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

31 March 2006

"Help me crash a party like James Bond."

You know, there are many things about Metafilter that piss me off. The predictable toxic liberal groupthink of the politics in most of the posts, for one thing.

But Ask Metafilter - the ultimate geek advice column, the method to tap into the Metafilter "hive mind" - is absolutely fascinating, and I just can't stay away.

This question is one of the best I've seen in a long, long time, and the creativity of the community as they put together options is a wonder to behold:
A secret cabal of family members is having a rather big party this summer on the shores of Lake Huron. My mission: arrive in style a la James Bond. I've checked out their security, and although strong on three sides, they haven't guarded the lake. Fools. I would like to arrive via the lake. However, I'm having a tough time with what to wear. Preferably, I'd like to slip out of my wetsuit into a crisp, wrinkle free tuxedo. Is this possible?
Be my Q. Help me crash a party like James Bond. | Ask MetaFilter

Hating our freedom

We want the government to guarantee our health, deflect hurricanes, educate our children and license us to drive; we want to be told what to eat, what to smoke and whom to marry. We are justly proud of the fact that no enduring society has ever incarcerated more of its people. Noting that the policeman has a pistol, a club, a stun gun, a can of pepper spray and a database that includes us, we feel happy and secure.

Our submission is absolute: We want to be operated like puppets and provided for like pets.

The terrorists hate our freedom. But we should be comfortable with that. We hate our freedom, too.
Crispin Sartwell: "All the world over, it's so easy to see"

Hat tip: Radley Balko @ The Agitator

Ben & Jerry's Do Us a Flavor contest

As a diabetic, my enjoyment of Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream these days is mostly theoretical... although I will admit that on a rare occasion I do have a taste of real ice cream.

I couldn't resist participating in the new Ben & Jerry's Do Us a Flavor contest, however. It's easy: launch their Flavor Generator tool, pick your ice cream base, chunky mix-ins, and swirls.

The flavor I came up with was Coffee Ginger Nut Crunch: a base of creamy coffee ice cream, with fresh ginger, almonds, hazelnuts and honeycomb chunks.

coffee ginger nut pint

Maybe you'll see it in an ice cream shop or supermarket near you one day soon.

If so, please tell me how it tastes...

Stop and smell the flowers

One of the nice things about living in New York is that, year-round, at just about every neighborhood deli, you can buy fresh flowers cheap.

So it's not all that uncommon for us to do that; it's nice to have flowers in the house.

Here, Mister Gato enjoys taking time to stop and smell ten dollars' worth of tulips from Bethel Gourmet Food, the Korean deli around the corner.

Gato Smells the Tulips 001 scaled

Gato Smells the Tulips 003 scaled
Okay, I'm done.

Thank goodness, he just sniffs and rubs his head on the flowers, rather than chewing the greenery; tulips can be mildly toxic to cats. If your cat has a tendency to graze, be careful about what you bring into the house.

Visit the Friday Ark at The Modulator to check out more bloggers' pets from around the world--and don't miss the 106th edition of the Carnival of the Cats on Sunday, hosted at Pets Garden Blog.

29 March 2006

A paean to grits...

...in, of all places, the food section of the Los Angeles Times.
Now real grits are easily available, in stores and online, and the only wonder is why chefs are not making more of them. Mix grits with buttery leeks and shiitakes and you will never settle for mashed potatoes again. Serve them with duck or shrimp or sausage and you may give up rice. Real grits have such distinctive flavor you can only marvel at how many nuances a single ingredient can have: a little like popcorn, a little like roasted corn on the cob, a bit sweet like corn pudding.
I knew right away what kind of grits the writer had got hold of... the extra-special product produced by the maniacally obsessed (in a good way) folks at Anson Mills.

Whew, them's good eatin'. (There are some great recipes in the article as well, including one for barbecue-braised duck legs with garlic grits. Yum.)

Fancy grits cause a stir - Los Angeles Times

How pink slips hurt more than workers

Is the layoff the great American wound? In Louis Uchitelle’s account, it seems a wound in triplicate. It hollows out companies so they can’t compete. It hollows out the country by removing middle-class jobs. It hollows out the middle-class employees who are laid off and then too often drop permanently to a demeaning, low-wage way of life. To Mr. Uchitelle, who reports on economics for The New York Times, corporate America’s addiction to the layoff has gone past the point of economic rationality. In this fascinating book he tries to tell the history of the United States in our time as the unchecked rise of layoffs.


The layoff, Mr. Uchitelle argues, has transformed the nation. At least 30 million full-time American employees have gotten pink slips since the Labor Department belatedly started to count them in 1984. But add in the early retirees, the “quits” who saw the layoffs coming, and the number is much higher — a whole ghost nation trekking into what for most will be lower-wage work. This is the Dust Bowl in our Golden Bowl, and to Mr. Uchitelle, layoffs in one way are worse than the unemployment of the 1930’s. At least then, most of the jobless came back to better-paid, more secure jobs. Those laid off in our time almost never will.

‘The Disposable American,’ by Louis Uchitelle - New York Times

Also posted at Knowledge Work.

A plan to replace the welfare state

This much is certain: The welfare state as we know it cannot survive. No serious student of entitlements thinks that we can let federal spending on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid rise from its current 9% of gross domestic product to the 28% of GDP that it will consume in 2050 if past growth rates continue. The problems facing transfer programs for the poor are less dramatic but, in the long term, no less daunting; the falling value of a strong back and the rising value of brains will eventually create a class society making a mockery of America's ideals unless we come up with something more creative than anything that the current welfare system has to offer.

So major change is inevitable--and Congress seems utterly unwilling to face up to it. Witness the Social Security debate of last year, a case study in political timidity. Like it or not, we have several years to think before Congress can no longer postpone action. Let's use it to start thinking outside the narrow proposals for benefit cuts and tax increases that will be Congress's path of least resistance.

"A Plan to Replace The Welfare State" - Charles Murray, March 26, 2006, OpinionJournal

28 March 2006

Rejected Greeting Card Ideas

At Hallmark headquarters in Kansas City, Missouri, there's quite a collection of rejected greeting cards.

Here are some from the FBN ("Funny, But No") pile:
Among the losers is a holiday card that announces on its face, 'Christmas just wouldn't be the same without peanut brittle.' Then, inside: 'Or Jesus.'

And the drawing of a couple cuddling on a living room couch with a friendly bearded man, wearing a robe, sandals and a turban. The woman blurts: 'Honey, this Afghan your mom gave us is really warm!'

Then there's a questionable get-well card with a big happy face on the front. On the inside, it reads, 'Hi! Welcome back from your coma!'

Rejected Greeting Card Ideas (AP, via Yahoo! News)

Up With Grups -- New York Magazine

This is an obituary for the generation gap. It is a story about 40-year-old men and women who look, talk, act, and dress like people who are 22 years old. It’s not about a fad but about a phenomenon that looks to be permanent. It’s about the hedge-fund guy in Park Slope with the chunky square glasses, brown rock T-shirt, slight paunch, expensive jeans, Puma sneakers, and shoulder-slung messenger bag, with two kids squirming over his lap like itchy chimps at the Tea Lounge on Sunday morning...


This cohort is not interested in putting away childish things. They are a generation or two of affluent, urban adults who are now happily sailing through their thirties and forties, and even fifties, clad in beat-up sneakers and cashmere hoodies, content that they can enjoy all the good parts of being a grown-up (a real paycheck, a family, the warm touch of cashmere) with none of the bad parts (Dockers, management seminars, indentured servitude at the local Gymboree). It’s about a brave new world whose citizens are radically rethinking what it means to be a grown-up and whether being a grown-up still requires, you know, actually growing up.

