Mike Beversluis

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Damien Hirst vs Optimus Prime


Well no, it's Damian Ortega's rather neat bit of sculpture.

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Donnie Darko was unavailable for comment

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Friday, March 27, 2009

Really pretty

Check out the gallery at Infrastructure: A Field Guide to the Industrial Landscape.

Paging through them feels like I'm getting tomorrow's nostalgia today, and it creates this desire in me to somehow to go out and photograph a bit of what I walk past every day, what might be thought of as blight or an eyesore, and frame it in some artful way poetic shot. Dance a bit about architecture, if you will. Stop and smell the smokestacks.

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In which I avoid the obvious joke

10 Reasons Why We Love Making Lists

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

I need all the help I can get

30 tips to make you look smart

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Mike Rowe talks about dirty jobs...

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Your daily moment of zen


Slagsmålsklubben - Sponsored by destiny from Tomas Nilsson on Vimeo.

Wow.

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Monday, March 16, 2009

A thief in the night

I went to an astronomy lecture Saturday, and I learned a couple of things:

1) The mass in the total universe is thought to exactly balance the energy in the universe's expansion, so that the total universe weighs nothing.

2) Betelgeuse, a star Michael Keaton made famous in the 1980's, is a red supergiant located about 600 light-years away. This is not known precisely, but is a ballpark estimate. You could click through for the wiki-summary of this, but the upshot is that it's likely to go supernova in the next 10 million years or so, or it may already have, say 599.9 years ago. We are located away from what would likely be a completely deadly spurt of gamma rays, but are still close enough that its effects will be very strong or even devastating to the earth - blowing our atmosphere away or giving everyone cancer. So that's something to think about.

3) I forget.

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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Brevity

Six words tell all you need to know.

Friday, March 13, 2009

More translations

Another opinion piece from the Corriere della Sera, Diritti umani l'ora di cambiare. Note that in the piece the journalist uses the first plural person sometimes to refer to Italy or Italians in general, sometimes to refer to himself, obeying to a stilistical rule (to which I do not subscribe very much) that aims at toning down the protagonism of who writes. I also did not distinguish between the two uses but it is quite evident when it is each case.


Human rights, time for a change


by Franco Venturini

Yesterday, the day marking the 50th anniversary of the Lhasa uprising, the House of Representatives*1 expressed a bi-partisan yes to the motion proposed by the Radical Party about the respect of human rights in Tibet. The text commits the Italian government, which is often quite reluctant to expose itself in these issues, to query China for guarantees of free access to the region and for a constructive dialogue with the Dalai Lama "inside the framework of the Chinese constitution". But apart the details the motion approved in Montecitorio*2 brings to the forefront, and not just for Italy, the perduring conflict between the moral sphere (the defense of human rights) and the poltical-diplomatic sphere (the protection of one's own interest) that lately has been, at times, quite acute. First Hillary Clinton went to China and "forgot" about the repression of internal dissent. Then the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant against the Sudanese president al-Bashir and was because of this widely criticized. And now the issues of Tibet come back to the spotlight, the almost general silence of the governments notwithstanding.

Quite different cases that re-propose the same question: how should the value-based community called West behave when confronted with the sistematic violation of its own principles? Is waving the flag of our own identity a right and a duty or is it just a self-damaging gesture that characterizes as "candid souls" those who make it?

We believe we should take our start exactly from our own identity. Sarkozy, who is quite in a position of strength, received in the past months the Dalai Lama and the Chinese threats for retaliations faded off without any consequence. Barroso, who is in a weaker position even if he represents in theory the whole Europe, got himself a public reprimand by Putin for having expressed some bafflements about a Russia that does not find the murderers of Politkovskaya and that is now submitting Khodorkovsky to a second political-based trial. But Putin, too, did not go beyond a reprimand. And what ever would have the Chinese done had Clinton sticked faithfully to her own role? They would have just issued an official note. Here you are the true problem: the West self-censors itself undervaluing the fact that concrete interests are mutual. And in this way it ends up not expressing neither through the whole community nor through each individual those identity-defining values without which it risks to stop existing.

