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

30 April 2009

One of these things is not like the other

I have a couple of operating systems under test at the Home Office - Windows 7 RC and Ubuntu 9.04 are running in VM sessions on my Macintosh.

Windows 7 is a HUGE improvement on Vista - and Ubuntu's gradual evolution just makes this a nicer and nicer product.

I don't plan to abandon the Mac as a primary platform in the foreseeable future... but it's nice to know that the option set is getting steadily better.

Apropos of that, an oldie but a goodie:

pc mac linux

28 April 2009

South Ferry Subway Station Entrance, Lower Manhattan, New York City

Had an odd experience coupla weeks ago.

The MTA opened a new subway station (finally!) at South Ferry. Where the old station was a cramped little warren, the new station is a spacious wonderland underground, fully ADA-compliant, etc.

Just like that, a place I saw every workday for years doesn't exist any longer.

It really did set the tone for my last trip, where I was conscious of being an out-of-towner. I am comfortable in NYC instinctively, but Home is somewhere else now.

What especially set the tone was that I had kinda forgot about the new station opening up and was jolted into an alternate universe when my morning commute terminated in this... (see pix)

I feel strongly that the man with the cat on his head has a point here

And Why Are You Wearing That Silly Human Suit?
Suit to man with cat on his head: Why is there a cat on your head?
Man with cat on his head: Why isn't there a cat on your head, douchebag?

--Union Square
via Overheard in New York, Apr 28, 2009

Now if I can only get AT&T to do this...

Followup to a blog post previously on enrevanche:
Those lousy auto warranty robo-dialers are finally going to stop calling Verizon customers as a result of the settlement of Verizon's lawsuit against the two companies.

Auto Warranty Services and Explicit Media (Voice Solutions) had both used auto-dialers to call Verizon customers, as well as everyone else, to offer them auto warranty insurance. Verizon sued last year to stop the practice, and just received $50,000, which they will donate to charity. The main part is, of course, that Verizon customers won't be bothered by these two jackass companies anymore.
Gizmodo: Verizon blocks warranty telemarketers, receives $50,000

Related: Verizon press release

Learn to let go, dammit

Very useful information for city dwellers moving to the country: How to remove a tick.

(In New York City, the disagreeable parasites who get hold of you and don't let go usually work in the banking industry and are considerably easier to spot.)

Too bad they don't make Frontline for human beings. :-)  The indoor/outdoor dog and the indoor cat are tick-free, but I've already pulled a couple of the little buggers off me in the last week - romping in the woods around here is irresistible, but some additional care is clearly called for.

27 April 2009

Writing for nonreaders in the post-print era

As print takes its place alongside smoke signals, cuneiform, and hollering, there has emerged a new literary age, one in which writers no longer need to feel encumbered by the paper cuts, reading, and excessive use of words traditionally associated with the writing trade. Writing for Nonreaders in the Postprint Era focuses on the creation of short-form prose that is not intended to be reproduced on pulp fibers.

Instant messaging. Twittering. Facebook updates. These 21st-century literary genres are defining a new "Lost Generation" of minimalists who would much rather watch Lost on their iPhones than toil over long-winded articles and short stories. Students will acquire the tools needed to make their tweets glimmer with a complete lack of forethought, their Facebook updates ring with self-importance, and their blog entries shimmer with literary pithiness. All without the restraints of writing in complete sentences. w00t! w00t!
Writing for nonreaders in the postprint era (McSweeney's)

via Nicholas Carr

Pandemic fear

Here's the brilliant, funny xkcd on the topic of swine flu and social networking.

Financial Times: Study puts ideal US interest rate at -5%

The ideal interest rate for the US economy in current conditions would be minus 5 per cent, according to internal analysis prepared for the Federal Reserve’s last policy meeting.

The analysis was based on a so-called Taylor-rule approach that estimates an appropriate interest rate based on unemployment and inflation.

A central bank cannot cut interest rates below zero. However, the staff research suggests the Fed should maintain unconventional policies that provide stimulus roughly equivalent to an interest rate of minus 5 per cent.

Fed staff separately estimated what size and type of unconventional operations, including asset purchases, might provide this level of stimulus. They suggested that the Fed should expand its asset purchases by even more than the $1,150bn (€885bn, £788bn) increase policymakers authorised at the last meeting, which included $300bn of Treasury purchases.

The assessment that the US central bank needs to provide stimulus equivalent to a substantially negative interest rate is unlikely to have changed ahead of this week’s policy meeting.
Financial Times: Study puts ideal US interest rate at -5% (27 April 2009)

Nonprophet organization

Polls show that the ranks of atheists are growing. The American Religious Identification Survey, a major study released last month, found that those who claimed “no religion” were the only demographic group that grew in all 50 states in the last 18 years.

Nationally, the “nones” in the population nearly doubled, to 15 percent in 2008 from 8 percent in 1990. In South Carolina, they more than tripled, to 10 percent from 3 percent. Not all the “nones” are necessarily committed atheists or agnostics, but they make up a pool of potential supporters.

Local and national atheist organizations have flourished in recent years, fed by outrage over the Bush administration’s embrace of the religious right. A spate of best-selling books on atheism also popularized the notion that nonbelief is not just an argument but a cause, like environmentalism or muscular dystrophy.


Until recent years, the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry were local pariahs. Mr. Silverman — whose specialty license plate, one of many offered by the state, says “In Reason We Trust” — was invited to give the invocation at the Charleston City Council once, but half the council members walked out. The local chapter of Habitat for Humanity would not let the Secular Humanists volunteer to build houses wearing T-shirts that said “Non Prophet Organization,” he said.