Terrific, funny article about a New York City phenomenon that we've all noticed. As a 40 year-old guy who favors Chuck Taylors and never leaves the house without his MP3 player, I have to admit that portions of this article hit a little bit too close to home.

Up With Grups - The Ascendant Breed of Grown-Ups Who Are Redefining Adulthood -- New York Magazine

New on the blogroll: Urban Elephants

New on the blogroll: Urban Elephants | What's Right in New York (New York Republican Community).

27 March 2006

Steven does Windows

Meet Steven Sinofsky. He does Windows.

Steven Sinofsky is a rare bird on Microsoft’s Redmond campus — a manager who actually delivers software on time. As head of product development for Office, he’s known for meeting release deadlines.

He’s now been put in charge of Microsoft’s Windows group, which has seen endless delays in the release of its new Vista operating system. (Indeed, the recently announced delay of the consumer version of Vista will hold up what would have been the timely release of Sinofsky’s Office 2007 since Microsoft wants to release the two products at the same time).

Business 2.0: The man who could fix Windows

Also posted at Knowledge Work.

26 March 2006

Scribblings: 105th Carnival of the Cats

The 105th Carnival of the Cats is up over at Scribblings.

Hey Nineteen

Over at The Belmont Club, Wretchard zeroes in (pardon the expression) on a fascinating detail of the Mohammad Reza Taheri Azar affair (he's the guy who rammed a rented SUV into a crowd of students at the University of North Carolina a few weeks back.)

In his note explaining his actions to the authorities, Azar says, inter alia:
I know that the Qur'an is a legitimate and authoritative holy scripture since it is completely validated by modern science and also mathematically encoded with the number 19 beyond human ability.
Um, WTF?

Read on for the explanation -- The Belmont Club: Nineteen.

Crackers under the Brooklyn Bridge

Hey, everybody! They just found an enormous cache of crackers in a hidden storeroom under the Brooklyn Bridge!

jimmy carter
No, not that kind of cracker.

Read on:

Crackers Are Reminders of New York City's H-Bomb Fears - New York Times

Nine Questions to Ask a Startup

Most of the information that you can find about recruiting is for the employer, not the employee. (I'm as guilty as this as anyone: for example, The Art of Recruiting, I and II.) Let's turn the tables, switch modes, and balance the scales by discussing what a hot candidate should ask a private, venture-backed startup before making the leap to “infinity and beyond” as Buzz Lightyear would say.
Guy Kawasaki: Nine Questions to Ask a Startup

Also posted at Knowledge Work.

Al Qaeda hacker nabbed by Brits

For almost two years, intelligence services around the world tried to uncover the identity of an Internet hacker who had become a key conduit for al-Qaeda. The savvy, English-speaking, presumably young webmaster taunted his pursuers, calling himself Irhabi -- Terrorist -- 007. He hacked into American university computers, propagandized for the Iraq insurgents led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and taught other online jihadists how to wield their computers for the cause.

Suddenly last fall, Irhabi 007 disappeared from the message boards. The postings ended after Scotland Yard arrested a 22-year-old West Londoner, Younis Tsouli, suspected of participating in an alleged bomb plot. In November, British authorities brought a range of charges against him related to that plot. Only later, according to our sources familiar with the British probe, was Tsouli's other suspected identity revealed. British investigators eventually confirmed to us that they believe he is Irhabi 007.
As jihadists make rapidly increasing use of the Web and related technologies, this kind of investigative work becomes absolutely crucial.

Terrorist 007, Exposed (Washington Post)

25 March 2006

Buck Owens

Singer Buck Owens, the flashy rhinestone cowboy who shaped the sound of country music with hits like ''Act Naturally'' and brought the genre to TV on the long-running ''Hee Haw,'' died Saturday. He was 76.

"Hee Haw" Co-Host Buck Owens, 76, Dies - New York Times

Aw, Buck. Damn.

I grew up in North Carolina, and my dad was a big Hee Haw fan. To put it mildly, I was not; I thought Buck was just a corny old hick who told bad jokes and played guitar and sang between idiotic skits.

Then, in college, somebody played me some actual Buck Owens records and I was completely floored. I've been a huge fan of Buck and the Bakersfield Sound ever since.

Rest in peace, Brother Owens.

Love's gonna live here again.

buck owens
Buck Owens, 1929-2006


Will Your Job Survive?

In case you've been worrying about how the war in Iraq will end, or the coming of avian flu, or the extinction of the universe as we drift into the cosmic void, well, relax. Here's something you should really fret about: the future of the U.S. economy in the age of globalization.

For a discussion of same, let me call your attention to an article in the March-April issue of Foreign Affairs by Princeton University economist Alan Blinder...

In the new global order, Blinder writes, not just manufacturing jobs but a large number of service jobs will be performed in cheaper climes. Indeed, only hands-on or face-to-face services look safe. "Janitors and crane operators are probably immune to foreign competition," Blinder writes, "accountants and computer programmers are not."

Let me break it down for you in even simpler language.

I've spent the last couple of years working for the outsourcing division of a major multinational consulting firm (I'm moving on to a new job next month, after taking a long-delayed vacation/rest break) and I can state this with a high degree of confidence:

If (a) you are primarily a knowledge worker whose job does not demand your physical presence, and (b) if your job can be reduced to a set of written instructions and described in conventional language that other professionals can understand, you've already been outsourced and/or offshored; you just don't know it yet. (Credit goes to Bruce Sterling via Kottke for the seed that sprouted this observation.)

And if this piques your interest, here are the two most important things I think you need to do to hold on to your (professional-class) job in the New Economy:
  • Work on your "soft skills" and on creating hard-to-find (but needed) combinations of skills. If you're primarily a technical guy, work like hell on your business and communications skills! If you're primarily on the business side, get technically literate, fast.

  • Focus on roles that require your presence. You may dig the idea of working from home, but if you can telecommute to your job from your house or apartment, a guy who’s much hungrier and much cheaper than you are can probably do it from Bangalore, Krakow, Prague or Shanghai.
Will Your Job Survive? (Harold Meyerson, Washington Post)

Also posted at Knowledge Work.

24 March 2006

More from the peaceable kingdom

sleepy sunday morning scaled
Chow Bella and Mister Gato, sharing a sunbeam.

Do not attempt to color-correct your monitors... that is in fact a dark blue tongue in Miss Bella's mouth. Chows look like that.

Visit the Friday Ark at The Modulator to check out more bloggers' pets from around the world--and don't miss the 105th edition of the Carnival of the Cats on Sunday, hosted at Scribblings.

23 March 2006

Another Bad Slip for 'NY Times': Katrina Victim Unmasked

For the second time in less than a week, The New York Times today admitted to a serious error in a story. On Saturday it said it had misidentified a man featured in the iconic 'hooded inmate' photograph from Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Today it discloses that a woman it profiled on March 8 is not, in fact, a victim of Hurricane Katrina--and was arrested for fraud and grand larceny yesterday.

As it did in the Abu Ghraib mistake, the Times ran an editors' note on page 2 of its front section, along with a lengthy news article (this time on the front page of Section B). Again mirroring the Abu Ghraib episode, the newspaper revealed a surprising and inexplicable lapse in fact-checking on the part of a reporter and/or editor.

How absolutely fascinating.

First, the Times runs a story purporting to be an interview with an Abu Ghraib torture victim - the one in the iconic photograph. And that turns out to be a pack of lies.

And then they interview a "Katrina victim" who turns out to be a professional confidence artist.

