Joe Martin

"Women should be obscene and not heard."
Groucho Marx

"One of the lessons of history is that nothing is often a good thing to do and always a clever thing to say."
Will Durant

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Upstairs Downstairs

Ironic Sans - Dear Sophia: "... It's equal parts touching and surreal. Somewhere out there, a group of high school kids I don't know wrote letters to my old neighbor, sticking up for me. And they set it to music." [Part 1]

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Sunday, January 28, 2007

It’s Just Cool: World’s Biggest Digging Machine Accidentally Eats a Bulldozer. Really.

I couldn't improve upon Toolmonger's post title, so I left it as I found it. Giant German coal digging machine that can pick up a Cat-D like it's a McNugget I salute you.

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5 Myths About Suburbia and Our Car Culture, By Ted Balaker and Sam Staley, Washington Post.

1. Americans are addicted to driving.
2. Public transit can reduce traffic congestion.


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Sorry for the obsession, but someday my hotrod Volvo fever-dream will come true: TurboBricks.

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The Worst Tourists in the World

USA! USA! USA! Or, rather:

The problem here is that assessing your travel companions by nationality is rarely an earnest inquiry so much as it is a dull parlor game — an empty exercise in rhetorical one-upmanship. The worst travelers in the world are, after all, the rude, small-minded ones — and rude, small-minded travelers can hail from any nation.

Moreover, most hostel-lounge arguments about which countries export good or bad travelers fail to take in the local perspective. A few years ago, a survey conducted by international tourist offices found that the oft-disparaged Germans and Americans were rated most favorably by host communities around the world. This rating didn't hinge on cultural or aesthetic opinions, but the simple fact that Germans and Americans spend money more generously than their tourist counterparts. Economic benefit, it would appear, was more important to local hosts than the common traveler obsessions with fashion, geopolitics, and collective behaviors in tacky backpacker nightclubs.

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Saturday, January 27, 2007

Mapping Jesus's MySpace Page

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BA Flight 009

I am not a, um... aviophobe, but this story of near crash of BA Flight 009 [link fixed] is very cool.

With unbelievable restraint, Captain Eric Moody addressed British Airways flight 009 as his Boeing 747 drifted inexorably down towards the Indian Ocean.

Displaying the stiff-upper-lip spirit that built an empire, he uttered the words that are every air passenger's worst nightmare: 'Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We have a small problem. All four engines have stopped. We are doing our damnedest to get it under control. I trust you are not in too much distress.'

Minutes before, while cruising at ten kilometres above the sea, Captain Moody had instructed his first officer to send a Mayday call to ground control in nearby Indonesia. The date was June 24, 1982, and this extraordinary flight has since gone down in aviation history.

As a new TV documentary investigating the socalled 'Jakarta Incident' makes clear, nothing was quite as one might expect that terrible night.

Incredibly, passengers and crew reacted to the captain's cataclysmic announcement not with screams and hysteria, but with an extraordinary calm as the realisation that they were almost certainly sinking to their deaths hit home.

Looking out of the aircraft windows, they could see that their plane was coated in an eerie white light and that the engines were on fire, with great jets of flame trailing into the sky.

Like I said, the rest is very cool. And as I usually must, I cannot help but relate the story to myself.

I have had a few close calls with car accidents or near-brushes with severe accidents that have just occurred. It is a very strange feeling. I had gone on a long drive with some friends on a quest to find some authentic Mexican food near Rochester, NY. In town there is nothing really good, but the surrounding farm land away from the city is mainly plied with apple orchards, and with them come migrant workers and likewise a good Tinga Con Pollo.

We were driving back along a small country road back to the main highway. It had rained only recently, and the road surface turned out to be especially slippery. Coming down a slight incline towards the highway, my friend applied the brakes only to have the car go into a slide. Meanwhile, traffic was zipping by, and I could see out the left the oncoming cars that would slam into us if we slid out into the road. There was this 2-3 second period were we realized what was going on and how likely an accident was. Of course, the car did stop before the highway, and the driver anxiously explained that the brakes had locked up. It just takes a moment to realize our own mortality.

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Wars and Rumours of Wars

Castle and Sky - Paco Bellido [APOD]

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Friday, January 26, 2007

Pad Thai for Beginners

I've never cooked a Pad Thai that I've really liked, and most of the places around here are so-so. I can do a passable green curry, but the noodle dish is outside of my ken. Oddly enough, my favorite Thai place was in Walla Walla Washington. It was run by a this friendly, kinda goofy farmer-looking guy and his Thai wife. He would wait tables and she would cook dishes. Very good. She would go to Seattle once every few weeks to get the special ingredients she wanted.

But I will try again with advice from this great tutorial on cooking your own - chez pin: Pad Thai for beginners. She's very specific and helpful. Perfect, and I agree with her sparkling wine or riesling pairing. If you're looking to try something you might look at Chateau St. Michelle's Eroica.

In hindsight, her tip about the super-hot wok seems obvious. My stove-top here is electric and might not get as hot as I want. I miss the gas unit I had before. Someday... Put that on my lifetime to-do list: Get the fires of Mt. Doom stove burner that can melt the pot if you're not careful...

On one family visit home I wanted to go out with my sister for dinner. She said, "Hey, I know this great Thai restaurant in the U district, so let's go there! " So we went, and along the way she told me that the last time she had gone with some friends, they couldn't find the place. Which would be fine, except they didn't remember the name. So they called information and asked if they could tell them how to get to this good Thai restaurant in the U district. The nonplussed operator pointed out that there were a lot of Thai places in the U district - and they were like, "Yeah, but this one is really good!" - "Oh, you mean Thai Tom?"


