Last One -- Thank God

My kids' middle school has a tradition among 5th and 6th graders that once a year each student creates a science model out of food.  The kids love it, because they get to eat them after each presentation.  But all we parents know how stressful science fair projects can be.  Trying to create a meaningful science display from only edible materials is really a pain.  We pretty much nuked the kitchen this Sunday and spent all day with this.  But it's the last one!  And it came out pretty well -- this is my daughter's "physics of the circus."


PS - TGFF - Thank God For Fondant, a material used in making fancy cakes that you can think of as edible clay.  The materials here are graham cracker, Hershey bar, and sugar wafer stands, gum drop and lemon ball audience, frosted vanilla cake for the platforms, pretzels for the posts, licorice for the ropes, donuts for the cannon and the hoop, and fondant for the animals and people.  And two full pounds of royal icing to glue everything together.

PSS - One of the things you discover about food is that despite the incredible amount of quality control on its composition and taste, there is not much quality control on its construction properties.  Pretzel rods that always seemed straight enough turn out to be, when you come to actually build something from them, more warped than picked-over Home Depot lumber.  Ditto graham crackers.  Mini donut sizes vary tremendously.  Licorice tensile strength that always seemed fine turns out to be woefully inadequate.  And don't even get me started on gumdrop repeatability.

Posted on November 20, 2008 at 12:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Humiliating Your Pet

My COO reports that his dog Ranger was slashed pretty badly in brawl with a javelina near the family home.  The dog is doing fine, and should be proud he defended his territory against the evil interloper.

So why is the poor dog being humiliated?  OK, he has to wear one of those funnel things that keep the dog from picking at his stitches.  These are kind of embarrassing, but after being nearly emasculated in the field of battle, does he really need this indignity, courtesy of my friend's daughter?

Humiliated dog

Posted on November 18, 2008 at 04:55 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

A Well-Deserved Honor

Boston City Hall as the world's ugliest building.  I would add an honorable mention to Boston's Peabody Terrace, the ugliest building I have ever lived in.

Posted on November 17, 2008 at 12:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

If I Had to Leave the United States

There is a quote from Robert Redford in Three Days of the Condor** that honestly reflects my opinion on the topic of leaving the US  (Redford is Joe Turner, running away from the CIA, while Joubert is an assassin-for-hire):

Turner: I'd like to go back to New York.
Joubert: You have not much future there. It will happen this way. You may be walking. Maybe the first sunny day of the spring. And a car will slow beside you, and a door will open, and someone you know, maybe even trust, will get out of the car. And he will smile, a becoming smile. But he will leave open the door of the car and offer to give you a lift.
Turner: You seem to understand it all so well. What would you suggest?
Joubert: Personally, I prefer Europe.
Turner: Europe?
Joubert: Yes. Well, the fact is, what I do is not a bad occupation. Someone is always willing to pay.
Turner: I would find it… tiring.
Joubert: Oh, no — it's quite restful. It's… almost peaceful. No need to believe in either side, or any side. There is no cause. There's only yourself. The belief is in your own precision.
Turner: I was born in the United States, Joubert. I miss it when I'm away too long.
Joubert: A pity.
Turner: I don't think so.

A great line, particularly in a movie steeped in cold war weariness.  Anyway, I was listening to some rant on NPR about leaving the US if McCain won the election, and I asked myself if I had to leave the US, what would be my rank order of countries to which I might move.  My list is highly influenced by language (at 46 I hardly feel like learning a new language) and by countries of which I am knowledgeable.  Here is what I came up with:

  1. Australia
  2. Bermuda
  3. UK
  4. Canada
  5. Singapore
  6. the Netherlands
  7. Switzerland
  8. Spain
  9. Germany / Austria
  10. Costa Rica

Here are some notes on the list, as well as some explanations of countries left off:

  • I have yet to meet an American who did not enjoy living in Australia (and many long to go back).  I came within about 5 minutes of living in Bermuda about seven years ago.  I have always liked the UK and have spent many summers there.
  • Ireland might belong high on the list, but I have never been there and am not that familiar with it.  But my sense is that if I really were to research it, Ireland would make the top 5.  I could also probably have rattled off a number of other British island colonies, but kept it to Bermuda.
  • Canada ... its like a whole other state   (this is a line I uttered at business school once, echoing the then-current "Texas ... its like a whole other country" advertising campaign.  It was not well-recieved by our northern neighbors.  I still think a few Canadians are trying to hunt me down up there
  • Been to Singapore a few times.  An odd place, but certainly a liveable one.  Last gasp of the English speaking choices on the list.
  • Netherlands and Switzerland are both fairly capitalist-friendly nations with good support for a displaced English speaker.  I have spent more time with the Dutch, so it is a bit higher, but Switzerland is freaking gorgeous.
  • Spain is on the list mostly as a language play.  Not a huge fan of the Spanish government, but I speak the language well enough to pick it up quickly.  Good beaches, and the south coast has many of the appeals of Provence without the prices (and the French).  A couple of years ago this probably would have been Argentina.  I really loved Argentina when I was there, but I am scared a bit by the current political and economic climate.
  • I like Austria, and Germany is OK.  Not America but perfectly reasonable places to live.
  • If I am really running not just form the US but the first world in general, I might pick Costa Rica.  A pretty good government, particularly for Latin America, beautiful, and plenty of places to be secluded (and/or hide, if the need were to arise).
  • I considered the Czech Republic.  Prague seems to be the white-hot destination for American tourists, and they certainly know their beer.  But I suspect that Eastern Europe has several more decades of work before the every day conveniences and creature comforts to which I have become accustomed in the US are prolific there. 
  • Scandinavia is too freaking cold.  Maybe if I were single I might find some appealing reasons to reconsider...
  • There may be some country like Monaco that would suit me perfectly but of which I am wholly unfamiliar.

Readers are welcome to propose their own priorities in the comments.

** Postscript:  Three Days of the Condor is one of my favorites, for a couple of reasons.  First, I always loved Faye Dunaway.  Second, and more important, I like thrillers that have a more languid pace.  I know that sounds weird to say, and if I were a film critic I might have the right words, but there is something about the music and the editing and the pacing that almost stands in contrast to the urgencies of the plot itself.  Despite being on the run through the movie, Redford never actually runs.  No car chases either.  Sort of the antonym to the shaky rapid-cut camera action of, say, the Bourne movies.  Other movies I would put in this same category are LA Confidential (maybe my favorite movie) and perhaps the newer version of the Thomas Crowne Affair. I might put Chinatown on this list too, but then since 3 of the 4 would include Dunaway, one might think my first rather than my second criteria was driving the list.

By the way, even action movies could learn something from this.  The first Indiana Jones movie was great in part because the action scenes were interspersed with quiet scenes.  The audience gets to rest from time to time, and the action is highlighted by the contrast.  You can even have some token character development.  Later Indiana Jones movies fell into the trap of going for non-stop adrenalin.

Posted on October 30, 2008 at 11:57 AM | Permalink | Comments (24)

Ubiquitous and Unknown and the Same Time

Don LaFontaine died the other day (ht Whatever).  You definitely know who this guy was, even if you don't.

Posted on September 2, 2008 at 07:46 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Necessity is the Mother of ... a Great Kindle Gadget

Today I found myself out-of-town with my Kindle almost out of battery life, no Kindle charger, and a long plane flight tomorrow.  Passing a Radio Shack, I went in, with the intention of buying yet another charger for it  (I knew from a similar experience that I needed 5 volts with an "A" plug).  But I knew my charger was at home, and was hesitant to pay $20-30 for what would after today be an extra.

So I bought the following:

  • The cheapest USB cable I could find
  • An "A" plug
  • A short wire Radio Shack sells with a socket for the plug on one end and bare wires on the other (both the last two of these are located in the store near the replacement transformers)
  • A small roll of black electrical tape

I realized something key:  I already had a 5v power supply, in my computer, with a handy outlet, called "USB."  All I had to do was get all the plugs to match.

I borrowed some scissors and cut the USB  cable about 8 inches from the flat end, throwing the rest away.  I stripped off the insulation, and found the red and black wires - these are the 5V and ground wires (just search the Internet for USB pinouts if you want to be sure).  I then twisted one wire from the plug wire to the red and the other to the black, and taped the whole thing up (a bit of soldering would have been better, but I forgot my handy MacGyver construction kit). 

And what do you know, I now have a USB charger for my Kindle  (When I first plugged it in, the charge light did not go on, but I reversed the plug in its socket and that did the trick).  This will now charge my Kindle on the road from my laptop or when I am driving from my 12V car charger that has a USB connection.

I think this is a pretty handy accessory, and a quick Internet search did not show anyone currently selling one.

Update:  OK, someone else already thought of this, and has pictures of the procedure.  He notes that the supplied Kindle usb cable will not charge the device as well  (the Kindle cable goes from USB to a special miniature USB port, like the ones on a camera -- my cable goes from USB to the power inlet).  My homegrown version charged it very quickly.

Posted on August 23, 2008 at 04:49 PM | Permalink | Comments (11)

Goodbye, Astroworld

I had the same reaction as Dale Franks when I drove through Houston a while back and found that Astroworld was gone.  When I grew up in Houston, there was absolutely nothing that would get me as excited as the prospect of a trip there.  Another piece of trivia, for years the nearby Astroworld hotel had a penthouse suite that was listed by the Guinness Book of World Records as the most expensive hotel room in the world.  Hard to believe when you see what a pit it is now.

Posted on August 3, 2008 at 11:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Culture Change Benchmark

It is unbelievable that this was an actual advertisement in my lifetime.  And don't get me started on my kids reaction.  Via Hit and Run.

Posted on July 29, 2008 at 10:36 PM | Permalink | Comments (12)

So Am I A Stealth Parent?

Via Disloyal Opposition

"Helicopter parents" -- overinvolved, overbearing, moms and dads who just won't let their offspring venture into the world without a protective, hovering presence -- have made the news repeatedly over the past few years. This being summer, a new crop of articles detailing the woes sleep-away camp administrators are facing with clingy parents is making the rounds.

I am proud to say that we put our kids on an airplane and sent them off to camp for six weeks.  Other than a few brief letters back and forth (the only way we got our son to send a letter was to make up a fill-in-the-blank madlibs-type form for him to fill in) we had no contact with them.  And while we missed them, the kids had a blast and mom and dad had a trip without the kids for the first time in years.  The camp we send the kids to does not allow any contact whatsoever with parents in the first week, and only brief 3-minute phone calls in a 1-hour window each evening.

Posted on July 29, 2008 at 10:29 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

I won!

There is a study out of the most and lest politically correct professions, as measured by the survey responses of faculty of those departments in universities.  Mechanical Engineering:  Zero politically correct responses.  Woohoo.