I guess some stories are just too good to fact-check, especially when they make the right people look bad.

Know what I mean?

Another Bad Slip for 'NY Times': Katrina Victim Unmasked (Editor and Publisher)

Special Reports: 10 Emerging Technologies

The MIT Technology Review has a great special report in the March/April 2006 issue about ten emerging technologies, ranging from "epigenetics" to "cognitive radio" (that last one would be a great name for a band.)

Hey, here's a smart fellow who thinks he may have figured out an end-run around the stem-cell controversy:

Embryonic stem cells may spark more vitriolic argument than any other topic in modern science. Conservative Christians aver that the cells' genesis, which requires destroying embryos, should make any research using them taboo. Many biologists believe that the cells will help unlock the secrets of devastating diseases such as Parkinson's and multiple sclerosis, providing benefits that far outweigh any perceived ethical harm.

Markus Grompe, director of the Oregon Stem Cell Center at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, hopes to find a way around the debate by producing cloned cells that have all the properties of embryonic stem cells -- but don't come from embryos.

Special Reports: 10 Emerging Technologies (MIT Technology Review)

22 March 2006

Pencil Roving: Endurance

Carrie has a great post this morning on the topic of abundance.

I live in the capital of capitalism, where you can buy anything you want for the right price and plenty you don't need because who can pass up such a bargain?

But sometimes overabundance seems like the most disgusting thing in the world.
Read the whole thing: Pencil Roving: Endurance.

'American Theocracy,' by Kevin Phillips

Four decades ago, Kevin Phillips, a young political strategist for the Republican Party, began work on what became a remarkable book. In writing "The Emerging Republican Majority" (published in 1969), he asked a very big question about American politics: How would the demographic and economic changes of postwar America shape the long-term future of the two major parties? His answer, startling at the time but now largely unquestioned, is that the movement of people and resources from the old Northern industrial states into the South and the West (an area he enduringly labeled the "Sun Belt") would produce a new and more conservative Republican majority that would dominate American politics for decades. Phillips viewed the changes he predicted with optimism. A stronger Republican Party, he believed, would restore stability and order to a society experiencing disorienting and at times violent change. Shortly before publishing his book, he joined the Nixon administration to help advance the changes he had foreseen.

Phillips has remained a prolific and important political commentator in the decades since, but he long ago abandoned his enthusiasm for the Republican coalition he helped to build. His latest book (his 13th) looks broadly and historically at the political world the conservative coalition has painstakingly constructed over the last several decades. No longer does he see Republican government as a source of stability and order. Instead, he presents a nightmarish vision of ideological extremism, catastrophic fiscal irresponsibility, rampant greed and dangerous shortsightedness...
"Power corrupts," Lord Acton famously observed--continuing, "And absolute power corrupts absolutely."

American Theocracy, by Kevin Phillips - reviewed in The New York Times

21 March 2006

Management maxims in need of a makeover

What if some of the business world's most dearly held axioms are wrong? What if there is a better way? This is the argument Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton, management professors at Stanford University, make in their new book, out this week, Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths And Total Nonsense: Profiting From Evidence-Based Management. Gathering the work of psychologists, sociologists, and management experts, the authors make a compelling case that some of business's beloved truths are far from self-evident.
USNews.com: Management maxims in need of a makeover

Also posted at Knowledge Work.

USMC's New M-32s Hitting the Field

The Marine Corps is fielding a new experimental weapon in Iraq... a six-shot 40mm grenade launcher.

I have a feeling that they won't be selling these at sporting goods stores any time soon, even in the red states.

M-32 40mm
It would also be ideal for home defense.

USMC's New M-32s Hitting the Field

HOWTO: Compare thee to a summer's day

A geek with literary inclinations (or a poet with geekly inclincations) has translated one of Shakespeare's most famous sonnets into code.

First, a snippet of the original:
Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date.
And now, the code example... just the bit where the author sets up the variables, not the actual comparison (which comes later):
var summer:Object = {};
var thee:Object = {};

summer.name = "Summer Day";
thee.name = "Thee";

summer.lovelyness = 9;
thee.lovelyness = 10;

summer.temperature = 98;
thee.temperature = 98.6;

summer.lease = new Date(2006, 7, 31).getTime() -
new Date(2006, 5, 1).getTime();
thee.lease = new Date(2042, 6, 12).getTime() -
new Date(1970, 8, 25).getTime();

summer.complexion = 0xFFCC33;
thee.complexion = 0xFFCCCC;

summer.fair = 10;
thee.fair = 10;
William Shakespeare's Sonnet 18 - ported to ActionScript 2.0 by Satori Canton

Hat tip: Boing Boing

19 March 2006

This Essay Breaks the Law - New York Times

• The Earth revolves around the Sun.

• The speed of light is a constant.

• Apples fall to earth because of gravity.

• Elevated blood sugar is linked to diabetes.

• Elevated uric acid is linked to gout.

• Elevated homocysteine is linked to heart disease.

• Elevated homocysteine is linked to B-12 deficiency, so doctors should test homocysteine levels to see whether the patient needs vitamins.

ACTUALLY, I can't make that last statement. A corporation has patented that fact, and demands a royalty for its use. Anyone who makes the fact public and encourages doctors to test for the condition and treat it can be sued for royalty fees. Any doctor who reads a patient's test results and even thinks of vitamin deficiency infringes the patent. A federal circuit court held that mere thinking violates the patent.

This Essay Breaks the Law - New York Times

Music and Cats » Carnival of the Cats #104: 2nd Anniversary

Carnival of the Cats #104, the 2nd Anniversary edition
is up over at Music and Cats.

For loved ones, in troubled times

We got some bad news this afternoon.

A young man in our family--a man in his twenties, though he is someone I will always think of as perpetually seven years old and in short pants, I guess--lost a fight with the personal demons he's been wrestling with for too many years.

He died, almost certainly from an unintentional drug overdose.

It was his mother--my cousin--that found him.

I don't talk about religion much on the blog. I regard it as an intensely personal matter, and it's not something I care to share with everybody in the world.

But for my loved ones, today, the only solace I can offer, other than my own thoughts and prayers, is Scriptural.
Psalm 23: The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

And, even more crucially, a reminder and a promise that in suffering, you are never alone:
Isaiah 43:2: When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.

Invest in corporate America... just don't work there

Richard J. Newman of US News and World Report has some good advice, for those of you for whom this is an option: Invest in corporate America. Just don't work there.

Newman notes that as trends towards outsourcing and offshoring accelerate, US companies are more profitable and competitive than ever.

The job outlook for US workers, however... not so much.
There's a growing wedge between U.S. companies and their American employees. What used to be good for General Motors, so to speak, also used to be good for the Americans who worked for General Motors. In many ways (putting labor disputes aside), the interests of U.S. companies and U.S. workers were closely aligned, especially when borders were harder to breach and trade seemed like more of a zero-sum game.


What is good for General Motors these days is massive cost-cutting, to help reverse an enormous $10.6 billion loss in 2005 and keep the company afloat. And the way companies cut costs these days is by shipping any work that is transferable overseas and building stuff there, too. In the old days, of course, the fortunes of companies and their workers rose and fell in unison; manufacturers laid off U.S. workers when times were tough and rehired them when business picked up. But jobs that go overseas are gone forever, or at least until assembly line workers and engineers in China and India start to earn the same as their American counterparts. And that's not going to happen before the unemployment insurance runs out. Companies exist to make money, not to keep people employed. But U.S. companies can increasingly make money while bypassing American workers. "The fate of U.S. workers is no longer part of corporate decision making," says [coauthor of Outsourcing America Ronald] Hira. That sounds ominous, yet for Americans with the energy to get off the couch and pay attention, it's an opportunity. Those who are creative, entrepreneurial, well educated, and able to consistently learn the latest skills will thrive. But if you have the choice, it's probably better to be a stockholder of corporate America than an employee.
Invest in corporate America. Just don't work there (USNews.com)

18 March 2006

Geoff Chaucer's Friendster blog

Geoff is a forty-five year-old Londoner who works in the Customs House.