Thai Tom was busy. We were on the early side, so we managed to get a table, but by the time we sat down the line was out the door. Half an hour latter, people were standing in the street in the middle of winter waiting to put an order in for take out. The place was pretty small, with an open kitchen and the cook had three jet burners on full flame. He didn't even wash the pots - just wiped it out and started the next. Red hot woks with a 45 second cooking time. It was great. Somehow I've got to replicate that or my life will have no meaning.
*I've thought about trying this trick elsewhere - just to see what they would recomend.

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Andre the Giant has a Posse

And he could drink. A lot.

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Russian Design

From English Russia - the sometimes eccentric school of Russian Design:

"Delete Key" Pencil Eraser

Hour Glass Digital Watch

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Speaking of turbos

Once my long-term financial plan to win the lottery comes through, I would happily cut a check for Troy's 1400 HP Wonderboy. Because of the efficiency.

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I finished reading the ultra-pulpy crime novel Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett. Hammett blazed the path for Raymand Chandler and Richard Stark. Later, Red Harvest inspired Yojimbo, which of course inspired how many other films. Needless to say, it's not a real happy story.

It's not a masterpiece of characterization or plotting either, yet its weirdly hypnotic style and gallows humor carry you along:

I first heard Personville called Poisonville by a red-haired mucker named Hickey Dewey in the Big Ship in Butte. He also called his shirt a shoit.”
The slang can make it hard to relate to the people though - they seem cartoonish - in the same way that it's hard to find Cagney or Edward Robinson scary. That said, the story was originally serialized, and it doesn't follow the conventional arc - it just keeps escalating and pilling up bodies along the way (hence Red Harvest).

I'm not sure why I read it -- and that's not a criticism of it in general but of this type of amoral story in general. Vicarious thrills? Moral allegories?


Would you want Hemingway's life?

The Pleasures of the Hard-Worn Life [NY Times]

Mr. Harrison, who is 69 with a lot of miles on his tires, is not much kinder to his own chassis. He is half-blind in his left eye, which gives him a wild, cockeyed look, and a pack or two of American Spirits every day have left him with a voice like gravel. Mr. Harrison was once a legendary eater and drinker, the sort of iron-livered, barrel-chested trencherman who could hold his own at the table with Orson Welles and John Huston and who thought nothing of a 10- or 12-course lunch at Ma Maison followed by Champagne and a gross of oysters for supper.


Since coming down with Type 2 diabetes a couple of years ago, Mr. Harrison has had to modify his behavior a bit, but that doesn’t preclude daily infusions of vodka and red wine or carefully prepared meals of game. Mr. Harrison is still a passionate, two-dimensional diner — one who appreciates quality and quantity both. His self-coined motto is “Eat or die,” a phrase he sometimes loftily attributes to Pushkin or Lermontov.

I admire the verve, but it's hard for me to see how aesthetes can end up any other way than jaded and cynical.

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The same idea would work for CPU's and GPU's. A 10% energy savings for server farms would be pretty huge.

Ironically, energy saving technologies (like the currently expanding use of fluorescent bulbs and solid-state lighting) might increase their marginal utility (i.e., lowering their cost enough to enable many new applications they were previously too expensive to use, or if we've already hit saturation, by enabling poorer countries to use them in the same way we do now) and so increase the total energy usage.



I was thinking about that geothermal idea today and, as always, about turbochargers. Not about turbonique, but still - something, anything to help to provide irresistible force to my movable mass.

When you burn fuel in your car, a third of the energy goes to turning the crankshaft, another third goes to heat the cylinder walls and head and the remainder shoots out the tailpipe. Turbos are great because they recover part of the exhaust's heat-energy and return it to the crank-shaft. As the hot gas goes past the turbine blades it expands and cools, and this energy is used to pump air on the compressor side into the engine. Which allows the engine to operate as if atmospheric pressure was 28 psi (or whatever), which makes it more efficient and powerful. If the turbocharged engine is cheap enough, durable enough, and well-designed to provide decent throttle response, it is smaller and more fuel-efficient that thee lowly non-turbocharged engine of the same power. Turbos have dominated racing whenever they are allowed, partly because cheap and durable aren't big factors.

But what I wondered about was the energy going out into the atmosphere via the radiator. If I run around at wide-open throttle (like I do all the time), that means I'm putting 200 hp into just heating the great outdoors via hot water.

However, if you had a hybrid car - you could extract this energy via a Sterling engine and store it electrically. The heat buildup is slow, so I don't see how you could make a direct mechanical feedback like a turbocharger does, but if you already have electric motors hanging off the drive train, why not? The key is to be able to efficiently extract power with 200 degree F water - just like geothermal power. At the very least it should work well for large diesel-electric trains and busses.

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How to harvest a turkey

A random thought I've had is that if I were suddenly transported back in time 200 years I would have a hard time finding a grocery store with frozen pizzas. I could talk about wavefunctions and how Terminator 2 is a great movie and then I would starve to death (maybe freezing first).

Anyway, not to go on some sort of back to basics live off the land make your own rabbit-pelt condoms freakout, but if you are curious where delicious meat comes from before its wrapped up in nice plastic packages, here's how to harvest a turkey (heads up - somewhat graphic).