When their billboard went up in January, with their Web site address displayed prominently, they expected hate mail.

“But most of the e-mails were grateful,” said Laura Kasman, an assistant professor of microbiology and immunology at the Medical University of South Carolina.

The board members meeting in the Kasmans’ living room were an unlikely mix that included a gift store owner, a builder, a grandmother, a retired nursing professor, a retired Navy officer, an administrator at a primate sanctuary and a church musician. They are also diverse in their attitudes toward religion.
More Atheists Shout It From The Rooftops (New York Times)

26 April 2009

Influenza 2.0

I'm watching these Twitter hashtags:
and keeping a weather eye on the consolidated reporting at HealthMap.org.

Wikipedia's "breaking news" article on the 2009 H1N1 influenza outbreak is fantastic.

Counterfeit handbags: better ROI than cocaine or hashish

Naples anti-organized crime prosecutor Roberti said the Camorra has pumped up what once was a kind of cottage industry, with crime clan bosses knitting closer ties with mobsters in China, where fake designer clothing, shoes and accessories are now churned out in factories for the mob.

Trafficking in fake designer goods — which investigators suspect the Camorra is also peddling in the United States, France, Britain and Germany — is now becoming more profitable for the Neapolitan syndicate that dealing in cocaine and hashish, said Mainolfi, the customs and tax police general.

He has calculated that for every euro it costs to manufacture the counterfeit designer goods, the Camorra earns 10 euros, while for every euro spent to run drug trafficking, it earns six or seven euros.

The fakes, sold in street stalls and clothing shops in the Naples and Rome areas, arrive by the tons in Naples' sprawling, chaotic port, where custom officials manage to check only some 5 percent of the shipping containers being unloaded, Mainolfi said.
Italy's Mafia thrives in global financial meltdown (Associated Press)

25 April 2009

Gonna be a hot one

Saturday's forecast calls for the Triangle area shows us breaking 90F/32C.

We have friends coming for supper tonight, so we're going to head out early this morning to breakfast and then the Farmer's Market - and by 11 or so, we'll be done with most of our outdoor tasks for the day, and can hunker down in the A/C during the hottest parts.

When things cool off tonight, it looks like a lovely evening for a bike ride!

Hope springtime is being kind to you wherever you are.

24 April 2009


gato in sunbeam

Economic systems explained on the "you have two cows" model

An update to a very old joke:
You have two cows.
You sell three of them to your publicly listed company, using letters of
credit opened by your brother-in-law at the bank, then execute a
debt/equity swap with an associated general offer so that you get all
four cows back, with a tax exemption for five cows.
The milk rights of the six cows are transferred via an intermediary to a
Cayman Island Company secretly owned by the majority shareholder who
sells the rights to all seven cows back to your listed company.
The annual report says the company owns eight cows, with an option on
one more.
You sell one cow to buy a new president of the United States, leaving
you with nine cows.
No balance sheet provided with the release.
The public then buys your bull.

Facebook Group: World Leaders

Facebook Group: World Leaders (Sage Stossel, The Atlantic)

facebook for world leaders

Design quality

Guy Kawasaki picks the brain of uber-designer Hartmut Esslinger:
Question: What are your top ten products of all time?

  1. Electric Light Bulb
  2. Japanese Lunch Box(es)
  3. Mercedes 300 SLR “Uhlenhaut”
  4. Boeing 707
  5. Porsche 911
  6. Apple Macintosh (after the Macintosh SE)
  7. Arne Jacobsen Chair “3107” by Hansen
  8. Sony Walkman 2
  9. Gibson Les Paul Custom Guitar
  10. Hubble Telescope
Question: What are your ten worst products of all time?

  1. Gas-guzzling SUVs
  2. Neck-pain-causing Notebook computers
  3. Typical conference chairs and ambiance in hotels
  4. Software UI on mobile phones
  5. Most hospital equipment
  6. Violent video games
  7. Fake “crafts” products (e.g “Hantcraft” dustpan & brushset)
  8. Computer accessories requiring 2+ hour installment
  9. Restaurant table that “kill” your kneecaps
  10. Myriads of power adapters

23 April 2009

Horrified realization

cabin, early evening

We seem to be living in a Thomas Kinkade painting come to life.

There's good news and bad news...

PhD Comics explains succinctly why we're not likely ever to see "a cure" for cancer.

"Rigorously normal"

Brown University student spends a semester at Liberty University, and writes a book about the experience.

Newsflash: He finds Liberty students to be... gasp... normal college kids with values somewhat different from his.

Formed in 1971, Liberty now enrolls more than 11,000 residential students, along with thousands more who study through Liberty's distance-learning programs. The university teaches creationism and that the Bible is the inerrant word of God, while pledging "a strong commitment to political conservatism" on campus and a "total rejection of socialism."

Roose's parents, liberal Quakers who once worked for Ralph Nader, were nervous about their son being exposed to Falwell's views. Still, Roose transferred to Liberty for the spring 2007 semester.

He was determined to not mock the school, thinking it would be too easy — and unfair. He aimed to immerse himself in the culture, examine what conservative Christians believe and see if he could find some common ground. He had less weighty questions too: How did they spend Friday nights? Did they use Facebook? Did they go on dates? Did they watch "Gossip Girl?"

It wasn't an easy transition. Premarital sex is an obvious no-no at Liberty. So are smoking and drinking. Cursing is also banned, so he prepared by reading the Christian self-help book, "30 Days to Taming Your Tongue."

