Mike Beversluis

Monday, February 26, 2007

Billion tree campaign

I bring to the attention of the readers of this blog the "Billion tree campaign", promoted by the Nobel Prize for peace Wangari Maathai.

Every good thing has its own website, and there it is: http://www.unep.org/billiontreecampaign .

The North-East portion of the US, for what I have seen, is in any case pretty well set - there are trees everywhere: but you, blog-reader from Arizona ...


Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Pit and The Pendulum

The Literary Tenor of the Times, by Mark Helprin.

One seldom encounters pure nihilism, for just as anarchists are usually very well-organized, most of what passes for nihilism is a compromise with advocacy. Present literary forms may spurn the individual, emotion, beauty, sacrifice, love, and truth, but they energetically embrace the collective, coldness of feeling, ugliness, self-assertion, contempt, and disbelief. And why? Simply because the acolytes of modernism are terribly and justly afraid. They fear that if they do not display their cynicism they will be taken for fools. They fear that if they commit to and uphold something outside the puppet channels of orthodoxy they will be mocked, that if they are open they will be attacked, that if they appreciate that which is simple and good they will foolishly have overlooked its occult corruptions, that if they stand they will be struck down, that if they love they will lose, and that if they live they will die.

Take any art history class and you will see the classicism-romanticism-baroque cycle occur again and again. It's only self-aggrandizement that we think that self-referential culture counts as something new and that the cycle will terminate.

[h/t Peter Burnet]


Saturday, February 24, 2007

On TV this Week

American Beauty, American Bird Hunter, American Chopper, American Consumer, American Dad, American Dragon, American Dragster, American Eats, American Flyers, American Gangsters, American Gothic, American Heart, American Hot Rod, American Hunter, American Idol, American Justice, American Morning, American Muscle Car, American Perspectives, American Pie, American Pimp, American Rifleman, American Shopper, American Soccer, American Supercars, American Thunder, and American Tractor Pullers Association.

Excluded: America's [noun] and Americana [noun].

Friday, February 23, 2007


Robert Ferguson talks about his alcoholism and Britney Spears on the Late Late Show (part 1 and part 2).

Saving you seconds per week

Here's the fastest way to peel a boiled egg, and yet it would seem that I already have too much time on my hands. Thus my only reason to link to this is because it's kinda neat, but who finds egg-peeling cool? Chicken and the egg, indeed.


Thursday, February 22, 2007

Miller Time

Buying expensive things and expecting them to make you happy is completely foolish, but still, one thing on my to-do wish list is to own a car with a Miller-Offenhauser engine. The odds of this happening are vanishingly small, but whatever. Harry Miller was a mechanical genius, and the engines he built were way ahead of their times and won races for decades; First developed in the twenties and thirties, the engine powered dozens of Indy Car winners. By the sixties, descendants of this engine were turbocharged and producing 800-1200 hp. They only really disappeared because of rule changes.

I can appreciate a little the desire of people who like flat-head Fords, but really, it's such a backwards design, and so it's much more about the retro-culture than the engine itself. Most things end up being about the process and not the end result anyway. Still, if you had the money, an Offy would be a thousand times cooler to me.

This running quarter-scale model (or this one) might be a little more in reach (although if you buy the plans and can machine the 1/4-scale version, why not larger?)(you can also buy reproduction engine blocks for ~$10k, but that's still pretty steep).

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Magnetic Poster Holders

Magnetic Poster Holders - I have 30 posters that I can now hang up without having to punch them full of holes or shell out for frames/framing.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Fun with Home Movies

Someone dubbed Dethklok into a wedding-home movie from Russia. I guess a Journey cover band was unavailable. Your mileage most definitely will vary. I wish that guy from Veiled Conceit would start writing again. [language]


British Food

GirlAlive - The British Food Experience. This is largely what you would expect ("My theory is that all of Scottish cuisine is based on a dare." - Mike Myers), and sometimes not. I agree with her view of haggis - although I think it's reputation is mostly hype. It's basically meatmeal. And then there is this from the marmite review:

This stuff had to have been invented as a practical joke [ed, see above quote]. Here's what I picture: some guy at a food company said, "You know L. Ron Hubbard? He invented that religion Scientology and admitted that he totally made it up, but there are still people dumb enough to follow it. I think we can do that with a food. We'll concoct a foul tar of smoker's lung and yeast poo and market it as a health food. People will buy it and eat it, no matter how nasty it is. I'll bet you £10." And now decades later that guy has his £10 and the rest of the world is stuck with Marmite and Tom Cruise.

P.S. It has now been hours since I ate the Marmite, and in between I've had many crackers with mustard and pickles and some onion bahjis and ice cream and coke and I swear I can still taste a hint of this crap in my mouth. It won't go away. I can't believe something that foul is legal. And they feed this stuff to children!

My own theory is that cold Northern(ish) countries with questionable food often make up for it with good beer and/or alcohol. But there is a limit to this - I once watched a few grimly amusing minutes of a Scandinavian cooking show. Not that Dutch cooking is any better; Although I do like Dutch Baby.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Speaking of Incriminating Myself (as little as possible)

From today's article in the Boston Globe about The Romantic Life of Brainiacs (specifically educated women) :

In fact, educated women nationwide now have a better chance of marrying, especially at an older age, than other women. In a historic reversal of past trends - one that is good news for young girls who like to use big words - college graduates and high-earning women are now more likely to marry than women with less education and lower earnings, although they are older when they do so. Even women with PhDs no longer face a "success penalty" in their nuptial prospects. It might feel that way in their 20s, when women with advanced degrees marry at a lower rate than other women the same age. But by their 30s, women with advanced degrees catch up, marrying at a higher rate than their same-aged counterparts with less education.