Someone will object that affirming justice is a task for the International Criminal Court. Let us leave aside that the U.S. did not underscribe its creation, and let us look to what happened with the warrant against al-Bashir (the first against a head of State in-office). In the Darfur region at least three hundred thousand people have been massacred. Two million people have been displaced. Those who are left are regularly attacked, with a particular taste (typical also of the Congo war) for rape-based ethnical cleansing. The responsiblity of al-Bashir has been thoroughly proved and documented. What should the ICC have done, hide its head in the sand in order not to fuel the reactions that have predictably come from the strong man in Khartoum?

We are aware that these reactions (in particular the expulsion from the country of a large number of ONGs that are active in the distribution of food and medications) will bring new suffering onto the population. We are also aware that arresting al-Bashir, if nothing unpredictable happens, will be impossible.

But should we look at this just as a mis-step of the ICC, a purely demonstrative gesture that is just laden with negative consequences? The Court, since it exists, has to do its job. In a quite incomplete and imperfect way, as we know it is in reality, but without relinquishing its duties. Where is, rather, the political world? Had not been approved, at the UN, an interventionist formula called "responsibility to protect"? Had not the UN itself decided to send to Darfur an armed force close to 20.000 men strong? Isn't it true that the deployment never happened, that very few Countries offered troops, that there are no helicopters, that to sum it up al-Bashir can keep on doing as he pleases?

To maintain that the ICC has been incautious is just a fig leaf to cover the absence, more precisely the outright retreat of the political world. The political world has now the duty to maintain its commitments and react to the expulsion of ONGs, without blaming a Court who had to fill in for cowardly Governments.

Our Radical Party did very well to promote the quite rare bi-partisan action yesterday at the House. But at the first occasion (and occasions certainly will not be lacking) something more will be needed, just because China, with its grave deficiencies in the theme of civil rights, is an important ground for the affirmation of our liberal and democratic identity. Are we being too naive, and are we forgetting that in these times of financial crisis the Chinese have a stranglehold on the US and therefore on us too? We are rather quite convinced that the Chinese need the other Countries as well, and cannot afford, themselves, to run too many risks in their relationship with the West. This as long as the West becomes reliable, and stops fearing to just be itself.


*1 The Italian one
*2 The historical palace which is the seat of the Italian House of Representatives

Thursday, March 12, 2009

My take on the Madoff case (I had forgotten the title :-))

In the novel "Pinocchio" the protagonist believes the Cat and the Fox that tell him there is a way to multiply gold coins without any sweat. It was actually a ruse to rob him ... and the rest of the story is quite interesting. Here we meet Pinocchio just before he discovers he has been robbed. I have copied the piece from The Gutenberg Project.

Pinocchio is robbed of his gold pieces and, in punishment, is sentenced to four months in prison.

If the Marionette had been told to wait a day instead of twenty minutes, the time could not have seemed longer to him. He walked impatiently to and fro and finally turned his nose toward the Field of Wonders.

And as he walked with hurried steps, his heart beat with an excited tic, tac, tic, tac, just as if it were a wall clock, and his busy brain kept thinking:

"What if, instead of a thousand, I should find two thousand? Or if, instead of two thousand, I should find five thousand—or one hundred thousand? I'll build myself a beautiful palace, with a thousand stables filled with a thousand wooden horses to play with, a cellar overflowing with lemonade and ice cream soda, and a library of candies and fruits, cakes and cookies."

Thus amusing himself with fancies, he came to the field. There he stopped to see if, by any chance, a vine filled with gold coins was in sight. But he saw nothing! He took a few steps forward, and still nothing! He stepped into the field. He went up to the place where he had dug the hole and buried the gold pieces. Again nothing! Pinocchio became very thoughtful and, forgetting his good manners altogether, he pulled a hand out of his pocket and gave his head a thorough scratching.

As he did so, he heard a hearty burst of laughter close to his head. He turned sharply, and there, just above him on the branch of a tree, sat a large Parrot, busily preening his feathers.

"What are you laughing at?" Pinocchio asked peevishly.

"I am laughing because, in preening my feathers, I tickled myself under the wings."

The Marionette did not answer. He walked to the brook, filled his shoe with water, and once more sprinkled the ground which covered the gold pieces.