Posted on July 27, 2008 at 01:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday Fun Link

This is pretty dang fun, I have been playing with it for a while.  The link includes a demo video so you can see what it is about.  It is a sort of mechanics simulation, but that makes it sound really boring.  Check it out.

Posted on July 18, 2008 at 11:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Update from Hollywood

Unfortunately, despite several appeals, I have not taken any photos around the hotel.  One reader asked if I have seen anyone famous.  The answer is, I don't know.  Let me explain.

Some years ago (maybe 8-10) my wife and I were driving through Malibu on vacation, when we stopped at a little coffee shop for breakfast.  After we were done eating, my wife went to the bathroom while I sat outside on a bench to wait for her.  Sitting there was another husband who was clearly also waiting for his wife to come out.  We chatted for about 5 minutes, with this British gent telling me he had just gotten back from London on business.

Well, my wife came out and I met her at the car.  The first thing she said to me was "Oh my god, you were talking to Pierce Brosnan."  I said "??"  Sure enough, on reflection, it did seem to be he, particularly since my wife also recognized his wife from People magazine.  In my defense, one does not expect to encounter James Bond in a psuedo-Denny's wearing sweats and a week-old beard.  But since then, I have not really trusted by celebrity-identification skills.

Posted on July 12, 2008 at 10:39 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)


I have lived a lot of places that featured beautiful women who liked to display themselves in public to good effect.  But I have been sitting in the lobby of the Beverly Hills Hotel for about 15 minutes and in that time I have seen the most magnificent display of beautiful women in small dresses I ever expect to see.  Wow.

Posted on July 11, 2008 at 11:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (16)

A Gross Over-generalization Related to Gender

I try very hard not to fall into the trap of making generalizations related to ethnic or racial groups.  However, I must make a gender-related exception.  There seems to be something about how the average woman's brain is wired that the concept of source switching on a TV set is virtually impossible to comprehend.  I have just had yet another hopeless tech support conversation with a female friend/family member that got "stuck" with cable or DVD material on the TV screen when they wanted to view the other.  Adding to the fun, the female in question was attempting to use a universal remote control which also required mode-shifting to make sure one had the remote set to control the correct component  (another concept apparently particularly difficult for the fairer sex).  Making the tech support challenge harder in this case, the manufacturer of this TV apparently chose not to use the fairly ubiquitous "TV/Video" label for the source-switching functionality, obviating my usual strategy of yelling "TV/video button" over and over into the phone until I get a response.  Fortunately, my second guess of "input" seemed to match a label on the remote.

Yes, I know, all you women will now be rushing from Lawrence Summers' house to mine to set up protests.  I still think that with women dominating on things like relationship management and hygiene standards, and men leading mainly on understanding television source switching and programming remote controls, that women are probably still ahead on points.

Posted on June 26, 2008 at 05:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (12)

Is That A Gun, Or Are Your Just Happy To See Me?

I say a sign the other day at the airport that full-body millimeter-wave imaging was coming soon to the Phoenix airport.  I guess this was pretty inevitable, and has certainly been predicted in many movies, including Total Recall:

I can't really decide if this is any more invasive and humiliating than what we already do, ie get undressed, put our medications and creams in clear plastic bags for all to inspect, and subject ourselves to full-body pat downs.  For my part, based on this and numerous other humiliations, I am working as hard as I can to minimize how often I fly.  JD Tuccille has more, and observes that body cavity searches aren't just for airplanes any more:

If you think that air travel is starting to resemble a very-expensive East Germany-nostalgia tour and you'd prefer a less-intrusive alternative, you might consider traveling by train. Well, except, not on Amtrak, which implemented random bag searches, armed guards and bomb-sniffing dogs earlier this year.

Even local travel is iffy, since New York City has been subjecting subway passengers to annoying searches for the past three years. Los Angeles's MetroLink implemented a similar policy this week, apparently just so officials there wouldn't feel left out. Metrolink spokeswoman Denise Tyrrell told the Los Angeles Times

As a postscript, I had a meeting the other day with the National Park Service in Denver.  To get inside - remember this is the park service, no other agency shares this building - I had to give up my driver's license, have all my bags searched, and go through an X-ray machine.  Does anyone think that maybe we have lost some perspective when I have to go through full-on invasive security to discuss merchandising at a gift shop?

Posted on June 22, 2008 at 08:45 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

My Marriage Seems to be OK

Gay marriage has been legal in California for over 12 hours now, and, despite fears from opponents that it would weaken the institution of marriage, every indication is that my own marriage is as strong as ever.   I don't see any reason to make life difficult for those whose preferences are not my own.  All the best, newlyweds.

Postscript: I thought John Scalzi had a funny line.  A commenter on the Daily Kos had asked if Scalzi was on their side, politically, presumably because they could not allow themselves to enjoy his writing if he had not met their political litmus tests.  Anyway, he offered a line a libertarian would love:

Well, I don’t want my political proclivities to be in doubt, so let me be absolutely crystal clear where I stand:

I support the right of same-sex married couples to carry concealed weapons.

I hope this explains everything.


Posted on June 17, 2008 at 08:45 AM | Permalink | Comments (19)

Dodging Socialization

Lots of new blog posts today.  The reasons is that I am in introvert's bliss, dodging the requirement to stand by my wife at reunions and be introduced to a lot of people I don't know and don't really know how to begin talking to.  So I have retreated to the Vassar library, a beautiful example of college Gothic, with my kids.   The only small problem I have is that I think some parents need to teach their kids better library manners.  Lots of kids dumped here in the library today, and teenagers are all around my watching YouTube with the sound turned way up and talking loudly about what they are seeing.  However, having avoided all social interaction, I am resisting the downward spiral into grumpy-old-man land by not snapping at the kids around me.

Posted on June 7, 2008 at 12:40 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

What A Great Line

A friend of Megan McArdle calls the Boston city hall "a poured concrete Vogon love poem.  What a great line, and entirely appropriate of a hideous example of public architecture.  But I would have singled out a different Boston structure, the Peabody Terrace Apartments at Harvard.

Since this is the last time I may be hitting the theme of Vogon poetry for a while, I laughed the other day on a course on the Roman emperers when the professor said that Nero would force the upper class to attend his musical and poetry performances, and that some invitees where known to fake death to try to escape.

Posted on June 6, 2008 at 07:55 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Introvert's Nightmare

I am at my wife's college reunion, basically 2 days of continuous cocktail party conversation with people I do not know and who are here mainly to see long-lost friends rather than meet anyone new.  Not my best milieu. 

Posted on June 6, 2008 at 07:49 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

I Think You Have Me Confused With Eliot Spitzer

An email inquiry I received today:

I am a reporter for the Orlando Sentinel in Florida. I need a comment for a story on prostitution.

I actually think there is an organization with 'coyote' in the name that is more active on this topic, so I presume that was the source of confusion.  Not really sure how my wife would react to this inquiry.  However, since we are on the topic, I have written a couple of rants supporting the legalization of prostitution.  In short, I think there is a good case to be made that most of the abuses of prostitution result from its illegality (and therefore lack of ability of its participants to call on the legal system for help).  While one may find prostitution distasteful, the government should protect our bodies and our wallets from assault rather than worrying whether we are tarnishing our souls. 

Posted on May 27, 2008 at 03:27 PM | Permalink | Comments (12)

Not Surprised

I thought it was kind of funny, as I was paging through my referrer logs, to see this search find me:

+"calling in sick" +blog

The search game from

Posted on May 25, 2008 at 09:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Prediction Market at Work?

Today, GoDaddy signed a new long-term sponsorship deal with Danica Patrick, Indy car driver most famous for, uh, having ovaries.  The article says that this new deal was signed well ahead of the expiration of the old deal later this year.

I am struck by the fact that this deal was inked just days before the Indy 500, the winning of which would greatly increase Patrick's value.  I wonder if this is based on some kind of insider knowledge by GoDaddy of Patrick's chances of winning this weekend.

Posted on May 23, 2008 at 03:55 PM | Permalink | Comments (17)

Leaving the Scence of an Accident

I include this mainly because I have a funny mental image of a couple of guys crashing the plane and then wandering off to a bar for a drink:

A single-engine plane has crashed near the airport in Bagdad, a remote community northwest of Wickenburg, but the pilot apparently walked away and has not been found, authorities said Monday.

The wreckage of the downed plane, a Beech Model B23, was discovered early Sunday about 100 yards south of the Bagdad Airport runway, said Dwight D'Evelyn, a spokesman for the Yavapai County Sheriff's Office.


Posted on May 19, 2008 at 11:43 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

May the Farce be With You

Here is something I really, really did not know, or probably even want to know, before a friend emailed me a link today:

In the 2001 United Kingdom census, 390,000 people - 0.7 per cent of the population - listed Jedi as their religion.

They are not alone - 20,000 Canadians also listed their religion as Jedi in 2001...

Some may list such a choice only as a joke, but there are apparently real churches set up in the model of the Jedi religion as detailed in the Star Wars franchise:

The two cousins and Barney Jones' brother, Daniel, set up the Church of Jediism, Anglesey order, last year. Jedi is the faith followed by some of the central characters in the "Star Wars" films.

The group, which claims about 30 members, says on its website that it uses "insight and knowledge" from the films as "a guide to living a better and more worthwhile life."

Oh, but it gets even better:

A man who dressed up as Darth Vader has been spared jail time for assaulting the founders of the Jedi Church in Britain.

Twenty-seven-year-old Arwel Wynne Hughes was given a suspended sentence for the crime by a judge in Wales on Tuesday.

Prosecutors told Magistrates' Court in Holyhead that Hughes attacked Jedi church founder Barney Jones - a.k.a. Master Jonba Hehol - with a metal crutch, hitting him on the head.

He also whacked Jones' 18-year-old cousin, Michael Jones - known as Master Mormi Hehol - bruising his thigh in the March 25 incident.


Posted on May 13, 2008 at 01:26 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)


Sorry, no big idea in this post.  I just thought that this definition of "victim" was kindof stretching the term a bit:

Authorities in Yavapai County say they're looking for additional victims of a nude hiker who allegedly told women he encountered that he was "getting close to nature."

Yavapai County Sheriff's spokesman Dwight D'Evelyn says deputies were called to a trail in Sedona on April 28 by two women who had been confronted by the nude man. The man offered to take pictures of the women.

Posted on May 7, 2008 at 09:51 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Weird Day

Well, I just managed to get trapped in an elevator by myself for 45-minutes.  They just got me out.  The good news:  I was bringing my lunch to the office, so I just sat on the floor and ate until they got me out.  I think that my biorhythms may be on a low today, so I may just call it a day before I get hit by a bus or something.

Posted on April 25, 2008 at 10:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

When Penguins Fly

I thought this was a pretty clever video the BBC came up with (on April 1?) to promote their video service. 

