When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson

29 September 2007


In re yesterday's post (the anniversary party was tremendous and a good time was had by all), here's this timely article suggesting that the divorce statistics in America are not as bad as they might seem:
The story of ever-increasing divorce is a powerful narrative. It is also wrong. In fact, the divorce rate has been falling continuously over the past quarter-century, and is now at its lowest level since 1970. While marriage rates are also declining, those marriages that do occur are increasingly more stable. For instance, marriages that began in the 1990s were more likely to celebrate a 10th anniversary than those that started in the 1980s, which, in turn, were also more likely to last than marriages that began back in the 1970s.

28 September 2007

If you asked them, they could write a book

In a country where between 40 and 50% of marriages end in divorce -- depending on whose numbers you believe -- the institution of marriage is clearly suffering.

Carrie and I have been together for eleven years now, and married for nine; we've already beaten the published odds, and I hope and expect we'll be together for the rest of our lives.

But wrap your minds around this one, if you can:

Tonight, I'm driving to Asheboro, NC to attend a family function: a dinner celebrating the 67th wedding anniversary of my beloved aunt and uncle.

Amazing, no?

The nuggets must be guarded

A plastic dispensary pitcher holding Iams Original For Cats is Mister Gato's favorite perch in the "pantry corner" of our kitchen.

guarding the nuggets_scaled
I like knowing where my next meal is coming from.

See more bloggers' pets at The Modulator's Friday Ark; this Sunday, the Carnival of the Cats is hosted by Life From A Cat's Perspective.

27 September 2007

This is good advice

I Used to Have Them Backwards, but I Was Dead Wrong

Professor: What words do we get from the name Aphrodite?
Student #1: Hermaphrodite.
Professor: Yes -- from the union of Aphrodite and Hermes. What else?
Student #2: Aphrodisiac!
Professor: Good! And what is an aphrodisiac?
Students: [Silence.]
Professor: Are you all Victorians? Come on... What's it called when one uses something to arouse sexual appetite?
Student #3: Necrophiliac! [Class laughs.]
Professor: I have to advise you to invest in a dictionary, as it's simply prudent to know the difference between a necrophiliac and an aphrodisiac. Hopefully, you won't ever need to thank me for that.


Overheard by: Cairo

via Overheard in New York, Sep 27, 2007

24 September 2007

Where's MEGEN?

When Team Navy won the friendly ValOUR-IT competition last fall (enrevanche readers helped!) and raised a lot of money to buy voice-activated notebook computers for injured American servicemen and women, a "golden laptop" trophy was created to commemorate the occasion... MEGEN, or "Most Exalted Golden Notebook."

MEGEN has certainly been getting around ever since (check out the posts over at Chaotic Synaptic Activity... starting with the first one is recommended.)

Part of the fun is a little game we play called "Where's MEGEN?" Here's the Big Apple edition of that game.

Like a lot of tourists, MEGEN recently visited New York City. Here's a picture of MEGEN on vacation in Manhattan:

MEGEN in closeup-scaled
MEGEN in New York

Well, shoot. You can't really tell too much about where MEGEN is from that photograph.

How about this one?

Megen In New York-1-scaled
More context.

Any takers?

Take your best guess and leave a comment... I'll update this post with the answer in a day or two.

UPDATE: That didn't take long... NYC expat Scott got it in one.

The answer: Abingdon Square Park in Greenwich Village, Manhattan, in front of the Abingdon Doughboy.


"In 1921, twenty thousand spectators gathered in and around [Abingdon Square Park] to hear former and future Governor Alfred E. Smith present the Abingdon Square Memorial (also known as the Abingdon Doughboy) in memory of local men who fought in World War I. Created by sculptor Philip Martiny, this monument was restored by Parks' monument crew in 1993. The flagstaff was dedicated by the Private Michael J. Lynch Post No. 831 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in 1933."

The inscription on the monument's base reads:


In the early years of the 20th century, Greenwich Village (where Abingdon Square Park is located) was *not* the swanky place it is now... it was a working class Irish and Italian neighborhood, and "popular subscription" means that someone collected a hell of a lot of dimes and nickels to get this memorial built.

Couldn't think of a more appropriate place to photograph the Valour-IT prize than by a monument that documents a community remembering its veterans.