He lined up a publisher — Grand Central Publishing — and arrived at the Lynchburg campus prepared for "hostile ideologues who spent all their time plotting abortion clinic protests and sewing Hillary Clinton voodoo dolls."

Instead, he found that "not only are they not that, but they're rigorously normal."

He met students who use Bible class to score dates, apply to top law schools and fret about their futures, and who enjoy gossip, hip-hop and R-rated movies — albeit in a locked dorm room.

A roommate he depicts as aggressively anti-gay — all names are changed in the book — is an outcast on the hall, not a role model.

Ivy Leaguer "infiltrates" Falwell's university (Associated Press, 22 April 2009)

22 April 2009

It took me so long to find out, but I found out...

Bookmarked for later perusal and itinerary-making: Homegrown and Handmade: Art Roads and Farm Trails of North Carolina.

Why being an astronaut sucks

Because you need a Ph.D. just to do an astronaut's dry cleaning. To be an actual astronaut, a person has to be two-thirds Stephen Hawking, and one-third someone who has perfect vision and awesome hand-eye coordination. To make sure they have the right guy, NASA subjects their astronauts to an endless series of grueling tests.

Before they go to the celestial trampoline we call the moon, astronauts spend about ten years keeping themselves in peak physical condition while essentially taking the SAT every single day. Even if your kid's some rare breed of super genius who enjoys both tests and pushups, it's still not all it's cracked up to be. To give your kid an idea of what an astronaut's job is truly like, do the following:

Step 1: Go buy a van - preferably a 1976 Peugeot.

Step 2: Have the owner's manual translated into Russian.

Step 3: Tell your child to pretend the van is a space station, and that his or her assignment is to rotate the tires.

Step 4: Push the van to the bottom of a swimming pool. Hand your child the translated owner's manual, a toolbox and a balloon full of air.

5 Jobs You Wanted As A Kid And Why They Suck (Cracked.com)

Two views

View out office window, New York City:

when i'm cleaning windows

View out office window, Chapel Hill:

Home Office Wednesday Morning

Date-rapists, noodleheads and eggheads

Bands looking for gigs send me tapes or CDs, and I try to listen to as much of them as I can stand. A lot of them are so painfully bad, I don’t make it too far through. If a band is really terrible, it’s always nice if they’ve sent a CD rather than a tape ­ easier to skip through and listen to a little of each song. I’ve been doing this a long time, and can usually tell how a band will do with one listen to their tape (“I can name that band’s draw in two notes”). Hell, by now, I can just look at their picture and almost always figure out everything I need to know. Such as:

If a band is posed on the porch or front steps of a large house; if anybody in the picture is wearing a shirt with a collar, a baseball cap or any item of clothing with a sports logo; and if they look well-fed--­ if they look like the people I hated in college, in other words--this is a band that will draw what I call the “date-rape demographic.” Bands like this tend to play sensitive-white-boy (read: limp-wristed) guitar pop that draws ditzy sorority girls, meaning their frat-boy predators are sure to follow. This is a crowd that drinks A LOT, and I can always count on at least a couple of fights in the parking lot. Bands like this pay the rent, but a lot of them are more trouble than they’re worth.

If a band is shown posed in some sort of outdoor “natural” setting; if anyone is barefoot; if at least one member has shoulder-length and/or facial hair, a ponytail and/or a beret; and if there is a tie-dyed garment involved ­ chances are good this photo will literally reek of patchouli. Hippie noodlehead rock. The Grateful Dead has been gone a long time, but there’s still gold in aimless noodling. Gold for the band, maybe, but not the bar because noodlehead crowds tend to prefer pot to beer. I’ll clear less on a noodlehead band than a date-rape one, even though the noodleheads usually draw bigger crowds.

The audience is largely college-age, but with some older hippie types still hanging on. Noodlehead bands generally keep their fans after they graduate, more so than the date-rape ones. Date-rape bands are kinda like “LUG,” Lesbian Until Graduation, a college thing most people outgrow. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course.)

If a band is shown in a dark room, and/or out-of-focus; if anyone is wearing glasses; if at least one member has a receding hairline and is making no attempt to cover it up; if someone is wearing either an impossibly square or ridiculously hip T-shirt (“Sesame Street” on the one hand, or some band so obscure I haven’t even heard of them on the other); if someone is covering their mouth with their hand, or has their head bent at a weird angle; if the bass player is a girl--hey, kids, it’s the new alternative!

There are lots of egghead-type bands around here, this being a college town and all. They come and go, and all of them sound pretty much the same to me. True, I’m a jaded old fart and all that. But most of them just don’t have the chops to get away with the weird junk they try to pull off--jerky time signatures, non-existent tunings, repetitive drones--and it all sounds like badly played King Crimson covers. Bands like this tend to have small but devoted followings, 40 or so people who will show up and hang on every detuned note and off-key yelp. They’ll drink water and soda pop, meaning I usually lose money. But that’s okay, because these bands and their crowds are almost never a bit of trouble. If I had date-rape or even noodlehead bands in here every night, I’d go nuts. Egghead bands give me some downtime, and the occasional one that actually goes somewhere will pull an audience every bit as loyal as the noodlehead crowd. Of course, they still won’t drink…
Fictitious nightclub owner Bob Porter, a character in David Menconi's novel Off The Record, explains the business of running a bar with live music.

21 April 2009

A grudging admission

After removing all evidence of problems that were of my own making...

The Vista laptop is actually running pretty well, and it's a pleasure to use.

Despite having successfully used VMware Fusion for a couple of years now -- basically, a canned Windows XP environment lives on my hard disk and I kick it off whenever I need it (not often) - Carrie and I found ourselves in the absurd position of having a houseful of Macintoshes and being in the market for a Windows laptop.