Okay, but the following caught my eye:

ONE REASON EDUCATED WOMEN are more likely to marry today than in the past is that modern men are less threatened by equality and more interested in finding a mate who can share the burdens of breadwinning. Many studies show that men now want a wife who is at a similar educational or occupational level. The 2001 Journal of Marriage and Family paper found that in mate-preference surveys taken in 1985 and 1996, intelligence and education had moved up to number 5 on men's list of desirable qualities in a mate in both surveys, ahead of good looks. Meanwhile, the desire for a good cook and housekeeper had dropped to 14th place in both surveys, near the bottom of the 18-point scale. And in choosing a spouse, males with a college degree rate good looks much lower in importance than do high school graduates. [Emphasis mine]

Um, believe that last bit if you want to, or as the case may be, need to. And what does lower mean? #2 instead of #1 in importance?

Also, smart people go to school, but education isn't the same as intelligence. Particularly now when too many people get useless degrees. Which, incidentally, is probably the boomer's fault for massively enrolling themselves in college to get deferments from Vietnam and thereby creating an expectation that their kids should go on walkabout too. If more men and women are screwing around while earning underwater basket weaving degrees and whatnot, then the same people are getting married as before, but just later in life.


The Axiom of Choice

Fun thing to think about for today: The Axiom of Choice. Math is a lot like Perry Mason - he gets you in the witness stand, and asks you if you like chocolate. It goes like this

1. You answer.
2. ???
3. You confess to the murder: "I'm not stupid! Could a dumb person have killed her like I did?!"

We are the Hamilton Burgers of reality [1]. Again, it starts innocently enough:

Let X be a set of non-empty sets. Then we can choose a single member from each set in X.

Which sounds fairly dry, but hang with me here. For one thing, the axiom says nothing about how to choose each element; It only says that it is possible to do so. It's easy to see this with finite sets or well-ordered sets (e.g., the positive integers), but the axiom also applies to sets like the real numbers, which are uncountably infinite and not well ordered (see the article for details) . This means that we accept the existence of a function, called the choice function, that we may have no idea of how to implement. And so?

One reason that some mathematicians dislike the axiom of choice is that it implies the existence of some bizarre counter-intuitive objects. An example of this is the Banach–Tarski paradox which says in effect that it is possible to "carve up" the 3-dimensional solid unit ball into finitely many pieces and, using only rotation and translation, reassemble the pieces into two balls each with the same volume as the original. Note that the proof, like all proofs involving the axiom of choice, is an existence proof only: it does not tell us how to carve up the unit sphere to make this happen, it simply tells us that it can be done.

Which would be a nice trick, because you wouldn't conserve mass, for instance. The paradox is generally thought to resolve itself because to it's not physically possible to cut a real, atomic object into the necessary pieces - but, it may not be as reassuring as you would hope:

At first glance, the Banach-Tarski result seems to contradict some of our intuition about physics -- e.g., the Law of Conservation of Mass, from classical Newtonian physics. If we assume that the ball has a uniform density, then the Banach-Tarski Paradox seems to say that we can disassemble a one-kilogram ball into pieces and rearrange them to get two one-kilogram balls. But actually, the contradiction can be explained away: Only a set with a defined volume can have a defined mass. A "volume" can be defined for many subsets of R3 --- spheres, cubes, cones, icosahedrons, etc. --- and in fact a "volume" can be defined for nearly any subset of R3 that we can think of. This leads beginners to expect that the notion of "volume" is applicable to every subset of R3. But it's not. In particular, the pieces in the Banach-Tarski decomposition are sets whose volumes cannot be defined.

Which is certainly good news for my investment in Krugerrands [2]... But it still unsettling that this paradox exists. But what about it's negation? Quoting from the Wikipedia article again:

On the other hand, the negation of the axiom of choice is also bizarre. For example, the statement that for any two sets S and T, the cardinality of S is less than or equal to the cardinality of T or the cardinality of T is less than or equal to the cardinality of S is equivalent to the axiom of choice. Put differently, if the axiom of choice is false, then there are sets S and T of incomparable size: neither can be mapped in a one-to-one fashion onto a subset of the other.

This is somewhat more than a curiosity too because many fundamental results are derived using this axiom. You can take an agnostic approach, and that's what many mathematicians choose to do (not unlike quantum mechanics), but it results in that many questions are then undecidable. Undecidable questions are okay, because at the basis of what we consider to be common sesible are many such statements that we accept as true and then move forward to derive more complicated results (trivial and non-trivial[3]). But it seems strange here that even if you assume the statement, either way you have paradoxical results.
[1] Random thought - which is more futile: Burger's 10-year prosecutor's losing streak, the Washington Generals million game losing streak versus the Harlem Globetrotters, or the Nazi's on the History Channel?
[2] Actually my long term investment plan is to buy lottery tickets where the take-home value of the jackpot divided by the odds of winning is greater than the cost of a ticket. It could happen.
[3] Any result you've derived is trivial; Anything I haven't is non-trivial.

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Monday, February 19, 2007

The Seven-Fold Path to Customer Service Enlightenment

Joel Spolsky on how to give remarkable customer service. The advice is a lot like Dale Carnegie's book, but still, very good and true. Blow out the dust indeed.

Plus, if you think your life as a business, with you friends and family as your customers, then this advice would apply there too. Which sounds Machivellian, but friendly manipulation is still friendly, much like Socrates's ironic humility was still humble.