And although he lived, wrote and died about six hundred years ago, his Friendster blog has just been discovered!

Like a lot of us, Geoff checks his access logs frequently...
Top X searches in myne networke:

10. John Gowere swyving a donkey
9. woolen hose
8. discounte ale
7. Kent
6. Macrobius for dummyes
5. howe to thinly veil acquaintences as fictional characteres
4. arabic numerals
3. readynge %(%(%ing chancerye hand
2. Sheene palace dynnere guest listes
1. Katharyne Swinford nude
Geoffrey Chaucer Hath A Blog

Hat tip: Metafilter

Uptown NYC neighborhoods have sloppy wireless security (NY Post)

New York's safest neighborhood against high-tech pirates on the prowl to invade wireless home computer networks is Greenwich Village.

The Upper East Side, the Upper West Side and Brooklyn Heights are much more risky.

Nearly two of every three wireless home setups there are used without protection, leaving them open to easy invasion, says a report.

Doesn't surprise me in the least. If the folks in my apartment building are any indication, people in my neighborhood are definitely getting hipper to wireless security. As little as a year ago, I had my pick of open wireless networks in my 30-unit apartment building; now every single one of them is locked down, more than half with the WPA security protocol.

(And that's not even counting the folks who have turned off their broadcast beacons and run their WiFi networks in stealth mode, like yours truly.)

New York Post Online Edition: Uptown is High-Tech Pirates' Cove

Educators Shed Light on Northern Slavery

Most Americans do not know the story of slavery in the North, said Jill Lepore, a professor of history at Harvard University and author of "New York Burning: Liberty, Slavery and Conspiracy in Eighteenth Century Manhattan."

"There's no reason to hide the fact that New York City was built by slaves," she said. "It's an important part of the city's past."


Slavery was abolished in New York in 1827, but when the American Revolution began in 1776, the only city with more slaves than New York was Charleston, S.C.
Educators Shed Light on Northern Slavery - AP via Yahoo! News

A nation of culinary illiterates

At Kraft Foods, recipes never include words like "dredge" and "sauté." Betty Crocker recipes avoid "braise" and "truss." Land O' Lakes has all but banned "fold" and "cream" from its cooking instructions. And Pillsbury carefully sidesteps "simmer" and "sear."

When the country's top food companies want to create recipes that millions of Americans will be able to understand, there seems to be one guiding principle: They need to be written for a nation of culinary illiterates.


"We're now two generations into a lack of culinary knowledge being passed down from our parents," said Richard Ruben, a New York cooking teacher whose classes for non-cooks draw a range of participants, from 18-year-olds leaving for college who want to have survival skills to 60-year-olds who have more time to cook but don't know how.

"In my basic 'How to Cook' class, I get people who have only used their ovens to store shoes and sweaters," he said. "They're terrified to hold a knife. They don't know what garlic looks like."

I guess I'm really lucky... I grew up in a multigenerational household with two wonderful cooks (my mother and grandmother) and have been happily cooking since about age five. Maybe it's a Southern thing... dunno.

We are certainly not above eating takeout on a busy weeknight, but I cook every chance I get. I find it relaxing after a long day of work to get into the kitchen, roll my sleeves up, and cook for the family.

Cooking 101: Add 1 Cup of Simplicity (Washington Post)

Hat tip: Ann Althouse

Protesters Say Water Wars Turning Deadly

Water is worth fighting for -- even to the death, activists holding an 'alternate' forum outside the world water summit said Friday. That attitude might seem strange in developed countries, where water flows at the touch of a faucet. But it isn't nearly as accessible in the developing world.

And water wars aren't an apocalyptic vision of the future. They're already starting to happen, the protesters say.

"We've been beaten, we've been jailed, some of us have even been killed, but we're not going to give up," said Marco Suastegui, who marched alongside about 10,000 protesters Thursday outside a convention center where the international Fourth World Water Forum is being held.
Protesters Say Water Wars Turning Deadly - AP via Yahoo! News

17 March 2006

Found water is fair game

Cats love "found water," and Mister Gato is no exception.

Even when he has to contort himself into yoga-like positions to drink from your glass, if you leave it unguarded, that's exactly what will happen.

YogaCat 001
A moment of quiet contemplation....

YogaCat 002
Followed by a deep draught of New York City tap water.

Visit the Friday Ark at The Modulator to check out more bloggers' pets from around the world--and don't miss the 104th edition of the Carnival of the Cats on Sunday, hosted at one of our favorite blogs, Music and Cats.

16 March 2006

Dutch Immigrants Must Watch Racy Film

The camera focuses on two gay men kissing in a park. Later, a topless woman emerges from the sea and walks onto a crowded beach. For would-be immigrants to the Netherlands, this film is a test of their readiness to participate in the liberal Dutch culture.

If they can't stomach it, no need to apply.

Despite whether they find the film offensive, applicants must buy a copy and watch it if they hope to pass the Netherlands' new entrance examination.

A very interesting strategy.

I'm not sure we shouldn't license this film from the Dutch and repackage it as an orientation and training video for new residents of Greenwich Village!

Dutch Immigrants Must Watch Racy Film - AP via Yahoo! News

Helping your users find information

The information architecture group blog Boxes and Arrows has a great post this week on the basic kinds of information-seeking behaviors by users of a web or intranet site, and how to design for maximum information retrievability.

Most information architects already take “known item” (you know what you’re looking for) and “exploratory” (browsing) searching into account in their site designs.

Donna Maurer adds two new search types - “don’t know what you need to know” and “re-finding,” and provides some helpful design tips and thoughts.

Four modes of seeking information and how to design for them (Boxes and Arrows)

(Also posted at Knowledge Work)

15 March 2006

Ethical office politics

Lifehack has a short, interesting essay on office politics, and on what conduct is both ethical and realistic in the modern workplace:

Too often [office politics] smack of dirty tricks and the use of personal influence in the interests of a few, powerful individuals, conjuring up a picture of secret deals in back rooms and pay-offs in favors given and expected. Ethically, most instances of office politics tend to be dubious.

Let’s assume that office politics are an unavoidable fact of organizational life. We can’t avoid encountering them. The ethical question then becomes how we act when we do.To make sense of this, you need to distinguish between three aspects of political actions:

  • Making decisions where there are no rules or precedents to guide you.
  • Handling the allocation of resources.
  • Creating a “pecking order” of influence.

Ethical Office Politics - lifehack.org

The liberal baby bust

What's the difference between Seattle and Salt Lake City? There are many differences, of course, but here's one you might not know. In Seattle, there are nearly 45% more dogs than children. In Salt Lake City, there are nearly 19% more kids than dogs.

This curious fact might at first seem trivial, but it reflects a much broader and little-noticed demographic trend that has deep implications for the future of global culture and politics. It's not that people in a progressive city such as Seattle are so much fonder of dogs than are people in a conservative city such as Salt Lake City. It's that progressives are so much less likely to have children.

It's a pattern found throughout the world, and it augers a far more conservative future — one in which patriarchy and other traditional values make a comeback, if only by default. Childlessness and small families are increasingly the norm today among progressive secularists. As a consequence, an increasing share of all children born into the world are descended from a share of the population whose conservative values have led them to raise large families.