Posted on April 22, 2008 at 10:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

And the Winner Is...

Mixed news on the contest front.  My outline and draft novel did not make the finals of the Mackinac Center's Freedom in Fiction Prize.

However, my 3-minute climate video did win second place in the Kids and Globaloney contest

The results surprise me a bit.  I really felt good about my story concept for the fiction prize, so much so I will likely finish it and at least release it as an e-book.  On the other hand, I found the 3-minute limit almost impossible to make work in the video contest, and thought my video, which I include below, was rushed.

A better version is the 9-minute version here which covers the same subjects but with a bit more leisure and explanation.  This video, however, is a bit dated.  As I write in the YouTube comments, I want to take a better shot at explaining the issues around positive feedback.  I think I can fix it with just a rewrite of the narration.  That longer video is here and below.

My really long video, 60-minutes in 6 parts, is here.

Posted on April 16, 2008 at 09:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Subprime Loan Proposal, Plus Some Thoughts on Brand

I am just fine with prosecuting mortgage brokers for fraud  who deliberately misrepresented the payments and risks of the loan products they were selling.  However, to be fair, we must then also prosecute borrowers and home buyers who deliberately misrepresented their assets and income to lenders, actions that are equally fraudulent.

Or, we could just let the whole foreclosure and bankruptcy system sort everything out and let bygones by bygones. 

Interestingly, it seems to be advocates for borrowers who want to stir the whole fraud thing up and are reluctant to just let the system play itself out.  I find this odd, for a couple of reasons:

  • Fraud by lenders will be hard to prove, since they all are covered by written disclosures that I am sure reveal all the terms of the loan.  The government itself has designed a number of written disclosures lenders must use  [by the way, if reformers want to start somewhere, they might begin with these government disclosures.  My experience is that they are silly and uninformative, and were put together by someone in the government who does not actually understand loans].  Fraud by borrowers, on the other hand, should be dead-easy to discover - they signed their name to an income statement and list of assets and liabilities which are quite easy to check.
  • The current foreclosure and bankruptcy system is pretty fair to borrowers.  In particular, in the case of subprime loans where the borrower has little equity, foreclosure costs almost nothing in current dollars - all the loss is on the bank, with absolutely no come-backs on the borrower in the future.  The borrower must endure years of difficult credit and rebuilding trust in the system, but that is the kind of minimum cost we should expect a foreclosure or bankruptcy to carry.  We always seem to get worked up about foreclosures, because we have this picture of someone losing a home they have lived in 20 years and losing all their equity.   But in these subprime cases, where the buyer has been in the home only a few months and put in virtually no equity, I think our mental picture of the costs, at least to the borrower, of foreclosure are overblown.

As an aside, I am easily convinced that there were many mortgage brokers offering their customers atrociously bad deals and rates.  I can't imagine personally not shopping around for mortgage rates from multiple suppliers, but there are clearly people who want to walk into one guy's office and buy something from that first person.   And a number of these people chose to do business with firms that gave them really poor service (if service is defined as getting the best possible loan for the buyer).  Which gets me to the subject of branding.

I know that there are a lot of folks, particularly on the left, who hate large corporations and national brands, but to a large extent the uneven and unpredictable quality of mortgage brokers may be due to a lack of national players and national brands in mortgage brokering. 

Mortgage brokers, stock brokers, and real estate brokers are all licensed by the government.  By statist thinking, that should be enough to ensure quality.  But while stock brokers and real estate brokers can be independent, most of them have organized themselves into groups under a brand name (e.g. Merrill Lynch or Century 21).  Few such national brands, if any, exist in mortgage brokering.

These brands exist because they have proven themselves useful and valuable to consumers.  Presumably they communicate some form of quality or reliability or capability beyond the level that having a government license affords.  This is not necessarily a gaurantee of perfection, of course.  Certainly Merrill Lynch brokers, form time to time, have been accused of fraudulent behavior.  But Merrill has been very fast to act on these occasions, taking actions designed to save its brand from being tainted.  It is this incentive, plus the history such brands carry in the collective memory, that gives consumers extra confidence to use brokers with these brands rather than individual practitioners.

If I was a contrarian with a load of money and a knowledge of mortgage brokering, I might be thinking about building a Century 21 or Remax-type brand in mortgage brokering.

Posted on April 9, 2008 at 10:20 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Thanks, Government

The US Government requires that garage door openers include an electric eye system that prevents the door from closing if the beam is broken.  Unfortunately, given dirty garages, it is really easy for this beam to be blocked by dust and such.  Two years ago, the beam system caused my door to go back up without my knowledge (I just hit the button and went inside) and as a result our garage was robbed that night. 

This time of year is especially frustrating for us.  My garage faces south, so the low sun this time of year overwhelms the electric eye system in most garage doors and causes them to refuse to close.  It is hugely frustrating, and a real security issue.  I glued tubes around each eye to try to shade the sun, but it is still working erratically.  I spent much of last weekend trying to figure out how to bypass the system electrically but I could not make it work.  Finally, I have had enough.  I have spent ten times the cost of the garage door opener in stolen goods and my personal time fighting this stupid device.  Tonight I am going to remove the two eyes and just mount them facing each other on a wall so I don't have to worry about them any more.  Unless someone can come up with a better solution. 

In my mind this is a classic example of government technocracy -- someone decided for us that we should value a minuscule increase in safety over a substantial reduction in security.

Posted on April 7, 2008 at 05:08 PM | Permalink | Comments (26)

It's Rick Astley's World, And We Are Just Living In It

YouTube seems to be RickRolling visitors, no matter what video one requests when you click on one of the featured videos.  Pretty funny.  Happy April Fools Day.

Posted on April 1, 2008 at 08:14 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Libertarians Are Losing

How do I know libertarians are losing?  Because our local paper can write 396 words on rising "weed complaints" and ensuing city citations for weeds without once even questioning whether the government needs to be enforcing landscape aesthetics.  Here is one local house that is endangering the Republic enough to require government intervention:

Posted on March 31, 2008 at 02:54 PM | Permalink | Comments (11)

Long Overdue: Some Style In Manufactured Homes

Now, I will confess to be a lover of quite modern home designs, but with that in mind, I really think that this design is a breath of fresh air in manufactured homes.  A lot of people are buying these as vacation homes or cottages for land they have bought, either permanently or as a temporary solution until they build their dream vacation home  (Don't click the "decor" button though - it seems that furniture design for manufactured homes is still stuck in the 50's).

Posted on March 31, 2008 at 09:41 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Maybe Its Not So Lucky

I don't mean to draw too much from a cutsie human interest story, but the Freakonomics Blog links an article in the Chicago Tribune about a guy who claims to have found 160,000 four-leafed clovers.  My only real take was that maybe they really aren't very lucky, since the previous record-holder recently died in prison.

Posted on March 25, 2008 at 12:58 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Why Is Easter So Early?

The answer to why Easter comes so early this year is actually up in the sky tonight:  the full moon.  Easter is defined as the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox (which was today rather than the normal March 21, presumably due to it being leap year but someone may correct me on this).

Posted on March 20, 2008 at 07:59 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

More Sick Children

I mentioned yesterday that, consistent with our perfect 15 for 15 history of having sick kids on the family vacation, I missed a day of skiing to take care of my sick son.  Well, the other shoe dropped today, and my wife missed a day of skiing with my sick daughter.  Fortunately, we only have two kids so we may all ski tomorrow.

By the way of disclosure, I enjoy the fun my family has skiing but it really is not my favorite activity or even in my top 50 or so activities.  Too cold, too much stuff to bring, too expensive, too many lines.  Like having to buy $1000 of equipment to go to Disney World and finding that they moved it to Alaska.  With the added risk of breaking a leg.

Posted on March 18, 2008 at 08:42 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

In Case You Thought Homeland Security Knows What it is Doing

I am on my way to a few days of skiing in Utah, but I thought I would leave you with this travel story.  A few weeks ago I was traveling and was at the airport really early.  I had forgotten to remove the toothpaste from my stuff, and I was flagged for extra screening because they saw it on X-ray (I remember the good old days when they were X-raying for guns and stuff rather than toothpaste, but I digress). 

The screener pulled it out and said - sorry, this is more than three ounces.  So, as an engineer with no sense of self-preservation, I asked, "Weight or volume?"  The screener asked what I meant.  I said that an "ounce" is a unit of both weight and volume, which did he mean?  (The TSA site is no help, it just says ounces).  He said "volume."  Still being stupid, I said "but the 3.5oz on that toothpaste is weight -- you can tell by the 'net Wt.' in front of it and the number in grams behind it.  He looked at it for a minute, and then gives me an answer right out of Spinal Tap:  "But its over 3 ounces"  [but this one goes to 11].  Anyway, I gave up and surrendered my Crest to government authorities, and the world was that much safer.

I am told by an airline exec that the policy was originally volume, but after many complaints, the government realized that an ounce was also a unit of weight and they have informally changed the policy to "3 ounces weight or volume" but they never really communicated this change fully because it's too, you know, embarrassing that they operated so long not knowing the difference.

Have a good week -- I will probably post a bit but it will be light.

Posted on March 16, 2008 at 10:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

Advice to Single Men

Guys, you may think you know what you want in a wife --  Is she hot?  Is she smart?  Is she funny? 

I can tell you from 18 years of marriage, this is what you really want in a wife:

Posted on March 13, 2008 at 01:09 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

This Has Got to Be Fake

All the other crazy stuff in this story aside, there is no way that the man whose girlfriend lived on the toilet for two years is named "Mr. Whipple."

Posted on March 13, 2008 at 08:30 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

From the Archives: Eliot Spitzer and the Antarctic Liberation Front

I posted this in 2004, but it seems relevant today:

OK, but what is this Antarctica thing?  Back when I was an undergrad at Princeton, one of my fondest memories was of a bizarre Student Body Governing Council (USG) election.  The previous USG administration, headed by none other than fellow Princetonian Eliot Spitzer, had so irritated the student body that, for the first time in memory, the usually apathetic voting population who generally couldn't care less who their class president was actually produced an energetic opposition party.  Even in his formative years, Spitzer was expert in using his office to generate publicity, in this case frequent mentions in the student newspaper that finally drove several students over the edge.

The result was the incredibly funny and entertaining Antarctic Liberation Front.  I wish I had saved their brochures, but their proposals included things like imposing a dawn to dusk curfew on the school and funding school parties by annexing the mineral rights between the double yellow lines of the US highways.  All of this was under the banner of starting jihad to free Antarctica.  The ALF swept the USG election.  This immensely annoyed Spitzer and other USG stalwarts, who decried the trivialization of such an august body.  The pained and pompous wailing from the traditional student council weenies (sounding actually a lot like liberals after the last presidential election) only amused the general student population even further. After a few student-council-meetings-as-performance-art, the ALF resigned en mass and life went back to being just a little bit more boring.