When The Legend Becomes Fact, You Print the Legend

Occasionally I think about canceling my cable; Not because I am such an iconoclast, but just because I am super cheap. But TMC is a very good reason to keep it. They are going through 30 days of Oscar and they just showed The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Starring John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, and Lee Marvin; Directed by John Ford.

Anyway, besides the scenery chewing, I suspect it's a good movie because the myth versus reality subtext is so close to the hearts of the people who made it. Really, there is no such thing as acting, and I'm not just saying that because John Wayne was in it.


The Iron Law of Unintended Consequences

Sticker Shock: A California program to encourage hybrid cars has some unexpected consequences.

IRVINE, Calif.--In 2006, the California legislature authorized the state Department of Motor Vehicles to distribute 85,000 stickers to the owners of gasoline-electric hybrid cars. The stickers allow drivers to travel without passengers in all of the state's high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, which were formerly restricted to cars with two or more passengers. A report determined that California's HOV lanes were operating only at two-thirds of their capacity and not easing congestion as much as they could; the idea was to stimulate demand for hybrids and thus reduce the emissions of greenhouse pollutants.

The sticker distribution did exactly what it was supposed to do. People wanted to shave time off their commute, and the stickers drove up demand for hybrids for the Toyota Prius and Honda Civic hybrid (the only cars that qualified for stickers), so much so that the small Prius has been selling for over $30,000, and until recently had waiting lists. The Civic hybrid has carried a dealer "added premium" to the manufacturer's suggested list price of as much as $4,000 (with the hybrid Civic total price nearly $7,500 higher than the quoted price of a non-hybrid Civic).

But it seems that the hybrid HOV program, rather than suppressing automobile use, did the exact opposite: The program was wildly popular, and the HOV lanes became clogged. Californians began talking about "Prius backlash."

Then at the end of January, the DMV ran out of stickers, leaving more than 800 new Prius and Civic hybrid owners, who may have been enticed to buy their hybrids at premium prices inflated by sticker advantage and who applied for the stickers, without the right to drive alone in the state's HOV lanes.

The energy use of cars isn't so much the problem as the congestion, but whatever solution gets implemented, the unintended consequences will be larger than the intended ones. My own plan is to try and live in flyover country, but we'll see how well that works out. Here are Philip Greenspun's thoughts on Boston congestion fees (along with interesting comments).

NB: From DCist:

Is This Heaven? No, Its Ballston!:
On Sunday, the Post examined the strategy of Tysons planners who see Arlington's section of Orange Line as the paradigm for mixed use, pedestrian-friendly development. While the booming success of the corridor is impressive, critics of the plan find comparisons unconvincing, noting the extreme imbalance of offices and housing in Tysons and relative distance from the regional hub in D.C. The Post does not detail the alternate proposal backed by many growth opponents of sticking your head in the sand and hoping the congestion just goes away.


Sunday, February 18, 2007

Normally I would not link to this

The Professor Brothers - Late Date, by the guys who did George Washington. It's like... Dr. Katz vs Quintin Tarantino... It's rated NC-17, or possibly NC-18.

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Nick Hornby has a Scorpion's GH Tape

Guilty Pleasures of the Literary Greats [via Boing Boing et al]

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The Los Angeles Times Homicide Report

Via Yahoo's Picks, The LA Times's Homicide Report:

The list represents an effort to provide comprehensive coverage of all homicides that occur in Los Angeles County.

Overwhelmed by the sheer volume, the Los Angeles Times, like other major media organizations, covers only a fraction of the more than 1,000 murders in Los Angeles County each year. Many violent deaths become, in essence, private homicides -- catastrophic on a small scale, invisible on a broader one.

Starting with this week's homicide report, however, The Times will list all homicides reported to the Los Angeles County coroner, plus additional information gleaned from street and law enforcement sources. This week's list is larger than usual because of a January crime wave, but otherwise fairly typical in terms of the ages and ethnicities of those killed and the manner of their deaths.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Good vs Evil... What side... You On?

A World Map of Driving Orientation
, which I take it, is different than the world map of driver's orientations (cough, people in the Southern Hemisphere drive around upside down). Which reminds me of a pet peeve - space ships in movies always meet oriented in the same direction.

Anyway, Strange Maps is nifty.

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Known Unknowns

Those of you running OS X or Kumbayunto or whatever can go laugh into your sleeves, but for those of us out here in the real world, here's a better mousetrap: How to Identify Unknown Processes in Windows.

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Approximately One Thousand Words

I'm not sure who drew them, but I want to buy a print.

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Friday, February 16, 2007




Armed America: Portraits of Gun Owners in Their Homes:

Fleming: I was born and raised 12 miles down the road from where Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were ambushed and killed -- this was in 1935. As a result of that incident, Northern Louisiana gained a reputation for being a very violent part of the world. And indeed, everybody -- that I knew anyway -- had at least two guns; a shotgun, and a .22 rifle. But these weapons were looked upon mostly as implements for harvesting food, mutch like you do with hoes, rakes, shovels, and things like that. Because they were used to take wild game. And in a country at that time where there was no electricity, no trains to speak of, you couldn't buy anything. If you didn't grow it or kill it yourself, you didn't eat. So everybody that I new of, went out to hunt for food and shells were expensive -- it was on the edge of the depression, shortly before World War II and people learned to practice gun economy, i guess you would say. People took care of guns, guns were cherished ... and you didn't mess with somebody's gun. They were used as something to acquire food. That was all they were used for. This business about people shooting each other -- that has come about, I think, as a result of money being introduced into our culture. Some people didn't have any, and some people wanted some, so they went out an "liberated" it.