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Okay, follow me here: I fly from DC to Seattle once or twice a year. A modern airliner takes 3.5 liters of fuel per 100 passenger-kilometers. The planes are full (200-250 passengers). The trip is 4500 km long. Ignoring many things, including the jet stream, my share of the fuel works out to ~135 liters each way. A quick Google suggests jet fuel currently runs $1.65/gallon, which implies a fuel cost, round trip, of ~$120. A round-trip ticket (one stop) can usually be found for less than $300, and I've seen $250. And so as I sit in my bargain basement seat, I've occasionally wondered about maintenance.

Chinese Aircraft Maintenance.
Malaysia Airlines 777 on takeoff.


"Virtue is its own reward. Because it has to be."

It's been a tough off-season to be a Seattle Mariners fan. But misery is often the muse for genius, New adventures and old stories:

Wandering the streets and trails of Okinawa with a camera and notebook is harder work than you might estimate. There’s always more going on than I have time, energy or expertise to catalog. After these days, there are the nights.

Usually my preference is local establishments catering to locals. One night, though, I happened upon an expatriate bar, that hallmark of literary excellence. The Lost Generation had theirs, Stein and Hemingway. With luck, I thought, this spot might serve as my Cafe de Medecis, Max’s Kansas City or even my Rick’s.

Better yet, the place has an international feel. The owner’s from the Phillipines and speaks three languages, the staff friendly, the clientele a hodgepodge of American military, Aussie wanderers, university professors. On a given night you can be talking about Baudrillard or buying drinks for a couple of young men headed for Iraq. Or both, and sometimes with the same people.

When I came here, I brought a case of Pinot Gris from Oregon, my home state. These would serve as gifts for people I met who helped with the book. Lively conversation and the occasional piece of information certainly assist, so the bar owner qualifies. It was her birthday on Wednesday, so I thought I’d swing by and drop a bottle off.

Giving liquor to someone that owns a bar is kind of like giving Dave Cameron advice about prospect analysis, but hey, it’s what I had. It’s the gesture that counts, right?

After I finished karate, I stepped into the low blue light expecting no one to be around. It was 10 p.m. on a Wednesday, hardly prime watering hole time. Yet there were the bar owner and staff with their families, having a small private party. I hadn’t expected anything but to drop off the wine and chalk up my good deed for the day.

They’d just opened two bottles of Dom Perignon, one 1997 and one 1999. Would I like to stay and sample them, since I’d never had such vintage?

Virtue is its own reward. Dom Perignon is nice, too.

And it only gets better when the devil, evil Rick Rizz, shows up. Mariners baseball, after a very brief fluorescence has settled back into their decades old ruts of losing, incompetence and overall misery. Perhaps it's just the manifestation of Seattle's long drizzly gray winters, but USS Mariner is great.

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Everyday a celebrity (kinda)

I was discussing this with Eric and we both think there's something humanizing about this guy's celebrity photos. Well, within certain limits, obvs.

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Reverse Graffiti

Reverse graffiti: Drawing graffiti in tunnel wall dirt. I'm totally against vandalism, and the "Yeah, I'm sticking it to the Man!" attitude is a little predictable, but still, if it's clever or good looking or prompts the city into cleaning things up (as they should be in the first place), then it's okay. Because I said so.

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Geothermal Power

Drilling for geothermal power, by John Timmer:

[...] Current drilling technology can reach a depth of 10km, which substantially expands the potential for exploitation: at a depth of 6.5km, large portions of the Western US check in at over 200°C. Combined, regions within this depth range hold 130,000 times the US's current annual consumption of energy; even the portion that might be reasonably considered extractable is over 2,000 times today's consumption.


There are a few optimistic assumptions built into these analyses. For one, they assume that continued study and the building of test facilities will provide better guidance for identifying the best geological features to tap with future plants. They also expect that new generator technology will allow more efficient use of water that, although quite hot, is cooler than what's generated by today's fossil fuel-based generators.

Seems like a good idea. You can tell I've spent sometime inside the fence because I think the $1 billion trial run sounds cheap (it is).



Google's new cooltool, The Gapminder. Way cool indeed. I'm looking forward to more data.
[via Greg Mankiw.]

P.S., Plot birthrate vs wealth and hit play. Interesting.

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White Puzzle

To Eric: The Gauntlet.


Monday, January 22, 2007

Airplanes are strong

Failure testing a 777 wing. They say it failed at 154% of the maximum design load, which I assume is some ridiculous load => ~10g => 4,000 tons => 6,000 ton failure?

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Smart is Just Less Dumb

Malcolm Gladwell: The Talent Myth [The New Yorker]. Spend time at research labs, universities, think tanks, etc, and it won't take long to realize that IQ tends to be a necessary condition but is not sufficient one. Smart people focus on the former and ignore the latter.

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The Slave of Duty

What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing, or at least, not very much!

Humourous irony seems hard to pin down. We often use the word ironic to sardonically describe an absurd event in which someone has been crossed up by events or destiny - but loosening up the definition removes the role of language from it. At which point, anything that causes you a bittersweet chuckle becomes fair game, for instance, rain on a rainy day.

Ironic communication is a little more easy to pin down - when Socrates proclaims he knows nothing, he's in fact implicitly acknowledging his superior knowledge to the people around him who also know nothing, but don't know what they don't know (Rumsfield would approve). Sarcasm would seem to qualify, but I think most people would agree this doesn't quite rise to a high enough standard of contradiction to meet the definition of irony.

The Futurama episode I mentioned earlier goes through a progression of jokes in an attempt to find irony, and finally succeeds when the robot devil takes Leila's hand in marriage instead of physically taking it (which is what she expected). So, irony depends on destiny and misinterpreted words. Absurd events which merely countermand your wishes or expectations (rain on your wedding day/black flies in your chardonnay (?)) - no matter how wry, aren't ironic unless you can point to a double meaning somewhere. Even if you come up with a better (more symmetric?) coincidence, it's still not ironic.