Another burst of laughter, even more impertinent than the first, was heard in the quiet field.

"Well," cried the Marionette, angrily this time, "may I know, Mr. Parrot, what amuses you so?"

"I am laughing at those simpletons who believe everything they hear and who allow themselves to be caught so easily in the traps set for them."

"Do you, perhaps, mean me?"

"I certainly do mean you, poor Pinocchio—you who are such a little silly as to believe that gold can be sown in a field just like beans or squash. I, too, believed that once and today I am very sorry for it. Today (but too late!) I have reached the conclusion that, in order to come by money honestly, one must work and know how to earn it with hand or brain."

"I don't know what you are talking about," said the Marionette, who was beginning to tremble with fear.

"Too bad! I'll explain myself better," said the Parrot. "While you were away in the city the Fox and the Cat returned here in a great hurry. They took the four gold pieces which you have buried and ran away as fast as the wind. If you can catch them, you're a brave one!"

Pinocchio's mouth opened wide. He would not believe the Parrot's words and began to dig away furiously at the earth. He dug and he dug till the hole was as big as himself, but no money was there. Every penny was gone.

In desperation, he ran to the city and went straight to the courthouse to report the robbery to the magistrate. The Judge was a Monkey, a large Gorilla venerable with age. A flowing white beard covered his chest and he wore gold-rimmed spectacles from which the glasses had dropped out. The reason for wearing these, he said, was that his eyes had been weakened by the work of many years.

Pinocchio, standing before him, told his pitiful tale, word by word. He gave the names and the descriptions of the robbers and begged for justice.

The Judge listened to him with great patience. A kind look shone in his eyes. He became very much interested in the story; he felt moved; he almost wept. When the Marionette had no more to say, the Judge put out his hand and rang a bell.

At the sound, two large Mastiffs appeared, dressed in Carabineers' uniforms.

Then the magistrate, pointing to Pinocchio, said in a very solemn voice:

"This poor simpleton has been robbed of four gold pieces. Take him, therefore, and throw him into prison." The Marionette, on hearing this sentence passed upon him, was thoroughly stunned. He tried to protest, but the two officers clapped their paws on his mouth and hustled him away to jail.

There he had to remain for four long, weary months. And if it had not been for a very lucky chance, he probably would have had to stay there longer. For, my dear children, you must know that it happened just then that the young emperor who ruled over the City of Simple Simons had gained a great victory over his enemy, and in celebration thereof, he had ordered illuminations, fireworks, shows of all kinds, and, best of all, the opening of all prison doors.

"If the others go, I go, too," said Pinocchio to the Jailer.

"Not you," answered the Jailer. "You are one of those—"

"I beg your pardon," interrupted Pinocchio, "I, too, am a thief."

"In that case you also are free," said the Jailer. Taking off his cap, he bowed low and opened the door of the prison, and Pinocchio ran out and away, with never a look backward.

I like this


Europe's Grass-lined Railway
. It's maximally Stuff White People Like. Aesthetics aside, it's also a neat way to cut down some of the heat-island and water drainage problems in cities. That said, I've ridden the bus in DC twice.

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Monday, March 09, 2009

Orange Box


I hadn't seen one of these before, but here's a look at a black box flight data recorder, which as you can see, isn't black.

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Sunday, March 08, 2009

Who knew cards were so dangerous?



Incidentally, that song is obviously not "Cars," they aren't singing whatever song it is, and I don't know what song it is or who sang it. But I am pretty sure that Gary Numan is an android. Oh yeah, he has Asperger's Syndrome - yeah, right.

UPDATE: Choo Choo La Rouge - "Cards"

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I want a dachshund someday

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Saturday, March 07, 2009

Department of Peace



Thomas Barnett: The Pentagon's new map for war and peace

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Friday, March 06, 2009

12 not-angry men

If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger, There'd Be a Whole Lot of Dead Copy-Cats: Seminal Image #914

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A Pithy Rejoinder to Jean-Jacques Rousseau et al

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What is the sound of one scis snipping?


Scis is the singular of scissor, right? Or is it a scissor from a pair of scissors? Anyway, design is expensive, copying isn't, part a hundred, because you could make this for $0 by taking apart an old scissor.