Some of the software Carrie needs to run to crunch the data she's going to visually interpret is Windows-only.

Some software that I need to stay current on - Adobe Framemaker, for instance - is now available for Windows only. Technical authoring in general is heavily weighted towards Windows; most of the more interesting help and e-learning authoring tools are also Windows-only. MadCap products in particular are Windows-only.

We're not giving up our Macs. But we're a multiplatform household now.

Thought for the day

Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to remove.
-- Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

...and God bless the United States of America

...you don’t want to speak like Barack Obama. You want to speak like you. Nevertheless, as a student of the art of public speaking, you can — and should — observe Obama’s oratorical skills. The greats all learn from other greats, so don’t hesitate. Study Obama’s repertoire, take what you like, and use what you can to improve your own public speaking.
BNET (Harvard Business School Blogs): Five ways to speak like Obama

As should be intuitively obvious to even the most casual observer of the blogosphere, not everyone is an Obama fan. Yet even his most serious critics would, I think, cede the point that he's a better-than-average public speaker.

And even the most devout George W. Bush partisan would have to admit that the likelihood of someone writing a "speak like Dubya" article is kinda slim.

The biggest losers, fiscal division

The 2009 Fortune 500 came out last week.

Biggest money losers in the elite club:
  1. AIG
  2. Fannie Mae
  3. Freddie Mac
  4. GM
  5. Citigroup
  6. Merrill Lynch
  7. ConocoPhillips
  8. Ford Motor
  9. Time Warner
  10. CBS
There are a lot of names, of course, missing entirely from the 2009 edition (based on 2008 results, of course):
  • Lehman Brothers
  • Wachovia
  • Washington Mutual
  • Countrywide Financial
  • Electronic Data Systems
  • Anheuser-Busch
  • Bear Stearns
I wonder what the 2010 list will look like.

20 April 2009

Java is pretty important

Tarus points us to a couple of good posts on Oracle's purchase of Sun Microsystems:
While I thought Sun paid too much for MySQL, I think Oracle got this one right. The best analysis I’ve seen so far is from Larry Augustin, so if you’re interested in such things be sure to check it out.

UPDATE: Monty weighs in.
Adventures in Open Source: Oracle Buys Sun (20 Apr 2009)

Good point


I am in hellllllllll

Update, 20 April:

Aaaaaand it turns out I went digitally spelunking for no reason at all. (sigh)

My office buddy set me straight this morning.

His instructions started with "Perform an emergency restore of the factory configuration..."

(Thanks, man.)

Had to get a Windows computer for the house. (Long story.)

Bought a Dell Studio 15 series with the guidance of a trusted techie friend at the office.

Computer arrived, and I thought to myself - you know, this isn't too bad. What am I missing?

I mean, I'm using Vista on a laptop and it's actually kind of okay.

My office buddy is a Windows aficionado in the way that I'm a Mac aficionado. He has been responding wearily to my trash-talking about Windows Vista by ragging me about the hardware I was running it on.

"On a properly configured machine, Vista is very satisfactory."

Hey, it was looking good.

Then I ran Belarc Advisor to get a snapshot of my current configuration before I started modifying anything (hi, worked in IT for 20+ years, occupational hazard.)

Huh. The machine has 4GB of RAM but Belarc only reports three.

Why, that sounds like...

They didn't.

They DID.

Dell installed 32-bit Windows Vista on this machine, limiting me to 3GB memory access.

oh HELL no.

Bust out Windows Ultimate 64-Bit SP1 install disk, reformat the laptop, install 64-bit. Confirm access to 4GB RAM.


I start installing software again when I notice that the screen looks funny and I'm not connected via WiFi.

And that's when I realized that I hadn't saved a copy of that list of drivers and devices that I was kinda concerned about.

Have downloaded all thirty-five relevant pieces of software from Dell's support site and am installing them manually.


High holidays: Happy 4/20

SAN FRANCISCO — On Monday, somewhere in New York City, 420 people will gather for High Times magazine’s annual beauty pageant, a secretly located and sold-out event that its sponsor says will “turn the Big Apple into the Baked Apple and help us usher in a new era of marijuana freedom in America.”

They will not be the only ones partaking: April 20 has long been an unofficial day of celebration for marijuana fans, an occasion for campus smoke-outs, concerts and cannabis festivals. But some advocates of legal marijuana say this year’s “high holiday” carries extra significance as they sense increasing momentum toward acceptance of the drug, either as medicine or entertainment.
Marijuana advocates point to signs of change (New York Times, 19 April 2009)

Related: Wikipedia on the meaning of "420" in cannabis culture

Also related:

Rainy morning in the home office

rainy morning home office

home office rainy monday

I don't think we'll have to worry about this any longer

In a comment to an earlier post, Bunny admonishes me:
My only complaint, Barry, is the lack of cat and / or chow content in these photos. Don't let it happen again.
Well, after recuperating at home this weekend (from nothing unusual - just the daily slings and arrows that the flesh is heir to) - I don't think this is going to be a problem. 

The animals are settled into a routine of following us from room to room, occasionally taking a little time off to explore the novelty of solitude (an option only sporadically available to all of us until recently). 

At any rate, Bunny - I am reasonably certain that this is the last picture anyone will ever see of this chair without a cat in it:


My desk chair (an Aeron with curiously claw-proof nylon mesh seating) was "his" chair at the apartment.

He has definitely traded up here, but to something uplholstered. Yikes.