A classic example comes from the Pirates of Penzance. Frederick, the slave of duty, thought himself free from his mistaken apprenticeship to a pirate (instead of a pilot) after he turned 22 years old. He resigns his position and takes up pirate hunting instead.

Ha ha, not so fast:

PIRATE KING: For some ridiculous reason, to which, however, I've no desire to be disloyal,
Some person in authority, I don't know who, very likely the Astronomer Royal,
Has decided that, although for such a beastly month as February, twenty-eight days as a rule are plenty,
One year in every four his days shall be reckoned as nine and twenty.

Through some singular coincidence (I shouldn't be surprised if it were owing to the agency of an ill-natured fairy)
You are the victim of this clumsy arrangement, having been born in leap-year,
on the twenty-ninth of February;
And so, by a simple arithmetical process, you'll easily discover,
That though you've lived twenty-one years, yet, if we go by birthdays, you're only five and a little bit over!
RUTH. and KING. Ha! ha! ha! ha!
Ho! ho! ho! ho!
FRED. Dear me!
Let's see! (counting on fingers)
Yes, yes; with yours my figures do agree!
ALL. Ha! ha! ha! ho! ho! ho! ho!
FRED. (more amused than any) How quaint the ways of Paradox!
At common sense she gaily mocks!
Though counting in the usual way,
Years twenty-one I've been alive,
Yet, reckoning by my natal day,
I am a little boy of five!
RUTH and KING. He is a little boy of five! Ha! ha! ha!
ALL. A paradox, a paradox,
A most ingenious paradox!
Ha! ha! ha! ha! ha! ha! ha! ha!, etc.

RUTH and KING throw themselves back on seats, exhausted with laughter.

FRED. Upon my word, this is most curious most absurdly whimsical.
Five-and-a-quarter! No one would think it to look at me!
RUTH. You are glad now, I'll be bound, that you spared us. You would
never have forgiven yourself when you discovered that you had
killed two of your comrades.
FRED. My comrades?
KING. (rises) I'm afraid you don't appreciate the delicacy of your
position: You were apprenticed to us...
FRED. Until I reached my twenty-first year.
KING. No, until you reached your twenty-first birthday (producing
document), and, going by birthdays, you are as yet only five-
FRED. You don't mean to say you are going to hold me to that?
KING. No, we merely remind you of the fact, and leave the rest to
your sense of duty.
RUTH. Your sense of duty!

The irony hangs on the unexpected definitions of leap-birthdays versus regular birthdays, and Frederick is thwarted by an over-literal interpretation of his age of release on his apprenticeship contract. N.B., the Kevin Kline Pirates of Penzance is pretty good. As is Topsy-Turvy.

Thus, irony comes about when destiny makes a word-play out of your life. We could have the Pirate King order Frederick to run down to the airport and buy a case of duty-free vodka for the upcoming weddings - how ironic except that we don't really care about the concept of duty that much.

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It snowed here in DC last night, which as always, is hilarious. Anyway, it now seems that on top of these twenty scientific myths, you can now include the possibility that two snowflakes can indeed be alike. Much like people.

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The Surreal Life of Carlos Barrios Orta

Meet Carlos Barrios Orta, Mexico City Sewer Diver.

Deep-Slime Divers Keep Vast and Smelly Sewers Flowing

By Mary Jordan
Washington Post Foreign Service


It was 11 a.m. in a massive drain underneath Mexico City, where the smell of human waste and rotting trash was so strong it was hard for a visitor not to vomit. But it didn't seem to bother Barrios, one of four divers who maintain the 600 miles of sewers and pipes beneath the biggest city in North America. He was just doing his job: keeping pumps and sewers clear.


In the darkness of the sewer, Barrios could see nothing. He doesn't bother to carry a light, because it would be of no use in the thick waters. He inched forward in his bright red suit, an airtight model that sealed away the disease all around him, feeling his way with his rubber gloves, listening in the darkness. He could hear the powerful, whirring pump that pushed the flow through a six-foot-wide pipe. His mission was to clear away the debris around it so it wouldn't back up into city streets. Thousands of homes have been flooded in the past by dammed-up wastewater.


Now Barrios was singing. "I live in the water, lah-deh-dah-dum." It was a popular children's song, "The Pretty Little Fish," and Barrios sang it like he couldn't possibly have been happier. He loves his job. Two years ago, he gave up a career in accounting for this -- which, he noted, says something about accounting

Barrios, a happy-go-lucky father of three, said none of it bothers him -- not the smell, not the dangerous spinning pump blades, not even the two cadavers. He never found out who they were, because they were carried off in the flowing waters. The police were not called. The divers, who periodically encounter bodies because sewers are popular spots for dumping murder victims, only call police when they bring a body to the surface.

Hmm, I wonder why the WaPo would report on sewer divers? And while I can understand wanting to leave an accounting job, they really don't say why he picked sewer diving as his dream-job alternative. Weird. Via Pruned.

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The Great Leap Forward

Finally, a solution to free ourselves from gridlock and long commutes to anti-social cookie-cutter suburban McMansion enclaves: Personal trains for everyone. All we need to do is put in railways to all homes and businesses.

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Sunday, January 21, 2007


Last week Laura sent me a link (thanks!) for the online music streaming site Pandora. I have been listening and it's the bee's knees. You name a song or band you like and it streams out similar music. It is a great way to extrapolate yourself to new CD purchases without walking too far out on rotten ice.