23 September 2007

The bending of definitions and the turning of blind eyes

In every war, information is a weapon. In a “war against terrorism”, where the adversary wears no uniform and hides among the civilian population, information can matter even more. But does that mean that torture can sometimes be justified to extract information?

The answer in international law is categorical: no. As laid down in treaties such as the Geneva Conventions, the UN Convention against Torture and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the ban on torture or any cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment is absolute, even in times of war. Along with genocide, torture is the only crime that every state must punish, no matter who commits it or where. Defenders of this blanket prohibition offer arguments that range from the moral (torture degrades and corrupts the society that allows it) to the practical (people will say anything under torture so the information they provide is unreliable anyway).

The September 11th attacks have not driven any rich democracy to reverse itself and make torture legal. But they have encouraged the bending of definitions and the turning of blind eyes. There is a greater readiness among governments that would never practise torture themselves to use information which less squeamish states have obtained—through torture.
Terrorism and civil liberty: Is torture ever justified? (The Economist, 20 September 2007)

The day Pops talked politics

Fifty years ago this week, all eyes were on Little Rock, Ark., where nine black students were trying, for the first time, to desegregate a major Southern high school. With fewer than 150 blacks, the town of Grand Forks, N.D., hardly figured to be a key front in that battle — until, that is, Larry Lubenow talked to Louis Armstrong...

...“It’s getting almost so bad a colored man hasn’t got any country,” a furious Mr. Armstrong told him. President Eisenhower, he charged, was “two faced,” and had “no guts.” For Governor Faubus, he used a double-barreled hyphenated expletive, utterly unfit for print. The two settled on something safer: “uneducated plow boy.” The euphemism, Mr. Lubenow says, was far more his than Mr. Armstrong’s.

Mr. Armstrong bitterly recounted some of his experiences touring in the Jim Crow South. He then sang the opening bar of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” inserting obscenities into the lyrics and prompting Velma Middleton, the vocalist who toured with Mr. Armstrong and who had joined them in the room, to hush him up.
The Day Louis Armstrong Made Some Noise (New York Times, 23 September 2007)

22 September 2007

Thanks, FASB!

Marc Andreesen: "I'd just like everyone to whom I owe money to know that you're never going to get it back. And I plan on booking the dollar value of your outrage as revenue in my current quarter."

social graphs = social networks

There's a lot of buzz now about business strategies revolving around "social graphs."

If you've ever tried to figure out what a "social graph" really is as a term of art (it has to do with a branch of mathematics called graph theory) and how it's actually different from what we've all been calling "social networks," Dave Winer helpfully explains this for you:
Graphs are useful for modeling stuff that goes on in computers. They are also part of a field of math called combinatorics that's related to statistics, and also related to a highly theoretical area of math called topology...

...[B]efore we talked about social graphs we called them social networks, and you know what -- they're exactly the same thing, and social network is a much less confusing term, so why don't we just stick with it? (Answer: we should, imho.) So if you don't want to sound like an idiot, call a social graph a social network and stand up for your right to understand technology, and make the techies actually do some useful stuff instead of making simple stuff sound complicated.
If you're a specialist in any field of endeavor, you can probably come up with many examples of how a "term of art" in your field has a subtly--or radically--different meaning as a word in common English usage.

If you're trying to communicate with people, here's a big hint: Use the word--or the meaning--that they're likely to understand.

How to avoid sounding like a monkey (Dave Winer, Scripting News, 21 September 2007)

Kindly revert for furtherance

At the end of a very polite letter to gauge my interest (none, as it happens) in leasing office space near Delhi (India, not New York), my correspondent advises me:

>> You may kindly revert for furtherance.

This is absolutely the way I am going to start closing all my business letters, as soon as somebody explains to me what the hell it means.

(In context, it seems to mean "please contact me if you want to talk about this.")

I don't think it's the kind of phrase that would be terribly useful in conversation, but if so, I think the tone of voice in which one said it would have a lot to do with whether one got kissed or punched immediately thereafter.

20 September 2007

Mango - online language learning

Carrie and I are big fans of the commercial software package Rosetta Stone for foreign-language acquisition... but we're definitely checking out Mango, a brand new online training site.

Eleven courses are currently available, with more to come.

Try Mango!

President Lincoln, at last report, is still alive

Now that the TimesSelect paywall is down for good, kottke's been having a blast in the New York Times online archives.