19 April 2009

One over the eight

This phrase came up in conversation over dinner last night - the alcoholic beverage in question was a glass of dessert wine with the fetching name Naughty Sticky.
The final drink that renders someone drunk.

This originated as UK military slang. The first reference to it in print is in Fraser and Gibbons' Soldier & Sailor Words, (1925):
"One over the eight, one drink too many. Slightly intoxicated, the presumption being that an average 'moderate' man can safely drink eight glasses of beer."
After a gallon of beer 'slightly intoxicated' seems a bit of an understatement. Beer was weaker in the 1920s than it is now, but even so.
The phrase finder (UK): One over the eight

17 April 2009

I wish the set dressers from "Mad Men" would stop calling us

So I think we're about done with buying furniture. The last shipment arrived yesterday:

danish modern rope chairs

Danish modern rope lounge chairs, a Hans Wegner design, early 1960s vintage, bought at an estate sale in Westchester, New York. (Carrie found these on eBay.)

(Bunny: Note required animal content - apparently headless cat lounging on boxes/in sunbeam to the left.)

This is smart

Newsweek is planning a relaunch:

For more than a year, Thomas Ascheim, the former Nickelodeon cable executive who is Newsweek’s chief executive; Jon Meacham, editor; and Fareed Zakaria, international editor, have plotted the radical remaking of a product that had lost its relevance as a news source years ago as readers turned to the internet and cable news.

In November, the team submitted a plan to return to profit within five years. “You can keep doing what you have been doing all the time and march nobly off a cliff or you can adapt and change,” Mr Meacham told the Financial Times.

A prototype of the redesign that will be launched in early May is a cleaner take on the old, with more white space and bolder photographs. The launch will coincide with a relaunch of Newsweek.com that will replace wire copy with links to the best sources of online news, even if published by rivals.

Newsweek intends to court a high-end audience seeking in-depth commentary and reporting. It plans to leave the mass market behind by cutting the circulation it guarantees to advertisers, from 2.6m to 1.5m by January. Subscription prices are expected to double, executives said, and $25m could be saved annually from printing and distribution costs. Newsweek has cut 160 staff through voluntary redundancies and a handful of layoffs, but protected a stable of star columnists, correspondents and contributors.

Focusing on a smaller but devoted readership earning an average $100,000 a year will allow the magazine to raise advertising rates, although lower circulation will reduce page rates, making attracting smaller, luxury advertisers easier.

The idea is to capture territory dominated by The Economist and the New Yorker. The incumbents respectively distribute about 711,000 and 1m copies in the US and both have weathered the downturn better.

Newsweek to turn new page with relaunch (Financial Times, 16 April 2009)

This is smart. The era of profitable print newsweeklies is long since over, but there are still profitable niche markets for print publications to exploit.

Born Again Americans

It's not quite what you're thinking, if you're thinking what I was thinking.

Born Again American
is committed to the rebirth and re-expression of citizenship through informed and thoughtful activism. It is an initiative of Declare Yourself, a national non-partisan, non-profit (501(c)3) organization dedicated to increasing young voter participation and civic involvement. Declare Yourself’s on-line voter registration tool has been used by almost four million people since 2004. Declare Yourself grew out of the 2003’s Declaration of Independence Road Trip that toured an original 1776 copy of the Declaration to schools, town halls, and other locations all over the country.

About the Video
Our founder, TV producer and philanthropist Norman Lear, was talking with Academy Award-winning songwriter Keith Carradine one night, and the Born Again American video was, well, born. It took the efforts of Director Mark Johnson of Playing for Change, Producer Brent Miller, and 16 performers and two choruses to bring Keith’s song to life in 14 iconic locations around the USA. The singers and musicians, non-professionals all, were chosen because they are living the lyrics in these troubled times, not just performing them.

16 April 2009

Counting counties

Slate crunches the numbers (the US Labor Department's county-by-county employment figures, in this case) and comes up with an interactive graphic showing job gains and losses from January 2007 to February 2009:
The economic crisis, which has claimed more than 5 million jobs since the recession began, did not strike the entire country at once. A map of employment gains or losses by county tells the story of how those job losses first struck in the most vulnerable regions and then spread rapidly to the rest of the country. As early as August 2007, for example—several months before the recession officially began—jobs were already on the decline in southwest Florida; Orange County, Calif.; much of New Jersey; and Detroit, while other areas of the country remained on the uptick.

Using the Labor Department's local area unemployment statistics, Slate presents the recession as told by unemployment numbers for each county in America.
When did your county's jobs disappear? An interactive map of vanishing employment across the country (Chris Wilson, Slate)

A couple of still screenshots that do not do the animation justice:

January 2007

February 2009

If they knew he was using ssh, they would have shot him on sight

Better be careful if you open a Unix shell window on the grounds of Boston College:
On Friday, EFF and the law firm of Fish and Richardson filed an emergency motion to quash [pdf] and for the return of seized property on behalf of a Boston College computer science student whose computers, cell phone, and other property were seized as part of an investigation into who sent an e-mail to a school mailing list identifying another student as gay. The problem? Not only is there no indication that any crime was committed, the investigating officer argued that the computer expertise of the student itself supported a finding of probable cause to seize the student's property.
The "evidence" against him? 

(1) He's a comp sci student who knows his stuff.
(2) Apparently other students give him their laptops to fix.
(3) Most damning - he uses *two* different operating systems, including one that (horrors) "is a black screen with a white font that he uses prompt commands on."

Really.  I could not make this up.

