So roundabout! The Lomography folks have created a “digitizer” for their LomoKino product that uses an iPhone’s camera. So to get your movie on the web you need to: (a) use a LomoKino camera to shoot 144 frames on a roll of 35mm film (done in less than a minute?); (b) develop this film (at least US$10?); (c) load the film into LomoKino Smart Phone Holder and use your iPhone’s camera to record the movie as you animate it via a hand crank.

So many insane steps to this: (1) Dude commissions two 8x10 inch digital capture backs that (2) together cost as much as a house so that (3) he can preview what’s going to happen when he takes the shot for real on (4) 8x10 Polaroid film. (He’s especially keen to be able to preview because Polaroid aren’t making the film anymore.) Further, because it’s custom kit, it (5) only does 10M pixels!

“Designy temporary tattoos.”

“Many people are blessed with beauty. Some even make a career of it. But very few can work both sides of the runway.”

Wikipedia’s reckon that digital copies of works of art can be used on Wikipedia (or anywhere else) provided the copyright on the original work has expired. i.e. you can copy an image from a gallery’s website, and use it on your own.

A Chinese tour group takes on Europe. (Interesting, and provides some insight into Chinese values and attitudes.)

Urban exploration: report on a journey through the tunnels of the abandoned Royal Mail railway that runs for 6 miles underneath London.

Really interesting visualisations of some sex and self-image data, collected by the dating website OkCupid.

Profile of Chris Christie, the entertaining and savvy Republican governor of New Jersey.

Analysis of the UK’s defence strategy, and how well the requirements of action in Libya matches up with the current and future capabilities of the defence force.

Various nice parts to this Malcolm Gladwell review of a book contrasting Helena Rubinstein and Eugéne Schueller (founder of L’Oréal)—their different styles of entrepreneurship, Schueller’s collaboration with the Nazis (for which Gladwell more or less gives him a pass), a comparison to Ingvar Kamprad, founder of Ikea.

How to complain to the Ministry of Defence if you’ being bothered by low flying aircraft. (No, the country drop-down does not include Libya.)

“Moon Just As Ugly From The Back.” The Awl is not a fan of the moon.

Some nice photos suitable for use as desktop wallpaper.

Captivating video of street dance moves set to Girl Talk’s album “All Day.” (Backstory from the NY Times.)

Some excellent UI thoughts on the “Quit” menu item—the usability problems it causes, and how they can be fixed.

What regular people can get out of Fashion Week runway shots: “Fendi, for example, was really about fantastic color combinations. Even if you didn’t like the clothes you can focus on the color schemes. These suggestions of color can be used whether shopping Fendi, or Zara, or vintage.”

Quite like this little house in Red Hook, Brooklyn.

Somewhat captivating before and after model shots, which a nifty slider to switch between the before and after.

Pretty awesome: childhood photos, and recent re-enactments of childhood photos with the same, now grown-up, children.

Defence of the third place photograph in the feature pictures story category, which was taken (by a professional photographer) using an iPhone and the Hipstamatic app.

My favourite new blog.

Miami Beach has a $65 million Herzog & de Meuron designed parking garage. The top deck gets rented out for weddings.

Some nice portraits of the elderly female guards of Russian Art Museums, together with the artworks they guard.

The purpose of Chomsky’s “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously” was not to demonstrate that it was possible to construct a meaningless, though still grammatically correct sentence, but to show that the Markov Chain model of language was incorrect via the example of two similar but equally improbable sentences, one of which was grammatically correct, and the other not.

“Brandt has been inserting feces into his patients for a decade now and claims to be solving their problems nearly 100 percent of the time. If his method really works—and he’s not the only doctor who believes that it does—then we may have found a viable, if weird, solution to a serious problem.”

Little reviews of sites that use type particularly well; in this case a profile of fashion designer Tze Goh’s wonderfully minimal website for his equally minimal clothes. (Striking photography, too.)

Surprisingly long, technical, funny and expensive (?) Photoshop tutorial rap.

American architects are really appreciative of Chinese clients: “‘There’s no way a U.S. developer would let us do these,’ Mr. McVoy says, adding that the American mentality is, ‘if it hasn’t been done before, then you shouldn’t do it. It’s all about risk, risk, risk. The Chinese have a kind of fearlessness to build things.’”

A story and a strategy.

Graph showing U.S. states; if two states border each other, they’re linked by an edge. There’ only one state with a single neighbour, and surprisingly few with only two. (An example from a JavaScript graph layout library.)

Small documentation on Scott Schumann, of The Sartorialist. He’s annoying in a small way but it’s nice to see how he works. (And the barber shop he goes to at the start is amazing.)

Some splendid shots in The Selby’s picks of his favourite photos of 2010.

Excellent graphic showing the rate of return from investing in the S.&P. 500 for all pairs of years (start point, end point) from 1920 until now. It’s rather difficult to achieve rates over 7% for any period of time; picking a point on the graph at random (which is more or less what you have to do) yields an average return of between 3 and 7%.

Interesting and well-written profile of Christopher Hitchens, now struggling with cancer.

Liz Phair’s review of Keith Richards’s biography Life.

Parking rules in snowy South Boston: “Making It Clear That a Clear Parking Space Isn’t.”

On the large numbers of Dutch men in high-powered jobs who choose to work part-time. Interesting, despite such indicators of liberal values, on several measures Dutch women don’t work a great deal: though 70 percent are employed, women average only 24 hours a week, and women work less than men “even taking housework and child care into account.”

Fun, offbeat piece on how no-one in Mexico City has or wants any heat, even though the temperature drops to near freezing over Winter.

“Mr. Barrett’s talk was titled, “Like Listening to Paint Dry,” and to judge from the droopy faces in the audience, it was a hit. He was speaking, after all, at a conference of boredom enthusiasts called Boring 2010, held here Dec. 11.”

On the architectural challenges Qatar faces to prepare for the World Cup: “If you thought building 12 open-air, air-conditioned stadiums was hard, try shipping them abroad when you’re done. And then try to explain why one of your top architects is called Albert Speer.”

Interview with one of the flight crew onboard QF32. On trying to figure out whether they would be able to stop the plane on Singapore’s 4000m runway: “We didn’t have the ability to dump fuel, the fuel dumping system had failed and we were about 50 tonnes over our maximum landing weight. In the Airbus and the A380 we don’t carry performance and landing charts, we have a performance application. Putting in the ten items affecting landing performance on the initial pass, the computation failed. It gave a message saying it was unable to calculate that many failures. So we then looked at them in more detail and rejected ones that we considered minor and things that were affecting landing performance on wet runways. It was a beautiful day in Singapore thankfully and not wet so it obviously wasn’t going to affect our landing performance. After we’d eliminated about three or four items the computer happily made a calculation and it gave us a touchdown speed of about 165kt and showed us about 130m of surplus runway (it’s a 4,000m runway) so basically said we could stop on the runway.” Also: “So it was nearly two hours on the ground with major fuel leaks and engines running.”

Free running video. (Shot in London, 720p available.)

Very readable preliminary account of the Qantas A380 incident. Minutes after the explosion, the flight crew had to process and evaluate at least 17 separate warning messages (!), which took nearly an hour. (The second officer took several largely fruitless trips into the cabin to visually inspect the damage during this time.) Eventually they decided to land overweight with the left wing leaking fuel, and only one engine available for reverse thrust. (Only two engines on the A380 can reverse thrust.) After they landed, one engine would not shut down despite manual intervention by ground crew. During this time passengers were disembarked via stairs on the right side of the aircraft. Eventually the engine was drowned with fire-fighting foam but because it took so long to render the aircraft completely safe (over two hours after touchdown), and because the cockpit voice recorder only stores two hours of audio, all the audio from the initial incident was lost.

Simple mobile phone (no text messages!) from Dutch design firm. Shame it’s 80€.

“One two-block stretch of Spring Street has a creperie, a café dedicated to chocolate cake — a Portuguese transplant called the Best Chocolate Cake in the World — and even a business, Rice to Riches, that has managed to thrive since 2003 on rice pudding alone.”

Beautiful, minimal illustrations comparing NYC and Paris.

McDonald’s burgers are no more invulnerable to rotting than any other burger of the same size.,1518,725798,00.html

“Brooke Greenberg is almost 18, but she has remained mentally and physically at the level of a toddler.”

It costs about the same (in terms of energy) to desalinate sea water as it does to raise its temperature 80°C; to melt ice is equivalent to an 80°C rise. (i.e. it’s almost as energy-intensive to melt ice as it is to boil water.)

A (Detroit) house designed by Mies van der Rohe is selling for $120k.

The current skirmish between Amazon and Apple over digital content distribution will become a proper fight sooner or later.

Part of the Apollo astronauts’ life insurance: commemorative cards signed before launch, that would presumably greatly increase in value if they were to perish.

List of mistakes made in resolving the Manila bus siege, according to a counter-terrorism expert. The first attempt to board the bus failed; “Squads like this have to be made up of very special people, specially trained and selected for their characteristics of courage, determination and aggression. In this case they acted as 99% of the population would have, which was to turn round and get out. They didn’t seem to have the necessary determination and aggression to follow the attack through.”

“By next October, if everything goes right in Afghanistan — like, almost perfectly — just about every local cop and soldier there should be able to read like a first-grader.”

Nice Google-maps powered view of the SF, Boston, NY and Chicago marathons. The Boston marathon is basically downhill all the way, so much so that the course can’t be used to set world records.

Series of interviews in Slate on “what it means to make mistakes.” That is, various people’s thoughts (Anthony Bourdain, Peter Norvig) on how making mistakes and being wrong are involved in the work they do.

Summary of what’s currently known about the Russian spies recently arrested in the USA. So far, they’ve only been charged with acting as “undeclared agents of a foreign country” (though not with sending or receiving classified information), and money laundering.

“... it’s fair to say that the Taliban employ the world’s worst suicide bombers: one in two manages to kill only himself.”

I didn’t know: Anne Applebaum, Washington Post op-ed columnist, is the wife of the Polish Foreign Minister.

Some excellent anecdotes in this piece about a controversial bike lane that runs along Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg, sending scantily-clad hipsters through an ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jewish enclave.

Skype-backed calling card service that works like a regular calling card (i.e. you call a number from a regular phone, then enter the number you want to call) but you can top up credit online, it remembers your password/code and previously called numbers, etc. Works well!

Two years ago, New York City passed a labelling law requiring all fast-food chains to display the calorie count of their foods alongside the price, in the hope that this would lead to consumers reducing their calorie intake. A study performed on Starbucks data revealed that the law did lead to customer consuming 14% less calories in Starbucks food (either by ordering lower-calorie foods, or less food), but for some reason the amount of calories consumed via drinks remained about the same. (A New York Times piece about the same story shows that during the holidays, calorie consumption reverts to pre-labelling levels!)

The Big Picture’s “decade in news photographs.”

How to write to Ministers. This basically amounts to: how to take up their time, but in a more or less sincere and serious way. Australian, but applicable elsewhere.

An alternative to Malcolm Gladwell’s theory that foreign airlines have a worse safety record than US airlines because of cultural issues: it’s because foreign pilots haven’t had as much practice. (Includes some slightly picky criticism of Gladwell’s aviation knowledge.)

Discussion from alt.usage.english in 1998 regarding the graffiti: “Chloe is a slut but she has big tits.” e.g. “Is the author implying that sluts normally have small tits?” and “should there be a comma after ‘slut’?”

Video of a $1.6m Bugatti Veyron being driven into a lake! The owner apparently claimed to have been distracted by a “low flying pelican,” but no such bird is to be seen...

U.S. map showing percentage of people who responded “Yes” to the question “Are you a genius?” on the dating site OK Cupid’s. (More information in their blog post.)

Freakonomics authors suggest investigating a geoengineering solution to global warming. (The post is apparently written in response to environmentalists who, they say, are mixing scientific and social/moral issues.)

A shape-shifting robot! Looks rather like a self-inflating soccer ball.

Electric fan from Dyson (vacuum cleaners, etc.) that someone manages to move air around without blades. Rather strange that the video showing people’s initial reactions to the fan show the purported blast not at all moving the hair on their heads.

Jamie Zawinski summarises what’s known about the thieves who stole from a Swedish money-storing facility: “Now this is how to rob a bank.” (Among other things, they planted a bag marked “bomb” outside the police heliport, so that they could not be purused by police helicopters.)

“The walking ghost phase of radiation poisoning is a period of apparent health, lasting for hours or days, following a dose of 50 sieverts of radiation. As its name would suggest, the walking ghost phase is followed by certain death.” This condition is mentioned as a potential disadvantage of the neutron bomb—troops surving the initial explosion, and in this phase “would likely be aware of their inevitable fate and react accordingly.”

“If there’s one thing Brooklyn’s petty thieves care about, it’s some rich bitch’s faith in humanity. Is she going for a naïve world record?” [Picture]

Nice overview on how the U.S. Air Force has changed: less fancy fighter, more UAVs. “From 1947 to 1982, all 10 generals who served as Air Force chief of staff were bomber pilots. From 1982 until last year, all nine generals who occupied that position were fighter pilots. In 2008, a new era in warfare was beginning, and Secretary Gates asked President Bush to appoint a different kind of chief of staff: Gen. Norton Schwartz. He came up through the ranks flying neither bombers nor fighters but C-130s, the bulky cargo planes that haul troops, weapons, and supplies from bases and supply depots to the battlefront.”

Teeny font with an x-height of 3 pixels. (Subpixel-tuned by hand!) (More.)

How having phones, or not having phones, has shaped the plots of novels and movies over time. “Novelists are now routinely obliged to explain why their detectives or victims don’t simply ring someone for help.”

“In most domains, talent is overrated compared to determination—partly because it makes a better story, partly because it gives onlookers an excuse for being lazy, and partly because after a while determination starts to look like talent.”