For me, it's a sport. I don't go very often, but when I do, I enjoy walking in the woods. I never take more animals than we can eat. I think, in a way, a gun, if it's used properly, can be a tool to teach good citizenship. Because it teaches people to be frugal, to not be wasteful, and above all, it teaches people not to waste our heritage; take what you need, but don't take any more. I like to see kids, out in the woods, doing what they do, in a way that is responsible. The more contentious among us all take their children out to the woods at a very early age and let them practice woodsmanship.

Jean: I hate guns. Don't get me started.

I always liked portraiture, and I always wanted to do a project whose thesis would be that due to American's high mobility (or at least mine) and diverse ethnicities, our common interests are more identifying than where we grew up. That's only part true, but still, it seems like the mean difference between the regions I have lived in is smaller than the distribution of differences within each region. Anyway, this book seems like a good example of that trend, using the American trait of largely superfluous gun ownership.

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Quote of the Day

"No matter what side of the argument you are on, you always find people on your side that you wish were on the other."
Jascha Heifetz
Russian-American violinist (1901 - 1987)

Obvious point: I/You may be that person.

There is something similar I noticed about jerks too: If there is a jerk in the group of people you work with or who you know, when they leave they will soon be replaced by another jerk. There is a conservation of jerks. I think this is related to the X type of Y cartoons from Groening's Life in Hell cartoons.


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

"Everyone in Michigan is an electrician; they're just not all licensed electricians."


Pomo snow removal

Speaking of snow and bad commercials: Mr. Plow channels Calvin Klein.

Also in German.

And for no good reason at all: Mr. Sparkle.

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Quiet Dignity and Grace

The greater DC area has responded to a four inch snowfall with characteristic poise and aptitude. OTOH: I don't miss upstate NY. One hundred inches of snow in five days might drive you insane.


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Bad Predictions

Easterbrook on bad expert predictions - including his own. I would like to think this is evidence that you should invest in no-load index mutual funds, which is totally a hobby-horse of mine, but:

The "wisdom of crowds" theory also took a beating this season. Last year, the consensus of Yahoo! users finished ahead of all Yahoo! sports experts. This year the consensus of users pulled up third. If you wanted a reasonable guide, unanimous picks by ESPN experts went 80-37 on the season -- in the future, predict only games that all ESPN experts are in agreement on. Though that's no guarantee either. As noted by reader Bryan Beske of Madison, Wis., before Week 9, the tout box on ESPN.com's NFL page proclaimed, "Our experts don't agree very often, so when they unanimously select five games on the Week 9 schedule, consider those picks as good as Ws." Three of the five ESPN unanimous projections turned out wrong. The NFL sportswriters at USA Today finished 80-22 on their "lock of the week." That is, when they were certain something would happen, they were right 78 percent of the time. The year's worst forecasting performance: the staff of Pro Football Weekly went 31-34-2 on "best bets." Their best predictions finished behind flipping a coin!

I predict you'll enjoy reading it.

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The Pro-Bowl Commericals

Less well known than the superbowl ads:

"This is why Gateway doesn't exist anymore" - Unironic white-people rap.

"Worst Commerical Ever - The Mini-Mall Rap" - honestly, it's not even close to the worst.

"Jim - The Hammer - Shapiro'' - This is the worst. He is a lawyer ambulance-chaser from Rochester, NY. He is insane. These ads are on constantly.

See also the superbowl ads.

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World's Largest Sinkhole

Mike is easily amused, part 1209: The World's Largest Drain.

Ice Planet Hoth

There is no upside to ice. Unless it's in a drink. But you don't get ice for a drink from the snow on the ground unless you are homeless. In which case, you will probably agree that ice is not good.

Anyway, my car was coated in a quarter inch of ice, freezing the door shut. So I started to chip my way in. Of course, I did the little key-fob unlocking thing, which flashes the running lights and unlocks the door. But here's the deal-breaker: 30 seconds after you do that, my car locks itself again. I guess this is in case you didn't really mean it, or you often press that button and then forget to get into your car and just walk away, or you frequently hit unlock when you mean to lock it, etc. All of which suggest that the designers think you are a moron. So, it took me about two minutes to figure out that I was trying to pull open a locked door.

Doh! Maybe the designers have a point.

Once in, I let the car warm before I drove off - during which I had plenty of time to contemplate the various options of my car: Such as, it can display the outside temperature in Kelvin. Which leads to observations like, "273 degrees... Brrrrr!" It's not an original point, but man, the Japanese are different.

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Monday, February 12, 2007




It turns out he's scientifically implausible.

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Sunday, February 11, 2007

How To Fake It

Speaking of post-modern intellectuals: How To Talk About Books You Haven't Read.

Obviously I haven’t read Mr Baynard’s book; but it is in the spirit of his oeuvre that I shall proceed to write about it anyway. The first thing to say about Comment Parler des Livres que l’on n’a pas Lus ( How to Talk About Books that You Haven’t Read) is what a wonderfully French concept this is. The French take great pride in their intellectual patrimony, considering themselves to be pretty much the inventors of most forms of high art, something that irritates other nations, especially the Italians, a great deal. For them it is crucial to be able to hold their own in a literary conversation, a mark of cultural honour that is the very essence of French-ness. The trouble is, in these busy times, who apart from Alain de Botton has time to really get to the bottom of Proust?

Previously, how to fake art appreciation. Next up, fake the life you've never had to impress other people, and perhaps yourself. Enough so that you might possibly believe you won't just fade into total obscurity once you die.