I wonder how long it will last - my previous favorite site was eMusic back in 2002 - before they were bought out by Rhapsody. Back then you paid a flat monthly rate and could download (for keeps) as much as you liked. It was the back-catalog, but that was perfect for me. Once they were bought out, it was quickly changed to $1-2/song, which caused a mass unsubscription. Which I think was the intended idea. Too bad.

But like any barrier separating a large potential, leaks are bound to spring. Pandora's box and whatnot.

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[LMS] Curse of the Golden Flower

First of all, happy 2007 to everyone.

Curse of the Golden Flower, by Zhang Yimou (Hong Kong/Cina 2006)

I came out of the movie satisfied, but with some doubts. In this story the threads of love and hate are intertwined in a rather complicated way, and I did not find it easy to untangle them. I got doubts because this is a movie with the ambition of representing a tragedy, and I know I do not have the critical tools to judge it. I explain myself better: in order to say that a Shakespeare's tragedy is a work of exceptional value I would just need to follow the general opinion, but since no general and well established opinion about Yimou by respected critics exists I need to form my own opinion, and I realize that the time between the moment I saw the movie and now that I'm writing is not enough. A criterion, for example, could to be see whether in the tragedy there is the description of an experience that many people have to go through, and naturally since almost no one is an emperor we need to look for the metaphors in the movie; and already here the obstacles that I meet seem to hard to overcome. Let us add also doubts like will have he copied or will have re-elaborated, and it is better to stop on this tone and focus on aspects that have been more clear to me.

One is the almost unbelievable submission of the servants. I often heard that the relationship between power and people in China is characterized by a much greater distance than the one we are used to in Italy, and this should be still true looking at the past. Just to give an example, some Chinese I am acquainted and whom I got to listen and translated an italian satyrical song told me that such a song would be inconceivable in China (probably they would not cover it, I think). In the movie this kind of distant relationship is evident in many ways; for example one is that the servants keep their eyes low.

Another one is a way in which tragedy develops. In what happens on the screen time has a quite limited function; usually in life time give a "physical" limitation to things that happen: a certain amount of time is always necessary to execute certain tasks or so that some phenomena may occur. In the tragedy, as represented in this movie, time is in my opinion just a device to give an ordering to events, each of which happens in an almost instantaneous fashion. Many things happened before the action started on screen, but the epilogue which we witness is rather complex and the final result would not be the same if the order of actions were changed. It is a very long shot, but I would say that the famous unity of time, place and action (I think I read somewhere that it is a concept that it did not originate with Aristotle) is linked to the fact that a theatrical piece is in part a summry of things already happened, that characters live a second time (a second time intheir character life) in what is shown on stage with some additional random factors that play a decisive (and often negative) influence on the final result.

After these rather confused reflections, I hope you can enjoy this movie as well.



The Ivory Tower

Via Greg Mankiw, The Ivory Trade [from The Economist]:

AMERICA is the home of the efficient-market hypothesis, which says financial markets have become so keenly contested that it is impossible for investors to keep beating them. Yet the very universities that peddle this theory so confidently also gleefully undermine it by doing precisely that: over one year and over ten, their endowment funds beat the S&P 500 and hammer most other institutional investors, including pension funds.

The final figures for the most recent fiscal year will be out next week. But according to preliminary numbers from the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO) and TIAA-CREF, a financial-services group, university endowments made an average return of 10.7% in the year to June 30th 2006, net of fees and expenses.

The biggest endowments are big investors: between them, Harvard and Yale have some $50 billion, around one-seventh of the total. They tend to do better than their smaller peers and pretty much everyone else. Indeed, these eggheads even beat the quants. Endowments larger than $1 billion returned 15.2% on average last year, more than the main hedge-fund index (see chart). The best-performing endowment in 2005-06, which belonged to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, gained a handsome 23%. That put it a whisker ahead of Yale's (22.9%), run for more than 20 years by David Swensen.


According to one former Harvard official, its endowment fund has done so well because it has avoided taking advice from the economics faculty.

Ha ha, but seriously, 10 years isn't a long enough period to really evaulate their above-market performance claims. There are mutual funds which show 15-20% for 10 years, but they eventually crash and burn. Hence the popularity of no-load index funds for long-term investments. Basically, Return = Dividends + Risk. Also, never underestimate the power of compounding interest over a long period of time.

Second, Harvard + Yale = $50 billion, and both private schools I went to have huge endowments. Hence I can't picture myself giving either one a lot of money. There are more important things to do.

Third, this is The Economist. They are always wrong.

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The iPod index

Taking a page from the Economist's famous Big Mac Index, a friend sent me the iPod index:

Check this out!
This exemplifies the brazilian problem.

Cost of the iPod Nano 2GB, in US dollars in 26 countries.

1. Brasil 327,71
2. Índia 222,27
3. Suécia 213,03
4. Dinamarca 208,25
5. Bélgica 205,81
6. França 205,80
7. Finlândia 205,80
8. Irlanda 205,79
9. Reino Unido 195,04
10. Áustria 192,86
11. Holanda 192,86
12. Espanha 192,86
13. Itália 192,86
14. Alemanha 192,46
15. China 179,84
16. Coréia do Sul 176,17
17. Suíça 175,59
18. Nova Zelândia 172,53
19. Austrália 172,36
20. Taiwan 164,88
21. Cingapura 161,25
22. México 154,46
23. EUA 149,00
24. Japão 147,63
25. Hong Kong 147,35
26. Canadá 144,20

That's a hell of a luxury tax.