19 September 2007

See Off This Mountain

"Tell about the South. What's it like there? What do they do there?" - Quentin Compson, being interrogated by Shreve, his college roommate, in William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom!

When a Southerner wants to explain something to you, he tells you a story. We are a culture of involuntary and automatic raconteurs.

Go visit Doc, who is on a roll with the personal narrative over at They Rode On:

18 September 2007

Hayek, in cartoon form

The Road to Serfdom rendered in comic-book form.


...so 2nite we're going to party like it's 1929

moral hazard: "A situation in which someone insured against risks will purposely engage in risky behavior, knowing that any costs incurred will be compensated by the insurer. A financial system which offers "rescue packages" may encourage borrowers and lenders to undertake low-quality or high-risk investments, thus increasing the likelihood of a crisis."

Related: Markets Soar After Fed Cuts Key Rate By Half A Point (New York Times, 18 September 2007)

Speech codes on campus

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) just introduced a novel way to publicize the restrictions on free speech and free thought that many schools impose on students.

You may already be familiar with the concept of speech codes, but you may not know about FIRE’s system for classifying the severity of those speech codes. Schools receive a “red light” rating if they have regulations that “substantially restrict” speech. Yellow light schools have regulations on the books that could be abused by administrators to restrict speech. And schools that do not restrict speech at all get “green light” ratings.

It’s a sad commentary on the state of affairs in academia that fewer than 10% of all schools surveyed by FIRE have green light ratings. This means that over 90% of those schools have some administrative mechanism for restricting speech.

Brain Terminal: FIRE’s Web Widgets Highlight Students’ Limited Rights

Related: Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE)

Bourdain's take on trendy menu items

This one is hard to recognize as parody until you get to this item:
Cayenne Pepper-Infused, Freeze-Dried Chocolate Nuggets
Bathed in Marshmallow Star Anise Foam
And even then, it could happen.

Radar Online: Anthony Bourdain's Overrated Menu (via Eater)

A failed experiment

The New York Times will stop charging for access to parts of its Web site, effective at midnight Tuesday night.

The move comes two years to the day after The Times began the subscription program, TimesSelect, which has charged $49.95 a year, or $7.95 a month, for online access to the work of its columnists and to the newspaper’s archives. TimesSelect has been free to print subscribers to The Times and to some students and educators.

In addition to opening the entire site to all readers, The Times will also make available its archives from 1987 to the present without charge, as well as those from 1851 to 1922, which are in the public domain. There will be charges for some material from the period 1923 to 1986, and some will be free.

Times to stop charging for parts of its website (New York Times, 18 September 2007)

Techdirt: Microsoft's tough night

Just about 24 hours after [EU regulators] continued to insist that Microsoft is a monopoly that needs to be restricted, three major tech companies demonstrated why that might not be the case. First up, Google rolled out their long awaited presentations capabilities to Google Docs. Google continues to insist that this is merely a "feature" added to the Google Docs offering, but obviously, this is a light version of PowerPoint...


While the Google announcement may be more important long-term, it's also worth noting IBM's decision to offer a free downloadable office suite...
IBM is going to offer a commerically supported flavor of OpenOffice called "Lotus Symphony."

TechDirt: Microsoft's Tough Night: Google And IBM Both Launch Free Office Products

14 September 2007

This has all happened before

Ganked directly from Marc Andreesen's blog:
He words it rather more politely than I would:

Advice to portfolio managers around the globe: please stop referring to "7-standard deviation events" when describing performance.

Whether it's the decline in home prices in real terms, a sudden widening of credit spreads, the impact of too much leverage on previously uncorrelated hedge fund strategies, a sudden shift in liquidity, a selloff in riskier emerging market stocks and bonds despite no change in fundamentals, unexpected outflows from fund investors, problems with credit derivatives or declines in bank credit lines, this has all happened before.

The smartest managers had prepared for volatility.

The good ones will learn from what's happened and make adjustments.

Those that spend too much time explaining why it wasn't likely in the first place fall into the bottom category.

From Michael Cembalest, Chief Investment Officer of JP Morgan Private Bank (not online).
blog.pmarca.com: Quote of the week: Michael Cembalest of JP Morgan

The valet is pressing your clothes, sir

The Valet_scaled
His techniques are a little unorthodox, perhaps.