USATODAY.com - The liberal baby bust

Letters, we get letters

Some of the best communications we receive, unfortunately, aren't in the form of public comments; they arrive as private e-mail messages (since I list an e-mail address in my profile, and some people are apparently more comfortable with that mode of communication.)

You wouldn't believe how many people turn up at this blog after Googling (or Yahooing, or MSN-ing) for information on "mouse control." (They find this post, of course.)

Here's a recent note I received:
hi there,

love your site - am entranced by yr account of how the cat saved your life by taking care of the mice.

i live in manhattan and am having the worst mouse problem.

have been thinking of getting/borrowing a cat to do the job. would love to compare notes.

relish your success.
And my response:
Thanks for your kind words.

Mister Gato has worked out beautifully well in every respect. We are vermin-free and have been for over a year now, but most importantly we are incredibly attached to the cat, as he is to us. He loves our dogs, and is the most affectionate little guy in the world (to us) in addition to being a totally ruthless killing machine (to all members of order Rodentia.)

A couple of words of advice.

-- There are cats languishing in shelters all over New York, so there's no shortage of places to pick from. Robert Shapiro at Social Tees in the East Village is a total mensch and at any given time he's got lots of lovely cats to choose from; he will want to check you out and talk with you first, of course.

-- There's no guarantee that any given cat will be a good mouser; we got lucky. But the smell of cat in the house will do much to deter mice; they aren't stupid.

-- It is generally wise *not* to tell an animal rescue operation that you're looking for a cat because you have a mouse problem. They will be predisposed to think of you as not a good candidate for pet ownership. If you're willing to give a deserving animal a good home for ten or fifteen years and scoop out litterboxes and make sure he or she gets fed and watered every day and brushed regularly, though, you can have a cool new friend *and* a mouse-free house in all likelihood. :-)

-- If you adopt a cat from a shelter, get a good vet to check him or her out thoroughly, IMMEDIATELY. The shelters do the best they can, but sometimes these animals have medical issues that need addressing.

Personally, I cannot recommend adopting a cat highly enough. I was always a dog person, but I have to say that I would not consider for a second keeping house without at least one dog and at least one cat in it now.

All best,


14 March 2006

Well, that didn't take long, episode IX

Most of us by now are painfully aware of the Windows XP on Mac challenge that has been going on since, well, Intel Macs were finally announced at this year's MacWorld Expo in San Francisco. We are constantly reminded that the prize money keeps reaching new heights, currently topping out at over US$12,000. Well, it may (and we say that very cautiously and skeptically) have actually happened this time. And we don't mean literally.

According to a post by narf2006, a user who is said to be very credible on the "WinXP on Mac" forums and has been diligently hacking away since the challenged started, the magic has officially happened and he has submitted his super secret process to the owners of the site to review. His proof offered up in the thread, however, is a Flickr set of photos (some better than others) of what appears to be Windows XP (will the real WinXP please stand up?) on what we assume to be an Intel iMac.

Infinite Loop: WinXP on Mac... for rizzle this time?

13 March 2006

RINO Sightings, Monday the 13th Edition

RINO Sightings - the Monday the 13th edition - is now up over at Searchlight Crusade.

It's a real horror show, let me tell you...

Chowhound sold to CNET Networks

Congratulations to Jim Leff and crew over at Chowhound.com. The venerable foodie message board was recently purchased by Internet media company CNET Networks.


21st Century Parenting

Today's "Real Time" column in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required, unfortunately) contains a real gem on the subject of blogs and teenagers.
An anonymous reader writes: My kids have blogs. They're 17 and 18 years old. They don't know that I know they have them or that I read them regularly. I often post advice (like advice about girls for my 17-year-old son) in the form of anonymous comments. If you do post these comments, please don't reveal my name. Thanks.
Genius. Sheer genius.

WSJ.com - Real Time

12 March 2006

Carnival of the Cats #103

Carnival of the Cats # 103 is up at Justin's Random Thoughts.

Disquieting but probably useful and important brief on Iran

This has shown up in a couple of places on the Net in recent days, including a comment over at Chap's site:

“Iranian President Ahmadinejad, Islamic Eschatology, and Near Term Implications”
(Powerpoint presentation saved in PDF format)

It's a brief on the current political situation in Iran, written by Chuck Vollmer, president of VII, Inc (which appears to be a government contracting firm of some kind) dated January 26, 2006.


The brief revolves around a central question:
"Iran appears to be rushing to a conflict with the West. The main question is what is motivating President Ahmadinejad to such recklessness?"
The answer is presented in detailed historical, political, religious, economic, and social context, and makes for fascinating (and disturbing) reading.

Tom Wolfe, Status Reporter

George Bush's appeal, for Mr. Wolfe, was owing to his 'great decisiveness and willingness to fight.' But as to 'this business of my having done the unthinkable and voted for George Bush, I would say, now look, I voted for George Bush but so did 62,040,609 other Americans. Now what does that make them? Of course, they want to say--'Fools like you!' . . . But then they catch themselves, 'Wait a minute, I can't go around saying that the majority of the American people are fools, idiots, bumblers, hicks.' So they just kind of dodge that question. And so many of them are so caught up in this kind of metropolitan intellectual atmosphere that they simply don't go across the Hudson River. They literally do not set foot in the United States. We live in New York in one of the two parenthesis states. They're usually called blue states--they're not blue states, the states on the coast. They're parenthesis states--the entire country lies in between.'
OpinionJournal (Wall Street Journal) - "Status Reporter" (Interview with Tom Wolfe)

Hat tip: Ann Althouse

Death threats for Dr. Sultan

Well, I guess we knew this was coming...
Three weeks ago, Dr. Wafa Sultan was a largely unknown Syrian-American psychiatrist living outside Los Angeles, nursing a deep anger and despair about her fellow Muslims.

Today, thanks to an unusually blunt and provocative interview on Al Jazeera television on Feb. 21, she is an international sensation, hailed as a fresh voice of reason by some, and by others as a heretic and infidel who deserves to die.
When Dr. Sultan talks like this, you know she must be aware that she's painting a big fat target on herself:

Perhaps her most provocative words on Al Jazeera were those comparing how the Jews and Muslims have reacted to adversity. Speaking of the Holocaust, she said, "The Jews have come from the tragedy and forced the world to respect them, with their knowledge, not with their terror; with their work, not with their crying and yelling."

She went on, "We have not seen a single Jew blow himself up in a German restaurant. We have not seen a single Jew destroy a church. We have not seen a single Jew protest by killing people."

She concluded, "Only the Muslims defend their beliefs by burning down churches, killing people and destroying embassies. This path will not yield any results. The Muslims must ask themselves what they can do for humankind, before they demand that humankind respect them."

Preach, sister.

One of the things that seems to bother the religious fanatics the most is that they're being lectured sternly by someone sporting a pair of X chromosomes.

But really, we shouldn't be surprised that the person with the biggest set of cojones in the contemporary Muslim world turns out to be a woman... an educated, intelligent woman who has experienced extremism firsthand and and has a lot to say about it, and isn't afraid to stand up to the demagogues.

For Muslim Who Says Violence Destroys Islam, Violent Threats - New York Times

11 March 2006

Buy a shredder. They're cheap.

Over at Cockeyed.com, Rob does a little experiment.

Rob doesn't own a shredder. When he gets "pre-approved" credit card applications in the mail, he tears them up... if he's feeling especially paranoid, he tears them into itty-bitty pieces.