Although, to be honest, this is a little too clever, and if you bought it, Tyler Durden would jump through your window to lecture you on the ennui of decorating your life with clever gadgets, because, after all, you can do the same thing by holding a regular scissors open and sliding it along the edge of the envelope. And when you're done, you'll still have a scissors too. And who needs a letter opener anway? You're not reading this on paper that I mailed you (very unlikely).

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Correlation does imply correlation...


...he said, unhelpfully.

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Thursday, March 05, 2009

get on your bikes and ride!

Wire Frame Bike: Design is expensive; Copying... probably is too.

The thing is, bike weight is a total fetish for many folks for whom it has absolutely no effect on their biking performance or, really, even enjoyment.

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Wednesday, March 04, 2009

One cannot review a bad book without showing off

Joseph Epstein really doesn't like Malcom Gladwell's book, The Story of Success. I kinda agree.

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Tuesday, March 03, 2009

the real square root day

Today, 3 March 2009, is "square root day" because 3*3 = 9; which seems like it should be "The Number of the Day and Month are Equal and When They Are Multiplied They Equal the Current Year Minus 2000." Doesn't roll off the tongue quite as easily, does it? And who can forget February 2nd, 2004? I sure did.

But, just to be pendantic, and assuming that you're not using the Mayan calender, the real square root day should be February 14th, 2025, because sqrt(2025) = 45, and the 45th day of the year is 2/14. Which just happens to be St. Valentine's day. Coincidence? Hardly, my friend. That's just what Freemasons want you to think. Also, RSRD (Real Square Root Day) occurs less frequently, as the last perfect square year was 1936, and the next after that will be 2116.

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Please make it stop


Monday's snow storm coincided with a global warming protest outside of the gates of the coal-fired power plant that supplies much of DC's electricity. This morning, it was 16F.

I'm not sure that the forces of irony can likewise be harnessed to make it unseasonably warm, but it'd be nice. I suspect sincerity is a key ingredient, and no kabuki dance will fool them. In any case, the protesters would be better served, I think, to run their protests during the summer, when everyone has the A/C cranked to counteract the more programmatically-aligned sweltering humidity.

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On a related thought

Spammers have apparently used third-world workers to fill in CAPTCHA's, because the labor costs are still low enough to make it profitable. I wonder if it would be equally profitable for ISP's to hire these same people to create false responses to spam, or in some other way, use up limited resources that belong to spammers? Probably not.

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A Thousand Monkeys Typing...

...really will produce Shakespeare, assuming that you happen to need Hamlet scanned in from an old library book, but that their OCR spit it out: How Spam Saves Libraries

I spend a lot of time peddling my accumulated junk on the virtual garage sale known as Craigslist. Each time I post an item, the website dutifully presents me with its security check, forcing me to decode one of those sequences of squiggly, distorted letters that look like a cross between a Rorschach test and a four-year-old’s signature — a captcha, as computer scientists call them, short for “Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart.”

The curious thing about Craigslist’s captchas, however, is that instead of testing me with a single sequence of random letters (ujFRuQ, say), the site asks me to decode two words, both in a distinctly old-fashioned (though distorted) font.

Read the rest, as they say. I once looked at the little codes Blogger made me type in, hoping that there was some ghost in the machine trying to say hello. With the random letters, not so much, but here where they're trying to recapture texts, there's a distinct chance you could get that impression.

Also, the whole point of captcha's is that they must be hard to automate, and the tasks picked were selected with this explicitly in mind. Which makes me wonder what the complete list of such tasks would be. I like the idea that there are tasks that are hard to algorithmize, in part because I am not good at thinking algorithmically and hence I am not a computer programmer, but also because I always wonder if self-consciousness is uncomputable.

Anyway, I think optical character recognition is most definately computable, but as my Grandfather's chicken scratch illustrated, it can be very difficult to do. What's neat about the work above is that after probably a million engineer-years of trying to automate the process, you pick the exact inputs that have proved resistant to your automation efforts in order to both select against spam-bots and also provide a useful service to the person that was trying to scan in the original document. Neat.

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