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Saturday, January 20, 2007

3d morphable faces

The Three-Dimensional Morphable Face. [via Eric] These guys can take a single photograph and turn it into a realistic 3-d computer model. However, CGI still usually fails because you need a good animator to create realistic gestures and expressions. I suspect animators will supplant actors in the future.

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Friday, January 19, 2007

Why?...Why was I programmed to feel pain?

Early tremors preceded the robot uprising. Small things, like robot-cake-spray-painter html errors, were missed, or even thought comical.

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Enjoyable Bit of Sci-Fi

Sun of Suns, by Karl Schroeder. Nice steampunk swash-buckling space millitary-political mini-Dyson sphere coming-of-age story. Yes, I did that on purpose. Does go around the "war is stupid - can't we all see we are people" bend, but makes up for it with imagination and characters. Reminded me a little of Serenity, except sans the Ye and whatnot anachronisms.

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007


Check out the b. i. law.'s new website, PaperRobot1999.


Take that, Bellagio!

Check out the 3,000 valve ink-jet waterfall that Jeep uses at auto-shows. They need to make a three-dimensional version.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Posh Waiter

"We're back. The incredibly posh people who are unaccountably still waiters."

P.S. Waiters who are nauseated by food.

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Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!

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US States Labelled by Like-sized Foreign Economies

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Monday, January 15, 2007

Speaking of turbulance

Airport Racing (thanks Eric)

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Fasten your seatbelts

I have been on bumpy rides, although never anything really scary. Not so for an early sixties cosmonaut:

Routine turned harrowing on reentry, however, when the Soyuz 5 service module failed to separate from the descent module after retrofire. The craft reentering the atmosphere was much larger than it should have been and as aerobraking began it sought the most aerodynamically stable position possible. Unfortunately for Volynov, that position was nose forward into the air stream, leaving only the light metal entry hatch between him and certain death. The heat generated by reentry began melting the gaskets sealing the hatch, filling the module with dangerous fumes.



Sunday, January 14, 2007

And that is irony!

Lines from Alanis Morissette's song "Ironic" modified to actually be ironic.

A death row pardon two minutes too late... because the governor was too busy watching Dead Man Walking to grant clemency any earlier.

Rain on your wedding day... to Ra, the Egyptian sun-god.

But still, aren't these more absurd than ironic? My favorite bit of ironic humor is the Robot Devil episode of Futurama.

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Here Be Monsters

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The EPA Didn't Exist Then

Disposal of Sodium in a lake (hint: Kablamo!). Ah yes, it was a different time then. On the other hand, we have new things to raise (and singe) our eyebrows: If programmers built planes...

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Saturday, January 13, 2007

Monster Singles

LilyAllen - Smile.

Not unlike Gnarls Barkely, the album is so-so, but that song is a bit of confectioners pop perfection. Alfie's good too (viewable here).

Casey Dienel - Doctor Monroe

She reminds me of Splashdown (give Ironspy and Karma Slave a listen), and I would have bet $5 that she and that singer were one and the same. But then I would have lost a bet. BTW, I totally kicked ass at hearts tonight. All bow down to my superior queen of spades avoidance skills!

Also, if you want to get your alterna-nerd on, try Asobsi Sexsu - Thursday; They kinda have that Interpol vibe, except that the singer's a girl and, you know, it's enjoyable to listen to.

If you are feeling extra mopey and depressed instead, try Shearwater - White Waves.

[via in large part, Largehearted Boy]

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Curse of the Golden Flower

Hi. Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon is a great movie. I liked The Emperor and the Assassin, Fair well My Concubine. I didn't especially like Hero or House of Flying Daggers, and Curse of the Golden Flower is bad.

The Director Yimou Zhang's sense of color is much brighter and more garish than Ang Lee's or Kaige Chen's, which can be visually impressive in spots, but I suspect it's his primary focus, rather than story or pacing or characters. Anyway, I'm sorry to say that there isn't much else to recommend this film, and I left feeling like it hadn't been worth the time.


Not so long ago

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New Desktop

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Commited to his Craft

I thought that Stranger than Fiction would mark the beginning of a more serious phase in Will Farrell's career. Or not. Goulet!

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Friday, January 12, 2007

How to buy a Mattress

You know, in case you were just wondering and happened to read this blog: Going to the mattress - by Seth Stevenson. Turns out, it's snake-oil wrapped up in best-buy placed in the middle of a used car lot. Here's an excerpt:

How Firm Should My Mattress Be?

Herein lies the central mattress paradox. You sleep on coils because they're softer than the floor, but you still want good, firm coils, but then you put foam padding on top to soften the coils, but you still want the foam to be dense, and then finally you put a strong box spring underneath for just a tiny bit of give. All this shuttling back and forth on the scale of firmness—why not just start with the firmness you like, and then stop? My favorite mattress name encapsulates the paradox: Simmons Beautyrest World Class Granite Plush. Granite Plush???

I had an office mate who couldn't understand why anyone would spend anything on a mattress. He slept on a futon. I thought that something you spend ~1/3 of your life on was worth a little more.

I went looking for something that felt well-built and "not sproingy". On a 1-10 sproingy scale, I would give my current mattress a 7. Also, something that didn't squeak. So far so good. I did however, let the salesman talk me into a box-matress, as this apparently was critical to the long-term durability of the mattress. I have no idea why this is better compared to a platform bed, unless you like the Princess and the Pea three foot tall sleeping on a counter top feel. So, no new box mattresses for me. Take that, Mr. Took Advantage of My Naievity Sales Guy.