Wikipedia, I love you. Also, one inventor so killed was a Thomas Midgley, Jr., who managed to invent both leaded petrol and CFCs. (Although the effects of CFCs on the atmosphere weren’t known until well after his death, he does seem to have been involved in suppressing information about how workers were harmed by working with lead.)

“Asserting your social status with your Facebook status.” e.g. one update is glossed as: “Your life is worthy of envy, but it is not perfect — otherwise everyone would hate you, and we can’t have that. And so the fabulous undershare must strike a counterbalance, and the results can be fantastic. This updater’s status, nominally a complaint about a nasty hangover, is really a subterranean boast that (a) the updater has a Dionysian appreciation for the high life, (b) has rather limitless supplies of Rose [sic] wine, and (c) is in Ibiza.”

“The Iraqi who saved Norway from oil.” The surprising story of an Iraqi who moved to Norway and apparently became instrumental in establishing the Norwegian oil industry, and especially the way in which it is regulated.

The real achievement, in other words, was not finding oil but coping with its discovery. Norway faced the same dilemma as every other new oil producer with no experience of the industry: if you rely too much on private foreign companies, too little of the oil wealth benefits the country in the form of government revenue or economic development; if you go too far in the other direction, you risk a bloated, politicised oil sector that evades both accountability to the people and competitive pressures to be efficient.

Since 1996, all state profits from oil have been put into a savings fund, which is now equivalent to a year’s GDP.

Not sure if this is anything to be proud of: but British fatalities in Afghanistan, on the increase since 2006, have actually decreased as a percentage of troops deployed. And Canadian forces have an astonishing 20% chance of being killed or seriously wounded.

David MacKay’s book Sustainable Energy - Without the Hot Air features some helpful simplifications relating to energy use that make it easier to see the consequences of various energy choices such as wind power versus nuclear. In this article he compares the energy consumption per unit area of various countries (10 watts per square meter for Bahrain, 0.1 watts per square meter for South Africa, 0.01 for Botswana) to the amount of energy that different schemes can generate, per unit area (15-20 watts per square meter for solar, 11 watts for hydro, 2.5 for wind, 0.5 for energy crops) to make it easier to see how much land needs to be given over to energy production for each country to achieve energy self-sufficiency.

A literacy revolution? “Before the Internet came along, most Americans never wrote anything, ever, that wasn’t a school assignment.”

Annie Leibovitz owes $24m and is in a bunch of financial trouble. “There was only one man Leibovitz deemed qualified to work on anything involving air-conditioning or ductwork at either residence, and he lived in Vermont.”

Video of Anne Sullivan and Helen Keller demonstrating how Sullivan taught Keller to speak.

The voter information gathering and fundraising software used by Obama, and other big political campaigns in the US.

There’s an emulator for the hardware used on the Apollo missions! This is the gentle introduction.

Positive review of Spotify, the free and legal music streaming service available in the UK and some other European countries. Note that according to the FAQ you can get access to Spotify from other countries provided you login from a country that has Spotify access every 14 days or so—or know someone who can do this for you... (Spotify worked for me when I was on holiday in Singapore and Melbourne, so I know this works.) Also, Spotify Premium, the $16.50/month version, does not have this restriction.

Dahlia Lithwick:

“So consider this: Republicans came into these hearings with nothing to lose. They were never going to block this nomination, but they could have used these days to make it clear they are not the party of Rush Limbaugh and Joe the Plumber. They could have questioned Sotomayor about her record, her views, even asked a tough question or two about wise Latina women. They opted not to.

“Democrats also came into these hearings with nothing to lose. They were going to seat this nominee, tee up the next two, and school the American people on why the Supreme Court matters and how it’s letting them down and explain why balls and strikes are half the equation. They opted not to. When you think of it that way, beyond just being a waste of time, these hearings were also a waste of a thousand opportunities.”

Stuff White People Like #127: Where the Wild Things Are. “It is a guarantee that whenever it is announced that a popular book is being turned into a movie, white people will get upset. This is partly due to their fear that something they love will be made accessible to more people and thus enjoyed by more people which immediately decreases the amount of joy a white person can feel towards the original property.”

Flowchart of how to get photographed by The Sartorialist. (I don’t agree that he favours cigarettes. He just doesn’t go out of his way to avoid them.)

“Vladimir Putin ... has a knack for making first impressions. In 2001, he showed President George W. Bush his mother’s crucifix to give Dubya a sense of his soul; the same year, he surprised Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev by presenting Aliyev with his 1949 graduation certificate from Leningrad’s KGB academy. He also knows how to make a thoughtful gift: Putin gave canine-averse German Chancellor Angela Merkel a toy dog.”

Michael Kinsley on reverse discrimination, and Sonia Sotomayor’s membership of an elite women’s only club. “Sotomayor will feel right at home on the Supreme Court, where justices have made heroic efforts to pretend that affirmative action is one thing and that reverse discrimination is another.”

jwz has a Palm Pre, and so asks some questions and writes a small review. “Copy and paste only work [sic] with text fields, not the contents of mail messages or web pages.” Really?

“It’s kind of amazing how much Apple got right yesterday—and what they got wrong: Their product lines are completely scrambled. The Pro designation has become meaningless and $99 iPhones look just like $499 iPhones.”

The Army has commissioned a 22-page report on saffron as an alternative cash crop to the opium poppy for Afghan farmers; the piece also notes that it’s nice “to see the military studying aid and development models so closely.” Unfortunately, opium is an “almost ideal” crop, and would probably be about 50% more profitable for the farmers than saffron: “it is a high-value, low weight crop that requires minimal water; the paste collected during the harvest is easy to store and transport; and the buyers come to directly to you.”

One the first use of anesthetic in an operating room, and the the moral and medical environment of the time: “Before 1846, the vast majority of religious and medical opinion held that pain was inseparable from sensation in general, and thus from life itself. ... In the early 19th century, doctors interested in the pain-relieving properties of ether and nitrous oxide were characterized as cranks and profiteers. The case against them was not merely practical, but moral: They were seen as seeking to exploit their patients’ base and cowardly instincts. Furthermore, by whipping up the fear of operations, they were frightening others away from surgery and damaging public health. ... Most doctors still believed it was only pain that kept patients alive through the trauma of operations. System failure due to shock was a frequent cause of death during surgery, and the loss of sensation was believed to make it more likely. A screaming patient, however tormented, had a better prognosis than a limp and lifeless one.”

Christopher Hitchens on the lessons to be learnt from Sri Lanka’s victory over the Tamil Tigers: “It’s just not true, as some liberals tend to believe, that insurgencies, once under way, have history on their side. As well as by nations like Britain and Russia, they can be beaten by determined Third World states, such as Algeria in the 1990s and even Iraq in the present decade. Insurgent leaderships often make mistakes on the “hearts and minds” front, just as governments do, and governments are not always stupid to ban the press from the front line, tell the human rights agencies to stay the hell out of the way, and rely on the popular yearning for law and order.”

Curious interview with Kim Jong-il’s eldest son, conducted in what seems to be a glass lift on Macau. He speaks excellent English (better than his Japanese interviewer), and is about as casual and low-key and comfortable as is imaginable for any any head of state’s offspring.

“When Justice Department lawyers engaged in a sharp internal debate in 2005 over brutal interrogation techniques, even some who believed that using tough tactics was a serious mistake agreed on a basic point: the methods themselves were legal.”

Salon’s resident pilot Patrick Smith on Air France Flight 447, including why turbulence and lightning are typically nothing to worry about.

Some nice visualisations of various stochastic phenomena, produced with Processing. e.g. Benford’s Law, the output of pseudo random number generators.

[pic] “From now on if it’s getting onstage it better have a guitar and testicles and if that doesn’t sound right to you, we’ll just keep adding more until it does.”

Video of General Motors crash tests conducted in the 60s. It’s carnage out there!

Yet another theory of what made humans successful: fire—because eating cooked food is more efficient way to consume it, and the behaviours surrounding it (women doing cooking, and so forth) themselves provided an evolutionary advantage.

Etihad’s 8-bunk crew rest area above a 777’s cabin. (Many more photos linked from the bottom of this AskThePilot column.)

Identify stars with Andriod: point a G1 at a star, and, using GPS, accelerometer, and compass, it’ll tell you what you’re looking at. (Does the iPhone have a compass?)

[pic] Moskovskaya subway station in St. Petersburg has platform screen doors with stone (instead of the more typical glass) surrounds, which makes the platform look more like a lift lobby.

Sustainable Energy: Without the Hot Air: very educational and informative (free) book by David MacKay (Cambridge professor of physics) on how we can reduce the amount of carbon web pump into the air. Serious, responsible, realistic, and not shrill. (Except occasionally, when irritated by particularly wrong-headed energy saving schemes, such as the advice to unplug your phone charger when not using it.) Towards the end he presents five sample energy plans that vary in their energy source mix (more/less nuclear, etc.). As he says, there’s something “unpalatable” about every one—but these are our choices. I’m impressed (and glad) that it’s currently #54 on Amazon UK’s best-seller list. A few misc things I was surprised by: (a) Wind farms take up an enormous amount of space (“if we covered the windiest 10% of the [UK] with windmills (delivering 2 W/m2), we would be able to generate 20 kWh/d per person” (p. 33); the UK average energy comsumption per day is 125 kWh/d (p. 104); (b) I knew air travel dumped a whole lot of CO2 into the atmosphere, but it turns out this is mostly because of the distances involved; travelling to Australia by car, for example, is about as efficient as flying there (p. 128).

Annotated transcript of Steve Jobs’ deposition to the SEC on the issue of stock options. “What comes through in the deposition is how Jobs sees himself and entries fierce loyalty to those who work for him.”

Jamie Zawinski’s battle-scarred keyboard. (Alt key partly partly worn through!)

NY Times’s “Global Edition—; replaces the International Herald Tribune. Still rather US-centric though (compared to, say, the BBC’s international site); the top story is “U.S. Said to Seek a Chrysler Plan for Bankruptcy.”

The New Yorker is being sued over a story by Jared Diamond, in which he describes a long running feud between New Guinea highlanders. One of the highlanders is now saying that Diamond has falsely accused him of “serious criminal activity” and “murder.” I do like Guns, Germs, and Steel, but I was struck by the frequency with which he described highlanders as “friends.” It seemed like it was important to him to form friendships with the highlanders, and for readers to be aware of his friendship. (Among other examples (try Amazon book search), the book is dedicated to “Esa, Karinga, Omwai, Paran, Sauakari, Wiwor, and all my other New Guinea friends and teachers”) Is it really possible to form a genuine friendship with people with a very different culture and values and history, and who are are also the subjects of your research? Is this common for anthropologists?

Photographs of people with their head stuck in the freezer. (David Horvitz’s idea.)

Fun Flash music generator thing. Time is horizontal, pitch vertical.

This is great: holds public prognosicators to account by recording their predictions. A bit like the Long Now Foundation’s Long Predictions, except that it accepts user-submitted predictions. (Curiously, no environmental predictions have been entered yet.)

(NSFW) “In Join Or Die, I paint myself having sex with the Presidents of the United States in chronological order.” (Borderline questionable artist statement.)

The EcoDrain: heat exchanger to capture the wasted heat (not water!) that goes down the plughole.

Chart of common household activities and common foods in low water use/high water use pairs. e.g. coffee–37 gallons, tea–9 gallons. Eating chicken instead of beef saves about as much water as making every other suggested change on the entire page! Dishwashers use less water than washing up by hand.

Photos of Somalian pirates. The BBC claims that the captured pirates often aren’t punished, mostly because international law makes doing so difficult.

Rave about the Austin nightlife and the support it gets from the local government: “Right now I am looking at a street sign - a municipal street sign, presumably suported by an ordinance and everything - that says ‘Restricted lane, musician loading and unloading’.”

“User:Diikiw/Wiikid, formerly Wikiid, is an article that was created on the web site Wikipedia in 2008. It is notable in its attempt to become the first Wikipedia page to gain notoriety solely for the fact that it was a page on Wikipedia; this was intended to spark a debate as to whether or not Wikipedia could be considered a source notable enough to allow a entriess permanent entry on the site. It can be looked at both as metahumor and as a piece of postmodern art.”

The Dr Martens “For Life” range: repairs for life, they promise.

More newspaper doom and gloom: it’s likely that soon, major US cities will be without a daily paper. See also David Simon’s recent article pointing out that there’s a bunch of things that citizen journalists can’t do, like get judges to badger police when they refuse to give out information. I think papers need to do a better job of complementing and acknowledging the other available sources of news and information, and place less emphasis on reporting the stuff that happened yesterday. A newspaper is a truly terrible source of up-to-the-minute news; there’s no sense pretending that nothing noteworthy ever happens between the time the paper is sent to press and the time a reader buys it.

I’m really taken by this exceptional photograph of twins by The Sartorialist. For some reason the feeling I get from it is much the same feeling as the feeling I get from American Gothic—there’s a sadness to it, a strangeness, a secret running deep. [Update 1: feels a bit like Diane Arbus as well. The same twins are the subject of an October 2008 picture. Update 2: Via Altamira, the twins are from Saudi Arabia and are Sama and Haya Abukhadra. Update 3: another picture by the Sartorialist, this time October 2009 in Milan.]

Errol Morris talks to press photographers about their favourite pictures of George Bush.

Ten Major Newspapers that may fold or go digital only in the next year. Some big names here: the SF Chronicle, Boston Globe, Chicago Sun-Times, Miami Herald.

Why the state of the stock market is not necessarily indicative of the state of the economy as a whole.

Good pictures! See the page footer for links to pages on other “celebration gestures”

Moderately interesting article on the decline of the U.S. Air Force due to neglect brought on by at least 30 years of inferior competition. (“The last American soldier killed on the ground by an enemy air attack died in Korea, on April 15, 1953.”) Also has an intriguing (and regrettably small) image of an AIM-7 air-to-air missile just about to hit a Iraqi MIG-29 Fulcrum, extracted from the downed Fulcrum’s head-up display.