See more bloggers' pets at The Modulator's Friday Ark; this Sunday, the Carnival of the Cats is hosted by The House of Mostly Black Cats.

13 September 2007

What are our objectives? What are theirs?

We have created in Iraq the exact type of scenario Bin Laden was hoping (but failed) to lure us into in Afghanistan—an unwinnable war where we're isolated from the world, our troops are walking targets for guerilla terrorists, and our only options are bad (pull out and hope for minimal carnage) and worse (stay in, where our troops will continue to die, and where there's no prospect for stability in the near future).

A loosely-connected, (relatively) poorly funded, backward-thinking organization like Al-Qaeda could never inflict significant harm on the United States, at least not in a straightforward war. Their best hope is to scare us into rash, ill-considered actions like overextending our military, alienating our allies, and doing away with the open society and civil liberties that define who we are.

Six years have passed since Sept. 11. That's enough time and distance for us to take a couple of steps back, look at that horrible day with some perspective, and reevaluate if the course we've charted is the correct one. We should bear in mind that Al-Qaeda could never defeat us on its own. It can only frighten and trap us into defeating ourselves.

Six Years Later: Bin Laden Still Free, U.S. Mired in Iraq (Radley Balko, September 12, 2o07, FoxNews.com)

Wonder how long Radley's going to be able to keep that commentary gig at Fox. (I've been reading him in Reason and at The Agitator for quite some time now.)

12 September 2007

Welcome to Energyville

How do we meet growing global energy demand? What new kinds of fuels and power sources should be developed? These are the sorts of questions facing us all.

To help encourage greater understanding and dialogue, Chevron and The Economist Group have created Energyville, an online, interactive game that puts you in charge of meeting the energy demands of your city. It's a chance to put your theories into practice. Choose from a portfolio of available energy sources to power your city today, and through 2030. Every decision you make will affect the environment, the economy, and even your city’s security. So, give each move some real thought.

In appreciation of your participation, we’re sending all participants* a gift voucher for a six-month subscription to Economist.com. This will give you access to The Economist’s full content, plus our archive of over 30,000 articles. You can keep the voucher for yourself, or give it as a gift. Just follow the link after you finish the game and claim yours today.


OpenID: The solution to online identity theft?

In March, Dubner and Levitt tackled the realities of identity theft. Now, with phishing scams getting ever cleverer, state government databases leaving sensitive private information accessible to the world, and identity thieves expanding their schemes into Web giants like Facebook, it’s worth asking: how will the problem of identity theft be solved?

Technology innovators have been plugging away, of course, to develop programs that safeguard sensitive information from prowling hackers. One product touted as a possible solution is OpenID, an online protocol that manages a user’s web identity by offering single sign-on for any participating Web site. Surfers never have to enter a username or password to access sites that demand registration, and can navigate between different sites without logging in or out — the equivalent of an online driver’s license. While the program has yet to hit the mainstream, reports estimate that it and similar products are “two to five years away from mainstream adoption.”

Freakonomics blog: Is OpenID the Solution to Online Identity Theft?

11 September 2007

It's time to blow the shofar...

As Carrie observed, "Nothing says Days of Awe like a Muppet rabbi."

9/11: Moving from grief to remembrance

No one who was in New York City on that awful day six years ago will forget the terrorist attacks.

We will remember. We should remember.

But, with all due respect to those who lost friends and loved ones in the Twin Towers, or in the Pentagon, or aboard one of the hijacked aircraft, it is time that we as a country focus on remembrance, and not grief.

I am not Michael Bloomberg's biggest fan, although I think he's been a very competent mayor in a city that's notoriously difficult to govern. But I think he's right on the money here:
The planning in New York City for today’s commemoration of the 2001 terror attack had become a seemingly familiar standoff.

On one side was a vocal core of victims’ relatives threatening to hold their own event because the ceremony would, for the first time, take place not at ground zero but across the street, at Zuccotti Park. On the other, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, accused by the relatives of insensitivity, was holding firm that it was unsafe to allow mourners at what was now an active construction site.

The mayor and the families agreed to a compromise: the ceremony would be held at the park but relatives would still be allowed to descend to the pit where their loved ones perished.

When he took over as mayor in 2002, Mr. Bloomberg threw himself into fixing the many pressing problems wrought by the terror attack: shoring up the security of a city suddenly at the center of a bull’s-eye; closing the gaping hole in the midst of Lower Manhattan; bolstering a sinking economy suffering the loss of thousands of jobs.