If you think I am exaggerating in saying that the Spitzer-led student council types had a whiny reaction to this bit of fun, you should know that Spitzer was still whining about it 20 years later to the New Yorker magazine.  Virginia Postrel, also a Princetonian at the time, had a similar reaction to mine here, and fisks the New Yorker article.

Posted on March 11, 2008 at 07:57 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Great Picture

This is an awesome photo.  I am a total sucker for depression-era southern photograph.

Posted on February 28, 2008 at 01:57 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

Why Charles Bronson and Dirty Harry Were So Popular in the 1970's

Citizens of the US in the 1970's were in shock at how the crime rate was increasing.  In part, this was a demographic shift as a wave of young males more likely to resort to crime bulged through the system.  But this chart showing the great release of mental patients onto the streets in the 1960's and early 1970's points to another potential cause we seldom hear people discuss.


Here are US crime rate stats:

Posted on February 28, 2008 at 01:53 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Danger! Loss of Perspective! Danger!

Via Q&O comes this charming story of PETA asking Sri Lankan terrorists to go back to murdering humans and leave the animals out of it:

An international animal rights group called on Sri Lanka’s separatist Tamil Tigers to "leave animals out" of the armed conflict, two weeks after a grenade attack blamed on rebels at the island’s main zoo.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, said in a letter dated Feb. 15 to Velupillai Prabhakaran, the reclusive rebel leader, that "the explosive device that was set off near the zoo’s bird enclosures terrified many animals at the zoo."

PETA president Ingrid E. Newkirk pleaded with the rebel leader "to leave animals out of this conflict," the letter said.

Newkirk added that the group has been inundated by messages from people saddened by the attack.

There was no immediate comment from rebels to the PETA’s letter.

It is an amazing loss of perspective when scaring zoo animals (not even killing them!) gets an organization worked up enough to send out such a letter when just merely killing people did not.

Posted on February 27, 2008 at 10:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

Yes, I Have This Problem Too

From Megan McArdle:

People are so wrapped up in their own irrational bundles of ideas that they seem unable to conceive of any bundle that isn't

a)  theirs

b)  the exact opposite of theirs


It just floors me when people want to argue that the current conservative/liberal or Democrat/Republican positions are internally consistent and the logical (or even only) way to parse the world of ideas.  Particularly when I can start naming so many issues where the two sides have swapped positions over the last few years.  For example, left/right opinions on unchecked presidential power tend to have a lot to do with whose guy is in office.  Bill Clinton proposed most of the Patriot act  as his anti-terrorism bill way back in the mid-nineties, and was opposed in Congress by Republicans led by John Ashcroft.

Posted on February 19, 2008 at 08:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Happy Florist and Restaurant Promotion Day!

I don't really have any Valentine's related advice for folks.  I will just leave you with this list of meanest loves songs that I heard on the radio this morning.  The Rolling Stone's "Under my Thumb" and Meatloaf's "Two out of Three Ain't Bad" would have been the top of my list.

Oh, and related advice:  I saw yet another wedding a while back that used Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" as part of the ceremony.  I know the refrain is nice, but please, those of you who are betrothed out there, read the lyrics before you use this song in your wedding!

Update: From the same source, this is actually a more interesting list.

Update #2: Valentines jewelry for the brave man.

Posted on February 14, 2008 at 08:16 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

Advice for Writers

John Scalzi has what looks to be good advice for writers.  Why?

Because it very often appears to me that regardless of how smart and clever and interesting and fun my fellow writers are on every other imaginable subject, when it comes to money — and specifically their own money — writers have as much sense as chimps on crack. It’s not just writers — all creative people seem to have the “incredibly stupid with money” gene set for maximum expression — but since most of creative people I know are writers, they’re the nexus of money stupidity I have the most experience with. It makes me sad and also embarrasses the crap out of me; people as smart as writers are ought to know better.

Beyond really liking Scalzi's work, he does an amazing amount of work promoting other writers.  Just skim his blog for the last several months.  A hell of a lot more of it is about promoting other authors than it is about promoting his own work.  Here is an example of his advice.

8. Unless you have a truly compelling reason to be there, get the hell out of New York/LA/San Francisco.

Because they’re friggin’ expensive, that’s why. Let me explain: Just for giggles, I went to and looked for apartments in Manhattan that were renting for what I pay monthly on my mortgage for my four bedroom, 2800 square foot house on a plot of land that is, quite literally, the size of a New York City block ($1750, if you must know, so I looked at the $1700 - $1800 range). I found two, and one was a studio. From $0 to $1800, there are thirteen apartments available. On the entire island of Manhattan. Where there are a million people. I love that, man.

Posted on February 11, 2008 at 08:41 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

I Wish I Knew More of This Story

MaxedOutMamma, who has a very nice economics (and other stuff) blog, drops a few hints about having apparently dropped into a persistent vegetative state at some point in the past.  I wish I knew more of the story - maybe if I had been reading her blog longer.  I have read accounts from several people who have emerged from PVS, and I find them consistently some of the most terrifying stories I have read, though I don't think they are always meant that way when told.

In a really bizarre turn of events, I came out of the drooling world smarter than when I went in. No one seems to be able to explain this. I went in with about a 140-150 IQ, and I came out with 160-170. My guess is that I had so little remaining functional brain left at my worst that I evolved an extremely efficient method of using what I had, and that as I got more back, the functionality of the method remained. I may have less working space then I used to, but the way in which I use it is clearly more efficient. I do not think in language at all. Everything is mapped into P-Nat.

Posted on February 2, 2008 at 10:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

European vs. American Rail

It seems that one of those cycles the US always castigates itself about is a perception that the Europeans have a better rail system than we do and that we should somehow emulate their system.  Which is why we still have federal subsidies of a half-assed Amtrak system and high-speed rail proposals are circulated breathlessly from time to time. 

By the way, I have been a consultant to French railroad SNCF and I gaurantee we do not want to emulate the European rail system.  First and foremost, the railroads are huge employment boondoggles.  I remember that the SNCF when I was there had something like 100,000 freight cars but 125,000 freight car maintenance people.  I suggested the railroad could assign one individual full time to his own car and still lay off 20% of the work force. 

The main reason we don't have inter-city passenger rail is a simple one that anyone spending 5 minutes with the numbers can understand -- there are distance break points where air travel is more economic than rail, and most US inter-city transit falls into the larger distance ranges.

Anyway, the anti-planner shares a bit of information that is seldom mentioned in the rail discussion that makes the US rail system look a lot more desireable:

Europe has decided to run its rail system primarily for passengers, while America’s system is run mainly for freight. Europe’s rail system has about 6 percent of the passenger travel market, while autos have about 78 percent. Meanwhile, 75 percent of European freight goes by highway. Here in the U.S., highway’s share of freight travel is only 29 percent, while the auto’s share of passenger travel is about 82 percent. So trains get 4 percent of potential auto users in Europe out of their cars, but leave almost three times as much freight on the highway.

In fact, the freight rail system is so efficient that to some extent we've obviated the need for the Panama Canal.  Many Asian container ships bound for Europe actually make port in Seattle or Vancouver, offload their containers onto trains which shoot across the country to New York or another eastern port where they are reloaded on ships for the trip to Europe.

By the way, in the same article, don't miss the hilarious proposal in Minnesota to spend taxpayer money for a high speed rail line from the Twin Cities to ... Duluth.  Yeah, that's the ticket.  New York to Boston barely makes it financially, but St. Paul to Duluth is going to be a winner.

Posted on February 1, 2008 at 10:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (16)

Traveling Salesman

The Reference Frame has a video of a dog solving the traveling salesman problem.  I was doing some simulations years ago for a railroad company and actually had a traveling-salesman-like problem to solve with equipment routing.  The best approach I found was simulated annealing.  This algorithm starts out with a totally random solution, and then applies random swaps of route legs and then checks to see if the new route is better or worse than the old route.  So far, similar to any Monte Carlo approach.  But in this algorithm, the solution is allowed to jump to worse solutions, though the size of this jump is reduced over time as the algorithm is run.  This helps prevent the algorithm from getting stuck in local minima.

It is called simulated annealing because it is very parallel to the process of cooling and crystallization in a piece of steel.  When heated steel is plunged into water and cooled quickly, the molecules crystallize and are trapped in a higher energy state, whereas cooling the steel slowly lets the structure stabilize into a much lower energy state.  Metal that is quench cooled is harder but more brittle, metal that is annealed is softer and more ductile.  In the algorithm, the slow reduction in temperature is represented by the declining amount by which the algorithm can jump to a worse solution.

Posted on February 1, 2008 at 09:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Spam Call of the Day

Me:  Hello?
Caller:  I represent your local yellow pages and need to update our information on your account

BIG RED FLAG:  There are many scam artists out there who take your business information and then treat it like a "buy" order for advertising and bill later.  Beware people calling saying they are just trying to "update your listing."   I have also had folks who actually cut and pasted recordings of my phone calls to paste my answers to questions that have not been asked.

Me:  What city are you representing?
C:  we're local
M:  Local where?
C: here
M:  I have 200 locations across the country, what local area are you representing?
C: we're worldwide -- everywhere.
M:  CLICK (me hanging up)

Wow, telemarketing scripts by Kafka.  Unbelievably, they called again 10 seconds later

M: Hello
C:  We represent Phoenix
M:  OK, Phoenix.  I don't have any operations in Phoenix, just my HQ.  I don't want to be listed in Phoenix
C:  You are already listed
M:  Well that explains why I get calls at my accounting office looking for a camping space.  Please remove me.
C:  Can I have your name please
M:  No you may not.  You said I had an account already.  You should know my name  CLICK

Incredibly, my new favorite Indian pitbull telemarketer calls again

M:  Hello
C:  blah, blah, something, blah blah.
M:  Look, please take this down.  I do not want a yellow pages listing in Phoenix.  I would like my Yellow Pages listing removed in Phoenix.  I do not want to pay you any money.  I do not want to give you any information.  I do not want you to call me any more.  CLICK

I do not want it sam I am.  I do not want green eggs and spam. 

I probably still will get a bill.

Posted on January 31, 2008 at 03:09 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

I Love Maps

I have always loved maps.  As a kid, I could spend hours looking through an Atlas.  And, even better, my dad had this huge book in his office that had a collection of US maps by county, showing all kinds of crazy demographic and economic information.  I loved that book.   Since then, I have never found it on sale any where, but this map is a good example of the kind of thing it used to include.  Via strange maps, it is a map of leading religions by county.  The map also has a clever way of showing where the plurality is a majority. 


Posted on January 29, 2008 at 08:13 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

I Guess this is an Achievement, sort of

How in the world do you make a 1,145  calories, 71 g fat turkey burger??