Boston College Campus Police: "Using Prompt Commands" May Be a Sign of Criminal Activity (Electronic Frontier Foundation)

15 April 2009

A little New York City restaurant culture inside-baseball

Frank Bruni tears Graydon Carter a new one over his pretentious new restaurant, "Charles":
Charles one-ups them all. While Waverly doesn’t answer its phone, Charles doesn’t even have one, at least not one that’s published. To get a table I would send an e-mail message, and some unseen, unknown, disembodied reservations deity would write back. It was like I was in a “Bourne” movie, arranging a secret meet. I was the Joan Allen character, but with a better colorist.

I haven’t yet told you the wildest part, which is the restaurant’s windows — so Salinger, so Garbo. They’re covered in old newspapers and blue tape, as if the space is under construction or even condemned, and they’ve been that way for so long that when I paused on the sidewalk the other night to read the fine print, I learned that Sarah Palin had resuscitated the McCain candidacy.

The newspapers are at first funny, then odd, then just sort of sad, maybe because Charles doesn’t have enough else going for it. In the end I couldn’t get around that.


The lamb kebabs should be called tartare. That’s how close to raw they were. The salmon, supposedly pan-seared, was more like pan-spurned, by which I mean it was nearly raw, too. Charles is as stingy with heat as it is with light. Maybe it’s saving on utilities.

It shouldn’t have to, given what it charges for wine. On a recent list only two of about 60 reds were under $70, and I couldn’t find a white for under $60 — not that I’m scrimping! It made me wonder: aren’t the newspapers, the blue tape and the unpublished phone number velvet rope enough?

And did I really just say that? It doesn’t sound like me, but then we’re all sounding a little different since the Dow went south, Obama came east and Bernie Madoff went up the river.

Thought for the day

The only thing I was fit for was to be a writer, and this notion rested solely on my suspicion that I would never be fit for real work, and that writing didn't require any. - Russell Baker
Apologies for the light blogging. The kind of writing *I've* chosen to do for a living does in fact involve real work, and my team just shoved a 500+ page proposal response out the door last night.

More soon.

11 April 2009

Hunting and gathering: check

A month into The Move, today was a fun-filled day of previously-deferred nesting activity.

After a hearty breakfast at Elmo's and a trip to the Farmer's Market (de rigueur on Saturday mornings), we drove over to Raleigh to check out Hipsteria, a furniture store downtown that specializes in used mid-century modern furniture.

We, uh, bought a few things.

Dinette set

A kitchen table.

sectional sofa (left)

A couch and coffee table.


An armchair.

And so on.

Their buyer has a great eye - and I'm looking forward to meeting him tomorrow, when he delivers the furniture. :-)

What a nice surprise to find this thirty minutes away.

Related: Hipsteria in Raleigh (The Estate of Things)

"I can't do any better"

Old-school, close-up magic, performed by a master, with the simplest of props: cigarettes, silver dollars, short lengths of rope, pages of folded newspaper.

Via Dick Cavett's blog at the New York Times, two posts (and one half-hour video segment) celebrating The Great Slydini:

Conjuring Slydini, Part 1 (with 30 minute video)
Conjuring Slydini, Part 2
Tony was a bit bowled over by the reaction on the street the day after the first show aired. At his tobacco/newspaper shop, where he said he’d been anonymous for decades, he was now lionized. “Dick, you make so I can’t-a go anywhere,” he mock-complained. And then he did complain: “But, Dick, I’m-a look-a so old.” As a young man, he’d been a handsome dog.

A week after that show aired he went to France, Spain, Italy and Japan. Home-recording of television was not all that common back then but, he said, “Everywhere I’m-a go they go to a machine, push a button and up comes Dick Cavett and Slydini. How they get I don’t know.” (Magicians cassetted that show all over the world to one another.)

09 April 2009

But what about the right to be fabulous?

Jacob Dickerson responds to the new ad campaign from the The National Organization for Marriage:
... unlike the rest of the two thirds of America who don't believe in gay marriage, I'm attractive. I'm educated, funny, well spoken, and generally a pleasure to be around. I'm exactly what the gays want, and with my background in playwrighting and my past in theater, they already know that the homosexuals have a foot in my door.

Gay marriage is about turning me gay. After all, what else outside of my fear of not being able to commit myself to another person before the eyes of the government was stopping me from gaining a love of dick? I can already feel it starting. Since the decision in Iowa, I've noticed words creeping into my lexicon like Chiraz and Emory Board. I've begun to realize that D&G is a fashion label and that Monet is not. I'm even showering more. Gay marriage is trying to take vaginas out of my life forever.

I don't know what to do. A storm is gathering, and I know what's going to happen next. It'll start Raining Men.
Jacob Dickerson, writing at Huffington Post: "Gay Marriage Is After My Rights"

Jacob: Hang tough, man.

08 April 2009

Ten principles for a Black Swan-proof world

2. No socialisation of losses and privatisation of gains. Whatever may need to be bailed out should be nationalised; whatever does not need a bail-out should be free, small and risk-bearing. We have managed to combine the worst of capitalism and socialism. In France in the 1980s, the socialists took over the banks. In the US in the 2000s, the banks took over the government. This is surreal.


Do not let someone making an “incentive” bonus manage a nuclear plant – or your financial risks. Odds are he would cut every corner on safety to show “profits” while claiming to be “conservative”. Bonuses do not accommodate the hidden risks of blow-ups. It is the asymmetry of the bonus system that got us here. No incentives without disincentives: capitalism is about rewards and punishments, not just rewards.
Ten principles for a Black Swan-proof world: Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Financial Times, 7 April 2009

Hat tip: Chap

Local scrip in small-town North Carolina

Hey, over in Pittsboro, they've set up an alternative currency:
A grassroots organization in a small Chatham County town is putting a new spin on an old idea in the hopes of energizing the town's economy.