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Chuck Klosterman Can't Lose

I read Chuck Klosterman's Sex, Drugs, and Coco-Puffs yesterday. He's sort of a P. J. O'Rourke crossed with Nick Hornby. Or maybe it's Gregg Easterbrook crossed with Camille Paglia. Bill Simmons vs Tom Wolf? Whatever conveys the appropriate sense of Gen-X gonzo journalism. Complete with the, pardon my French, "fuck-patois" that is the bane my generation. Just a side note, but vulgarity is our free-love and polyester leisure suits of Gen X - a manifestation of our self-absorption whose shame will bloom in the fullness of time. At least in those who remain capable of shame.

ANYWAY, as the title indicates*, Klosterman is obsessed with sex, drugs, and coco-puffs, or to state the subtext directly: Death, boredom, and authenticity. I know this is the subtext not because I am clever, but because he writes that it so several times. He also calls nearly everything post-modern and ironic, and at the same time, I get the feeling he thinks those labels are ridiculous intellectual posturing. He's hipsterdom eating itself. He's fallen and he can't get up. Perhaps the saving grace, here, is his sense of perspective, which leads to humor. The book is eminently quotable:

I know nobody uses the term Generation X anymore, and I know all the people it supposedly describes supposedly hate the supposed designation. But I like it. It's simply the easiest way to categorize a genre of people who were born between 1965 and 1977 and therefore share a similar cultural experience. It's not pejorative or complimentary; it's factual. I'm a "Gen Xer," okay? And I buy shit marketed to "Gen Xers." And I use air quotes when I talk, and I sigh a lot, and I own a Human League cassette. Get over it.

So, what's the final score? Should you invest time in this gen-x navel gazing by some wildcat music reviewer? Chuck Klosterman Is His Own Worst Metaphor is a review of a subsequent book, but the same message applies:

Younger generations of Americans urgently need to learn to refuse their culture at face value, lest the stories sold by media conglomerates and advertising firms come to define them individually (more than they already do). I’m not arguing that a North Dakotan with a stack of KISS albums and a bong is going to single-handedly change the country. But he might be an enzyme for some sort of progression. And I assert as much knowing that Klosterman analyzes the significance of Morrissey’s Hispanic fan base, Val Kilmer’s uncanny politeness, and the reasons Goths annually coagulate in Disneyland (bingo players “gather”; Goths “coagulate”).

One interesting twist to all this may be Klosterman’s own melee with celebrity. Chuck Klosterman IV will serve as a benchmark on Klosterman’s own celebrity arc – he’s that much closer to the falling action on this ride to success. What personal crisis must follow? What could becoming a celebrity mean to someone whose purpose is to decipher the spaces inhabited by celebrities and their metaphors? According to his own measures, he’ll soon become a signal describing some cultural message. He’ll eventually come to exist as a living opposition, some breathing contradiction between his outward, abstract meaning and the guy who ties his own shoes every morning – a man antagonized by his own shadow.

His fate necessarily leads in one of two directions. Either: He successfully breaks from the abstraction (i.e., dies a fiery death in a Chevy Vega that swan dives from a Cuban bridge at sunset; Klosterman IV is reissued by Penguin Classics). Or: He successfully reconciles with his contradictory condition (i.e., becomes a conservative radio host; procreates with the urgent fury of Britney Spears’ secret garden).

However, I don't think that "young Americanss urgently need to learn to refuse their culture at face value, lest the stories sold by media conglomerates and advertising firms come to define them individually..." It's not like post-modern intellectual culture (the high-culture to the coco-puffs low) has anything better to offer other than nihilism and cynicism.

In another interview, Chuck Klosterman: Articulating the Unintelligible, the author begins by saying:

It is uniquely fitting that the man who is being called the voice of Generation X uses cultural debris the way a flasher uses a trench coat. Eloquence suddenly emerges from his deceptively chatty prose, imparting momentous meaning from sources that can usually be called humble. Chuck Klosterman's voice is compelling to the extent that he writes convincingly about the significance of cereal commercials. It isn't a case of making something out of nothing, the conclusions he arrives at are frighteningly substantial, somehow managing to be funny at the same time.

What fascinates me about Chuck is that every time he speaks it's like he's tossing out new material. The Klosterman process is operating constantly: A casual mixture of hedonic mirth and profundity that veers to the edge of neurosis and pulls back triumphantly. This is how he has managed , I assume, to write for Spin, Esquire, and ESPN while churning out a steady stream of book titles. I suspect that it would be hard for him to turn it off.

The tossing out new material description is apt. Klosterman is very much like a stand-up comedian trying out new material to see what sticks, which results in an uneven book. But still, even when he's off, there's still usually something there to chew on.

* "You can't judge a book by its cover" is misleading. Maybe you shouldn't reach a definitive conclusion, but it's a good place to start.

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Saturday, February 10, 2007

Carnival - Carnevale

There you go! Sardinians as well like to celebrate Carnevale. For this year, here you are a brief selection of traditional masks.

These are the Mamuthones together with the Issokatores; they come from the village of Mamoiada, in the central mountains.


It is rather obvious. The Mamuthones are beasts, and the Issokatores are men who herd them. The Mamuthones are men, who are herded by the hands of destiny. The Mamuthones are Sardinian, and the Issokatores are foreign invaders. And more so, that I can't imagine now.

There are a few clips on Youtube showing them, but I decided not to inflict them on you.

The second part of the selection is the Sardinian version of one of the many "knight" tournaments. Here you have to catch a hanging metal star on the point of your sword.