But one day, he got to thinking...
Is that good enough? Could a determined and dexterous criminal gather all the bits, tape them together and apply for a card in my name? Would a credit card company balk when confronted with an obviously resurrected application?

A test was in order, and when the latest application arrived from Chase Mastercard, I was equal to the task.

The application itself turned out to be quite small, so instead of just ripping it in half, I tore it into small bits.

Next, I arranged the bits on the countertop. It actually took a surprising amount of effort to get them all flipped and aligned properly. It was the kind of methodical effort a methamphetamine addict might enjoy.

Then I grabbed some Scotch.

And some tape.

I won't spoil the ending for you... go read the story.

And then go buy a shredder.

Cockeyed. com: The Torn-Up Credit Card Application

Hat tip: Boing Boing

10 March 2006

Phone fundraising scams: NYC police "charities"

We've been getting high-pressure phone calls from fundraisers claiming to represent the "New York City Police Association" or the "New York City Police Foundation."

When we request written material, and inform them that we check all charities out with the New York Attorney General prior to making donations, their ardor cools considerably. One guy hung up on me at this point.

A little research turns up the reason:
Bogus Police Scams

The NYPD never solicits for charitable donations.

New Yorkers have been conned out of millions of dollars by phony telemarketers who falsely claim to be soliciting donations on behalf of the New York City Police Department.

These telemarketers pose as police officers and try to deceive potential donors with false and misleading statements that their donations will be used to support the NYPD, or help widows and children of slain officers. Or they might offer a police decal or similar item implying this will get you better treatment from the police.

If you receive a call on behalf of the NYPD:

Write down as much information as possible.

Ask for written material.

Report all calls to:

NYPD Internal Affairs Bureau: (212) 741-8401
Attorney General's Office: (212) 416-8401
Better Business Bureau: (212) 533-7500

Your call will be kept confidential.

If you wish to contribute to the NYPD, the only approved fundraising organization for the NYPD is the New York City Police Foundation, Inc. For information, call (212) 751-8170.

Source: The New York City Police Foundation
Let's be careful out there.

Israeli Anti-Semitic Cartoons Contest

Daniel Higgins: Moses
Originally uploaded by amitai sandy.
In the *perfect* response to the Mohammed-cartoon flap, a group of Israeli Jews has sponsored the Israeli Anti-Semitic Cartoons Contest.

The entries I've seen are much wittier than the anti-Semitic cartoons that typically appear in the Arab press.

My personal favorite, submitted by Daniel Higgins, is a portrait of Moses descending from Mount Sinai with the 11th Commandment... depicted (and linked) above.

Israeli Anti-Semitic Cartoons Contest

Hat tip: Larry Bernard of Inside Larry's Head

The difference between cats and dogs

A picture is worth a thousand words. Here, in a nutshell, is the difference between a cat and a dog.

mister gato and chow bella scaled

Okay, so I'm working away on the laptop on a recent evening.

Please note the body language and relative positioning of the animals:

Chow Bella is sitting close by, but at a respectful distance, gazing adoringly at her master. "Is there anything I can do for you, Papa? Hey, I'd like a head scratch if it's not too much trouble, but, you know, when you have a second..."

Mister Gato has wedged himself between the laptop and a stack of papers on the coffee table, near the fan exhaust, where a steady stream of warm air is blowing on his stomach; his hind legs are poised to kick the expensive electronic equipment onto the floor, should he feel a need for lebensraum, or, you know, just a good stretch.


Visit the Friday Ark at The Modulator to check out more bloggers' pets from around the world--and don't miss the 103rd edition of the Carnival of the Cats on Sunday, hosted at Justin's Random Thoughts.

Quite Writely

Google just went into the web-based office software business, acquiring the startup Writely.com. Writely produces a word processor that runs in a standard web browser:

  • Share documents instantly & collaborate real-time.
    Pick exactly who can access your documents.

  • Edit your documents from anywhere.
    Nothing to download — your browser is all you need.

  • Store your documents securely online.
    Offsite storage plus data backup every 10 seconds.

  • Easy to use.
    Clean, uncluttered screens with a familiar, desktop feel.

Official Google Blog: Writely so

Letter to a worried man

I got a note from someone who had inadvertently used his real name when submitting pictures to one of the Cat Carnivals we've hosted here; he requested that his name be removed, not wanting to be associated with kittycat pictures when Googled, apparently.

I complied with his wishes, and sent him the following note (identifying information has, of course, been expunged.)
Dear Mr. X,

The post has been fixed, to the extent that such a thing is fixable; since it has been out there for a while, there are surely cached copies aplenty around.

To be honest with you, I wouldn't worry too much about my name turning up in a Cat Carnival via Google search. If we were a support group for heroin-addicted pedophiles, then, yeah...

It is, of course, your choice... but may I offer a bit of perspective, for what it's worth?

I've been posting in public on various Internet forums, starting with Usenet, since the late 1980s. I have always used my real name. No one has ever hassled me, threatened me, stalked me, or tried to steal my identity. Strangers have tracked me down and gotten in touch with me from my online identity exactly *three* times in roughly 20 years; twice to ask perfectly relevant, nice questions they thought I might know how to answer, and once to offer me a job (which, after due diligence, I wound up accepting, actually.)

My "professional" web page (http://barry.campbell-online.com) and the about section of my "professsional" blog (http://campbell-online.com) list my home address and phone number. I have *never* received a piece of unwanted snail-mail or a telephone call from this practice, to my knowledge--for some reason, people who find me on the Web and wish to contact me usually send e-mail! (OK, I've had a fair bit of spam out of the deal, but with filtering and a few little tricks, that has been greatly diminished.)

All best,


09 March 2006

"Porn for moderate Muslims"

Over at The Religious Policeman, Al-Hamedi has "a new best friend," Arab-American psychologist Wafa Sultan.

He describes her recent televised debate with a Muslim fundamentalist as "porn for moderate Muslims." A great, funny (and poignant) post.

Commentary: For once, blame the student

Last month, as I averaged the second-quarter grades for my senior English classes at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Va., the same familiar pattern leapt out at me.

Kids who had emigrated from foreign countries - such as Shewit Giovanni from Ethiopia, Farah Ali from Guyana and Edgar Awumey from Ghana - often aced every test, while many of their U.S.-born classmates from upper-class homes with highly educated parents had a string of C's and D's.

As one would expect, the middle-class American kids usually had higher SAT verbal scores than did their immigrant classmates, many of whom had only been speaking English for a few years.

What many of the American kids I taught did not have was the motivation, self-discipline or work ethic of the foreign-born kids.

For once, blame the student (USA Today via Yahoo! News)

08 March 2006

Complexity causes 50% of product returns

Half of all malfunctioning products returned to stores by consumers are in full working order, but customers can’t figure out how to operate the devices, a scientist said on Monday.

Product complaints and returns are often caused by poor design, but companies frequently dismiss them as “nuisance calls,” Elke den Ouden found in her thesis at the Technical University of Eindhoven in the south of the Netherlands.


Most of the flaws found their origin in the first phase of the design process: product definition, Den Ouden found.

In other words, a lot of these products are doomed from birth. The importance of good design cannot be overstated, but good (and simple) documentation and training materials might have saved some of these sales as well.

In the era of the autoconfiguring TiVo, “VCR clock blinking 12:00″ jokes are rapidly becoming an anachronism, but that’s still a good metaphor for bad design. If you can’t accurately set the *clock* on a product like a VCR, you’ve shut yourself off from some of the product’s most interesting features, like delayed/timed recording.

Complexity causes 50% of product returns - Reuters, via Yahoo! News

07 March 2006

Ali Farka Toure, R.I.P.