But the mayor has also played an essential if more subtle role in nudging the city to gradually let go of its grief. It is a challenge the mayor has handled sometimes clumsily and sometimes with great sensitivity and eloquence, as he charted the path away from the concrete events of 2001. Now, as he works to imbue the city with optimism for the future, he even hints at a day when remembering may not mean reading the names of all the dead.

“You’re going to have to change to keep it relevant,” Mr. Bloomberg said at a news conference yesterday when asked about the fact that one television network had originally planned not to broadcast the entire ceremony, which exceeds four hours. “I’ve never been a believer that doing the same thing every time is the best way to accomplish anything.”
Bloomberg Tries to Move the City Beyond 9/11 Grief (New York Times, 11 September 2007)

Thought for the day

James Fallows: "Yes, around the world, people truly are brothers and sisters, united by their love of poker-playing dogs."

Like a squid spraying ink, and for the same reason

Frightened companies disperse FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) when threatened. Here's what Microsoft said yesterday, on the occasion of Google's announcement that major consulting and outsourcing firm Capgemini would start selling Google Apps to their customer base:
Microsoft also suggested a list of “top questions that enterprises should ask when considering the switch to [Google Apps Premier Edition]...


2. Google has a history of releasing incomplete products, calling them beta software, and issuing updates on a “known only to Google” schedule – this flies in the face of what enterprises want and need in their technology partners – what is Google doing that indicates they are in lock step with customer needs?

3. Google touts the low cost of their apps –not only price but the absence of need for hardware, storage or maintenance for Google Apps. BUT if GAPE is indeed a complement to MSFT Office, the costs actually become greater for a company as they now have two IT systems to run and manage and maintain. Doesn’t this result in increased complexity and increased costs?
And now you've had your irony supplement for the day. :-)

The marketplace already understands "Software as a Service," where the provider maintains all infrastructure and rents you the applications, even if Microsoft pretends not to.

These are early days yet, but this model is going to succeed in a big way.

09 September 2007

Memories of The Frog and Nightgown

Over at The News and Observer's web site, there are some very nice reminiscences of the time that North Carolina-born Thelonious Monk did a ten-day stand at The Frog and Nightgown, a jazz club in Raleigh, NC. (See also critic Bill Morrison's thoughtful contemporaneous review; he might not have liked the performance much, but it wasn't because he didn't get it or wasn't thinking about it.)

Raleigh, and the metro area surrounding it, feels more and more like a "real city" to this adopted New Yorker these days. I spend one week a month in Raleigh and the rest of the time in Manhattan for the most part, so I get to make the side-by-side comparison on a frequent basis.

But when I was growing up there in the 60s and 70s, Raleigh was a sleepy, small Southern city of no particular distinction, certainly not in the area of restaurants and nightclubs... or anything else, really.

It was Mayberry, with more stoplights.

But there were, you know, pockets of interest.

The universities in the area, the seat of state government, and the nascent industries and research centers coming into nearby Research Triangle Park brought a lot of intellectual types into the region, and so you got interesting little epiphenomena like "The Frog."

"The Frog" was the Frog and Nightgown jazz club and restaurant, which, for the length of its run (it was, if memory serves, open for about a decade... from the late 60s to the late 70s) was the only club regularly booking major jazz acts in the latitudes between Washington, D.C. and Atlanta.

I was more interested in Captain Kangaroo and Sesame Street than jazz during the Frog's glory years, and it was long closed by the early 80s, when I started tuning in Gary Shivers' jazz radio broadcasts on WUNC-FM and began what would be a lifelong love affair with this music... or by the late 80s, when I was old enough to go drinking in jazz clubs.

But I still have my own personal memory of The Frog, and it's a pretty cool one.

My buddy Eric--we were elementary school classmates--had a birthday coming up. Even in elementary school you could tell Eric was going to be--was already--a gifted musician; he was a piano prodigy. And his parents, who were scientists working in nearby RTP, saw a rare opportunity to give him a really special birthday party.

Believe it or not, they bravely took a bunch of eight year-old kids to an all-ages matinee show at The Frog and Nightgown, and introduced us all to Dizzy Gillespie.