The trick is that there is always an element of pure luck (the organizing committee, which is called with a Spanish name the "Gremio", can balance the luck by finicking with the diameter of the hole in the center of the star, I heard that nowadays larger sizes are favoured to please the tourist crowd). There are explanations in other contexts about the fact that a balance of luck and skill is essential to keep things interesting; and I find a literary explanation easier to follow than a symbolic representation, but I think the idea is there.
If it happens to you to wander off in other pages of the above cited website, please note that not all clothing is carnival-esque; especially none of the women's clothing is - those are the traditional dresses for the day of feast. The city where the tournament is held is called Oristano.

And finally, I shall say good-bye for now with this:


a "Boe" (Ox).

Friday, February 09, 2007

How to grade papers

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Spinning Disc CD player

Visual Pun: Spinning Disc CD player
. Bang and Olefusun, I guess, are on notice.

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Thursday, February 08, 2007

Crime, Poverty and Profiling

Larry Livermore writes about crime, poverty, and profiling.

Vice with the cop's eye view, [R for content].

P.S., it's really nothing to do with the above, but playing on Pandora while I type: The Beat Famers - Gun Sale at the Church, and for syncopation: Mos Def - Ghetto Rock.


Six Degrees of Separation

Old and busted: Jesus's Myspace Page. New Hotness: Interactive Genealogy of Influence.


This is what happens when God drops acid

Dark Roasted Blend points to a lot of spiffy photos/images.

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Wednesday, February 07, 2007


Spy plot of the link structure of a small sample of the Web

The World’ s Largest Matrix Computation: Google's PageRank is an eigenvector of a matrix of order 2.7 billion

Imagine surfing the Web, going from page to page by randomly choosing an outgoing link from one page to get to the next. This can lead to dead ends at pages with no outgoing links, or cycles around cliques of interconnected pages. So, a certain fraction of the time, simply choose a random page from anywhere on the Web. This theoretical random walk of the Web is a Markov chain or Markov process. The limiting probability that a dedicated random surfer visits any particular page is its PageRank. A page has high rank if it has links to and from other pages with high rank.

Let W be the set of Web pages that can reached by following a chain of hyperlinks starting from a page at Google and let n be the number of pages in W. The set W actually varies with time, but in May 2002, n was about 2.7 billion. Let G be the n-by-n connectivity matrix of W, that is, gi,j is 1 if there is a hyperlink from page i to page j and 0 otherwise. The matrix G is huge, but very sparse; its number of nonzeros is the total number of hyperlinks in the pages in W.

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Via growabrain,


Barely Conscious

I was thinking about consciousness the other day. When I was ten I wanted to be a computer programmer. A particle physicist, architect, chef, or a sailboat designer were the other choices. So I worked a few paper routes and bought myself a Macintosh 512 and a C compiler. But I never advanced very far up the computer programmer evolutionary tree, for exactly the reason that Joel Spolsky gives in his guide to hiring programmers:

15 years of experience interviewing programmers has convinced me that the best programmers all have an easy aptitude for dealing with multiple levels of abstraction simultaneously. In programming, that means specifically that they have no problem with recursion (which involves holding in your head multiple levels of the call stack at the same time) or complex pointer-based algorithms (where the address of an object is sort of like an abstract representation of the object itself).

I’ve come to realize that understanding pointers in C is not a skill, it’s an aptitude. In first year computer science classes, there are always about 200 kids at the beginning of the semester, all of whom wrote complex adventure games in BASIC for their PCs when they were 4 years old. They are having a good ol’ time learning C or Pascal in college, until one day they professor introduces pointers, and suddenly, they don’t get it. They just don’t understand anything any more. 90% of the class goes off and becomes Political Science majors, then they tell their friends that there weren’t enough good looking members of the appropriate sex in their CompSci classes, that’s why they switched. For some reason most people seem to be born without the part of the brain that understands pointers. Pointers require a complex form of doubly-indirected thinking that some people just can’t do, and it’s pretty crucial to good programming. A lot of the “script jocks” who started programming by copying JavaScript snippets into their web pages and went on to learn Perl never learned about pointers, and they can never quite produce code of the quality you need.

That was me, except for the political science. I've taken a few more runs at programming in the last twenty years, but it's an aptitude I do not have. Most of my code nowadays are kludgey Matlab scripts for image processing, which work because the heavy lifting has been already done. If I needed to do something fancier I would hire someone. Using Joel's guide.

Anyway, I was interested in programming because of artificial intelligence, computer programming's quixotic quest. Although the real grail would be artificial consciousness. I don't have any insight into the matter, except that I really liked this bit from Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon:

The most remarkable machine* at Station Hypo, however -- and the first coolest thing in Pearl Harbor -- is even deeper in the cloaca of the building. It is contained in something that might be likened to a bank vault if it weren't all wired up with explosives so that its contents can be vaporized in the event of a total Nip invasion.

This is the machine that Commander Schoen made, more than a year ago, for breaking the Nipponese cipher called Indigo. Apparently, as of the beginning of 1940, Schoen was a well-adjusted and mentally healthy young man into whose lap was dumped some great big long lists of numbers compiled from intercept stations around the Pacific (perhaps, Waterhouse thinks, Alpha, Bravo, etc.). These numbers were Nipponese messages that had been encrypted somehow -- circumstantial evidence suggested that it had been done by some kind of machine. But absolutely nothing was known about the machine: whether it used gears or rotary switches or plugboards, or some combination thereof, or some other kind of mechanism that hadn't even been thought of by white people yet; how many such mechanisms it did or didn't use; specific details of how it used them. All that could be said was that these numbers, which seemed completely random, had been transmitted, perhaps even incorrectly. Other than that, Schoen had nothing--nothing--to work on.