Posted on January 10, 2008 at 08:08 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Error: Circular Reference

Les Miles will remain as coach of the LSU football team (at least for a while) despite being wooed by Michigan.  (LSU must wonder what's wrong with their coaching job - they have won two national championships this decade but can't get a coach to stay).

In order to keep Les Miles, LSU inserted this clause in his contract:

Should Miles win the BCS championship [ed:  which he now has accomplished] his contract states he has to be among the top three paid college coaches in the nation, which would bump him to the $3.5 million range.

This is not uncommon language now in sports contracts.  For example, players with a franchise tag in the NFL must get a salary equal to or greater than the average of the top five players at that position.

So here is my question.  What happens if three other college coaches, say Pete Carrol, Jim Tressel, and Urban Meyer (who have all won national championships in the last 10 years) were to demand that they too should be guaranteed a salary that puts them in the top three coaches?  Don't things start getting real recursive at this point?

Yeah, I know, the language generally says they get bumped to a top X position on the day of a certain event, like winning the BCS or having the franchise tag applied, which circumvents the circularity problem, mostly, by not being an open-ended reset.   It is still funny to think about.   There is nothing to stop 4 coaches from negotiating a clause with an open-ended reset such that their salaries would spiral to infinity.  Even Solomon might struggle with that one when it went to court, though the Gordian Knot solution would be to just run one of the four through with a sword.

I wonder if this has ever happened, say with two CEO's that had contracts that guaranteed that each would, at any given time, be the highest paid CEO in the Fortune 500.

Posted on January 10, 2008 at 12:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

Lost Some Points with My Wife

Last night I was working at my office up until about 1AM (that's something we of the exploitive class small business owners have to do from time to time) and as I was leaving I went around the back to the dumpster to throw some trash away.  The top was closed, and the lid is really large such that you have to really throw it upwards to get it to stay open.  Well, unfortunately, I had my car key in my hand and it went sailing through the air too.

So, with it pitch black and the key likely inside the dumpster somewhere, I was forced to call my wife, wake her up, and ask her mysteriously to meet me at my office with a flashlight and my spare car key.  She came through, and did it with pretty good humor, all things considered.  By the way, after a few minutes of dumpster diving with the flashlight, I found my key and everything turned out fine, though a late night shower was required before bed.

Tragically, it is not even close to the dumbest thing I have ever done in my life.  Probably not even in the top twenty.

Posted on January 3, 2008 at 10:53 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

The Unwanted "Gift"

When reaching to take a gift from under the tree this morning, my wife did not see the scorpion clinging to the box.  Unfortunately, she got a nasty sting from this little creature.  While bites from the scorpions we have in Arizona are rarely fatal, they can be really painful and debilitating.  My wife's hand and most of her lower arm are almost completely numb and she cannot muster any strength in her hand.  The bite creates an effect much like when circulation just returns, such that she has had pins and needles in her hand all day.  Bummer.

Update: 12 hours after the sting, and her hand is still nearly inoperative and hurts like heck to the touch.  Do not worry, we have called poison control and her symptoms are in the normal band.  Some Arizonans report that it can take weeks for full nerve function to return.  Joy. 

Posted on December 25, 2007 at 09:23 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

Hat Tip to Larry Niven

In the book Ringwold and its sequels, Larry Niven wrote of an artifact-world so large that 1:1 scale models of various planets, like earth, were created as islands in its vast oceans.  Not quite 1:1, but here is the same idea:

The World is a man-made archipelago of 300 islands in the shape of a world map. The World is being built primarily using sand dredged from the sea. Each island ranges from 23,000 m2 to 84,000 m2 (250,000–900,000 square feet or 5.7–21 acres) in size, with 50–100 m of water between each island. The development will cover an area of 9 km in length and 6 km in width, surrounded by an oval breakwater. The only means of transport between the islands will be by boat and helicopter. Prices for the islands will range from $15-45 million (USD). The average price for an island will be around $25 million (USD). Dredging started in 2004 and as of March of 2007 The World is around 90% complete.

Update:  I have long contended that, at least if you eliminate all entries from the list involving women, that owning an island is the ultimate male fantasy.  Also a good way to "short" global warming predictions, if you are so inclined

Posted on December 24, 2007 at 10:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays

I usually create our Christmas card each year in Photoshop.  Here is this year's effort.  Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and have a great 2008.


Posted on December 22, 2007 at 07:46 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Yearning for Something Better than Kwanzaa

I have had several emails this week about Kwanzaa, so I guess it is time for my annual Kwanzaa rant.  This article has become an annual tradition at Coyote Blog, I guess to make sure I start the new year with plenty of hate mail.

The concept of a cultural celebration by African-Americans of themselves and their history is a good one.  Whenever I write about blacks in America, much of the email I get tries to educate me in how much the "lost heritage" issue matters to African-Americans, a concept I have never fully grasped since I am happy, after the 20th century, to leave behind my German heritage.  Even if I'm not into it, I have no problem with people of any ethnic group or race or whatever creating a holiday.  Life is worth celebrating, as often as possible, even if we have to make up new occasions.

The specific values celebrated in Kwanzaa, however, suck.  They are socialist-Marxist-collectivist-totalitarian crap.   Everyone seems to tiptoe around Kwanzaa feeling that they have to be respectful, I guess because they are fearful of being called a racist.  However, I find it terrible to see such a self-destructive set of values foisted on the African-American community.  These values are nearly perfectly constructed to keep blacks in poverty - just look at how well these same values have played out in Africa.

To begin, its important to understand that Kwanzaa is not some ancient African ethno-cultural tradition.  Kwanzaa was made up in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga.  Karenga was a radical Marxist in the 60's black power movement.  Later, Karenga served time in jail for torturing two women:

Deborah Jones ... said she and Gail Davis were whipped with an electrical cord and beaten with a karate baton after being ordered to remove their clothes. She testified that a hot soldering iron was placed in Miss Davis' mouth and placed against Miss Davis' face and that one of her own big toes was tightened in a vice. Karenga ... also put detergent and running hoses in their mouths, she said."

Interestingly, after this conviction as well as incidents of schizophrenia in prison where "the psychiatrist observed that Karenga talked to his blanket and imaginary persons and believed that he had been attacked by dive-bombers," California State University at Long Beach saw fit to make him head of their Black Studies Department.

Anyway,  I give credit to Karenga for wanting to create a holiday for African-Americans that paid homage to themselves and their history.  However, what Karenga created was a 7-day holiday built around 7 principles, which are basically a seven step plan to Marxism. Instead of rejecting slavery entirely, Kwanzaa celebrates a transition from enslavement of blacks by whites to enslavement of blacks by blacks.  Here are the 7 values, right from the Kwanzaa site (with my comments in red italics):

Umoja (Unity)
To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race

On its surface, this is either a platitude, or, if serious, straight Marxism and thoroughly racist.  Think about who else in the 20th century talked about unity of race, and with what horrible results.

In practice, the notion of unity in the black movement has become sort of a law of Omerta -- no black is ever, ever supposed to publicly criticize another black.  Don't believe me?  Look at the flack Bill Cosby caught for calling out other blacks.

Kujichagulia (Self-Determination)
To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves

Generally cool with me -- can't get a libertarian to argue with this.  When this was first written in the 60's, it probably meant something more revolutionary, like secession into a black state, but in today's context I think it is fine.

Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility)
To build and maintain our community together and make our brother's and sister's problems our problems and to solve them together

Um, do I even need to comment?  This is Marxism, pure and simple.

Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics)
To build and maintain our own stores, shops and other businesses and to profit from them together.

OK, I said the last one was Marxism.  This one is really, really Marxism. 

Nia (Purpose)
To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.

There's that collectivism again

Kuumba (Creativity)
To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.

I guess I don't have much problem with creativity and make things better.  My sense though that if I was to listen to the teaching on this one in depth, we would get collectivism again.

Imani (Faith)
To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.

What about in ourselves as individuals?  Through all of this, where is the individual, either individual responsibility or achievement?  It is interesting that a holiday that was invented specifically to be anti-religious would put "faith" in as a value.  In fact, Karenga despised the belief in God as paying homage to "spooks who threaten us if we don't worship them and demand we turn over our destiny and daily lives."

However, this is in fact very consistent with the teachings of most statists and totalitarians.  They tend to reject going on bended knee to some god, and then turn right around and demand that men go on bended knee to ... them, or other men.  This is in fact what this "faith" was about for Karenga - he is a statist laying the foundation for obedience to the totalitarian state.  He wants blacks to turn over their destiny and daily lives to their leaders, not to god.

So, in conclusion, Kwanzaa was designed as a celebration of creating a totalitarian collectivist Marxist racist state among African-Americans.  I may well get comments and emails that say "oh, that's not how we celebrate it" and I will say fine - but Marxism is the core DNA of the holiday, a holiday created by a man who thought Lenin and the Black Panthers were all wimps.

Never wishing to criticize without suggestion a solution, here are alternate values I might suggest:

Freedom - Every individual is his own master.  We will never accept any other master again from any race (even our own).  We will speak out against injustices and inequalities so our children can be free as well.

Self-Reliance - Each individual will take responsibility for their life and the lives of their family

Pride - We will be proud of our race and heritage.  We will learn about our past and about slavery in particular, so we will never again repeat it. 

Entrepreneurship - We will work through free exchange with others to make our lives better and to improve the lives of our children

Education - We will dedicate ourselves and our time to education of our children, both in their knowledge and their ethics

Charity - We will help others in our country and our community through difficult times

Thankfulness - Every African-American should wake up each morning and say "I give thanks that my ancestors suffered the horrors of the middle passage, suffered the unforgivable indignity and humiliation of slavery, and suffered the poverty and injustices of the post-war South so that I, today, can be here, in this country, infinitely more free, healthier, safer and better off financially than I would have been in Africa."

By the way, if you doubt that last part, note that in the late 90's, median per capita income of African Americans was about $25,000, while the per capita income of Africans back in the "old country" was around $700, or about 35x less.  Note further this comparison of freedom between the US and various African nations.  Finally, just read the news about the Congo or Rwanda or the Sudan.

You can view the comments previously posted to this article here and here.

Posted on December 17, 2007 at 08:59 PM | Permalink | Comments (19)

World's Hardest Easy Geometry Problem

I wasted a lot of time yesterday with this geometry problem.  I have about 12 pieces of paper here that look like a Mondrian retrospective, cutting new triangles and parallel lines.  Still don't have the proof yet, so I thought I would see if I could pull some of your productivity down with mine.  If you are like me, you will decide that the answer is trivial about twice in the first five minutes, both times discovering you have not actually gotten to the answer.