The PLENTY Currency Cooperative believes a new currency it plans to unveil in a few weeks – and a local bank's willingness to distribute it – will encourage people to spend their money in Pittsboro.

And the attractive exchange rate for the new bills, called PLENTYs, won't hurt either.

"We're starting with an initial exchange rate of 90 cents per PLENTY, meaning you can go in with nine U.S. dollars and get 10 PLENTYs back, which is essentially a 10-percent-off coupon for shopping locally," B.J. Lawson, with the Plenty Currency Cooperative, said.

Local U.S. currencies date back to the Depression era. While the PLENTY's been around since 2002, the original version's odd denominations and lack of convertibility to Federal Reserve notes posed a problem.

"There was a genuine risk that if you sold a big sculpture or had a big fuel order, you could end up with a disproportionate number of the PLENTYs," Lyle Estill, with the cooperative, said. "Now that we can exchange them at Capital Bank, that fear goes away and I'm standing by to see every merchant in town happily accepting PLENTYs."
Local currency to boost small town's economy (News 14 Carolina)

Haloscan is feeling a little faint...

...if not downright narcoleptic.

A couple of you have mailed me privately and said that Haloscan is rejecting attempts to comment here (enrevanche, which predates decent commenting functionality in Blogger, uses Haloscan to provide comments and trackback functionality.)

If I can figure out how to submit a trouble ticket with Haloscan, I will. Gah. For now, hang in there and hope that this is just transient weirdness - also, try clearing any Haloscan-labelled cookies on your browser, if you're technically inclined.


Daydreaming of beignets

At Uber-Chowhound Jim Leff's blog, guestblogger Paul Trapani foodblogs New Orleans: Parts One, Two and Three.

07 April 2009

Yeah, but.

Cyberspies have penetrated the U.S. electrical grid and left behind software programs that could be used to disrupt the system, according to current and former national-security officials.

The spies came from China, Russia and other countries, these officials said, and were believed to be on a mission to navigate the U.S. electrical system and its controls. The intruders haven't sought to damage the power grid or other key infrastructure, but officials warned they could try during a crisis or war.

"The Chinese have attempted to map our infrastructure, such as the electrical grid," said a senior intelligence official. "So have the Russians."
Electricity Grid in U.S. Penetrated By Spies (Wall Street Journal, 7 April 2009)

OK, this is straight-up scary stuff.

Occupational hazard: I have a dangerously small amount of actual knowledge about how one attempts to detect and prevent intrusions into networks and systems, but I'm around the buzzwords a lot, so I'm going to go out of my way not to use jargon in the hope that I won't accidentally mangle a term of art.

Here's what I've been able to gather about this: even though you *can* secure, e.g., a nuclear facility's core operations from the public Internet, there's MORE than enough stuff hooked up to the public Net that you'd really rather it not be there if you thought about it much.


At the same time, this story sort of reminds me of the feigned outrage over the Bombay terrorists having used Blackberries and so forth to access news sites on the Internet and communicate with each other.

OF COURSE they used Blackberries. They also breathed air, drank water and ate food, as Bruce Schneier pointed out, probably a lot more elegantly - they exploited what was available in their environment, and what was available included devices that for the equivalent of a few hundred bucks up front and fifty or so a month makes you a walking, talking, e-mailing, web-surfing, highly mobile node on the Net.

Deal with it.

No, seriously. The good guys have the same tools and more money, and if we don't have better brains we're all in real trouble.

So, my thinking is -

We're in a highly interconnected world.

Bad guys are constantly finding ways to exploit this.

(Who's a "bad guy" depends largely but not entirely on where you sit. There are some objective standards of evil and there are regimes and groups that are way over those lines. They have access to the Intertubes too.)


Among other things.

Here would have been an interesting thing to read in the Wall Street Journal: How do we plan to prevent them from doing this, and more importantly what are we doing to learn about their weaknesses, which may not be, as is true in our case, their information and communications infrastructure?

06 April 2009

Congratulations, Tarheels

Congratulations to the University of North Carolina Tarheels, 2009 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Champions.

Game highlights will no doubt be on YouTube shortly.

Meanwhile, two advertising-related observations from the game:

(1) Although they broke a first-half scoring record (55 points), Carolina did not score more than 100 points in the game, meaning that it won't be two-sausage-biscuits-for-a-dollar day at Bojangles tomorrow (explanation here, sort of. It's definitely a Southern thing.)

(2) Here are college basketball coaching legends Roy Williams, Rick Pitino, Bobby Knight and Mike Krzyzewski in their underwear, pimping Guitar Hero Metallica:

Bella and the deer

There's a trio of female deer who pass through our back yard on a pretty regular basis (I only caught two of them in this picture). My home office has a nice view of the yard, but even if I'm not gazing out the window when they arrive, Chow Bella always lets us know when the deer are visiting. (Lots of barking.)

I knew it would happen sooner or later, and as it turns out, it was sooner: I was out in the yard with Bella this afternoon when one of the hooved ruminant trio poked her head into the yard, followed closely by her traveling companions. (They really seem to enjoy eating the clover that grows in abundance where the yard verges on woods - a better setup, if you're a deer in the 'burbs, can scarcely be imagined.)

Oh boy, I thought - here we go. Bella was off the leash (one of the little luxuries rarely afforded her outside a dog park, while she lived in NYC) and I wasn't sure "voice control" was gonna work all that well up against some actual Wildlife On The Hoof.