As of the middle of 1941, then, this machine existed in this vault here at Station Hypo. It existed because Schoen had built it. The machine perfectly decrypted every Indigo message that the intercept stations picked up, and was, therefore, necessarily an exact function duplication of the Nipponese Indigo code machine, though neither Schoen nor any other American had ever laid eyes on one. Schoen had built the thing simply by looking at those great big long lists of essentially random numbers, and using some process of induction to figure it out. Somewhere along the line he had become totally debilitated psychologically, and begun to suffer nervous breakdowns at the rate of about one every week or two.

As of the actual outbreak of the war with Nippon, Schoen is on disability, and taking lots of drugs. Waterhouse spends as much time with Schoen as he is allowed to, because he's pretty sure that whatever happened inside of Schoen's head, between when the lists of apparently random numbers were dumped into his lap and when he finished building his machine, is an example of a noncomputable process.

It may not also be such an example, but I liked the idea that there might be noncomputable thoughts. It rings of a spark of creation. Consequently there would be a limit to machine thought.

Also, sorry if that's an overlong quote, but then again, Stephenson likes to write long books.

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007


Now if you will excuse me, I am going to go drink some milk that's three days past its sell-by date.

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Because it's there?

Space Exploration: Real Reasons and Acceptable Reasons
Comments by Michael Griffin at the Quasar Award Dinner, Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership on 19 Jan 2007

We have a very interesting conundrum at NASA, and we have been spending a lot of time lately thinking about it. In national polling, NASA as an American institution enjoys a hugely positive approval rating, broadly in the range of 65-75%, an amazing result for a government agency. But when you ask people why, they are not really sure, or at least cannot express it clearly. When you ask people what we do, beyond the broad category of "space", again they aren't quite sure. And if you ask them what we're planning to do, they're even less sure. But they know that they love NASA. So NASA has what in the marketing discipline would be called very strong brand loyalty, even though people are not familiar in detail with what we do or why they like it.

I have been trying to understand why this is so, because it is important to our agency's future. If we don't have public support that is both strong and specific, the things we want to do, and believe to be important, will not survive. There are many competing priorities for public funding, and always will be. So it really is important for us to communicate to the public how we're spending the fifteen cents per day that the average American contributes to NASA, because there are other places where that money can go.

I've reached the point where I am completely convinced that if NASA were to disappear tomorrow, if the American space program were to disappear tomorrow, if we never put up another Hubble, never put another human being in space, people would be profoundly distraught. Americans would feel less than themselves. They would feel that our best days are behind us. They would feel that we have lost something, something that matters. And yet they would not know why.

This is an interesting conclusion, and so I've thought about it a good bit, and I've come believe that the reason is, we in the space business don't talk about it in the right way.

If you ask why we're going back to the moon and, later, beyond, you can get a variety of answers. The President, quite correctly said that we do it for purposes of scientific discovery, economic benefit and national security. I've given speeches on each of those topics, and I think these reasons can be clearly shown to be true. And Presidential Science Advisor Jack Marburger has said that questions about space exploration come down to whether or not we want to bring the solar system within mankind's sphere of economic influence. I think that is extraordinarily well put.

These reasons have in common the fact that they can be discussed within the circles of public policy making. They can be debated on their merits, on logical principles. They can be justified. They are what I am going to call tonight "Acceptable Reasons." You can attach whatever importance you want to any of those factors, and some citizens will weight some factors more and some will weight them less, but most of us would agree that they are, indeed, relevant factors.

But who talks like that? Who talks about doing something for purposes of scientific or economic gain or national security other than in policy circles? If anybody asked Lindberg why he crossed the Atlantic – and many did –he never indicated that he personally flew the Atlantic to win the Orteig prize. His backers might have done it in part for that, but Lindberg did it for other reasons.

If you ask Burt Rutan why he designed and built Voyager, and why Dick Rutan and Jeanna Yeager flew it around the world, it wasn't for any money involved, it was because it was one of the last unconquered feats in aviation. If you ask Burt and his backer Paul Allen why they developed a vehicle to win the X-Prize, it wasn't for the money. They spent twice as much as they made.

I think we all know why people do some of these things. They are well-captured in many famous phrases. When Sir George Mallory was asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest, he said "Because it is there." He didn't say that it was for economic gain.

We know these reasons, and tonight I will call them "Real Reasons". Real Reasons are intuitive and compelling to all of us, but they're not immediately logical. They're exactly the opposite of Acceptable Reasons, which are eminently logical but neither intuitive nor emotionally compelling. The Real Reasons we do things like exploring space involve competitiveness, curiosity and monument building. So let's talk about them.

This is totally a taboo thought, but I often feel many people working around me don't have any reason for their research other than "I get paid." I am not so naive to say this (too often) but I think if you are doing government research - that you should be able to explain in short order why your work is worthwhile. And without exaggerating your work's benefits, i.e., lying.

Yet, if you are honest, I think you should get some wiggle room on the explanation too. Not everything has to cure cancer or shoot down missiles. Not unless you demand the same cost/benefit out of everything else in life. "It's cool" is a good reason if enough people agree with you, just because that's why most everything gets done.

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General Tso's Chicken

I blame Henry Kissenger.


Monday, February 05, 2007

A Thousand Monkeys, Part A Billion

Many minds, one novel? Wiki tries to create art
2/5/2007 12:27:14 PM, by Nate Anderson

Students at the UK's De Montfort University in Leicester have joined forces with Penguin to launch a "novel wiki." The project, which will run throughout the month of February, is designed to see if thousands of users can do as good a job at creating a fictional narrative as they can at describing the Jetsons. Several days into the project, it sadly (and predictably) looks like they cannot.