Paul Graham on Hacker News, and building community on news aggregation sites: “The most dangerous thing for the frontpage is stuff that’s too easy to upvote. If someone proves a new theorem, it takes some work by the reader to decide whether or not to upvote it. An amusing cartoon takes less. A rant with a rallying cry as the title takes zero, because people vote it up without even reading it.”

The bottom of an article on the first Australian-designed car to achieve a five-star safety rating has an interesting crash timeline: 1ms “car’s door pressure sensore detects a pressure wave” ... 7ms “crash computer confirms a serious crash” ... 8ms “computer sends ‘fire’ signal to side airbag” ... 27ms “airbag starts controlled deflation” ... 50ms “crash computer unlocks car’s doors” ... 70ms “engineers classify crash as ‘complete’” ... 150–300ms “occupant becomes aware of collision.”

“Point and shoot tips from the old masters.” Your point and shoot camera might seem pretty limiting compared to the expensive cameras packed by pros, but it’s almost certainly a whole bunch more capable than the cameras used by “every documentary photographer working from the 1930s to the 1980s.” “If everything in your image is going to be in focus, then everything has to add to the photo. Select your backgrounds carefully.”

Movie trilogy ratings, by movie. Nice work.

“Good essay on the Amish, and what leads them (often) to reject newtechnology: new stuff is only accepted if and only if it strengthens their communities, and helps them remain independent. “The Amish use disposable diapers (why not?), chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and are big boosters of genetically modified corn.”

James Surowiecki: “Decisionmakers ... should try to come up with their best estimates of how likely a policy is to succeed, as well as its potential payoff, and then pursue the policy with the greatest expected value.” This is not a good idea! If this were followed, no one would ever buy insurance, since the expected value of any sort of insurance purchase is less than zero. (By and large, insurance companies make money, meaning that policy holders lose money.) Pursuing a “highest expected value” policy would mean bets on, amongst other things, extremely unlikely events with huge payoffs.

On the directing work that goes on during the live broadcast of NFL games. “In the seconds between the return from the two-minute-warning commercial break and the snap of the ball to Giants quarterback Eli Manning, as play-by-play man Greg Gumbel quickly oriented the audience ... the following scene-setting images flashed past in rapid succession ...”

More on “meritocracy” from Michael Young, who came up with the term: “It is good sense to appoint individual people to jobs on their merit. It is the opposite when those who are judged to have merit of a particular kind harden into a new social class without room in it for others.” (Interesting comparison of Blair and Atlee’s cabinets, also.)

Surprising: positive story about Wal-Mart in Boing Boing, from a writer who worked undercover as an associate. Sounds as though he might’ve started out with this conclusion in mind though, since he mentions being suspicious of Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed, and also talks about a guy, Adam Shepard, who worked up from nothing to a car, house, and $2,500 in savings in 10 months. (See Timothy Noah’s article in Slate for a brief taster on “the potential evils of a society whose hierarchy is based entirely on merit.”)


As part settlement of a cosmetics class action lawsuit to do with price fixing, $175m worth of cosmetics are being distributed by 20 US high-end department stores to customers who made a purchase between 1994 and 2003, no proof or purchase required.

Interview with Steven Soderbergh. Defending Che: “The people that are anti-Che just see it as a commercial for him. Some of them can’t really get beyond the idea of a Che movie. For them, by definition if you make a movie of him you’re supporting him. It’s impossible for them to understand that’s not how art works. That that’s not how an artist works. I can make a movie about Lee Harvey Oswald and make you feel what he feels and make you understand why he believes what he believes. That doesn’t mean I think you should go out and shoot JFK.”

Surprisingly good and interesting (given the subject matter) analysis and description of the Windows and OS X windows-management systems.

US Presidents’ approval ratings over time.

“Fifty People, One Question” visits London—surprisinly engaging in-and-out-of-focus video of people saying where they’d like to wake up tomorrow. Londoners put on a fairly good showing compared to Brooklyn, New York and New Orleans. Not entirely sure why they decided to shoot people in a tunnel looking out toward the light though.

Christopher Hitchens on things Obama. Good anecdote: “It was, I think, Lloyd George who said of Lord Derby that, like a cushion, he bore the imprint of whoever had last sat upon him.”

Vice DO: “This is what the world would look like if more time travellers set their sights on gangster rap instead of baby Hitler.”

The International Aquatic Plant layout competition 2008. i.e. acquarium plant arrangement.

Nice step-by-step views of the components of the Internation Space Station in chronological order.

Dry Christmas tree burn FAST. (Looks like a flame thrower about 5 seconds after ignition.)

My favourite car—a pre-war Bugatti Type 57 Atlantic—is going to auction after being found in a garage in 2007. (Better picture.)

Wow, tanning was once a really loathsome job: “It was this combination of urine, animal feces and decaying flesh that made ancient tanneries so odiferous.”

Yahoo Answers: What is the right age to start teaching my dog about sex?

“Everything I Know About Business I Learned From Poker.” From the CEO of Zappos. (Who, I just notice, have now strayed from shoes into clothes, electronics...)

Winning over hearts and minds: the CIA is offering Viagra to ageing Afghan warlords with multiple wives.

“A Guide to Understanding Flow Charts, Presented in Flow Chart Form.”

The Advertising Standards Authority is upset that the poster for “Righteous Kill” was displayed at Stockwell Station (site of the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes) with the tagline “There’s nothing wrong with a little shooting as long as the right person gets shot.”

Airbus and Boeing each have 3700+ planes on their order books!

mySociety’s FixMyStreet app for iPhones: “This means that you can now walk down any street it Britain, and upon spying, say, a big pile of dumped mozzarella (real example) you can whip out your phone, snap a pic and upload it with precise coordinates to the relevent public authority. You don’t have to know who’s responsible, we’ll work that out, and with any luck you’re [sic] street will be fixed in no time.”

Interesting, sounds about correct actually: “Though Obama’s campaign savaged the administration as incompetent and radical, Obama’s personnel decisions have effectively ratified Bush’s defense and economic approaches during the past few years. At the Pentagon, Obama rehired the architects of President Bush’s current military strategy—Gates, Gen. David Petraeus and Gen. Raymond Odierno. At the Treasury Department, Obama has hired one of the main architects of Bush’s current economic approach.”

“Cash-strapped American Airlines announced a new series of fees this week that will apply to all customers not currently flying, scheduled to fly, or even thinking about flying aboard the commercial carrier.”,1518,591943,00.html

Interview with the “notorious lawyer” Jacques Vergès, defender of war criminals. “A doctor must provide help, but as an attorney, you are not obligated to accept every client.” “If you meet a doctor who cannot look at blood, pus or open wounds, he is in the wrong profession. If you meet a lawyer who doesn’t like criminals or dictators, it’s the same thing.”

Really gripping: 999 (i.e. emergency services) transcripts. “All right, well done. How old is your mum?” “Um, I don’t know. She’s just like ... She’s just like she’s ... When I heard her make a funny noise, she was, like, just sleeping and she was, like, shivering about.”

Pretty in-ear headphones from Denmark. Not hideously expensive either—€55. (Audio-Technica’s ONTO headband-style headphones are also nice and surprisingly cheap (US$20), but very difficult to find outside Asia.)

True: “McDonald’s did away with its spoon-shaped coffee stirrers because people were using them as cocaine spoons.”

Chris Anderson on the Long Tail: “I’ll end by conceding a point: It’s hard to make money in the Tail.”

“If the read/write head [of a hard disk] were a Boeing 747, and the hard-disk platter were the surface of the Earth: The head would fly at Mach 800 At less than one centimeter from the ground And count every blade of grass Making fewer than 10 unrecoverable counting errors in an area equivalent to all of Ireland. ”

Barack Obama unlikely to be able to keep his BlackBerry (or even email of any sort) as President, due to legal requirements regarding record keeping (huh? you can’t just channel everything through a printer?) and concerns about email security.

Difficult to imagine how this came about: McDonald’s Japan is experimenting with two completely unbranded stores—there’s no McDonald’s logos or package anywhere.

The Age shows its class again. At the bottom of an article on Obama considering Hillary Clinton for Secretary of State: “Should Senator Clinton become secretary of state, she would not be the first woman to hold the position. That distinction goes to Madeleine Albright, who was appointed by the senator’s husband, president Bill Clinton, in 1996.” Yeah, and she wouldn’t be the second, either. Starting with Albright, the post has been held by a white woman, a black man (Powell), and a black woman (Rice)—appointing a woman is no biggie, and not worth drawing attention to.

The jaw-droppingly delicious Australian chocolate biscuit the Tim Tam is now available in the US at Target.

Apple a two-button mouse holdout for years because it’s too complicated (common justification, even if it’s not Apple’s), and now: “Pinch to zoom in and out. Rotate an image with your fingertips. Swipe with three fingers to flip through your photo libraries. Swipe with four fingers to show your desktop, view all open windows, or switch applications.”

Associating the colour red with Republicans and Blue with Democrats only became universal in 2000. (According to Wikipedia, NBC’s David Brinkley famously used the phrase “sea of blue” to refer to Reagan’s victory in 1980.) By contrast, the Donkey/Elephant associations date back to the 1870s.

Cartoon illustrating one difference between the 43 Presidents of the United States that have already had a go, and the 44th.

A surprisingly well-done McCain vs. Obama dance-off contest.

The NYC Board of Elections isn’t very helpful to people tyring to find out where and how to vote, with much bouncing between phone numbers and websites and email addresses.

Photographs of the director Roland Emmerich’s London house: “The American bedroom features a bed throw made from vintage army underwear, a headboard made from an aeroplane wing, and a Photoshopped photograph of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sporting a dressing gown and a hairy six-pack.” Under the stairs is a life-size wax model of Pope John Paul II reading copies of his own obituraris.

A nice desk lamp.

James Surowiecki ever bit as good a blogger as you might expect. Shame about the lack of RSS feed. [Update: A few people pointed out that there is one (linked from the left column), though feed autodiscovery doesn’t work, and the one linked from the right column isn’t what you want.]

The lens of the Panasonic LX3 camera (I own one) produces quite a lot of distortion at the wide end (24mm), which is transparently corrected in by both the in-camera software, and by the supplied raw conversion software. Panasonic isn’t very upfront about this. (A print ad claims the lens produces “minimal distortion.”) I think correcting distortion in software is sensible and justifiable from a technical point of view (it’s the results that matter), and will probably become more common in future, but the deceptive advertising has got to go! (I’m guessing the reason the negative has always been a miniature version of the final image in the past (sometimes this has involved quite a lot of effort and expense) is that it was too difficult to correct distortion at the point in time when prints were made—you’d need to know exactly which lens was used to take the picture, and be able to correct it optically. But since everything is digital now, and photos are “processed” on-camera the moment they’re taken, these things are less of an issue, and funky lens designs will become more common, at least on compact cameras.)

Video of Banksy’s Village Petstore & Charcoal Grill—eerie looking animatronic hotdogs, drumsticks, etc. in cages.

Red Bull Air Race pictures. I don’t understand how this exists, from both a public safety point of view and a commercial point of view. Eighty people died in the 1955 Le Mans disaster when a Mercedez-Benz 300 SLR jumped into the crowd and caught on fire, leading Mercedes to abandon racing until the 1980s and Switzerland to ban motorsport until 2007. Aircraft are both faster and less able to be restrained by safety barriers, and have a less than enviable safety record even at airshows, where they’re not trying to go particularly fast or dodge things. And: (1) how do you sell tickets, when the course is many kilometers long; (2) why do people buy tickets, when planes go quite fast and are competing against time?

Cycling is cool and all, but this is getting a bit out of hand. This beautiful ad is for tires.

Malcolm Gladwell, curiously covering much the same ground that another New Yorker writer (Brendan Gill) did in his book Late Bloomers.

Vice interview with an ex heroin dealer: “There’s nothing like the feeling you get when you’ve got 100 kilos of heroin in the trunk of your car.” (Maybe needs fact checking.),1518,584091,00.html

Many unexploded WWII bombs still in Germany: “In the whole of Germany, more than 2,000 tons of American and British aerial bombs and all sorts of munitions ranging from German hand grenades and tank mines to Russian artillery shells are recovered each year.”

Artist created McCain/Obama New Yorker cover with Photoshop 3.0 and Macintosh OS 7. (But he must have another machine for email, right?)

Mail Goggles: Google Labs project that helps prevent you sending mail you may later regret, but requiring that you complete some math problems if sending mail late at night.

Probably the nice thing to do: Banksy is refusing to authenticate five works up for auction this weekend: “Pest Control does not authenticate street pieces because Banksy prefers street work to remain in situ and building owners tend to become irate when their doors go missing because of a stencil.” Also: “[Banksy] would encourage anyone wanting to purchase one of his images to do so with extreme caution, but does point out that many copies are superior in quality to the originals.”

Strange, funny, Sarah Silverman commercial urging her fellow Jews to go to Florida and convince their grandparents to vote for Obama (!). A campaign of the Jewish Council for Education & Research, which sounds all high minded and apolitical, but that I think was formed recently (2007?) as an Obama PAC.

Unusual betting behaviour at on Intrade is apparently pushing Obama contracts lower than they should be, and exposing arbitrage opportunities.

James Surowiecki: “All companies, of course, worry about how their stock is doing. But for most the stock price is a product of performance, rather than a cause of it. If Procter & Gamble’s stock plummeted tomorrow, people would still keep buying Tide. By contrast, if an investment bank’s share price tumbles, it not only wrecks people’s confidence but also can lead to credit-rating downgrades, which provoke a further decline in the stock price, and so on. The downward spiral can be stunningly fast and near-impossible to escape.”

Cigarette advertising is banned; can you advertise books that look like cigarette cartons? Tank Books publish “tales to take your breath away”; authors include Joseph Conrad, Robert Louis Stevenson.