Thursday, January 11, 2007

Cowboys Suck

TonyHomo.com: Drew Bledsoe's Blog. [R, as you might guess]



You sank my battleship! Perhaps it's time for a change in strategy...
If you are tired of hammering your head against the wall, if it feels like you never are good enough, or that you're working way too hard, it doesn't mean you're a loser. It means you've got the wrong strategy.

Of course, it could just be that you are a loser.


Cooking with beans

Jelly beans that is: Jelly Belly Recipies.


Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Massed on our border

Canada lies poised - ready to strike! ("Canadian coins bugged")


Steamboat Bill

"Oh yeah? I meant to do that!"

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Willy Coyote Super Genius

Caveat canis latrans.

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Tuesday, January 09, 2007


Sometimes I come across something - babies on spikes, non-whole milk, white after Labor day - that shocks me out of my lazy, complacent, bourgeoisie, man in grey thinking that somehow I have a handle on things. That although I may not like somethings, or even them, that somehow I can imagine there are people out there who partake. Even Marmaduke Cartoons.

But then comes something completely orthogonal to everything I have ever known, two worlds collide, and so I give you: Beedogs. What the hell people. [via]

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Buddy - yeah Mr. Hipster, yeah you - forget about trying to impress the hottie with the nerd-glasses and high heels with your iPhone. You and a million other douchebags. I want the 2,500 LED pong table and I don't care if she comes over to play or not. But she will.

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The Sushi FAQ

Truth in Blog-Post-Titling: The Sushi-FAQ. Much like mix-tape construction (and soundtrack assemblage), there are a lot of rules. Some make sense, some are go-with-the-flow, and some I found a little mysterious:

• “Kampai!” (“empty your cup”) is the traditional Japanese toast you may hear. Do not say “chin chin” as to the Japanese, this is a reference to a certain male body part best left out of proper conversation.

"chin chin" as to the Japanese? I think my FAQ needs a FAQ. [via]



Is it me or does the new iPhone look like it's running Vista? (jk!)


20 tips for saving energy (=money)

Consumer Reports - 20 tips for saving energy.

The money I save goes into my monocle and top-hat budget.


The Exact Opposite of Eternity by Calvin Klein

Bruce Campbell in the best advertisement ever. But instead of sandlewood, I smell Spike Jonze. Also, the ship painting is awesome.

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Monday, January 08, 2007

Soundtrack uber alles

The soundtrack in my head? Not so great, but it has it's moments. First it brings things up a little. Then it takes them back down again. There are a lot of rules. The number one rule is to not let the lyrics directly comment on the action or directly state how someone feels. That makes me feel angry!

Anyway, here (for the moment) is Whole Wide World from the Stranger than Fiction soundtrack.



See also, the ridiculous lovesong and mating dance of J. Alfred, a.k.a., Welcome to the "meet" market...


Some Danger Involved

I spent the last two evenings sitting around home, nursing a drink, and reading. Last night I read Some Danger Involved, which gets two-thumbs up.

From Publishers Weekly
Modeled after the adventures of Sherlock Holmes, but with a verve all its own, this debut mystery introduces a likable pair of sleuths and explores the Jewish quarter of Victorian London. Fresh, self-effacing Thomas Llewelyn is a plucky lad down on his luck (he was booted out of Oxford and served eight months in prison for petty theft) when he becomes the unlikely assistant to idiosyncratic Cyrus Barker, a patently Holmesian private detective with an enigmatic background in China. Hardly has Llewelyn settled into his new quarters in his employer's residence when he is called upon to assist Barker in an investigation of the crucifixion death of a young Jewish scholar. The convoluted tale leads through the tightly circumscribed Jewish ghetto, as it appears that the murder may be the overture to a pogrom by vicious anti-Semitic factions. Barker's methods ("You see, I try to throw a web over London and sit like a spider in the midst of it all, my fingers on the strands") and Thomas's tone (" 'I must admit, sir,' I confessed, 'that I doubted you a little' ") may owe much to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but the author's lively, learned tour of the various foreign enclaves of 19th-century London is notably contemporary. Besides initiating Llewelyn into the rigors of detective work, Barker introduces his young associate to a number of exotic cuisines, Chinese and Italian among them. Such period curiosities and the growing friendship between Llewelyn and Barker are the chief delights of this engaging novel.
I thought Barker and Llewelyn were a little too modern in their sensibilities, but still, good fun all around.


Sunday, January 07, 2007

C;est so paris!

I guess there's something to be said for leaning into the punch: How to cop a Parisian attitude... Let me think - DC would have:
  1. When driving in the left lane, flashing your headlights at the person in front of you, even though traffic is completely packed ahead and even if they get out of your way you won't be able to go any faster.
  2. Driving slow in the left lane.
  3. Saying "EXCUSE ME" through clenched teeth as you brush aside tourists who are standing in the left on a Metro escalator.

Hmmm, I don't think Americans are a gestural as the French (and one million times less than the Italians), so you'd have to do a lot more eye-rolling and sighing to indicate your impatience, disdain, superiority, aversion, etc.


Saturday, January 06, 2007

Endless landscapes

Well, more like 18! ~ 6.40237371 × 1015 landscapes, but still, what a good idea.

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His Majesty's Dragon

I read Naomi Novik's His Majesty's Dragon today, and it's great.

First, there's the catchy title, which calls to mind some sort of scaly 007 - thought that's not quite it. The book is set in the middle of the Napoleonic wars, except with dragons in historical fantasy genre, e.g., Neal Stephenson's Quicksilver trilogy.