If John Birks Gillespie was surprised to see a table full of children in party hats at a jazz club, he certainly didn't let on. During a break between sets Mr. Gillespie came over to meet and greet us, and even put his finger to his lips and puffed out his massive cheeks for comic effect; later, I recall the band gamely attacking "Mary Had a Little Lamb" with a bop accent, to demonstrate some rudimentary concepts around jazz improvisation to the table with the cake and ice cream.

Despite being gravely informed of the importance of the man we were going to hear, I didn't really get it at the time, of course. I was *eight*.

But you know something? I remember shaking the man's hand.

If you shook hands with Mozart, you'd remember that too.

08 September 2007

In memory of Madeleine L'Engle

It's been a hell of a week, and I'm just catching up on the news and my blog-reading.

Saw over at Chap's place that Madeleine L'Engle had died, and this morning there's an obituary in the New York Times.

The obituary is good and complete, but I like the personal remembrance that Chap pointed to much better.

Aside from the good experiences I had as a child reading her intelligent, speculative fiction, Ms. L'Engle wrote me a short, kind note when I sent her a fan letter, giving me some really good advice.

note from ms l'engle

It didn't come with cookies or an autographed copy of her book... but then, I wasn't a neighbor like JPod.



Hat tip: Laurie

See also

Who can fight will fight, who must leave will leave

Ahmed, who has a Shiite father and a Sunni mother, considers himself a secular Shiite, and, in his view, the religious militias want to force people like him out of Baghdad. “Americans are the safe house for the whole situation in Iraq,” he said. “Once they say they are going to withdraw, the whole country will become a hell.” He went on, “I imagine that no Sunnis will be in Baghdad at all. Baghdad will be only for the Shiite man with the long beard and black imama—the turban. The Americans are representing the taboos, just like ‘Lord of the Flies.’ I imagine the Shiites will be just like that if the Americans have to withdraw. Who can fight will fight, who must leave will leave.” He added, “Those who are weak, who are trying to avoid the savagery, those who are at the edge of being eaten by the Shiite specifically—that will be the end point, that will be their doomsday. The plan, as we hear it, is to make Baghdad empty of Sunnis.”

This week, Ryan Crocker, the U.S. Ambassador in Baghdad, and General David Petraeus, the commander of the multinational forces in Iraq, will give their assessment of the surge to Congress—an event that, in Washington, has taken on the aura of a make-or-break moment for the Administration’s policy. But their testimony is likely to be unremarkable. Administration officials, military officers, and members of Congress described their expectations of it in strikingly similar terms, and a few said that they could write it in advance: military progress, a political stalemate among Iraqis, more time needed.

The Petraeus-Crocker testimony is the kind of short-lived event on which the Administration has relied to shore up support for the war: the “Mission Accomplished” declaration, the deaths of Uday and Qusay Hussein, Saddam’s capture, the transfer of sovereignty, the three rounds of voting, the Plan for Victory, the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Every new milestone, however illusory, allows the Administration to avoid thinking ahead, to the years when the mistakes of Iraq will continue to haunt the U.S.
Planning for Defeat: How should we withdraw from Iraq? (The New Yorker, September 17, 2007)

07 September 2007


I saw this damned thing come cruising down the Hudson River yesterday afternoon.

Politics has jacked itself up to my level of weirdness

The future is not only stranger than we imagine, it's stranger than we can imagine.

Professional author and amateur futurist William Gibson ruminates a bit, on the occasion of the publication of his new novel (set in the recent past) called Spook Country:
"Politics has, like, jacked itself up to my level of weirdness," Gibson acknowledges. "I can work with this," he says, thinking of recent turns of events. "I like the sheer sort of neo-Stalinist denial of reality. That's what makes it work. It's interesting. I'd like to see it get less interesting. But I don't know that it necessarily will."


"If I had gone to Ace Books in 1981 and pitched a novel set in a world with a sexually contagious disease that destroys the human immune system and that is raging across most of the world -- particularly badly in Africa -- they might have said, 'Not bad. A little toasty. That's kind of interesting.'

"But I'd say -- ' But wait! Also, the internal combustion engine and everything else we've been doing that forces carbon into the atmosphere has thrown the climate out of whack with possibly terminal and catastrophic results.' And they'd say, 'You've already got this thing you call AIDS. Let's not --'

"And I'd say, ' But wait! Islamic terrorists from the Middle East have hijacked airplanes and flown them into the World Trade Center.' Not only would they not go for it, they probably would have called security."