Posted on December 4, 2007 at 08:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (24)

Further iPod Gen 6 Update

As readers may know, I was initially very disapointed in the new gen 6 iPod classic I test drove at Best Buy, but I was very happy with the version I tested several weeks later at the Apple Store.  I hypothesized that maybe there was an initial software issue that had been patched, but that Best Buy had not gotten its demo models up to date.  An engineer associated with Apple wrote me the following:

Regarding the iPod Classic, that sucker was rushed into production. The hardware was/is just fine.  However, the firmware was NOT ready for prime time.  Software resources are very limited at Apple, believe it or not.  If you remember, Apple introduced 3 new models of iPods in September (Nano, Touch, Classic), which stretched those resources very thin.  Too thin.  The Classic firmware is what lagged most.  The sluggishness you noticed was all software, and nothing more.  In an ideal world, the Classic's firmware would have been delayed 2-3 weeks. However, with Steve Jobs, a scheduled introduction is a scheduled introduction, so out it went.  To Apple's credit, it didn't take long for a firmware update to correct it.  One thing Apple does VERY well is to issue timely firmware updates.

You may indeed be right in pointing out that store displays are usually not properly updated, which is the reason that stores like Best Buy are bad representatives for Apple.  If possible in the future, visit an Apple store for your research.  I'm pretty sure they faithfully do their updates.  Apple stores are quite impressively up to date on everything.

I have reason to believe that this person knows what she or he is talking about, and this explanation certainly matches the facts as I know them.  The bottom line is that I can now wholeheartedly recommend the new gen 6 classic iPods. I have had mine for a week and love it, and, contrary to my earlier experience, if anything the menu responsiveness is now better than past generations.  By the way, my iPod Touch was amazing on the flight to NY.  I played movies for hours and had plenty of battery life.  I had brought along this battery pack as a backup, but did not need it.

I am always amazed by the stupid mistakes electronics stores make in demoing products.  This iPod mistake at Best Buy is really boneheaded, but even more commonly I see stores making huge mistakes in demoing TVs.  I can't tell you how many times I see TV's either 1) displaying a really low quality source on an expensive TV or 2) not adjusting the TV correctly to the source (e.g. stretching a 4:3 image to fit a widescreen TV so that everything looks bloated).

Postscript:  I visited the Apple store in Midtown Manhattan, at about 5th and 59th  (right by the FAO Schwartz for all you parents out there).  First, it was really cool.  An all glass cube on the plaza where you enter a glass elevator or glass spiral stairs down to the store itself.  Second, the store was an absolute zoo (this was Thanksgiving weekend) with lines just to demo the products.  From the looks of it, Apple will have a very nice Christmas.  Their entire iPod line is awesome, and for the first time in years they have a desktop that I really like at a nice price point.

Posted on November 25, 2007 at 12:13 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

Trying to be a Geek, and Failing

My wife watches Dancing with the Stars, and has a bunch of old episodes she was plowing through this weekend on TIVO.  Contestant Mark Cuban, Internet billionaire and owner of the Dallas Mavericks, seems to want to cultivate a geek image.  Each dancer is given a score of 1-10 from each of three judges.  Upon getting his score of 7+7+7=21, Cuban made a comment that one would classify as fairly unusual for such a show: "I was kind of hoping for a higher prime number."

I am sure most of the viewers ooohed and aaahhhed.  What an intellectual Mark Cuban is!  Except there is a problem.  21 is not a prime number.  Yes, it's sort of seductively odd, like 51 or 87, but like those numbers it is divisible by 3.  Which makes sense since his score was computed as 3x7.  OK, so maybe he was talking about the "7" he received from each judge.  Well, the number 7 is indeed prime.  But there are no other prime numbers less than or equal to 10.  It would be impossible to get a higher prime number score than 7 unless the judges went up to a Spinal-Tap-esque 11.

I really wasn't going to publish this little insight until I saw TJIC publish this.

Update:  Fixed link.  I guess it is a bad sign of my own geek-dom if I can't get an html link right.

Posted on November 12, 2007 at 08:39 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Prepare to Waste Some Time

Via Hit and Run, this is an incredible site for stat-geeks to fool around.  Top 101 city lists.

#1 Average Sunshine!  I have also lived in the 4th least sunny city.  Sunnier is better.   Seattle is not among the rainiest in terms of total inches, because it never rains very hard.  If you could measure rainy as "number of hours per month that rain is falling", Seattle would be right up there.  In places like Houston, you get a lot more volume of rain, but you get a whole years worth in just a couple of hours.

Other interesting ones:

I just wish they had a better explanation of the metric and the data source for each

Posted on November 7, 2007 at 08:53 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

Grammar Bleg

An exception to the general use of "a" and "an" is before a word like "used."  For example, we say "a used car" rather than "an used car" despite the fact that "used" starts with a vowel.  Is there a name or general rule for this exception?  My guess it is because "used" begins with the "y" consonant sound, so we treat "used" like we would "Yugo".

Posted on November 5, 2007 at 09:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (15)

Forgot a Key Music Recommendation

In my roundup of music recommendations that have been given me by readers, I somehow forgot probably the most important one.

Posted on November 3, 2007 at 10:54 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

My Wish Fulfilled

I remember a while back there was a TV show where people told the producers what kind of cool demonstrations they would like to see and the TV show delivered.  The one I remember was the guy that wanted to see a whole case of fluorescent light tubes dropped off a five-story roof onto a parking lot.

If I were asked, my fantasy would be to see 20,000 pounds of metallic sodium dropped in a lake.  Wish Fulfilled!  HT Maggies Farm.

Posted on November 3, 2007 at 12:20 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Great Moments in Egalitarianism

Somewhere around 20BC in the Roman Empire, the emperor Augustus Caesar wanted to to promote a bit of egalitarianism in Rome, and hoped to curb some of the conspicuous consumption of the rich.  It turned out that the most conspicuous display of wealth was the freeing of slaves, usually in one's will.  Slaves were quite valuable, and freeing a large lot of them on one's death was considered a great way to flaunt how rich one had been in life.

So, in the name of egalitarianism, Augustus set strict limits on the number of slaves that could be freed at any one time.  Thus slavery was maintained in the name of egalitarianism.

Posted on October 26, 2007 at 09:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Hang in There

Maggie's Farm has a great series of pictures of a bear rescue from a high bridge.

Posted on October 25, 2007 at 09:16 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Request to Inventors

I am working this afternoon to put a narration track on my climate movie.  The problem is that I don't really want to hire a narrator, and I don't really have that strong of a narration voice.  What we need is some kind of digital filter that I could apply to my narration mp3 file to make me sound better.  Click on "bbc" and suddenly I would sound like I have a lovely British accent.  Click on "darth" and I would have James Earl Jones' deep baritone.  In fact, in anticipation of such technology in the future, I think James Earl Jones needs to spend several days in a sound booth reading the dictionary so that future generation will have access to his voice, at least digitally.

Posted on October 24, 2007 at 04:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (13)

Magic Act

OK, via Theo comes one of the odder magic acts I have seen for a while.  Not safe for work, as the magician gets nekkid by the end.  Definitely puts to rest the "nothing up my sleeve" thing.

Posted on October 23, 2007 at 08:55 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Pumpkin Idea

I see my past pumpkin-carving posts are getting high Google traffic this week.  If you are looking for a pumpkin idea, this was my favorite past effort:

Pumpkin1   Pumpkin2

I traced a world map on the pumpkin, and then thinned the pumpkin skin in the land masses without cutting all the way through.  Since there are no holes, you will need an electric light to illuminate it.

Posted on October 22, 2007 at 08:36 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Well, boys, I reckon this is it - nuclear combat toe to toe with the Roosskies

What guy wouldn't want one of these?


Hat tip Tyler Cowen

Posted on October 4, 2007 at 09:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

Am I Freaking Prescient of What?

A while back I wrote about racism vs. tattoos, in the context of a story that claimed black players had more fouls called against them than white players in the NBA

My sense is that we make snap decisions about other people based on a wide range of physical attributes, including height, attractiveness, clothing, tattoos, piercings as well as visible racial characteristics (e.g. skin color) and race-related appearance choices (e.g. cornrows). It would be interesting to see where skin color falls against these other visible differentiators as a driver of third party decisions (e.g. whether to call a foul).   My sense is that 60 years ago, skin color would be factor #1 and all these others would be orders of magnitude behind.  Today?  I don't know.  While skin color hasn't gone away as an influencer, it may be falling into what we might call the "background level", less than or equal to some of these other effects. It would be interesting, for example, to make the same study on level of visible tattooing and the effect on foul calls.  My sense is that this might be of the same order of magnitude today as skin color in affecting such snap decisions.

In a follow-up I posited that tattoos may be the new black.

Now, Via Overlawyered:

"Some San Antonio apartment complexes are refusing to rent to people with tattoos and body piercings."

Posted on October 1, 2007 at 07:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Cool Family News

My daughter was selected to perform as part of the opening number of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. 

Posted on October 1, 2007 at 02:38 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

From the Comments

From the comments to my iPod post:

Apple Computer announced today that it has developed a computer chip that can store and play music in women's breasts as implants.

The IBoob will cost $499 or $599 depending on size.

This is considered to be a major breakthrough because women are always complaining about men staring at their breasts and not listening to them.

And who doesn't enjoy unclear pronoun reference humor?  Of course the greatest grammar joke of all time has to be this classic:

New Harvard Student:  Can you tell me where the library is at?

Other Harvard Student, with snobby accent:  At Haaahvaaard, we do not end our sentences in prepositions.

New Harvard Student:  OK.  Can you tell me where the library is at, Asshole?

Update:  Yes, I know, before the commenters come after me, I am not one to throw stones about grammatical mistakes.  But I can get it right when I try, I just make mistakes in the heat of battle.

Posted on September 20, 2007 at 10:46 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Southwest Airlines Seat Selection

Today, I made a pretty rookie mistake in seat selection on Southwest.

I was in the "A" group so was almost certain to be able to get an aisle seat.   From the look of the crowd behind me, it was clear that some, but not all the middle seats would eventually be taken.

I am pretty good at taking up a lot of space even without trying (I am 6-4) but when inspired I can really spread out in my aisle seat to make the middle seat uninviting to the average middle seat shopper.  And an empty middle seat looked like a layup on this flight, since only about 7 or 8 would be filled, and several of the rows around me had really tiny people on the aisle.

But then I glanced at the occupant of the window seat.  AARRGGGHHH!  Sitting there was an extraordinarily attractive young female, dressed quite fetchingly with a bare midriff and a short skirt.  At that moment, I knew I was doomed.  No matter how small I made the middle seat look, some twenty-something guy with minimal self-awareness was going to take that seat to try to hit on the girl at the window.  And sure enough, despite the fact he was as big as me and our shoulders were ordained to fight for space for the two-hour flight, he homed in on the middle seat next to me like a cruise missile.  Worse, I had to listen to him trying to pick the girl up for 2 hours.  I will say it was hilarious for about a third of that time as he tried valiantly to feign interest in the hard-core collectivist-socialist drivel she was selling.  I worried towards the end that he might actually be bonding with her as they both came to quick agreement that all their job prospects seemed to much like "work," but fortunately for my piece of mind she shot him down in flames as we were exiting.