The Cambridge college Corpus Christi is getting a fancy new clock in the form of a monster that devours time, with many features inspired by the 18th C. clockmaker John Harrison. (Corpus Clock in Wikipedia.)

Lehman and AIG FAQ, from two of Levitt’s UChicago colleagues.

Google Search localised to pirate (“Advanced Search” is “Use Me Better Spyglass,” etc. (More info.)

Charts for stocks in the financial sector. Both Morgan Stanley (down 30%) and Goldman Sachs (down 20%) have seen better days. Both recently reported better than expected financial results.

Canon’s new high-end compact camera, the G10. Has dedicated ISO wheel—don’t think I’ve seen this before.

Small profile on the German camera company Leica, and their difficult transition to digital. “In the 1970s, the company invented the auto-focus lens but sold the patent to Japanese rival Minolta, reasoning that its customers knew how to focus.”

Vice Don’t: “It can be pretty hard to walk into a party if you’ve had a big fight with one of your friends or you know your ex is going to be there, but imagine how bad it must feel if you’re just a person who really sucks.”

List of dpreview’s camera reviews. If you scroll down a long long way, you get to “Average.” Six cameras (out of maybe 200) are “Below Average”!

Intrade’s political prediction market charts. McCain is ahead on these, too (50.8% to 48.8%.)

Panasonic’s new rangefinder-like G1 camera—interchangeable lenses like a DSLR, but without the pentaprism and mirror, and hence smaller and quieter. I’ve never understood why DSLRs even bothered to exist in a digital age. When images were recorded on film, it helped to be able to preview what you were going to get when you released the shutter via the SLR’s mirror and prism, but with digital, you can read the data directly off the sensor. For some reason I don’t quite understand, the fast autofocus technique used in SLRs (phase detection AF) can only be implemented with the SLR design but apparently the G1’s contrast detection AF (as used in all compact cameras) is almost as fast. (I still think I’ll get the LX3, though.)

Excellent timeline of the chain of events that led United Airlines’ stock to plunge from $12 to $3 on the strength of a false news story that it had filed for bankruptcy. (A old undated Chicago Tribune article made it onto the most viewed stories page via Google News.)

Profile of Crispin Porter + Bogusky (a few months old), the non-traditional ad agency behind Microsoft’s new (and quite good) Seinfeld + Gates campaigns (#1, #2).

“Let’s straighten things out, shall we? What you see in the photo above, taken in Copenhagen, is something we call a ‘cyclist’. Not a ‘bicycle commuter’, nor a ‘utility cyclist’. Certainly not a ‘lightweight, open air, self-powered traffic vehicle user’. It’s a cyclist.” See also Critical Miss or Critical Mass?: Critical Mass turns cycling into a political act in which the participants are activists wearing funny clothes, and otherwise unlike regular people. (Gay pride parades have a similar effect?)

Since January 2007 (when they started keeping records), Vladimir Kramnik (currently #3 in the world) has never won a game starting on black. It seems to be much more difficult than I expected for top players to win starting second: most of the other top players seem to be about 40% more likely to win starting from white, though there is a surprisingly amount of variation, with some players such as Viswanathan Anand ending up about even (wins 29% on white vs. 28% on black).

Unusual response from Stephen Hawking, in response to a question about whether he thought he’d get a Nobel Prize: “If the LHC were to produce little black holes, I don’t think there’s any doubt I would get a Nobel prize, if they showed the properties I predict. However, I think the probability that the LHC has enough energy to create black holes, is less than 1%, so I’m not holding my breath.”

Analysis of Google Chrome, pointing out that for quite a while, Microsoft have been legally prevented from deeply integrating IE into Windows: “Chrome, however, eases some of the pressure on Microsoft. If Microsoft integrates MSN search or other services tightly into IE, it will be harder for Google to cry foul -- Microsoft could point to Chrome, and any steps taken by Google to integrate their services into Chrome, as counter-arguments. In addition, any outcry from Google can now be characterized as sour grapes from a loser -- Microsoft can say, we both have browsers out there, they have one too, ours is just better, and let consumers decide for themselves.”

Since 1999 there’s been an actual Hanoi Hilton. Surprising facts about the original: (1) no North Vietnamese was ever charged or tried for war crimes (and the North Vietnamese claim such charges have no standing because they never signed the Geneva Convention); and (2) To this day the Vietnamese claim that no prisoner was tortured in Hoa Lo Prison.

Romanticising and beautifying the slums of Rio: artist JR (who was part of the street art exhibition at the Tate Modern) pasted women’s portraits on the outside walls of houses in the Providencia slum in Rio de Janiero. There’s more pictures on the site of the “Women are Heroes” project (Flash, and linking doesn’t work.)

London, from above, at night.

The Orchestra at the Sydney Olympics mimed: “The Sydney Symphony’s confession undermines those who have seen the Beijing faking scandals as evidence of a peculiarly Chinese quest for perfection.” If this is a “perfectly normal” thing to do, why not tell people about it at the time?

Sean Connery sleeveface of his own book!

The Catorialist, a parody of The Satorialist.

David Brooks: “ The Democrats are in danger of doing to Obama what they did to their last two nominees: burying authentic individuals under a layer of prefab themes.”

Surprising piece by Joel Spolsky in which he: (a) admits to being surprised that his Fog Creek employees—despite their private offices and dual monitors and free lunches—were unhappy; and (b) rather timidly argues that sometimes middle managers might be a good idea.

The Olympic sponsors, none of which I could definitively name, due to the puzzling lack of advertising on any of the venues or athletes.

Fighting in ice hockey—possibly informative to those not from North America. It’s against the rules, but attracts only minor penalties provided various “rules” are followed (only two at a time, no sticks, no gloves). (Videos of hockey fights from hockeyfightsdotcom on YouTube.)

The best jokes of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. “I can’t believe Amy Winehouse self-harms. She’s so irritating she must be able to find someone to do it for her.”

The problem with any potential disqualification of gold medal-winning Chinese gymnasts on the basis of age is that it gives a gold medal to a gymnast who demonstrably isn’t the best in the world, and the best in the world is more interesting than the best European, best under-23, best without sight, best under a certain weight, etc. Younger is better because younger has less fear? That’s a poor excuse for Olympic-level athletes. (I don’t know what the solution to this problem is, but it’s certainly odd (one oddity amongst many high-level sport oddities) that a sport has got itself into a situation where there’s a worry that the best in the world got that way via abuse.)

The Long Now Foundation’s modern-day Rosetta Stone: Genesis 1-3 in 1,500 different languages, plus associated information etched into a 3 inch disc, designed to last for 2,000–10,000 years. (They picked Genesis because it’s already translated into a lot of languages.) They’re hoping many individuals will pay $25,000 for their own disc (to ensure wide dispersal), and hand it down from generation to generation.

“Assortment of sculptures based on graphs and charts.” e.g. Consumer Confidence, 2006-07, brass, wood.

Excellent compendium of great Olympic moments on YouTube. (The uneven bars routines are particularly interesting.)

“What Makes for a Good Blog?” I didn’t realise people considered via links so important. I’ve never posted them here because they seem like a very crude way of allocating credit: finding and posting a link is often trivial (often it’s the source’s source who has done the work, for example). Also, people tend to use via links to attract attention or cosy up to other bloggers. I agree via links are sometimes interesting though, so I’ll think about adding them. (In contrast to an individual link, an entire blog does represent a significant chunk of work, which is why I have a blogroll.)

US airlines slide further into crapness: United is evidently eliminating free meals on (some) transatlantic flights. (Those out of Dulles/Washington DC.)

The Franklin & Marshall collegiate-style clothing brand got started in 1999, when a small Italian clothing company decided that it would be a nice to sell clothes bearing the name and logo of Franklin & Marshall College. They never contacted the college, and never sought a licence, but when the college eventually found out about this (via puzzled graduates travelling in Europe), they decided the best thing to do was licence the name (more from Wikipedia).

The Earth’s Facebook feed: “Georgia is no longer friends with Russia,” etc.

ABC News buries the lede: five out of six members of “Rudely Interrupted” are physically or mentally disabled, but the story about them being invited to play at the UN avoids mentioning this until the eighth paragraph. (Their disabilities are part of their identity; the about page on their site mentions this pertinent fact immediately.)

The “Peaceful Progression Smoke Alarm” from The Onion: awake to sounds of the rainforest; snooze capable. (A $7.99 empty gift box.)

Surprisingly pleasing Boba Fett/Flashdance stop motion video.

“The GoateeSaver cuts goatee grooming time by protecting the goatee and ensuring a perfect shave every morning.”

The Olympic torch, from 1936 to 2008, and some background to each of the designs.

Pretty good set of 10 Linux sysadmin tips, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Profile of a Cambodian marathon runner who lives on $50 a month, from a nice series of profiles of athletes “heading to the Olympics despite huge obstacles.” As the BBC is wont to do, though, the voice-over translation sounds like it was done by an earnest child striving mightily vary his pitch (see the passage beginning at 1:30), which endas up being quite belittling. (For better of for worse they do this pretty consistently to anyone that isn’t a statesman or famous—it’s not a developing country bias.) [text, video]

Surprisingly compelling mini documentary about Martin the Tailor, a guy who came to the states after being in a concentration camp in World War 2, now owner a garment factory (and suit-maker for Bill Clinton). Very well put together, and looks nice on Vimeo as well.

Negative, rather political review of Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine: “But Klein was intellectually unfazed. Rather than re-think the economicist premises of her recent radicalism, she set out to synthesize her old worldview with the post-9/11 world. … Doggedly connecting the dots, she discovered that the Iraq war was—guess what?—part of the same economic tissue that connected Nike and the World Trade Organization. Klein is nothing if not a totalistic thinker. Everything always adds up, and darkly.”

“Visit any elite campus in our great nation and you can thrill to the heartwarming spectacle of the children of white businesspeople and professionals studying and playing alongside the children of black, Asian, and Latino businesspeople and professionals. At the same time, because these schools tend to cultivate liberal attitudes, they leave their students in the paradoxical position of wanting to advocate on behalf of the working class while being unable to hold a simple conversation with anyone in it.”

According to one measure, Firefox has just hit 50% market share in Indonesia, with Finland, Slovenia and Poland close behind. (I couldn’t find the data on the linked site.)

Feist on Sesame Street! “I love counting ... counting to the number four.”

Y Combinator’s “Ideas We’d Like to Fund.” Some great stuff here. “25. A Craigslist competitor. Craiglist is ambivalent about being a business. This is both a strength and a weakness. If you focus on the areas where it’s a weakness, you may find there are better ways to solve some of the problems Craigslist solves.”

Is suppressing evidence the best remedy for police (or procedural) misconduct? The US is pretty much unique in this regard.

A documentary about the Trinidians from Queens who mod their bikes with thousand-dollar stereos. (NY Times story from last year.)

Brother Cesare is a 62-year-old Capuchin monk who is the lead singer of an Italian heavy metal band (with video).

“In architecture, a folly is a building constructed strictly as a decoration…”

“May We Mock, Barack?” Maureen Down thinks Obama is too earnest. Also, once upon a time comedians did have jokes about Obama. Dowd: “It seems like a President Obama would be harder to make fun of than these guys.” Stewart: “Are you kidding me?” Stewart, Colbert together: “His dad was a goat-herder!”

The Betancourt rescuers not only posed as aid workers, but at least one wore a Red Cross logo. I don’t know why aid organisations weren’t more critical of this, since it directly jeopardises their work. (As well as being a pretty shifty thing to do.)

Some of the ways in which Google disambiguates queries, so that it can return what it thinks you want, instead of what you said you wanted. I actually wish Google would do less of this, or would at least tell you when the results are very sensitive to location or term order, etc. (The did you mean... system is fine.) A few years ago Google decided that the order of search terms was meaningful, and so now I sometimes enter various permutations of the same terms if it seems like Google is getting confused. I’d rather not have to run the same search across different versions of Google. Coincidentally, I discovered today that Google Maps reckons the Natural History Museum is on Park Avenue (about a mile away from where it should be).,25197,24022623-601,00.html

The Pope substitutes u for you in a text message (his first?) to World Youth Day pilgrims. (It’s otherwise proper English.)

The only way iPhone-owning non-developers can get applications onto their iPhone is via Apple’s App Store, which makes it difficult for developers to distribute beta versions, or get users to run special debug builds of their software.

How true is this? (On oil price speculators:) “since no oil is ever held back from the market, these bets do not affect the price of oil any more than bets on a football match affect the result.”

The consequences of a rule that victory in overtime would be counted as a 2–0 result, and Barbados needing to win by two goals to advance to the final of the 1994 Shell Caribbean Cup: Barbados, winning 2–1, score an own goal to force overtime, leaving Grenada a frenzied few minutes to score at either end. They fail, and Barbados duly win via a golden goal in extra time.

Smashing Magazine puts together some quite extraordinary spreads on design. (Mostly web design—this on, on tables of contents, is a bit of an exception.) Example after example, and not much text. I don’t know how they come up with so many good examples several times a week.

“I never would have made it this far in graduate school without the aid of marijuana.”

Prices for the iPhone 3G across different markets. Customers in some countries seem to be ripped off, but you can’t really tell without knowing how much the networks paid for 3G spectrum in the first place. I don’t know what percentage of operating costs goes toward paying for spectrum, but in some countries this must be significant: in 2000 in the UK, for example, five bidders bought 3G spectrum for a combined £22.5bn.

Mammoth vs. human vs. wikipedia. A strange cartoon thing. [pic] Update Someone has edited Wikipedia. Awesome.