"Through the Looking Glass": William Gibson, interviewed in The Washington Post (September 6, 2007)

Sybarite, voluptuary, hedonist

mister gato's nap
Originally uploaded by enrevanche.
Main Entry: vo·lup·tu·ary
Pronunciation: v&-'l&p(t)-sh&-"wer-E
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural -ar·ies
a person whose chief interests are luxury and the gratification of sensual appetites
- voluptuary adjective
Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary

How a cat welcomes you home after you've been gone for a while: he naps on your pillows, even though, strictly speaking, they're not in the direct path of the incoming sunbeam.

Closeup view.

See more bloggers' pets at The Modulator's Friday Ark; this Sunday, the Carnival of the Cats is hosted by Mind of Mog.

06 September 2007

Thanks, Steve

Apple Inc. CEO Steve Jobs this afternoon responded to a flood of complaints from existing iPhone owners over yesterday's $200 price cut by promising the company would issue a $100 credit to anyone who bought an iPhone before the change.

"I have received hundreds of e-mails from iPhone customers who are upset about Apple dropping the price of iPhone by $200 two months after it went on sale," Jobs said in a statement posted to the Apple Web site.

Jobs apologizes for iPhone price cut; Apple to issue $100 credit (Computerworld)

Wiki: sleekit, cow'rin', tim'rous beastie

My people, my people.

Michael Lewis explains it all for you

The subprime mortgage / credit market mess, broken down for you by Michael Lewis at Bloomberg.com:

This is what happens when you lend money to poor people.

This is way too good to excerpt.  Go read the whole thing.

Oh, okay... *one* little excerpt:
Call me a romantic: I want everyone to have a shot at the American dream. Even people who haven't earned it. I did everything I could so that these schlubs could at least own their own place. The media is now making my generosity out to be some kind of scandal. Teaser rates weren't a scandal. Teaser rates were a sign of misplaced trust: I trusted these people to get their teams of lawyers to vet anything before they signed it. Turns out, if you're poor, you don't need to pay lawyers. You don't like the deal you just wave your hands in the air and moan about how poor you are. Then you default.
A Wall Street Trader Draws Some Subprime Lessons: Michael Lewis (Bloomberg.com)

05 September 2007

Meet the Geek Marketers

In my Advertising Age column this week I wrote about a new career path I see emerging. It exists both in PR/advertising agencies and on the client side as well - The Geek Marketer.

My thesis is this: it's very difficult for anyone in marketing to keep up with all the twists the digital space because technology changes so darn fast. It's like chasing a cheetah. Most marketers - be they clients or agency side - are heads-down running their business. Therefore, companies are creating a new role. They're hiring people who act as translators between the ultra geeks and the marketers, if you will, and shepherd the development of pilot programs...

...These cross-trained specialists are fluent in both worlds and bridge them. They are marketers by trade, yet they also have a hard-core interest in technology and social anthropology. As curious individuals, they are constantly studying how digital advances are changing our culture and media. Armed with these insights, they regularly apply them in a marketing context by working closely with brand teams to codify new best practices.

(Micro Persuasion: The Geek Marketer, September 4, 2007)

I think blogger Steve Rubel is on to something here, and not solely because he's just neatly summarized important aspects of my job description. :-)

There has always been money in being the resident geek-to-suit translator, especially in the IT business. I concur that it's the *pace* of change that is now driving this to the fore.

01 September 2007

Singapore's Lion, in winter

The "benevolent despot" - an autocratic ruler who governs with an iron hand, ruthlessly suppresses opposition, but primarily makes decisions on the basis of what's good for the polity he governs and the citizens who inhabit it - is mostly a theoretical construct of political science textbooks and dorm room bull sessions.

Historical examples of benevolent despots, in other words, are mighty hard to come by. Human nature makes them rare birds indeed.

Here, arguably, is one.
Lee Kuan Yew, who turned a malarial island into a modern financial center with a first-world skyline, is peering ahead again into this city-state’s future, this time with an idea to seal it off with dikes against the rising tides of global warming.