Posted on September 6, 2007 at 06:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (10)

English as an Open Source Language

One of the great things about modern English is that it is bottom-up and open-source.  Years ago, the Oxford English Dictionary took the approach of documenting what English is, rather than the French approach of dictating what the language should be.  As a result, the language evolves based on how ordinary people are using it.  Which is perhaps why the word in many languages for new trends and technologies is often the English word (much to the consternation of the French). 

I tend to agree with Eugene Volokh's definition of "what is a word."  Then think how different this might be in statist cultures, where a word is only a word when the government says it is.

PS-  I acknowledge that this makes English harder to learn for people whose first language is less idiomatic.

Update: Much more here

Posted on August 23, 2007 at 11:23 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

The Houston Rabbit Warren

Growing up in Houston, one of the odder parts of the city, even for a local, is the underground tunnel system downtown.  The system was built, I presume, because you can't even cross the street in the summer time in 100 degree / 100% humidity weather without sweating through your suit coat.  The tunnel system has become quite extensive, such that you can navigate for miles without ever seeing the light of day.  Casual observers often comment on the lack of pedestrian traffic in downtown Houston, but that is perhaps because they never looked under ground.  Over time, underground shopping malls and restaurants and food courts appeared along the tunnels, bringing even more people under ground.

The tunnels are especially difficult to navigate, because there are no visual clues (e.g. we are heading to that building over there) and no signs.  We used to joke people had been lost down there for decades.

Well, the secret is apparently out, as the NY Times has discovered the Houston tunnels.

Seared by triple-digit heat and drenched by tropical storms, midday downtown Houston appears eerily deserted, the nation’s fourth-largest city passing for a ghost town.

On the street, that is.

But below, there are tunnels at the end of the light — nearly seven color-coded miles of them connecting 77 buildings — aswarm with Houstonians lunching, shopping and power-walking in dry, air-chilled comfort....

“Nothing says north, south, east or west. You have to memorize the buildings,” said David Gerst, a lawyer who opened a lucrative sandwich shop — BeWitched — off the East McKinney (green) tunnel network under Commerce Towers, the former Chamber of Commerce building converted to condominiums. For access to the 3,000 people who stream by his shop each lunchtime in what tunnel merchants call the holy hours, Mr. Gerst pays $2,500 a month rent for 800 square feet, more than what surface lunch space may command.

This is the best part:

It was not centrally planned; it just grew, inspired by Rockefeller Center in New York. But it is not connected to a transit network. And, befitting Texans’ distrust of government, most of it is private; each segment is controlled by the individual building owner who deigns to allow the public access during business hours — and then locks the doors on nights and weekends. Some parts, like those belonging to the former Enron buildings now leased by Chevron, are closed to outsiders altogether.

Posted on August 21, 2007 at 11:18 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

The Silicon Valley of Begging

Stephen Dubner's roundtable on the Economics of Street Charity got me thinking about a recent experience visiting Boulder, Colorado, an odd but lovely town in which I used to live.

Here in Phoenix, most of our panhandlers show little or no innovation.  They are still using the "will work for food" or "Vietnam vet" cardboard signs that were an innovation years ago, but now are tired and hard to believe.  All the signs were generic.  None of them seemed tailored to the local audience. 

So where is the innovation in begging occurring?  Someone must have first thought of the "will work for food" come-on which I presume was so initially successful, since everyone copied it, just as they copy any successful innovation in the marketplace?

My vote for the Silicon Valley of Begging is Boulder, Colorado, and specifically on the Pearl Street Mall.  I have recently visited homeless capital Santa Monica, and San Francisco, as well as New York and Boston, and none of their beggers hold a candle to those in Boulder.  Here is why:

  • Their come-ons were unique -- I never saw the same one twice
  • Their come-ons were well tailored to the local audience.  "Need Money for Pot" is not going to get one anywhere in Oklahoma, but it is very likely to elicit a chuckle and a buck from a UC college student or sixties-survivor Boulder resident.  Given that President Bush has about a 0.01% approval rating in Boulder, many of the come-ons led one to believe that giving the beggar a buck would show one's disdain for GWB.

Posted on August 9, 2007 at 10:23 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

"Snuggles" at One

My daughter's white Maltese, embarrassingly named "Snuggles," just turned one.  Sorry we didn't really clean her up for her birthday pictures  (click to enlarge)

Snugs3 Snugs4

Update, in which I am chastised by my daughter:  I quote from my email this morning,

Why do you always have to talk about snuggles name??????? You say how embarrassing it is and people laugh. Good for you, you make people laugh all the time. It is funny to everyone but me. How do you think I feel, with people laughing at me for naming snuggs that name ??? bad

OK, sorry hon.  Snuggles is actually a perfect name for this dog, who loves nothing more than to just sit in your lap.   Yes, Darwin, cuteness is a survival trait.  And Snuggles is the only other mammal in my household who will go running 3 miles with me, even when it is over 100 degrees out, and despite the fact she has a fur coat and the shortest legs by several orders of magnitude.  And, of course, beware to all intruders who run into this formidable home defense unit.

Posted on August 2, 2007 at 09:27 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

HDR Photography Test

I have never been satisfied with my pictures of the rock formations on my parents ranch.  They have always lacked the depth and detail I saw in nature.  I played around this week with HDR photography, which uses multiple exposures of the same image to bring out more contrast and detail.  Here is a closeup of the rocks.  I also got a nice effect with the clouds, combining multiple exposures with small cloud movement.  (click for higher resolution image)

Posted on August 1, 2007 at 08:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)


Interstate bridge collapses during rush hour near Minneapolis.  Though the death toll so far of 6 is tragic, it is pretty amazing when you think of 50-100 cars on a collapsing bridge.

Update:  The guy in the van must have a story to tell.

Posted on August 1, 2007 at 08:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Apparently Chelsea Clinton and I Have Something in Common

Apparently Chelsea Clinton will start work soon as a McKinsey associate.  However, she doesn't seem to have had to solve eight or ten business case studies in real-time during interviews as I had to, nor am I guessing that she will spend her first year working 80-hour weeks buried in spreadsheets and charts.  As a aside, the first partner I worked with at McKinsey was Jeff Skilling, of Enron fame, one of the brightest people I ever worked with.

Posted on July 31, 2007 at 07:20 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

What the Chamber of Commerce Forgot to Say

Somehow, it never is mentioned in the Phoenix promotional literature that it occasionally rains mud here.  Below is my car, which I parked outside at night in a very clean condition.  Behold it in the morning:

No, it did not get stolen and taken out four-wheeling  (for some reason, teenage kids don't seem to steal Volvo's to go hot-rodding around -- go figure).  This is a result of the rainstorm last night.  What happens is we get big winds that whip up a lot of dirt in the air, so we get this really nice dust cloud.  Then it rains, with the water pulling the dirt out of the air and depositing it on the car.  Because the rain does not last long, the dirt stays on the car.  Instant mess.

Posted on July 21, 2007 at 04:28 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Go West, Young Woman

One of my favorite blog finds of late is Strange Maps.  From that source, comes this map guaranteed to bring fear to the heart of every thirty-something Manhattan single woman:


My guess is that a subtitle to the graph in southwestern cities is "single men immigrate more than single women."  Note the scale really under-estimates the situation in NY, since the scale is capped at 40,000.  If they had extended the scale, NY would be probably be a 2-inch diameter circle.

Update: Don't miss the shorter version of my climate paper, which I call the 60-second climate skeptic.

Posted on July 10, 2007 at 09:16 AM | Permalink | Comments (43)

The Most Fanciful Thing I Have Read Today

Conservatives were all over Keith Ellison for his comments about 9/11.  While I think that many of the arguments by 9/11 "truthers" are scientifically bankrupt, I kind of respect the general lack of trust and respect for the government that their skepticism stems from.  And as to Ellison's comments about impeaching the vice-president, I can't imagine anything I would enjoy more than watching Congress tie itself up for months impeaching a largely irrelevant office holder.

However, I thought this was pretty fanciful:

You'll always find this Muslim standing up for your right to be atheists all you want," Ellison, the first Muslim to serve in Congress, said in a speech to more than 100 atheists at the Southdale Library in Edina. . . .

Does anyone really think that if they showed up at the Tehran airport tomorrow proclaiming that "I'm an atheist - let's be pals" that they would be treated with respect?  If I made up a list of countries not to visit as an atheist, 15th Century Spain would be first, but my guess is that several modern Islamic countries would crack the top 10.

Posted on July 10, 2007 at 09:02 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Big Bottom

John Scalzi has a great clip of Spinal Tap playing "Big Bottom" at Live Earth with a stage full of every bassist they could find.  Awesome.  Scalzi asks whether the band that first turned it up to eleven should be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Damn you Scalzi, I have to get some work done today.

Posted on July 9, 2007 at 11:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Great Shirt Outlet

This is so wildly out of character for me that I have a hard time believing I am posting on it, but I have come to like many of the more casual shirts made by Robert Talbott.  He also seems to have a lot of nice dress shirts and ties, but since I don't wear suits and ties any more, I do not pay them much attention.

Anyway, when we were on the Monterrey peninsula last week, my wife and I found the Robert Talbott outlet in Carmel Valley Village (inland of Carmel).  Most all the $250 shirts were $49 and the ties seemed similarly discounted.  Cool.  Also, they have a large selection of fabrics in the back that you can get shirts custom made.   I don't care for wine much, but my wife is also a fan of his Chardonnay, which he makes a few blocks away.

By the way, here are a couple of Monterrey pix:




Posted on July 1, 2007 at 10:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tattoos are the New Black

A while back, writing about charges of discrimination by white referees against blacks in NBA foul calls, I said:

My sense is that we make snap decisions about other people based on a wide range of physical attributes, including height, attractiveness, clothing, tattoos, piercings as well as visible racial characteristics (e.g. skin color) and race-related appearance choices (e.g. cornrows). It would be interesting to see where skin color falls against these other visible differentiators as a driver of third party decisions (e.g. whether to call a foul).   My sense is that 60 years ago, skin color would be factor #1 and all these others would be orders of magnitude behind.  Today?  I don't know.  While skin color hasn't gone away as an influencer, it may be falling into what we might call the "background level", less than or equal to some of these other effects. It would be interesting, for example, to make the same study on level of visible tattooing and the effect on foul calls.  My sense is that this might be of the same order of magnitude today as skin color in affecting such snap decisions.