But Bella surprised me. She trotted maybe a dozen feet closer to the deer and then stopped in her tracks and barked.

Yeah, she barked - but from a posture that every dog owner, and any other student of canine psychology, professional or amateur, would instantly recognize: head down, ass up and wagging her tail furiously as she vocalized.

My newly suburban dog, having spotted three deer in her yard, wanted to play with them.

Happily (I think) deer don't "speak" dog, and they certainly don't grok dog body language. We saw some nice flashes of white deer-tail as the whitetail deer fled. And I cursed myself for leaving the house without my cell phone, or any other camera-bearing instrument, such as a camera.

P.S. I have decided to name the deer after the Andrews Sisters. Henceforth they shall be known on this blog as as LaVerne, Maxene and Patty.

Wrecked the boat. Totaled. Everyone dead. FAIL

If Homer's Odessey Was Written On Twitter (HolyTaco.com)

04 April 2009

Meet the new neighbors


"Oh, hi... you got cable?"

(These two visitors are at the perimeter of the back yard, where the woods begin.)

03 April 2009

It's Barry! Everybody out of the pool!

A gleeful co-worker just dropped this one on me:

Aquarium staff have unearthed a 'giant sea worm' that was attacking coral reef and prize fish.

The 4ft long monster, named Barry, had launched a sustained attack on the reef in a display tank at Newquay's Blue Reef Aquarium over recent months.

Workers at the Cornwall-based attraction had been left scratching their heads as to why the coral had been left devastated and - in some cases - cut in half.


...'It really does look like something out of a horror movie. It's over four feet long with these bizarre-looking jaws.

'We also discovered that he is covered with thousands of bristles which are capable of inflicting a sting resulting in permanent numbness.'

Mr Slater said Barry, who has now been relocated to his own tank, probably arrived as a juvenile in a delivery of living rock from another aquarium.

Barry the giant sea worm discovered by aquarium staff after mysterious attacks on coral reef (Daily Mail (UK), 31 March 2009)

My namesake - a polychaete worm - is a very handsome fellow. Click on the Daily Mail story link to see him in all his creepy gorgeousness.

Now with full motion

Dipping my toes in the waters of vidcasting - here's a daylight view, in video, of the still photo I captured last night.

NYC rainy day from Barry Campbell on Vimeo.

02 April 2009

SimCity, come to life

Staying at a friend's place in NYC this week.  He has a pretty nice view from his terrace:

Terrace view, Financial District, NYC

Crappy iPhone camera pic, doesn't really do it justice.  I'm tempted to drag a cot out onto the terrace and sleep under the stars tonight; it's a lovely cool night.

This thought for the day is for you, Lou Dobbs

Illegal aliens have always been a problem in the United States. Ask any Indian.  - Robert Orben

01 April 2009

True Grits

Via TastingTable:
For years, most cooks looking for an artisanal alternative to the ubiquitous Quaker brand had only one option: Anson Mills. This Columbia, South Carolina-based company has dominated the heirloom-grits scene since it launched in 1997, thanks to a cultishly loyal chef base and wide distribution. But these four producers have brought some diversity to the market, and in the process are leading a Grits Belt renaissance.

Boykin Mill Farms (Rembert, South Carolina) These old-fashioned yellow grits are ground in a water-powered mill and come in old-school paper or cloth bags ($5 for a two-pound bag; boykinmillfarms.com).

Carolina Plantation (Darlington, South Carolina) In the unofficial home of NASCAR, local farmers use granite stones to produce these [coarse]-ground grits. ($4 for a two-pound bag; carolinaplantationrice.com).

Mill of Old Guilford (Oak Ridge, North Carolina) Heirloom white corn and a made-to-order philosophy set these speckled grits apart from the pack ($15 for 2 two-pound bags; boiledpeanuts.com).

Mills Farm (Athens, Georgia) Tim and Alice Mills rely on one acre of corn and a trusty mule to produce the Red Mule grits local chef Hugh Acheson loves (redmulegrits.com; call 706-543-8113 for current prices).
I have historically been an Anson Mills partisan (as foodie friends in NYC will attest) but look forward to checking these other sources out.

CADIE, bar the door

Google's April Fool's Day joke is a good one this year...meet CADIE, the Cognitive Autoheuristic Distributed-Intelligence Entity:

Research group switches on world's first "artificial intelligence" tasked-array system.

For several years now a small research group has been working on some challenging problems in the areas of neural networking, natural language and autonomous problem-solving. Last fall this group achieved a significant breakthrough: a powerful new technique for solving reinforcement learning problems, resulting in the first functional global-scale neuro-evolutionary learning cluster.

Since then progress has been rapid, and tonight we're pleased to announce that just moments ago, the world's first Cognitive Autoheuristic Distributed-Intelligence Entity (CADIE) was switched on and began performing some initial functions. It's an exciting moment that we're determined to build upon by coming to understand more fully what CADIE's emergence might mean, for Google and for our users. So although CADIE technology will be rolled out with the caution befitting any advance of this magnitude, in the months to come users can expect to notice her influence on various google.com properties. Earlier today, for instance, CADIE deduced from a quick scan of the visual segment of the social web a set of online design principles from which she derived this intriguing homepage.

There are applications for CADIE across Google's entire product line - e.g., Gmail Autopilot:

What happens if a sender and recipient both have Autopilot on?

Two Gmail accounts can happily converse with each other for up to three messages each. Beyond that, our experiments have shown a significant decline in the quality ranking of Autopilot's responses and further messages may commit you to dinner parties or baby namings in which you have no interest.
Google Autopilot


Update: I see that Buck beat me to the punch.