Until today, Google’s homepage hasn’t had a link to their privacy policy. (I can’t remember where I read this but I think their argument was that more links hurt the user experience, and that if you want it you can Google for it.) Privacy groups have been complaining about this however, and according to this Marissa Mayer blog post, Sergey and Larry finally agreed that the homepage could link to the privacy policy—but only if the total word count didn’t change. So they took away the word “Google” from the footer and replaced it with a link to the privacy policy. (Includes the story about the angry user who sent mysterious emails consisting of a single number (the number of words on the homepage) to Google every time it changed.)

Thirty-year old pictures from the moon, and pictures of vehicles being tested for future missions. (Is driving on the Moon really that different that you need funny looking/complicated 6-wheeled vehicles where every wheel can turn independently? Make it small and light and lift it (1/6th gravity) if it gets stuck.)

WWE Wrestler Kofi Kingston is ostensibly Jamaican but actually comes from a family of Ghanaian intellectuals. A family friend: “Why would a person who is very capable of going to graduate school decide to jettison all that for concussion in the face?”

Google reckons they can now index (some) Flash. Any examples of this?

Dinner in the Sky: eat dinner on a platform suspended 50m in the air by a crane.

Browser stats from, a big site with lots of big business/enterprise customers: IE 6 52%, IE 7 31%, Firefox 2 14%, Safari 0% (rounded down from 0.4%), Other 2.5%.

Creepy robotic water snake. As with the Big Dog, does it move like a living thing because they were consciously copying living things, or because that turns out to be the best way?

Some great car driving stunts: 360° and 540° spins, synchronised slide parallel parking, changing a tire while up on two wheels.

Kevin Kelly and Brian Eno come up with some provocative “unthinkable futures”: “A new profession“cosmetic psychiatry“is born. People visit “plastic psychiatrists” to get interesting neuroses and obsessions added into their makeup.”

Stewart Butterfield’s resignation letter from Flickr: “As you know, tin is in my blood. For generations my family has worked with this most useful of metals. When I joined Yahoo! back in ’21, it was a sheet-tin concern of great momentum, growth and innovation. I knew it was the place for me.”

MLB cameraman Tom Guilmette talks about his $94,700 camera and its nearly-as-expensive 9.5–700mm 1:1.7 lens. (Comments also worth reading.)

Pictures of a probably man-made mud volcano that’s been puming out 50 Olympic-sized swimming pools every day for the last two years.

Nice use of censorship bars: The BPA (a.k.a. Fatboy Slim), “Toe Jam,” featuring David Byrne and Dizzee Rascal. Directed by Keith Schofield.

How to win the New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest: “Excepting first names, only nine proper nouns have ever appeared in a winning caption: Batmobile, Comanche, Roswell, Hell, Surrealism, Tylenol, Bud Light, Frankenstein, Kansas Board of Education” (As predicted, the winning caption pairs “an unreal image with a rather ordinary caption”.)

Google reader Easter Egg! (My Google Reader shared items.)

High-resolution images of that (previously-uncontacted?) Amazonia tribe shot who shot at a plane flying overhead with arrows.

Mariah Carey throws first pitch at baseball game in Japan, looks ridiculous (the throw, the clothes).

(Another cute shirt.)

Hit the “Gadgets” tab and select “Disable access keys” to stop Wikipedia doing surprising things when you hit Ctrl-P and expect the cursor to move up a line. (Still searching for a fix for WordPress.)

Culled from Flickr: “here and there I found some photographs which were quite good.” See also 12 Tips for Improving Camera Phone Photos.

“For some reason I always thought that taking him out of the water and putting him in a pair of sweats outside the drug store would divest King Neptune of some of his majesty and grandeur. I was wrong.”

Essay on the iconoclastic Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman and his involvement in the making of an early parallel supercomputer.

“Placeholder names are words that can refer to objects or people whose names are either irrelevant or unknown in the context in which it is being discussed.” e.g. whatchamacallit.

Artist reckons he sent a suitcase filled with GPS equipment around the world in a route tracing out the shape of a head—very very unlikely I say.

Screenshots of TV.

Marketing, branding, and memory, told around a company called River West that acquires the intellectual property around “dead” brands: “In most cases we’re dealing with a brand that only exists as intellectual property … There’s no retail presence, no product, no distribution, no trucks, no plants. Nothing. All that exists is memory. We’re taking consumers’ memories and starting entire businesses.” Why we trust brands, even when it’s just their name that is licensed: “What you’re trusting is Stanley’s recognition that a badly made ladder with the Stanley name on it could be highly damaging to the Stanley brand. You are trusting Stanley’s recognition of the value of its brand and its competence in defending that value.”

Condé Nast acquires Ars Technica for $25m (rumoured). I don’t get Condé Nast’s fascination with tech sites (they also own Reddit)—shouldn’t they be buying The Sartorialist instead? Also curious: the two co-founders of Ars are pursuing PhDs in religion (Jon “Hannibal” Stokes; Ken “Caesar” Fisher).

Great series of articles on life and religion in the Middle East. (The two most recent articles on love and marriage in Saudi Arabia are especially good.)

The names given to the various positions animals can take on shields and crests and such.

Bracelets made from the focus and zoom rings of old SLR lenses.

If you send him your email address, David Horvitz will send you a photograph of the sky for every day of 2008. He also has unusual things to sell. e.g. “If you give me $10 I will take a photograph of a mailbox in New York, print it as an 8.5" x 11" full color laser jet print, fold it into an envelope, write where it is on the back of the envelope, and mail it from the same mailbox.”

Long post on what Microsoft is doing to try to acquire Yahoo, and how hostile takeovers happen in general.

Clay Shirky’s tantalising suggestion that perhaps TV is a temporary spare-time-filling measure, and that sometime soon we’re going to come up with something better, or realise that content creation is it. (There have always been a lot of alternatives to TV though…)

The XO Laptop comes with a 30 day warranty only??

The near-militant animal rights organisation PETA have announced a $1 million prize for the first to create in vitro chicken that is: (a) indistinguishable in taste from real chicken; and (b) sold at a competitive price in at least 10 states. This has to happen before 2012. According to the NY Times, this was a very difficult decision for PETA to make, with some within the organisation very opposed to fake meat in principle. (I don’t understand this even slightly.)

Perhaps the worst download experience ever, surpassing MySQL’s Query Browser, and the problems with Mono and OS X. Hint: scroll to the bottom of the “Details” frame.

“Some gay couples are having trouble obtaining divorces”: the laws concerning getting married and unmarried are not at all symmetric; getting a divorce while living in the wrong state can be very difficult. (Some states that are very against same-sex unions are also very against their anulment—I can’t decide if this is consistent or not.)

Aryan Outfitters: photo essay (+ some audio snippets) on the maker of high quality KKK outfits. I both like and don’t like the extremely detached way this is presented. “Ms. Ruth personally sews one robe a day. She works 10 to 12 hours a day, seven days a week. She has 1 to 3 helpers at times. … Here she puts the final touches on a red Klan hood.”

Download YouTube videos in MP4 format via a bookmarklet.,,2273114,00.html

Six Masai warriors, in London to run the London Marathon for charity, give a difficult-to-believe interview with the Guardian: “I miss meat and blood very much. Not vegetables because they are food for a woman. There is milk here but blood is better because it gives energy. English tea with sugar is good and we tried Coco Pops, but the nicest food is croissants.”

Mesmerising champion pen-spinning videos, from the Pen Spinning Association Japan. (I think I’ve sorted these by rating.)

Impressive new UK coins. (One problem with the unified design is that it doesn’t deal very well with coins being added or removed from circulation, and in fact as of now the £2 coin is missing from the set. According to the FAQ, this is because the original design (and brief) excluded the £1 coin; it’s only getting the redesign because 7 coins fit neatly into the design concept.)

Famous photographs (e.g. Capa’s “Death of a Loyalist Soldier”), rendered in Lego. (Interesting details on how they were made as well.)

Surprisingly charming, inventive, A-Z alphabet pop-up book.

I don’t understand: the French Communist Party is still somewhat viable (seats in the National Assembly and Senate), and until the most recent elections governed Calais (pop. >100,000).

Search terms are replacing URLs as the suggested way to find out more about a product in Japanese advertising. (Requires that the site get indexed before the campaign, and somewhat susceptible to hijacking?)

Eclipse features that Richard Stallman would like to have in emacs. The astonishing thing here is that someone so intimately involved with one prominant editor has never before even looked at another prominent editor.

Odd hand-drawn stop-motion ad for the Russian Gmail apparently created by Saatchi Moscow demonstrating the various features.

Portraits taken as you go about your daily routine: “Using information provided earlier about their weekly routine, the photographer will arrive on the scene, and unseen, take shots of the subject. The subject will be photographed walking through the streets, going about their daily business. Without posing and artifice, the camera captures only the natural beauty of the person.” Susan Sontag: “There is something on people’s faces when they don’t know they are being observed that never appears when they do. … their expressions are private ones, not those they would offer to the camera.”

Distribution of the date of Easter (can occur between 22 March and the 25th April), associated article.

Video of Boston Dynamics’ Big Dog robot, moving like something made out of flesh and blood over rubble and snow. The slow-motion recovery from a slip on ice (around 1:40) is astonishing. Does it move like that because it’s programmed to mimic a four-legged animal, or because that’s the way you have to move if you have four legs?

Since MPs are technically forbidden to resign (since they theoretically serve at the pleasure of their constituents), they need to “resign” via the legal manoeuvre of being given one of two fancifully-named jobs that are considered to be “an office of profit under the Crown,” which then disqulify them from being MPs.

“2. No outside force can harm the coyote—only his own ineptitude or the running failure of the Acme products.”

There are no guns in the Lego world, but this is a problem that can be fixed. (Or, you could get a fully-equipped Lego terrorist.)

Fantastic extension for Firefox and Safari that shows Flickr, Facebook photo galleries in a fun, zooming full-screen interface.

“Frida Kahlo of the paintings has The Look. Frida Kahlo of the photos does not. Why?” (includes small photograph)

“The Charms of Wikipedia,” by Nicholson Baker. The first section neatly captures the charms of Wikipedia, and the last is a nice account of Baker’s attempts to save various articles from deletion (his chosen Wikipedia niche). (Baker’s user page)

The lives of circus performers: a newly divorced husband is contractually obliged to allow his ex-wife to shoot an apple off his head for the next year. (Clever PR stunt?),,2260941,00.html

In 2001 the Swiss ambassador to London invited graffiti artists to decorate the underground carpark of the Swiss Embassy, one of whom turned out to be Banksy.

Run-down auto repair shop converted into architects’ offices (pictures; associated story).

The world’s most northern things. (Splendidly idiosyncratic.) There’s a lot less stuff in the south.

One Trappist beer, Westvleteren, is regarded as one of best beers in the world, despite (or because of?) being available in very limited quantities (one case per car, no reselling allowed).

“An F-18 Hornet (left), B-2 Spirit (center), and two F-16 Fighting Falcons (right) sit on the flightline [tarmac?] at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam.” (via Wikipedia)

How to Avoid Huge Ships (2nd ed), by Captain John W. Trimmer.

Head tracking via the Wii Remote to simulate 3D—relatively straightforward, and seems to work pretty well (skip to 2:40 for the demo).

Stuff white people like: recycling, expensive sandwiches, knowing what’s best for poor people.

Story on a well-placed semi-colon on some MTA signage is currently the most frequently emailed story at the Times!

Why do I have the third result for homosexualsex? Google you suck. (Not even remotely NSFW.)

Differences in consumption per person are much less dramatic than differences in income (in the US): “If we look at consumption per person, the difference between the richest and poorest households falls to just 2.1 to 1. The average person in the middle fifth consumes just 29 percent more than someone living in a bottom-fifth household.” (nice graphic)

Nice building: small weekend cabin in Mazama, WA.

Creative Review Blog on the new identity for the architects FaulknerBrowns.

Barack Obama’s official LinkedIn profile. I hope he keeps this updated if he becomes President. That would be amusing.

Strange little shop making and selling 1930s-style clothes.

Paul Keating, a former Australian Prime Minister, on Soeharto’s legacy. Keating was well-known for being friendly to Indonesia, and it’s interesting to read his account of its recent history (especially Timor), and his own personal involvement in it. (In 1998, two years after he left office, he went to Indonesia (evidently at the urging of Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong), to try to convince Soeharto to give up power gracefully. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen.)

Improv Everywhere’s “Frozen Grand Central.” (report)

The British Library is hosting a futurist dinner, with recipes from Marinetti’s 1932 cookbook, La Cucina Futurista. “Typical Futurist dishes included meat broth sprinkled with champagne and liquor and decorated with rose petals, or the deliberately obscene-looking porco eccittato, a whole cooked salami upended on a plate with coffee sauce mixed with eau de cologne.”

Carma Sutra, a “manual of sex positions for in-car entertainment.”

Dean Wareham of Luna’s personal, thoughtful, account of the end of his marriage.

You Suck at Photoshop #4—Photoshop tips (this one on the selection tool) from the depressed.

(pdf, French) The apology of Societe Generale chairman Daniel Bouton. A BBC news story translated one sentence as “This situation is perfectly unacceptable,” which sounds suspiciously unidiomatic. In French, the sentence “Cette situation est parfaitement inacceptable” which the robots at Google Translate convert to “This is totally unacceptable.”

Where the winners of major science awards have come from over the last 20 years. (Mostly the US, and mostly US citizens, too.)

US States ranked by the size of their capital cities relative to the largest city in the state. (Top five: Maryland, Illinois, Nevada, Vermont (capital of 7,954!), New York.)

Super-adorable cupcakes—the Super Mario sets (1, 2) are wonderful.

Diagram showing the various satellite orbits to scale. The ISS’s orbit (also that of the Space Shuttle)—as shown by the red dotted line—has not been exceeded since 1972, leading to James Cameron’s memorable description of current space travel as “like peering at a basketball with your cheek pressed against it.”

Encouraging productive conversation in chat rooms by requiring that ever utterance is unique.

“How To Actually Win A Fist Fight.”