I may have been on to something:

Russell says in the last two months he's applied for over 100 jobs. In almost half of them, he says he was denied because of his tattoos. He says that's discrimination.

Posted on June 27, 2007 at 07:32 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Relatives in for a Visit

Unfortunately, it was long distance and dark, so conditions were not very good for photography.  Still waiting for that perfect photo-op, but it's surprisingly hard when most family visits we get are at sunset and sunrise.


Update:  By the way, for any of you dog photographers out there - is there a good way to get rid of the bright eye / green eye in dog (or coyote!) photos that is the equivalent of human red eye?

Posted on June 14, 2007 at 08:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

When Prey Decide They Have Had Enough

It seems like there is a taxpayer analogy in here somewhere.

H/T:  Maggies Farm

By the way, if you have not seen it, the BBC Series Planet Earth is just amazing.  I am watching it in High Def via my LG Blu-ray/HD-DVD combo player and it is awesome.

Posted on June 11, 2007 at 10:31 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Nominations for the Worlds Biggest Failure

Forget Scott Norwood, or Bill Buckner, or even Susan Lucci.  I nominate Paris Hilton's parents.

Posted on June 8, 2007 at 10:53 PM | Permalink | Comments (13)

Home Improvement Hobsons Choice

Paraphrasing a famous saying, if you are not busy improving your home, it is busy falling apart.  So my wife and I, though our usual consensus building process** have decided to redo my daughter's room.  My wife offers me this bargain:  Honey, if you get all the furniture out of the way, and put down plastic, and do all the taping, I will paint the room.  Does anyone else sense that this is similar to saying "honey, if you marinate everything and chop everything in advance and do all the cleanup, I will cook dinner?"

Anyway, I took the deal, knowing that in fact my only real alternative to the offered bargain was the implied "or you could just do it all yourself."

** Marital consensus process:

Wife:  What is you first priority for our next home project
me:  I'd like to finally build that hobby room and studio
w:  I think we need to fix up our daughter's bedroom
me:  Or maybe we could fix up the patio
w:  I think we need to fix up our daughter's bedroom
me:  uh, okay, let's do the bedroom

Posted on June 3, 2007 at 10:08 PM | Permalink | Comments (18)

Nice Work!

TJIC finished putting in his own cabinetry, and it looks awesome.  Clearly, this is the guy my wife thought she was marrying.

Posted on June 1, 2007 at 11:08 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

This is Really, Really Wrong

I won't even add a comment to this:

Real, or fake? Never mind the busty woman walking her dog in the park - it may just be her pooch who's sporting implants.

Some pet owners who neuter their male dogs are opting for a surgical procedure meant to make Fido feel like he's back in the good ol' days B.C. - Before Castration.

Neuticles - testicular implants for dogs that look and feel like the real thing - are said to boost a pet's self-esteem by replacing what was lost. It's a procedure that's becoming increasingly popular in New York.

"We did it so Truman could still walk proudly down the street," says Penny Glazier, a Manhattan restaurateur, of her 8-year-old bull mastiff.

"We felt it would be good for him psychologically," she adds. "He actually still marks trees, though I'm told neutered dogs aren't supposed to do that anymore."

Extra points to the poor slob who worked overtime to get the "feel" right. Edgar River has the best comment:

For dog owner Edgar Rivera of the Bronx, whose Jack Russell terrier and Chihuahua were both neutered, Neuticles were never an option. "That's just nuts," Rivera says.

Posted on May 12, 2007 at 08:25 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Still My Favorite Abortion Observation

From Glen Wishard:

Make no mistake, then - the Supreme Court is no longer the Supreme Court of past fame. It is now the National Abortion Tribunal, and its members are no longer jurists, they are the Keepers of the Abortion Toggle Switch.


Fig. 1A. Abortion Toggle Switch, closed.
Suction motors will engage.

As we can see from the schematic diagram above, the Abortion Toggle Switch is currently in the closed (ON) position. The entire purpose of the so-called Supreme Court, as current wisdom understands that purpose, is to stare at this switch all day wondering whether they should play with it or not.

Now this is a sad state for this once-great court to have fallen to, and makes me wonder if we don't need another court to assume the neglected responsibilities of the current one. Then the Abortion Toggle Switch could be moved to some remote corner of the public's attention, and the various abortion partisans could play their endless game of Keep Away without buggering up the entire constitutional process.

Posted on April 18, 2007 at 11:05 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

A Campaign for They

Here's the deal:  We need a gender-neutral third person pronoun.  I am tired of all the awkward constructions I have to concoct to use his or her in a grammatically correct and gender neutral fashion. 

I fully support the use of "they" and "their" as singular third-person pronouns, as in "Each person should bring their pencil" rather than "Each person should bring his or her pencil."  Unfortunately, this is not correct grammar today, so I just spent a few hours purging they's and their's from a draft novel.  However, English is a language that has always been open-source and bottom-up (in contrast to French).  Usages such as this tend to work their way into the language, as dictionary writers for the English language have generally considered themselves catalogers of the English-that-is rather than dictators of the English-that-should-be  (the book the Professor and the Madman is highly recommended).

XKCD took on this topic a while back

Posted on April 18, 2007 at 10:26 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Happy Birthday Leonhard Euler

Yesterday was apparently the 300th birthday of Leonhard Euler, one of the greatest mathematicians of all time and perhaps the greatest that the average layman has never heard of. 

Euler is responsible for so much that is still important to modern mathematics it is hard to pin down his greatest achievement, but most will point to his famous equation that was sort of the unified field theory of mathematics, describing a relationship between all five of math's most important numbers:

e^{i \pi} + 1 = 0, \,\!
I learned something the other day that might be interesting to you business and finance folks out there -- the constant "e" was first described by Jacob Bernoulli when he was studying compound interest rates.

Jacob Bernoulli discovered this constant by studying a question about compound interest.

One simple example is an account that starts with $1.00 and pays 100% interest per year. If the interest is credited once, at the end of the year, the value is $2.00; but if the interest is computed and added twice in the year, the $1 is multiplied by 1.5 twice, yielding $1.00×1.52 = $2.25. Compounding quarterly yields $1.00×1.254 = $2.4414…, and compounding monthly yields $1.00×(1.0833…)12 = $2.613035….

Bernoulli noticed that this sequence approaches a limit for more and smaller compounding intervals. Compounding weekly yields $2.692597…, while compounding daily yields $2.714567…, just two cents more. Using n as the number of compounding intervals, with interest of 1/n in each interval, the limit for large n is the number that came to be known as e; with continuous compounding, the account value will reach $2.7182818…. More generally, an account that starts at $1, and yields $(1+R) at simple interest, will yield $ eR with continuous compounding.

In the 20th century, we have gotten in a mind set that math is this strange discipline that lives purely out in the theoretical either.  But we forget that a lot of modern math was invented to solve real-world problems.  Newton invented calculus (yeah, I know, I haven't forgotten Liebnitz) to solve planetary motion problems, and it turns out "e" was invented to work with interest rates.

Posted on April 15, 2007 at 08:39 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

More Stock Broker Hard Sell

I am still getting the hard sell from cold-callers touting securities.  I am told this is because we small business owners are just behind dentists and doctors in terms of our capacity to make bonehead investments.

Before I proceed with this story, there are two things you need to know about me:

  • I answer my own phone at the office
  • I have never, ever listened to a sales pitch for an investment or security.  If I am in a good mood, I interrupt and say, "sorry, not iterested" before they can even name the stock.  If I am in a bad mood, I just hang up.

So the other day, I accidentally let one of them go further than I usually allow.  He said he was from Olympia Asset Management.  (There is an Olympia Asset Management web page, but I don't know if it is the same company and the web page has not been updated for several years.)  I let him run for a bit because a friend of mine runs a very well-respected financial planning firm with a different name but also with Olympia in the title, and for a moment I thought it might have been one of his folks.

Anyway, he proceeds to try to convince me that we have talked before and discussed a certain security.  "Remember me, we talked six months ago about ____".  Of course, I had never heard of the guy.  At this point I usually hang up, because I have heard this crap before -- it is a common pitch.  The best I can figure is that they are trying to give themselves more credibility by either:

  1. Trying to imply that we have some kind of relationship we actually don't have.  Or worse...
  2. Trying to convince me that he touted stock A six months ago, so now he can tell me stock A has gone up in price.  Many reputable brokers built their reputation by cold calling people and saying:  Watch these 3 stocks and see how they do and I will call you back in 6 months.  That way, you can evaluate their stock picking without risk.  The modern sleazy approach is to pick a stock that has gone up a lot in the last 6 months, and then call some harried business person and pretend you called them with that pick 6 months ago, hoping that they will give you the benefit of the doubt.

For some reason, maybe because I was bored, I decided to chat with him, and I had to admit that he was trained pretty well never to give up.  I interrupted him after the "do you remember" opening and said that we could not possible have spoken about a stock, because I always hang up on people within 5 seconds of knowing it is a stock pitch.  He said he had sent me a packet of information.  I said that he had not.  He insisted that we had talked, and that I had promised to write down the name of the stock on my calendar.  I told him I don't have a calendar  (which is actually true - I manage myself through a dysfunctional combination of memory and post-it notes).  Sensing weakness, I turned on him and said "gee, I was out of town a lot 6 months ago and am surprised you got hold of me.  What date did you call."  Then he starts getting all vague on me.  Anyway, I finally tired of the game and hung up but he never relented in his assertion that he and I had had a nice chat about some security.

Please, please.  Avoid these guys on the phone like the plague.  Several years ago I had a guy call me with some oil drilling "opportunity."  In that case, I also made an exception to my rule and listened to see just how bad this thing was going to be.  Finally I broke in and said "that's ridiculous, no one in their right mind would send you money for that."  He too was relentless, until I finally said "Look, I know Tony Soprano is standing behind you in the boiler room there and putting pressure on you, but I am not interested."  Then, without a pause, he starts telling me how he once threw a Molotov cocktail into the car of someone he didn't like.  I don't know if he was just having fun with me, but he was either wildly unprofessional or very creepy.  Beware, Beware, Beware.

Posted on April 12, 2007 at 10:18 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Bugs Bunny, Libertarian Hero

Bugs Bunny was never one to knuckle under to arbitrary power.  I always like the episode when he protects his home from a freeway development, and eventually the freeway ends up going around his home, which has been turned into a pillar of concrete.  I am reminded of all this by this picture from Radley Balko of a woman who would not sell out to developers in China.


Posted on March 26, 2007 at 01:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Insurance Bleg

We are considering switching our Blue Cross / Blue Shield individual health coverage to a higher deductible policy from Assurant.  Anyone have any experience with these guys, positive or negative?

Posted on March 17, 2007 at 09:46 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)