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Best Homework Ever

Evil TA that I was, I would still have given him an A+.

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"The denunciation of the young is a necessary part of the hygiene of older people, and greatly assists in the circulation of their blood."
Logan Pearsall Smith

"Computer Science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes."
E. W. Dijkstra

"To be willing to die for an idea is to set a rather high price on conjecture."
Anatole France

"The superfluous, a very necessary thing."

[I like to think so.]

"A newspaper consists of just the same number of words, whether there be any news in it or not."
Henry Fielding

"Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?"
Warner Brothers, 1927.

"Don't let it end like this. Tell them I said something."
Last words of Pancho Villa (1877?-1923)


How to write thank-you notes

Step by step, how to write thank-you notes.


Origami Boat

Darth got a sailboat to go along with his speed boat. And here for no reason, Darth's blog.

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Garmin has lost their minds

What a mediocre lot of superbowl commercials. Heavy - very heavy - on the WTF factor.


C- but only because KFed was funny.

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Sunday, February 04, 2007

Afro Samurai Soundtrack

The ultraviolent, 6-episode samurai steampunk blaxploitation anime Afro Samurai is, basically, okay.

The story is comic-book cliche, not unlike Kill Bill. In fact, there's probably a one to one mapping from the two sets of fans (it's surjective!) But they supposedly spent $1 million per episode on the artwork, and I would say it shows. The animation is cinema-quality Gonzo studio artwork all the way through. Samuel L. Jackson, Kelly Hu, and Ron Perlman star as voice talents. I suspect this is a vanity project for Samuel.

Set the story aside, though, and the best part of the whole endeavor is the Rza's soundtrack. It's probably his best work since Ghost Dog, featuring Gza, Big Daddy Kane, and Q-Tip, among others. Three tracks are on the website to sample, so take a listen.

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Modern Art and Speed-Metal vs Everything That Is Good

Spengler on Modern Art and Dr. David Thorpe on Metal.

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Saturday, February 03, 2007

Super Bowl Rings

Craig Boreth wrote that jewelry is mostly bought by men for women despite men having no idea about what women want or like (other than bigger usually better). The upshot of his advice was to find a place with a bulletproof exchange policy and pretend, if need be, not to notice that she's wearing something else.

Anyway, with Super Bowl Sunday nearly upon us (old, but funny: Guess who had no idea that the Super Bowl was yesterday?), here's more evidence that men should just never buy or wear jewelry.

P.S., since the linking cherry is off: This is how bad the whole irony thing has gotten and The Jumping is Clearly Ironic. Also, If Only.

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Friday, February 02, 2007

Pandas genetically engineered to eat only koala bears

Among other Good Ideas.

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Thursday, February 01, 2007

DC and Snow

Steamroller of Fluffy-White Destruction Headed our Way.

Allow me to interpret: In DC-speak, "steamroller of fluffy white destruction" is defined as a 25% chance of 1" of snow, and not Joe Biden.

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Meta Andy Rooney

Since I'm complaining about people complaining about the internet, let me add that I hate bitchy grammar-cop comments. Down on the comments for that Pad Thai recipe I linked to, someone wrote:

In English we do not say "shrimps". It is always "shrimp", just like "fruit". Please remember this.


Argh! Nothing in that post justifies this tone. I don't know the Pad Thai blogger, and she probably doesn't need me sticking up for her, but still!

Anyway, I was happy that someone did:

Dear Joanna,

In civilized society we do not leave curt, nitpicking comments (in English or any other language) on someone else's blog without even thanking them for the recipe they have just shared in generous detail. I'm sure your Thai grammar is absolutely perfect, but that is still no reason to be so persnickety about Pim's English grammar.


P.S. Also, Joanna, there are circumstances under which "fruits" is the correct word, not "fruit." Look it up.

Or, recently, in response to an irreverent blog entry about Paris on the Economist:

Each time I read an article on FreeExchange, I come across a typo or two. Or maybe a missing auxiliary verb. Or the word "mile" repeated twice. Given the quality of the print edition of the Economist, it is really quite regrettable that the editors should not take extra care to ensure that the same high standard of quality is maintained throughout the newspaper's website. I find it hard to believe that proofreading the posts a few more times would be too much of a burden for the online editors.
Posted by emeraldwhite at January 31, 2007 9:44 PM

Now, I'm all for typo-extermination and brain-fart eradication, but I find it hard to believe that after emeraldwhite carefully proof-read their comment several times to ensure they weren't zinged with the rather common "you made an error in your comment about an error" parry -- that they didn't conclude that they are a complete douchebag. What a weird blind spot. Also, they forgot to add "Harrumph!" at the end.


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Worst Episode Ever

Blogger flaked out on me today, and probably for most people who use it. I whiled the time away by reading a very rare Mary Heart in which she advised a close personal friend to commit suicide, but some people needed to vent their frustrations.

However, while I'm not sure that Bloggers problems today had anything to do with the recent Google account update - the old service went down sans Google accounts - maybe they have grown into a big uncaring corporation (the devil!).

On the other hand, it's free, people. I don't see how an unintentional interruption of their service is worth getting upset over. And if it is - because who can do without the lifeblood that is the blogosphere for more than a few hours - perhaps you should invest (>$0) in a more reliable alternative.

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Speak of the Devil

This morning's quote of the day:

"A classic is something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read."
Mark Twain

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