(Six displays, side by side, from a page describing the graphics features of the new Mac Pro.) We’re going to need some new OS concepts and interaction techniques to deal with really big screens. It really won’t do to have to mouse over six displays to get to the File menu (note how the picture shows an image, not screens of applications)—or hit the “Start” button. Menu bars will need to be attached to applications; Docks, menu extras, system trays (i.e. anything in a fixed position on the screen) will need to go. Display-crossing mouse movements will be done via Spaces? Or touch-to-move? Who is researching this?

Technology marches on: Casio’s new US$1000 camera can do 60 frames per second at 6 megapixels per frame for one second, or full HD (1920 x 1080) at 60 fps continuously. (Also 512 x 384 @ 300 fps.)

Oil industry expert claims that the first time oil hit $100 a barrel, the buyer was an individual trader who bought the smallest amount possible, selling it moments later for a $600 loss and a story to tell.

Piece on typical mistakes made in the sign-up process. Mostly common-sense points—Mistake #8: Not Telling Users How You’ll Use Their Information—though there’s no harm in them being enumerated by a UI expert. (Strange that there’s no links to the sites being discussed, though.)

Surfing the modern web with Netscape 0.9b. (Not much of it works, though mostly because it doesn’t talk HTTP 1.1, or understand content type.)

Good, uh, “appreciation” of Facebook from Ben Brown: “Facebook’s crack engineering staff will continually release new applications and features that do all sorts of glittery things, but you must realize that this is to get you to spend more and more time on the site so that you are more and more likely to accidently be tricked into clicking on an advertisement.”

New versions of Adobe Acrobat apparently support adwords-style context-sensitive ads (!), and so Kevin Kelly has released a version of his book True Films as a free download as an experiment. This method of paying producers for content may work for some content, if the ads are either difficult to get rid of, or very well-targetted (if you only see ads you’re genuinely interested in, you don’d need to opt-out of anything).

New Batman looks pretty fine! (Surprisingly deep, helpful analysis of the trailer.)

Tony Blair officially converts to Catholicism.

There’s a lot to like about Barack Obama. (Long Larissa MacFarquhar profile.)

NYPD officers together fired about a bullet a day in 2007, a number that’s an order of magnitude or so less than I would have guessed.

Almost 5 minutes of quality baby panda wrestling, baby panda shoving and baby panda oops losing balance and falling over.

(video) “Trajan is the movie font.” Trajan is used on a whole bunch of movie posters. The piece also observes that big red fonts have become associated with comedies, similar to the way in which Neuland and Lithos are often used on the covers of novels by African American authors.

Stats for your photos, on Flickr. Pro (paid) users only. The FAQ.

The “Blog” of “Unnecessary” Quotation Marks. I’m a bit trouble that I find it very much impossible to read these the way the signwriters intended, whatever that may be.

President Eisenhower (Republican, and former General) on the opportunity cost of defense spending: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.” (Note that this is not a case of “even a Republican thinks spending money on defense is a bad idea”—at the time the Democrats were the foreign policy hawks, and even JFK was guilty of exaggerating the military threat from Russia. (See Fred Kaplan’s Wizards of Armageddon.)

Some proper Aussies in this (fake?) market research video for Drambuie Australia.

Random stupid comment, from a corpus of comments collected by the StupidFilter project, who are attempting (good luck!) to write some software that will detect stupid comments.

Bruce Schneier answers some questions on security. Not as paranoid as you might think: he uses the same password for low security sites, buys stuff from Amazon, and runs an open, un-encrypted wireless network at home (“Honestly, I think it’s just polite”).

Philip Greenspun has donated $20,000 to Wikipedia to pay for “key illustrations.” The iconoclastic Greenspun: “In comparing the Web versions to the print versions, I noticed that the publishers’s main contribution to the quality of the books was in adding professionally drawn illustrations … It occurred to me that when the dust settled on the Wikipedia versus Britannica question, the likely conclusion would be ‘Wikipedia is more up to date; Britannica has better illustrations.’ ”

Very NYC: young Guyanese and Trinidadian who kit their bicycles out with thousand-dollar stereos. The slide show is also nice.

How the Japanese refuel and plane, and how the Chinese refuel a plane. “At the moment, I am feeling positive toward both approaches. The emphasis on the right way of doing things is re-surprising on each encounter with Japan. And the determination to do things in China, no matter what, commands respect, despite the obvious complications and problems it creates.”

The evolution of Mario gameplay via an interview with Super Mario Galaxy game director Yoshiaki Koizumi (surprisingly interesting): “There are issues with 3D action, including problematic depth perception, getting lost, and even getting motion sickness. Those phrases, Koizumi said, are the keys the team worries the most about when creating a game in a 3D world.”

Experimental Google feature: digg/reddit-like vote up/vote down buttons in search results.

New Zealand tax department slights Dave Henderson, so he buys their building, evicts them, and turns it into a boutique hotel.

Aircraft comparison: a Singapore Airlines 747 and A380 in the same photograph. Despite dwarfing the 747, the A380 manages to look almost chubby and cute in this shot.

Nice post outlining some of the UI changes being suggested for Firefox 3, together with a good overview of browser UI challenges and issues in general.

If 24 were set in 1994. “The schematics file is too big to email—” “How big?” “Three floppies.”

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy. Includes sections on The Bible (the handwriting on the wall), proverbs (he who laughs last, laughs best), idioms (in vino veritas).

Malcolm Gladwell calls bullshit on crimanal profilers. Are they really any better than psychics?

Collection of over 5,000 posters that have appeared over the years on London’s Underground. e.g. “Many or few it’s better to queue”; “England v. Germany: Sign on at once for the Grand International Final.”

John Siracusa’s definitive review of OS X 10.5.

A Vice DON’T: “You realize people who aren't into soccer see a black man on your back with two cannons pointing at his head, right?”

“Scientists dredge up longest-lived creature, a 400-year-old clam.” Another way of looking at this is that scientists have just killed the world’s longest-lived creature, a 400-year-old clam.

Explanation of the Chinese system of writing, by way of imagining that English were constructed in the same way. (Something similar: the documentation for Locale::Maketext includes an intriguing section on cross-language difficulties encountered in translating seemingly simple bits of text like “Your query matched 10 files in 4 directories.”)

Nice series by Tim Wu on some categories of laws that are not actively enforced (including copyright laws, immigration laws), and why., as if it were optimised for Google.

The advice columnists for both Slate and Salon (Salon’s version) answer the exact same question—what do you do when your 13-year-old daughter from a previous marriage thinks you’re going to hell?

Steven Pinker: Linguistic, historial and sociological aspects of swearing. Many good points in here, e.g. “To hear nigger is to try on, however briefly, the thought that there is something contemptible about African Americans and thus to be complicit in a community that standardized that judgment into a word.”

Authentic Chinese sneakers, soon to be subject to a Lomo-like marketing campaign. They are kinda captivating though.

Lonely Planet—the Australian publisher of travel guides—has been sold to BBC Worldwide, the publishing arm of the BBC.

“Beleaguered bear in bridge rescue.”

Worth trying if you aren’t having much luck with Google. Notable recent successes: giving lower priority to bug tracking tickets on technical sites (especially MySQL), "irina ungureanu", wordpress make_clickable.

A nice idea: using the cents column of credit card bills to convey information to yourself about your meal.

The O2 shop (UK carrier of the iPhone), doesn’t work in Camino or Safari...

Astute essay on the state of web apps, and what might happen next, with comparisons to the place ofLotus 1-2-3 3.0 and Windows in computing history.

The trouble with the second stage was that there were no clear UI standards… the programmers almost had too much flexibility, so everybody did things in different ways, which made it hard, if you knew how to use program X, to also use program Y. WordPerfect and Lotus 1-2-3 had completely different menu systems, keyboard interfaces, and command structures. And copying data between them was out of the question.

And that’s exactly where we are with Ajax development today. Sure, yeah, the usability is much better than the first generation DOS apps, because we’ve learned some things since then. But Ajax apps can be inconsistent, and have a lot of trouble working together — you can’t really cut and paste objects from one Ajax app to another, for example, so I’m not sure how you get a picture from Gmail to Flickr. Come on guys, Cut and Paste was invented 25 years ago.

Loving piece on the Leica. “Ralph Gibson once went to a meeting of the Leica Historical Society of America and, he claims, listened to a retired Marine Corps general give a scholarly paper on certain discrepancies in the serial numbers of Leica lens caps.”

Great piece on Toronto’s subway signage, and public signage in general.

Some exceptionally beautiful shots in this trailer for Heima, some sort of Sigur Rós tour documentary. (Hard to tell if Sigur Rós are pretentious, or just foreign.)

Portfolio site of the designer of Shopsin’s website, the legendary Greenwich village restaurant profiled by Calvin Trillin in the New Yorker.

“Bump chart” showing the movement of riders over the 2007 Tour de France. The rankings are pretty stable over a majority of the stages; some stages result in a small amount of movement, and still others (e.g. stage 4) result in an enormous amount of movement.

TV show invites five Pacific tribesman to the UK. What they find strange: homelessness, artificial insemination of pigs, the time spent cleaning and washing up. What they don’t: nightclubs. (The five are from the tribe that considers Prince Philip to be the son of God.)

Nice analysis of the Republican candidates and their debate. (By Peggy Noonan.)

A pleasant ginger cat and its “firstgoatse”.

“Enough: Is it Enough?” (More fun: Custody Fight Thrown.)

120 calories’ worth of different foods.

The design similarities between Braun and Apple products. (The Braun calculator and iPhone calculator are distressingly similar.)

Have I posted this before? Small story on Sao Paolo’s near-complete eradication of outdoor advertising.

Three reworkings (some quite radical) of the Bloomberg Terminal.

“Well hung 60s block bites the dust.” Unusually-constructed 60s office building is being demolished from the bottom up—the floors are hung from the roof and apparently this makes a big difference.

Christopher Hitchens: “Why are we so scared of offending Muslims?” This may not be precisely right, but I think he’s saying that there’s no necessary moral distinction between “bad” Muslims (the destructive ones) and “good” ones: they’re both following their faith as they believe it.

Michael Ignatieff on his failure of judgement over Iraq, and what he’s learnt and the difference between being a political philosopher (as he was once) and a polician (as he is now).

Economic journal experiments with a “no revisions” option, meaning that the paper will either be accepted or rejected—there’s no accept-with-revisions category. (Discussion of why this is a bad thing, from Freakonomics.)

Pilot Patrick Smith on the A320 crash at São Paulo’s Congonhas Airport airport, including a link to a nice photo of the aiport sitting tightly in the middle of a city.

Photographs of trees, by Myoung Ho Lee.

Weirdly long, eloquent, and informative Craiglist post about friends and the Australian concept of “mateship” that I somewhat endorse.

Chinese sportswear companies without distributors in the US are, among other unexpected marketing moves, sponsoring US athletes (and North Korea).

Not saying this is a bad thing, but is the Tour de France the biggest/highest-profile sporting event without an equivalent womens version (or women being able to compete)? (The Women’s World Cup is fairly high profile, and is also run by FIFA.)

How life expectancies are calculated, and why Michael Moore’s and CNN’s figures are (slightly) different.,,2129615,00.html

Lightly-amended first chapters from Jane Austen’s are rejected and unidentified by publishers. (Rejected a big deal? Constable wouldn’t get much respect today either.)

The NOW watch: “The most accurate time piece ever invented!”

The Avatar Machine: a frame holds a camera behind your body, and you “see” through goggles that display the image seen by the camera. (Other projects.)

Real-life Tetris game!

Prize-winning commercial: “I think I was er, always misunderstood. People just didn’t seem to like me... I think I annoyed them, I got on their nerves. I don’t know why...” (More information—watch the video first!),,2120376,00.html

Nicely-written Review of Günter Grass’s memoir. “This lifelong silence, and the manner of his breaking it, have hurt Grass’s reputation in ways from which it will never recover, and which, depressingly, he seems not even to have understood.”

“A guide to [London’s] free bus routes.” a.k.a. an official-looking map of the bendy bus routes, where tickets aren’t checked on entry.

Apple’s ads—and the artists and commercials they ripped off to get them.

Improbable news from the IHT: Google handles just 1.7% of Korean web searches—a search engine called (which apparently delivers Google Answers-style hand-written answers first) handles almost 80% of all queries. Also, Mauritanian women with money eat to get fat. “Selma's sisters, now 20 and 14, were less fortunate. Mohamed said that she spared them the ‘old-fashioned’ techniques that made girls she grew up with scream in pain. ‘But to tell the truth, I did take them to the cows and made them overdrink,’ she acknowledged. ‘I did overfeed them, just a little bit, just so they could look like real Mauritanian girls. Forty days was enough to get them in the shape I wanted.’ ”

Really cute teeny cardboard models of synthesisers.

Good iPhone FAQ.

Legendary speed-eater Takeru Kobayashi, who recently lost his hot dog-eating world record, has an arthritic jaw, and can only open it a little way without pain.

Whole Foods in Manhattan uses a bank-style single line checkout queue that feeds into as many as 30 cashiers. (My problem with single line systems is that you continually need to shuffle along, which is especially if you need to move luggage or packages, such as at airports.)

Caught whale found with fragments of a 19th-Century weapon buried in its blubber.

Surprisingly thoughtful and introspective piece from F1 driver Heikki Kovalainen on what goes on before and during a F1 race. Also: not having a drinks bottle in the car is calculated to save four seconds over the race, so if it’s not hot he doesn’t bother.

Google on identifiable people appearing in Street View images: “Street View only features imagery taken on public property and is not real time. This imagery is no different from what any person can readily capture or see walking down the street.” Well yes, but a difference in quality is a difference in kind… I’m guessing this problem will sort of fix itself eventually when their image stitching software improves to the point that it can merge together multiple images of the same scene taken on different days, automatically eliminating non-permanent features like people and traffic.