Anyway, it's a sort of Harry Potter with Dragons meets Master and Commander, and it flips by in a few hours. Add in a little Han Solo humour and it would be a wonderful film.


Friday, January 05, 2007

Washing NY

The thing is, they do this weekly.

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What's in a name?

Who worries about names more than expectant parents? How about authors?

Episode 2 of why I Chose the Names I Did:

Tally Youngblood

This was obviously an important one. Midnighters bounces between five POV characters, but we’re stuck inside Tally’s head for 240,000 words! So obviously, her name can’t be too annoying or unwieldy. “Plaztercrappitastica” is way out.

But Uglies takes place 300 years in the future. Names probably won’t be the same as now. So I needed something that’s not a current name, but that doesn’t make your brain fritz when you read it. So I chose a regular word in English.

That’s right: “tally” as in “count.” As in “Hey, Mr. Tally-man, tally me bananas.”

Thus, the little spell-checker in your brain doesn’t ping every time your eyes scan across those letters. (And the real-world MS Word spell-checker doesn’t draw a squiggly line under it.) “Tally” is capitalized, of course, so you know it’s a name, but otherwise “tally” reads as a perfectly normal word.

Maybe authors could take inspiration from spammers? I kinda like Eduardo Watches, but I didn't see Max Power anywhere.

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NIB Volvo

My brother in law the mechanic thinks my penchant for hotrod volvos is beyond the pale. Sheer lunacy and the mark of a terminal goof. So be it: eBay Find of the Day: "New" '73 Volvo. Check out those tailpipes.

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International Mail

How international mail moves across borders. I have no idea how International Male gets anywhere. Anyway, in the olden days and not surprisingly, things were harder:

Before the UPU was founded in 1874, the international mail system was little more than a complex network of bilateral treaties. Senders had to arrange privately for every leg of the shipping. To send a letter to your cousin in Russia, first you might have to find someone you knew in France, who could forward it to someone he knew in Germany, and so forth. Some people even offered their services as "forwarding agents." Look at old letters and you can see postmarks for each trip segment.
Except that this is how email works. I think. Internet stamps anyone?


Ministry of Silly links

Dance of the Flight Attendant, which reminds me of Rumsfeld's Fighting Techniques.

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Thursday, January 04, 2007

Spanish cover of an italian song

I am starting to enlarge my purview. I will probably never get to the Japanese covers of Russian songs (just to mention one), but I will try something like the the Spanish cover of American songs or the French cover of Spanish songs. For the moment here you are a Spanish cover of an Italian songs, Sobrevivire (I shall survive, it is not related to the Gloria Gaynor song):

The italian version, Fiume Azzurro was sung by, guess who, Mina. The italian title translates into "Blue River".

Missing Link

The DNA so dangerous it does not exist
* 03 January 2007
* From New Scientist Print Edition.
* Linda Geddes

Could there be forbidden sequences in the genome - ones so harmful that they are not compatible with life? One group of researchers thinks so. Unlike most genome sequencing projects which set out to search for genes that are conserved within and between species, their goal is to identify "primes": DNA sequences and chains of amino acids so dangerous to life that they do not exist.


To do this, Hampikian and his colleage Tim Anderson, also at Boise, have developed software that calculates all the possible sequences of nucleotides - the "letters" of DNA - up to a certain length, and then scans sequence databases such as the US National Institutes of Health's Genbank to identify the smallest sequences that aren't present. Those that don't occur in one species but do in others are termed "nullomers", while those that aren't found in any species are termed primes.

Hampikian's team is deliberately searching for the shortest absent sequences in order to minimise the possibility that absent sequences are missing simply due to chance. So far they have found 86 sequences of 11 nucleotides long that have never been reported in humans.

The usual PR-hype aside, it's a cool idea to look for the dog that didn't bark.

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Design is Expensive, And This Would Be Hard to Copy


I got 99 factoids and...

Known unknowns no more... 100 news bits from the beeb in 2006, including and not limited to:

3. Urban birds have developed a short, fast "rap style" of singing, different from their rural counterparts.
More details
7. The lion costume in the film Wizard of Oz was made from real lions.
More details
31. The Mona Lisa used to hang on the wall of Napoleon’s bedroom.
More details

You're welcome.


Nerd of the Year To-Do-List

Poincaré Conjecture
Riemann Hypothesis...

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Coffee is only an enabler

For my coffee paraphernalia addiction...


Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Paul Anka of RV Salesmen

Angry RV Pitchman of the Day [Rated R for bad words].

Ha! Take that JR

Dynasties: Fortunes and Misfortunes of the World's Great Family Businesses
by David S. Landes

Heir Pressure
A Review by Niall Ferguson

"Happy families are all alike," Tolstoy famously announces in the opening sentence of his great novel; "every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." David Landes's new book is about eleven families, all of whom would have been comparably -- and boringly -- happy if money were the key to happiness. Fortunately for Landes's readers, the relationship between wealth and contentment is fascinatingly non-linear. You need a certain amount of money to escape from the miseries of want, no doubt; but beyond that point, each additional thousand dollars does not yield a proportionate increase in happiness. Quite the contrary. Great wealth can lead to great unhappiness, sowing discord between parents and children, husbands and wives, siblings. It turns out that every rich family is also unhappy in its own way.

Actually, I never watched Dynasty. It's a little weird how that point between escaping want and being too rich for your own good is so close to what I make. What a coincidence...

Comand-Alt borg borg borg