One of Africa's best known musicians, Ali Farka Toure, has died after a long illness in his home country of Mali, the culture ministry has announced.

He was one of the pioneers of "Mali Blues" and his 1994 Talking Timbuktu album produced with US blues guitarist Ry Cooder was widely acclaimed.
I've been a huge Toure fan ever since a co-worker gave me a CD about seven years ago and said, "Here, you *have* to listen to this." Guess I know what I'll be listening to today.

BBC NEWS | Africa | African star Ali Farka Toure dies

See also: Ali Farke Toure obituary (BBC)

2006 Aon Political & Economic Risk Map

Aon has just issued their 2006 Political and Economic Risk Map.
Political, economic and social environments can shift at a moment’s notice, disrupting business operations for anyone involved in international commerce. Companies can be subjected to discriminatory action – or inaction – of foreign governments and third parties, potentially leading to forced shutdowns, relocations and other unforeseen expenses.

The impact of these political and economic exposures is examined by Aon Trade Credit in its 2006 Political & Economic Risk Map, created in conjunction with Oxford Analytica, an international, independent consulting firm of more than 1,000 senior faculty members at Oxford and other major universities and research institutions around the world.

Go get yours (free PDF download) - perfect for the econ/poli sci/military wonk in us all. New this year: a separate set of nine maps containing regional "snapshots."

aon risk map 2006

The Dumbification of Web Content

There is a new and insidious threat to the World Wide Web: a slowly rising tide of "original content" on Internet sites that is at best worthless, and at worst possibly even dangerously inaccurate.

I should know; I've been writing some of the stuff myself.

Understanding what's happening requires a lesson in modern Web economics. If there is a topic in the news, people will be searching on it. If you can get those searchers to land on a seemingly authoritative page you've set up, you can make money from their arrival. Via ads, for instance.

A fascinating article from Wall Street Journal reporter Lee Gomes describes this new racket. Gomes answers a help-wanted ad looking for web authors, and is offered $100 (total) to "write" 50 articles, 500 words each, on topics like "colloidal silver."

What he's really being paid to do, of course, is plagiarize existing material, changing it just enough to fool the not-so-bright algorithms of the major search engines. And this kind of manipulation, left unchecked, will do significant damage to the information ecosystem of the Web.

Read the entire article: Writer Creates Original Content But Is In For A Surprise (Wall Street Journal via CareerJournal.com)

(Also posted at Knowledge Work)

Governor Kinky?

We've blogged before about Kinky Friedman's quixotic run for Governor of Texas.

Well, his campaign starts in earnest on Wednesday, after today's Texas primaries, when he can start collecting signatures to get on the ballot as an independent candidate for the fall election.

His platform?
Friedman, whose parents were educators, is serious about the state's education system, promising to turn school choices back to teachers and create a 'Texas heroes' program to lure retired experts into schools.

He would boost pay for teachers, police and firefighters, he says, and fund it with legalized casino gambling and a 1 percent tax surcharge on Texas oil and gas companies.

He supports gay marriage, saying 'they have every right to be as miserable as the rest of us,' and prayer in the schools. He is against the death penalty -- a view he likens to 'looking into your political grave' in Texas.

'I just want Texas to be number one in something other than executions, toll roads and property taxes,' Friedman says. But if he loses he promises to ditch Texas and head to Hawaii.

'If I lose this race I will retire in a petulant snit,' he said. 'I'm not going to go out gracefully, I promise you.'
You've just got to love a man whose chief campaign slogans are "Why The Hell Not?" and "How Hard Could It Be?"

Is Texas ready for Governor Kinky? - Reuters, via Yahoo! News

Related: Kinky Friedman for Governor

06 March 2006

Catcall: Carnival of the Cats #102

Carnival of the Cats, 102nd edition, is up at Catcall.

Catcall: Carnival of the Cats #102

Take the GBAT

Do you secretly suspect that you’re working for bozos — or that, horror of horrors, you might have become a bozo yourself?

Here. Take the GBAT - Guy (Kawasaki’s) Bozofication Aptitude Test, brought to you by the nice people at Electric Pulp.

Question one, true or false:

The two most popular words in your company are “partner” and “strategic.” In addition, “partner” has become a verb, and “strategic” is used to describe decisions and activities that don’t make sense.

GBAT (Guy’s Bozofication Aptitude Test) - A Service of Electric Pulp

(Also posted at Knowledge Work)

Dude, Where's My Civil War?

I'm trying. I've been trying all week. The other day, I drove another 30 miles or so on the streets and alleys of Baghdad. I'm looking for the civil war that The New York Times declared. And I just can't find it.

Maybe actually being on the ground in Iraq prevents me from seeing it. Perhaps the view's clearer from Manhattan.


Many journalists are, indeed, brave and conscientious; yet some in Baghdad - working for "prestigious" publications - aren't out on the city streets the way they pretend to be.

They're safe in their enclaves, protected by hired guns, complaining that it's too dangerous out on the streets. They're only in Baghdad for the byline, and they might as well let their Iraqi employees phone it in to the States. Whenever you see a column filed from Baghdad by a semi-celeb journalist with a "contribution" by a local Iraqi, it means this: The Iraqi went out and got the story, while the journalist stayed in his or her room.

And the Iraqi stringers have cracked the code: The Americans don't pay for good news. So they exaggerate the bad.

And some of them have agendas of their own.
"Dude, Where's My Civil War?" (Ralph Peters, New York Post, March 5, 2006)

Hat tip: Chapomatic.

Politechnical » RINO Sightings 34

RINO Sightings 34 are up over at the Politechnical Institute.

Politechnical » RINO Sightings 34

05 March 2006

Creating Passionate Users: How to be an expert

How many people think they’ve missed their opportunity to be a musician, or an expert golfer, or even a chess grand master because they didn’t start when they were young? Or because they simply lacked natural talent? Those people are (mostly) wrong. According to some brain scientists, almost anyone can develop world-class (or at least top expertise) abilities in things for which they aren’t physically impaired. Apparently God-given talent, natural “gifts”, and genetic predispositions just aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. Or at least not in the way most of us always imagined. It turns out that rather than being naturally gifted at music or math or chess or whatever, a superior performer most likely has a gift for concentration, dedication, and a simple desire to keep getting better. In theory, again, anyone willing to do what’s required to keep getting better WILL get better.

Creating Passionate Users: How to be an expert

A must-click for Simpsons fans

Some mad genius has recreated the opening animation from The Simpsons with live actors.

I live for this kind of thing.

(Courtesy of YouTube.com)

04 March 2006

It's hard out here for a Pip

Lots of kids want to be astronauts or firemen when they grow up. (Or at least they did when I was growing up... I have no idea what they want to be these days.)

The earliest career ambition that I can remember, actually, was to be a backup singer. Specifically, I wanted to be a Pip.

I was born in the late 1960s; in the early 1970s, Gladys Knight and the Pips were not only frequent guests on other television programs, but they even had their own short-lived television variety show. They arrived on the TV scene just as I was starting to take an interest in television programs that weren't either Sesame Street or Mister Rogers.

And in 1973, when Gladys and the Pips went to the top of the pop charts with "Midnight Train to Georgia," even though I was mightily impressed by Gladys's soulful and impassioned delivery of the lyrics, I was totally mesmerized by the smooth dance moves and solid choral underpinnings being offered by William Guest, Merald "Bubba" Knight, and Eddie Patten (RIP)... the Pips.