Overview of recycling, from which countries recycling the most to where the recycled materials are used. (1) In most places, kerbside recycling isn’t self-financing (i.e. it costs more to recycle material than to dump it; absent full-lifecycle (environmental) arguments there would be no point to it). (2) A large amount of automated sorted is now possible. (Surely won’t be long until the techniques used are able to separate recylables from non-recyclables—?)

“Mad Mother Psychoshower Curtain.”

Music video: Fujiya & Miyagi’s “Ankle Injuries” in dice-style pixellation.

Pretty morph through a few dozen famous portraits of women.

Some interesting UI research projects. e.g. a way to increase speed and accuracy when using a finger on a touch-screen UI (YouTube video).

Review of photographer Andreas Gursky’s showing at Matthew Marks Gallery. “The biggest picture at 22nd Street is F1 Boxenstopp III … They’re reportedly priced at $750,000 per imate (the gallery won’t confirm that figure). Maybe it doesn’t matter, but that’s $18 million altogether.

Movable Type 4 will be GPL’d, right about the time no-one uses Perl anymore. Once upon a time I tried Movable Type (I even contributed a small patch), but the fact that it wasn’t free was a deal breaker for some reason. (It’s not like I don’t use commercial software.)

“He is a principled dissolute, with the courage of his dissolution: he enjoys smoking and drinking, and not just the reputation for smoking and drinking although he enjoys that, too.” One of my favourite writers on another of my favourite writers: Michael Kinsley on Christopher Hitchens.

vi in Javascript! It includes spell-checking!

Writers name their favourite fonts. “Obsessing about fonts is a form of procrastination, so of course I have indulged in it ever since I graduated from a TRS-80 Model III to a Macintosh.”

Nice graph prepared by a bride and groom showing the relationship between guests at their wedding. (more info)

African wildlife do their thing: herd of buffalo come across some lions and get set upon, baby buffalo gets knocked into a water-hole and gets fought over by lions and a crocodile, the buffalo return in numbers, mess with the lions a bit, and get the baby back. (Though very fearfully, and without attempting revenge.)

Hard hat in the shape of a cowboy hat!

Pretty & interesting photographs of commercial aircraft. (e.g. aircraft taking off at the ends of runways, unusual angles, luxury interiors.) See also the most viewed photographs taken at Princess Juliana airport for some tight landings over beaches.

Pizza Hut’s New Pizza-Lover’s Pizza Topped With Smaller Pizzas (audio).,,2065858,00.html

“It takes a special kind of incompetence to create a restaurant with dysfunctional tables.” I love the British press’s negative reviews! Suka is run by Jeffrey Chodorow, of the Frank Bruni/Jeffrey Chodorow spat.

Managua, in Nicaragua, a city of 2 million people, has functioned without formal street addresses since an earthquake over 30 years ago. (Old story, but this still seems to be the case.)

I like this: when Google employee #23, creator of Gmail, suggester of the phrase “Don’t Be Evil,” can’t get to sleep at night, he writes webservers in bash, and then posts them to his blog!

Megaton ratings of various nuclear bombs. This partly answers the question of why, if nuclear weapons are so bad, does Hiroshima and Nagasaki not only still exist, but people still live there?

In 1960, a suspicious President Eisenhower sent an envoy to the SAC’s headquarters in Omaha to check out their remoured-to-be-excessive targetting plans. A city that closely resembled Hiroshima in size and industrial concentration was slated to be hit by one 4.5 megaton bomb, plus three more 1.1 megaton bombs in case the first bomb didn’t go off. The bomb that destroyed Hiroshima was just 12.5 kilotons. (From Fred Kaplan’s The Wizards of Armageddon.)

Google search of all the pages you’ve ever visited. You need to have the Google Toolbar installed. Must require a really nasty amount of computing power to do a custom search for every user.

Human being can apparently run further and faster than any other animal. “All together, Lieberman said, these adaptations allowed us to relentlessly pursue game in the hottest part of the day when most animals rest. Lieberman said humans likely practiced persistence hunting, chasing a game animal during the heat of the day, making it run faster than it could maintain, tracking and flushing it if it tried to rest, and repeating the process until the animal literally overheated and collapsed. … Most animals would develop hyperthermia — heat stroke in humans — after about 10 to 15 kilometers, he said.”

Some nice small-living-space design ideas in this profile of an architect’s 550-square-foot apartment. (See the photographs.)

CIA account of two CIA operatives shot down over China on their first mission in 1952, and held captive for 20 years.

Account of the deadly crash between two Boeing 747s on the runway at Tenerife, 30 years on.

Sports writer Bill Simmons’s list of white professional sports players with black-sounding names. (A few other amusing lists above and below.)

“Heroic Secret Service Agent Takes Question Intended For Bush.”

Review of the very interesting and very cheap Motorola MOTOFONE F3. It’s designed for developing markets, and has a mostly sealed case, long battery life, an unusual black-and-white screen (calculator-style capitals-only font; the display is retained even when the battery is removed), and minimal SMS functions. It also is very thin, and looks really cool.

The Buddha Machine’s loops, in .wav format. (Not as good as the real thing, but …)

Launching the PS3 in Europe and Australia: “In Sydney Sony and retailer Myer staged a [midnight] launch event at which customers were also outnumbered by the media. Danny Zarka, the first Australian PS3 owner, was at the front of the queue despite only turning up after 9pm.” Uh-oh!

Awesome hair!

Impressive continuously-shot fight sequence.

Kevin Federline-branded search engine. Geekologie comments: “Apparently he felt Google just wasn’t doing it well enough and thought he’d throw his hat into the ring.”

Pages that have been deleted, and then protected to prevent re-creation. Unusual assortment.

Oh, internet, how I love your eccentricities so: pictures drawn with ketchup.

Okkervil River, “For Real.” (more),72933-0.html

Reflections on the importance of race in your choice of online gaming character.

Glowing account of Apple’s retail stores. “The interiors, too, have been distilled to a minimum of elements. ‘We’ve gotten it down so there’s only three materials we’re using: glass, stainless steel, and wood …’”

The New Yorker has redesigned! Some notes:

Warren Buffet’s entertaining 2006 Chairman’s Letter. Chattily discusses the future of the newspaper business (not good), his search for a successor (the main problem is finding someone who’ll stick around), CEO compensation (he’s somewhat puzzled that as a board member of other companies, he always gets outvoted when he tries to limit executive compensation, even though in the 42-year history of Berkshire Hathaway, not one CEO of his companies has left because they thought they were compensated poorly), the declining fortunes of Blue Chip Stamps (from sales of $170 million in 1970, to $25,920 in revenues last year—“Ever hopeful, Charlie and I soldier on”), his favourite foods (“It’s amazing what Cherry Coke and hamburgers will do for a fellow”), his strategy for beating an 11-year-old girl at ping pong, and finally a few pages of advice and information about the annual meeting, which he describes as “Woodstock for Capitalists.”

The unfortunately named “(RED)” campaign for the Global Fund has raised just $18 million; up to $100 million is estimated to have been spent advertising it.

Loving review of Zidane a documentary that follows Zinedine Zine over a single football match. (Lots of stills.)

Steven Levitt, co-author of Freakonomics, argues against tenure. “What does tenure do? It distorts people’s effort so that they face strong incentives early in their career (and presumably work very hard early on as a consequence) and very weak incentives forever after (and presumably work much less hard on average as a consequence).”

Links to snippets of YouTube’d Simpsons episodes in various different languages.

More Oxbridge institutional naming shenanigans: the rowing club of Trinity College is called the “First and Third Trinity Boat Club.” As this page explains, the name came about after second boat club folded, and the first and third decided to merge, resulting in a screw-up of a name rivalling that of New College, Oxford (founded 1379).

Restauranteur Jeffrey Chodorow, upset at a poor Frank Bruni review of his restaurant in the Times, took out a full-page ad defending himself. (He’s apparently offering a trip to Seattle to any employee who simply prevents Bruni entering his next venture, a restaurant with a Pacific Northwest theme.)

Snickers ad involving a rumble between the little green men and the little red men of pedestrian traffic lights.

Perfect for internet dating! Computer scientists developer an image enhancement program that turn portraits into portraits that look like the original, only slightly more attractive.

Nice timeline (associated with this story) showing the fall of stockmarkets world-wide in response to the crash in Shanghai.

Good news that a brave Somali man has defied convention and familial censure to marry a woman of lower caste? Or bad, because his reason was that: “She is beautiful, polite, obedient to me, pious and God-fearing, so there was no reason not to marry her.” (Also: three separate mobile phone companies do business in Somalia, even though different areas are controlled by rival warlords, and (since there’s no functioning government) no real way to enforce contracts.)

Good overview of possible applications of OpenId, a promising approach to single sign on.

Wikipedia for conservatives! Seems like a lot of effort to go to; of their six commandments, the spelling problem (they want American spelling) and the date problem (they want B.C. and A.D. instead of B.C.E. and C.E.) have a fairly reliable technical fix (run everything through a filter), and the remaining four issues aren’t very controversial. Is the problem really that they don’t want to be associated with the Wikipedia at all? Also, the Wikipedia does permit both British and American spelling and both date styles. (Conservapedia’s Examples of Bias in Wikipedia.)

“assorted strange buttons i own.”

Real box, fake product: Salt of the Month Club. Also available: USB Toaster and Make-Your-Own-Umbrella Kit.

Profile of Scott Schuman of The Sartorialist. He really is married, too, and not in a only-recently-legal kind of way!

“ Nobody in New York Knows the Difference between At-Home and Outside Conversations.”

5195 pieces in this Lego Millennium Falcon!

The psychology of house pricing. According to one realtor, a price like $433,779 “would be a real turnoff ... you’re talking about someone who’s going to be arguing about leaving a curtain rod.”

Some include “exposures.” (Good discussion of the pros and cons.)

Fun interview/profile of Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard, who is frequently described as the happiest man alive.

Good laconic Aussie tells a BBC reporter about his drunken efforts to catch a 4.5" bronze whaler shark by hand. “Have any of yous got a knife, eh? ... this bloke comes out with little a pocket knife and the pocket knife was about the size of, yeah, half a match ...” (More Australian speech.)

Former Gizmodo editor Joel Johnson returns temporarily to dole out insults to manufacturers, consumers, and current Gizmodo editors.

Overview of time-sensitive road tolls. Economics prof: “Everyone accepts that if your car is stationary, it’s fine to pay for parking. But if you tell people they need to pay to move their car between two points, they think it’s crazy.”

“That’s how easy love can be.” Aw.

Talk of the Town profile of designer Marc Newson. (His idea of a perfect object is an egg.) The Talby mobile phone he designed for Japanese network KDDI is lovely.

“A Braniff International hostess is a beautiful person. She is alive for her interest in people for themselves. She is a daughter to the middle aged; security to the confused; a friend to everyone who boards her plane; a heroine to little girls; a source of pride and joy to her parents.” (From Braniff International Airway’s Hostess recruitment brochure.)

How ad agencies would market tap water. (Some silly ideas, but largely provocative.) I don’t think it’s inherently difficult to sell tap water—the reason it doesn’t happen is that there’s no incentive to do so because the only people who directly benefit are water companies, and their profits wouldn’t change even if people drank 10 times as much tap water as they do now. (Fruit and vegetables have a similar problem.)

URL design, and why the same piece of content should never be reachable by more than one URL. (See also Jacob Neilsen’s 1999 piece on the URL as UI.)

(Listing the raw URL in blog posts has been my small contribution to the URL awareness effort.)

Interview with the designer of the pre-Euro Dutch bank notes, complete with revelations of secret embedded features.

“Get a First Life.”

Terrific picture: small ginger cat looks up at a black bear perched high in a tree after scaring it there. (Although … Google is suspiciously ignorant of stories of Donna DIckey and her pet cat.)

Sort of meadering piece on nutrition, the food we eat, and the food we should eat. (Long; though there’s nine point-form tips at the end.) “Avoid even those food products that come bearing health claims. They’re apt to be heavily processed, and the claims are often dubious at best. … Don’t take the silence of the yams as a sign that they have nothing valuable to say about health.”

Amazon on why they encourage the use of real names: “In general, we believe that a community in which people use their Real Name™ attributions will ultimately have higher quality content, since an author willing to sign his or her real-world name on a piece of content is essentially saying "With my real-world identity, I stand by what I have written here."” Makes sense, but why does the same not apply to eBay? eBay would seem to have a similar requirements, but pretty much no-one uses their real name on eBay.

Profile of Malcolm Gladwell. Whilst working at the Washington Post, he won a competition with a fellow reporter over who would be first to get the phrase “perverse and often baffling” into the paper.

Profile of Bernie Sanders, the only socialist in the Senate. (Another nice, feel-good story in the Times: a piece about a soccer team of refugee kids and their volunteer coach.)

What Japanese tourists to NYC want. (“Masafumi Tomoshige, from Saga, was disappointed that he hadn’t seen a car chase.”) Eccentricities aside, travelling anywhere outside Japan must be a very disheartening experience for Japanese tourists: everywhere else is (much) dirtier, there’s few (or no) public toilets, you’re treated like a thief (security tags in stores), trains don’t run on time, you aren’t given a wet paper towel to wipe your hands before meals…

The ATM (cash machine) at the DNA Lounge gives out receipts which are headed “SHOPPING IS NOT CREATING / YOU ARE NOT WHAT YOU OWN”.

Decent short profile of Angela Merkel. (Like Thatcher, she was once a chemist.)

On the increasing popularity of Japanese-style “raw” jeans. Buying (and using) “selvedge” jeans is not straightforward!: I bought a pair at A.P.C. in New York last month and they’ve worked out fine, but at point of purchase you’re buying something which: (1) doesn’t fit right (you’re supposed to buy a size or two too small); (2) doesn’t feel right (the fabric is still very stiff); and (3) doesn’t look right (the denim will fade over time). This all adds up to an unsettling retail experience!

The aesthetic qualities of image spam.