“Let’s start thinking about it now,” he said during an interview in late August, in what could be the motto for a lifetime of nation building. Ever since Singapore’s difficult birth in 1965, when it was expelled from Malaysia, he said, the country has struggled to stay alive in a sea of economic and political forces beyond its control.

“If the water goes up by three, four, five meters, what will happen to us?” he said, laughing. “Half of Singapore will disappear.”
Modern Singapore’s Creator Is Alert to Perils (New York Times, 1 September 2007)

Related: Excerpts from an interview with Lee Kuan Yew (International Herald Tribune, 29 August 2007)

RootDownFM.com - Great, independent Net.Radio

The powers that be are doing the best they can to shut down independent programming on the Internet.

I'm pleased to report that there's a new option for lovers of the kind of music you don't hear on the FCC-regulated radio airwaves: RootDownFM.com, a subscription-only service that plays "jazz, funk, hip-hop, soul, latin, reggae, afrobeat, leftfield, downtempo and beats."

RootDown FM is a subscriber-only, internet radio station, streaming live 24/7. Subscription is the only way we can cover costs and keep our playlist as freeform and funky as our listeners like it (check our Music Policy) and ad-free.

Subscriptions cost just US$7.50 per month and we are offering a 3 day Free Trial for a limited period only!
Let's put that $7.50 a month in perspective: for less than the cost of a CD, or eight downloads from iTunes, or a movie ticket, or a couple of fancy crappucinos at a franchised coffee bar, you can have 24/7 high-quality streaming audio coming into your office or home for a full month, and discover artists new and old that you probably haven't heard before.

For the record, this blog has no affiliation with RootDownFM, aside from the fact that your correspondent is a delighted, early subscriber... and we get nothing out of our suggestion that you sign up, other than the satisfaction of potentially steering some readers to an ever-changing collection of excellent music, curated by music lovers for music lovers.


Tierney: Dispatches from the War on Drugs

I recommend a couple of articles chronicling the unintended consequences of the war on drugs. One, by Ethan Nadelmann, is a global look at the damage done by prohibitionist policies. The other, by Radley Balko, is a look at a doctor convicted for prescribing opioids — and this case is in some ways more troubling than the Hurwitz case that I’ve been writing about.
John Tierney: Dispatches from the War on Drugs (TierneyLab Blog, New York Times, 31 Aug 2007)


Unsafe at any valuation

Watching the rating cuts trickle out of the derivatives forest is akin to searching for elephant dung on a path to try and work out how many pachyderms are in the jungle. There's clearly a herd in there. And it's probably much bigger than the ordure you have seen so far would suggest.


Here's what is most worrying about the coming flood of downgrades and defaults. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating how the biggest brokerage firms priced securities caught up in the subprime meltdown as their values collapsed. My colleague Jonathan Weil last week detailed some of the accounting shenanigans that accompany how banks measure the "fair value'' of their assets.

What happens if the SEC discovers that different units of a single bank assign different values to identical securities? That seems like a viable scenario for what might happen when a complex market of infrequently traded securities whose prices are dependent on a series of assumptions hits trouble.

And what happens if the SEC finds that banks marked the securities they owned at high prices, while attributing much lower values to identical securities offered by their hedge-fund clients as collateral? Again, that seems like a plausible strategy for a bank concerned about the longevity and liquidity of its customers.

Suppose regulators decide to play hardball on how the financial community marks to market, imposing rules that outlaw the existing freewheeling approach to how over-the-counter derivatives are assayed.

Moreover, suppose those new decrees come just as much of the underlying collateral is so tarnished as to be almost worthless compared with its initial valuation.

The ensuing carnage in the balance sheets of every financial-services company in the world would dwarf the damage wrought in the securities industry by the subprime crisis so far.

Bloomberg.com: Unsafe at Any Rating, CDO Speeds to CCC From AAA: Mark Gilbert

via pmarca

Zombie customer service surveys

You'll never guess what was in my inbox this morning...

tell us about your sunrocket experience
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear...

A customer service survey from my old Internet telephony provider, Sunrocket, which suddenly (and without warning) shut down in mid-July of this year.

Clearly, this survey was paid for, and programmed, well in advance... and just as clearly, the shutdown of Sunrocket as a going concern has been about as orderly as you'd expect, based on the standards of public behavior they've already demonstrated.

I had fun filling out the survey.

why no sunrocket_scaled
Why I'm no longer using Sunrocket, in my own words