Though my mother very sensibly drew the line at buying me a three-piece white linen suit (only a Pip, Tom Wolfe, or Colonel Sanders can pull that look off, and in any event I doubt that such a thing was available in the children's department at Hudson Belk), she did get a copy of the 45 for me, and I must've spent hours singing along with that record.

Not the lead, mind you. Just dancing in front of the mirror and interjecting, "...leavin' on the midnight train... goin' back to find..." at appropriate moments. Attempts to corral my playmates at the time into learning the dance moves and the lyrics were, if memory serves, largely unsuccessful. I didn't care. To me, being a Pip was the very essence of effortless cool.

I had an epiphany this week, and it has to do with that early ambition to be a Pip. Though my career has occasionally put me in the spotlight, out in front of everyone, for the most part I have toiled away in happy obscurity, doing my "background singing" as a knowledge worker, working as part of a team to produce a whole that is hopefully greater than the sum of its parts.

(Gladys Knight sounds great singing all by herself, don't get me wrong, but when she's got the Pips backing her up, there's nothing like it in the world.)

I have been, for the most part, a deeply happy Pip.

It has taken one hell of a long time to realize this, but I'm at a point in my life and career where being a backup singer isn't a realistic option any more.

And that is, indeed, an interesting decision point.

What would Merald "Bubba" Knight do? I wonder if he's listed in the phone book...

Berkshire Hathaway 2005 Annual Report, Chairman's Letter released

Reading most annual reports and "letters from the CEO" is about as exciting as watching paint dry, but I look forward to the reports from Berkshire Hathaway every year.

It might have something to do with the author, Warren Buffett, who is arguably the most successful investor in the world.

It has been said that you can get the equivalent of a pretty good business-school education by reading Warren's "Letters to the Shareholders" every year. I don't think that's far wrong.

So how did they do this year? Better than I'd have thought, considering that reinsurance is a huge part of their business, and they paid out over $3 billion (with a "b") in hurricane claims, $2.5 billion for Katrina alone:

Our gain in net worth during 2005 was $5.6 billion, which increased the per-share book value of both our Class A and Class B stock by 6.4%. Over the last 41 years (that is, since present management took over) book value has grown from $19 to $59,377, a rate of 21.5% compounded annually.

Berkshire had a decent year in 2005. We initiated five acquisitions (two of which have yet to close) and most of our operating subsidiaries prospered. Even our insurance business in its entirety did well, though Hurricane Katrina inflicted record losses on both Berkshire and the industry. We estimate our loss from Katrina at $2.5 billion – and her ugly sisters, Rita and Wilma, cost us an additional $.9 billion.

Berkshire Hathaway material can be found here:

* You'll need the free Adobe Reader (all the letters and Annual Reports are in PDF format), but you already have that, right?

Duke's doing (close to) the max

Former California GOP Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham got close to the maximum sentence allowed by law yesterday: he'll do eight years and four months in Club Fed for accepting bribes on a scale heretofore unprecedented (or, at least, proven) for a member of Congress.

Prior to sentencing, in a plea for leniency, Cunningham's defense lawyers noted his status as a decorated combat veteran and described him as already "penniless, homeless, estranged from family and disgraced in the eyes of his countrymen."
"This man has been humiliated beyond belief by his own hand. He is estranged from those he loves most and cares most about," [defense attorney] Blalack said. "All his worldly possessions are gone. He will carry a crushing tax debt until the day he dies. He will go to jail until he’s 70 years old." (Source)
Good. That's certainly a start.

Cunningham was a war hero who used his past heroism to get elected to public office, and then proceeded to leverage his position of power to accumulate great wealth. "Abusing the public trust" doesn't even begin to cover what he did; Cunningham was feeding like a pig at a trough:
In the weeks leading up to the sentencing, sharper details of Mr. Cunningham's crimes emerged. In court papers, the government said he had behaved like an old ward boss, sketching out a "bribe menu" on a note card with the Congressional seal. One column offered $16 million in contracts in exchange for the title to a boat the contractor had bought for $140,000. The card further detailed how much more contract work could be bought for every additional $50,000 paid to Mr. Cunningham.
Enjoy prison, Duke. There are quite a few folks still on the Hill who will probably be joining you shortly, especially if the rumors of your extensive cooperation with the prosecution prove to be true.

Ex-Congressman Gets 8-Year Term in Bribery Case - New York Times

Rolling Stone: Johnny Cash's Vault Opens

In July 1973, Johnny Cash spent several days in the studio at his House of Cash offices in Hendersonville, Tennessee, recording songs and telling tales with just an acoustic guitar and his virile craggy baritone. He sang Tin Pan Alley hits, traditional folk and gospel tunes, new originals and favorite covers by the Louvin Brothers and Johnny Horton, among others. He recited poetry and reminisced about his teenage job as a water boy on a river-dredging crew and the hours he spent glued to the radio, loving and learning the very songs he sang in these sessions.

But Cash, who died in September 2003, never issued any of these intimate performances. The tapes were shelved at House of Cash, where they sat forgotten and undisturbed until 2004, when his son John Carter Cash asked Steve Berkowitz, senior vice president of A&R at Legacy Recordings, Sony BMG's reissue imprint, and producer Gregg Geller for help in cataloging the hundreds of reels stored at the Hendersonville office.
In May of this year, the two CD-set Personal File, containing a sampling of these recordings, will be issued. Here's hoping that it's just the first of many. Personally, I'd give just about anything to hear some of these audio tracks, as yet unpublished:
On one visit, Berkowitz noticed towers of unlabeled boxes wrapped in brown paper. Inside were multitrack audio masters from Cash's ABC TV series, The Johnny Cash Show, including unaired songs by guests such as Bill Monroe, Stevie Wonder and Derek and the Dominos. "It is extraordinary," says Berkowitz, who is planning future releases of the material (Sony owns the footage from the show). "You hear Louis Armstrong teaching Johnny to sing [Jimmie Rodgers'] 'Blue Yodel' and Ray Charles trying to teach the Carter Family to sing like the Raelettes."
Rolling Stone: Johnny Cash's Vault Opens

Hat tip: Rock and Rap Confidential

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Spot of trouble at the old alma mater

There was a little trouble Friday on the campus of the University of North Carolina; thank God, no one was badly hurt or killed:
A man who drove a Jeep Cherokee Laredo into a lunchtime crowd on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus Friday, striking nine people, may have been protesting Americans' treatment of Muslims.

Six people had been released from UNC Hospitals by Friday evening. None was seriously injured, university officials said. The three others declined to be treated.

According to the Associated Press, suspect Mohammed Reza Taheri-azar, 22, a native of Iran, "allegedly made statements that he acted to avenge the American treatment of Muslims," FBI Special Agent Richard Kolko said. "The ongoing investigation will work to confirm this."

Witnesses saw the sport utility vehicle approach The Pit, the student hub outside the Student Union, at 11:53 a.m. The driver accelerated along the edge of the sunken plaza, before speeding away.

Without anything more to go on than the story as reported so far in the press, this *feels* like "lone nut" more than any kind of coordinated action. Just to be on the safe side, Mr. Taheri-azar's apartment complex was evacuated and his apartment searched pretty thoroughly.

And, just as inevitably as the sun setting in the West...

Responding to the speculation that the attack may have been politically motivated, freshman Salma Mirza, member of the Muslim Students Association at UNC, was quoted as saying:

"We absolutely condemn any kind of violence," said freshman Salma Mirza 18. "I hope those were not his motivations.

"Islam is a religion of peace," she added.
Six hurt as driver plows into students: The News and Observer (Raleigh, NC)

Related story from the campus newspaper:

Jeep in Pit Touches Off Frenzied Day - The Daily Tar Heel