Banky”s on-line shop: “Everything in the shop is free. All the images can be downloaded to print or use as a desktop.” (decent anti-Banksy rant)

A BBC TV show locks nine volunteers into a zoo and feeds them the sort of food our ape-like ancestors once ate, to healthy results. I wonder if a caveman diet (meat okay, but no processed foods such as bread) would give similar results.

Is there anywhere in London that hosts the sort of random burlesque acts that the DNA Lounge regularly gets?

Designer Thomas Heatherwick’s Christmas Card.

Apple’s 1983 gift catalog.

The ethically troubling sources of gold, chocolate, cell phones. The Economist also has a nice account of an 18th Century British sugar boycott that caused the sugar-loving Shelley some distress.

Buildings in Mecca and Medina dating back to the time of Mohamed and before are being destroyed by Wahhabists in an attempt to prevent idolatry. (The Wikipedia claims that even Saudi Arabia was against the Taliban’s destruction of the Buddhas of Bamyan.)

One day I’ll write this up properly, but in the meantime here’s another datapoint in the manipulative and misleading charity category: Heifer International’s online gift catalog lists pigs, honeybees, and a flock of ducks among the concrete and specific (and cute) gifts you can give to needy families around the world—but if you read the fine print, you find that your purchase is “symbolic” and “represents a contribution to the entire mission of Heifer International.” (To reinforce the impression that you’re not simply writing a check, the copy goes like so: “The Joy To The World collection includes two sheep, four goats, a heifer and two llamas. These animals mean new hope in the lives of the hardworking poor families who receive them. Cow and goats’ milk is full of nutrients and your animals will provide a family with daily provisions of vitamin-rich milk.” Way to subvert and distort the otherwise straightforward gift catalog concept!)

The space shuttle landing process involves flying upside down and backwards, as well as right-side up and forwards. (Point form.)

Panda sex news: “They were known for shyness, a low sex drive and a diet that was overly dependent on eating huge quantities of a barely nutritious and hard-to-digest bamboo that was inedible every six years or so.” In an effort to get their charges to mate, researchers in China tried Viagra (“We’ll never do that again … the panda was excited for 24 hours”), but have now settled on a mixture of panda porn, and swapping hot females with those not so hot at the last moment (“When the males find out, they get very angry and start fighting the female … we have had to use firecrackers and a water hose to separate them”).

Google employees will soon be able to sell their options. One of the benefits is that it gives a tangible value to the options themselves. (I look forward to a James Surowiecki explication. How well will they track the value of GOOG options themselves?

“Her Evite reply had to indicate she was glad to have been invited. It had to illustrate she had good reason for not attending. Most of all, it had to be so witty that invitees she did not even know would find themselves wishing she was coming to the party.” Too serious piece on the politics and psychology of publicly accepting or declining Evite invitations.

Oh MySQL AB, why do you need to make things so difficult? As far as I can tell, it’s at least five clicks from the MySQL Workbench product information page to the download, and to get there you have to go via the “Community” tab, dodge a not-mandatory-but-looks-like-it registration page, and download four MySQL products all at once.

Problems with the AirPort Express? Just after ordering a new one I noticed a whole lot of reviews from owners saying that their Express had died soon after the 12-month warranty expired. Mine did too! (see also)

The NY Times reports that Estonia’s admired-by-some flat tax was put in place because Estonia’s former prime minister, Mart Laar, erroneously believed that a flat tax had been implemented in the West after reading Milton Friedman’s “Free to Choose.”

Kansas Outlaws Practice of Evolution: “Violators of the new law may face punishments that include jail time, stiff fines, and rehabilitative education and training to rid organisms suspected of evolutionary tendencies.”

Iceland is about the only proper country on the list.

James Surowiecki: Nintendo is #3 in the console game, but is making solid profits. Do you need to aspire to be #1?

Not sure I’m inclined to take Firefox font-handling criticisms seriously when it comes from someone who’s unconcerned that the italic text and the Roman text on their site come from different fonts… There’s a reason italic body text is almost entirely absent from!

“A researcher uses his understanding of the human brain to advance on a popular quiz show.”

Domestic cats, bred to look like tigers!

Oh no! Darius McCollum, serial appropriator of New York public transit equipment, and subject of a long, loving Harper’s piece, has been arrested again.

Super-sexy data transformation algorithm, useful for data compression.

The ten most visited sites on the net, and how many employees they each have. Craigslist gets by with only 23 employees (although it’s true that none of the employees are engaged in producing magazines or feature films, etc.),,1937529,00.html

Interviews with the actors who dub movie stars into other languages. (It’s usually done by the same actor across the star’s career.) “It is hardest with black actors like Eddie Murphy and Will Smith. They are not only very funny but they speak very, very fast. Trying to street talk quickly in Hindi is extremely tough. After two days your mouth gets really tired.”

Photographs of iconic scenes, with street-vendor postcards and trinkets substituted for the real thing. (Makes more sense when you see it.)

Google whines about “google” turning into a verb that means “to search the internet,” urges customers to stop using it like that. (There must be a better way to prevent the evolution of language becoming a legal problem.)

“A malaise set in within a couple hours of my arriving. I thought getting a job might help. It turns out I have a lot of relatives in Hell, and, using connections, I became the assistant to a demon who pulls people’s teeth out.”

Wow, art conservators take their jobs really seriously: to fixing Steve Wynn’s ripped Picasso they’s (may) attempt to match up individual fibres. Also, I quite liked Wynn’s reaction, as reported by Nora Ephron (1, 2, 3) and The New Yorker (4): (1) Oh shit; (2) Thank God it was me; (3) This has nothing to do with money. The money means nothing to me. It’s that I had this painting in my care and I’ve damaged it.; (4) (some time later) It’s a picture, it’s my picture, we’ll fix it. Nobody got sick or died. It’s a picture. It took Picasso five hours to paint it.

How to make a $36 entree look cheap? Add a $43 entree to the menu and don’t fret if no-one buys it.

Disappointing new Sony Bravia ad: a lot of it looks computer generated (though I don’t think it is) the paint explosions aren’t fun (and the clown is creepy). You know Gandalf’s really thrilling fireworks in Lord of the Rings? Watching loads of paint being splatted onto a building could and should have been as exhilerating, but somehow Jonathan Glazer messed up.

Ha, strange: “Small Numbers of Video iPods Shipped With Windows Virus. … As you might imagine, we are upset at Windows for not being more hardy against such viruses, and even more upset with ourselves for not catching it.”

Map showing what a more equitable Middle East might look like if it were divided up along religious and ethnic lines (related discussion). This was apparently presented in a lecture at a NATO conference; Turkey wasn’t pleased.

Surprising: Fox News’s Bush approval rating poll is the least positive of three major polls (graph).,16641,20061016,00.html

Not completely sold on the art direction here, but nice Time cover.

Two world maps superimposed on top of each other, so that you can see which points are opposite each other on the Earth’s surface. (Surprisingly little overlap; the lower part of South America is opposite to a chunk of China, and New Zealand’s south island is opposite part of Spain, but that’s about it.)

“Despite sprinting through the Andrews Air Force Base south terminal, President Bush narrowly missed his Air Force One flight to Boise earlier today after arriving just moments after the plane’s doors had closed.”

Great story: Steven Levitt, playing in a poker tournament to celebrate his 10 year wedding anniversary, plays like a crazy man in order to either lose quickly or win quickly so he can make his flight. (I won’t spoil the ending!)

The history of Trojan condoms, including the difficulties faced in marketing them throughout most of the 20th Century.

The Pale Blue Dot: a picture of Earth, taken from a very long way away, inspires some fine words from Carl Sagan about how insignificant we all are, or something.

Solid voting system in Gambia: voters drop marbles into metal drums, ringing a bell as they fall. You get your finger inked after voting, and after the polls close the marbles are poured onto solitaire-style boards for counting.

The Suspicious Looking Device: “The only function of the Suspicious Looking device is to appear as suspicious as possible, whether carried in hand or placed indiscrimately in public places.” (Thank-you for calling this a project and not art.),,1880285,00.html

I’m flying BA at least three times in the next three months and this is NOT REASSURING: one engine of a BA 747 flying from LA to London caught fire on take-off, but the pilot (after apparently consulting with BA) continued on anyway telling air traffic control that they’d decided to “get as far as we can.”

“Little Superstar.” (Sorry, haven’t been able to post for a while, Ruby on Rails messed with something and I’m now posting via RAW SQL STATEMENTS.)

Jim Holt’s review of two books critical of string theory. (Good overview of the theory and its weaknesses.) I would’ve thought that two books on string theory coming out at the same time would have been bad for both, but in this case the ability to compare and contrast books has resulted in a whole of lot reviews that otherwise wouldn’t have been written.

Toronto Hemp Company business card.

“Hey look it’s the personification of The New York Times, a smug, self-indulgent, boomer, pussy that thinks he matters and is always wrong.”

“Weasel words are words or phrases that seemingly support statements without attributing opinions to verifiable sources. Weasel words give the force of authority to a statement without letting the reader decide if the source of the opinion is reliable.”

25,000 Jews live in Iran, and they seem largely happy there. (Or at least the ones who will speak to journalists.) Could there be something to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s claim that he’s anti-Zionist, not anti-Semitic?

A few of the skyline silhouettes from properties, grouped together. (So why does the NY logo omit some of the most iconic NY buildings?)

The Indian Medical Association is apparently conducting an investigation into three doctors who were evidently captured on camera offering to amputate beggars’ limbs so that, being more pitiful, they can collect more money. (This subject is an element of Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance, one of the most gruelling books I’ve ever read…)

Ruminations on Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy: why has it become such a popular cover, why is it so popular with mashup artists? Includes a link to Jack White’s pretty awesome cover at Lollapalooza. (Poor quality; be nice if this gets a proper release.)

Professor of clinical medicine at Stanford thinks alternative medicine doesn’t do anything. Acupuncture has only been formalised and standardised over the past hundred years, he says, and doesn’t do anything beyond release endorphins anyway. (How do you do double-blind studies of acupuncture anyway?)

Haunting (and disturbingly beautiful) Magnum photographs of the WTC on September 11 and days after.

Captivating: art made from cut up pieces of A4 paper.

Does anyone know why the Tate would have what appear to be sign language videos of the informational pages of their website? (e.g. the opening hours, in sign language.) What’s the demographic for this? Deaf people who can’t read? (See the RealPlayer links on the RHS.)

Journalists from The New Yorker, thoughtful individuals that they are, attempt to arrange a meeting with the famously reclusive mathematician Grigory Perelman: “Before we arrived in St. Petersburg, on June 23rd, we had sent several messages to his e-mail address at the Steklov Institute, hoping to arrange a meeting, but he had not replied. We took a taxi to his apartment building and, reluctant to intrude on his privacy, left a book—a collection of John Nash’s papers—in his mailbox, along with a card saying that we would be sitting on a bench in a nearby playground the following afternoon. The next day, after Perelman failed to appear, we left a box of pearl tea and a note describing some of the questions we hoped to discuss with him. We repeated this ritual a third time. Finally, believing that Perelman was out of town, we pressed the buzzer for his apartment, hoping at least to speak with his mother. A woman answered and let us inside. Perelman met us in the dimly lit hallway of the apartment. It turned out that he had not checked his Steklov e-mail address for months, and had not looked in his mailbox all week. He had no idea who we were.”

Illustrated history of Andre Agassi’s career, including side-by-side shots of a young and old Agassi in almost exactly the same pose.

High-performance Mini Cooper concept; a 160hp electric motor powers each wheel, and produces power upon braking: “The beauty of this dual-circuit, ultra safe system is that your green conscience can be quite content even when accelerating hard, since you are assured of collecting most of the expended energy when it is time to slow down rapidly.” Really?

“Fake-A-Wish Foundation Introduces Dying Child To Brett Favre Lookalike.” (audio)

Fitts’s Law, usability, and making Office 2007 easier to use with a mouse. (Interesting side point about how an application like Office can be made easier to use when maximised (because target areas can be made in effect infinitely wide or high); web applications can’t ever take advantage of this since they run inside a browser, and so don’t know where the edge of the screen is.)

David Brent on his hero, Nelson Mandela: “30 years in captivity. He got out in about 1990. He’s been out about 13 years ... and, he hasn’t reoffended. He’s going straight. And you’ve got to admire that. ... and it also shows you that prison works.” (8:30)

How to classify this t-shirt design? NSFW cartoon mouse sex?

“The researchers said Pluto failed to dominate its orbit around the Sun in the same way as the other planets.” WELL THEN TRY HARDER DAMMIT.,,1-525-2320105-525,00.html

Remarkably honest and straightforward (feelingless?) autobiographical account of Robert Hughes’s first marriage. “We met at a drinks party in Notting Hill. ‘Do you want to meet the best fuck in London?’ the host delicately inquired. And he pointed to a sofa, on which sat a tall, rangy, square-jawed blonde holding a glass of warm vodka. We were introduced. Things began to click, small cogs and then larger ones to engage.”

Malcolm Gladwell: the success of a company (or country) is determined, to a great extent, by the ratio of workers to dependent non-workers. (GM has 453,000 retirees; Toyota has 258.)

Curious illustrated story about the street manicurists of Kinshasa and their male clients. “One reason why I like to look good is to forget the dirt and poverty which surrounds me.”

Why there’s a shot clock in basketball: in the 1950s, before the shot clock, teams would stall after claiming an early lead, resulting in slow, dull games with scorelines in the teens and walk-outs from spectators.

Tips for presenting to investors (and for presentations in general). “… as you approach … a description of something that could be anything, the content of your description approaches zero. If you describe your web-based database as ‘a system to allow people to collaboratively leverage the value of information,’ it will go in one investor ear and out the other.”

Live geographic traffic stats for the BBC news. This is pretty sweet, despite not being very usable. (The colours that represent different traffic levels aren’t distinct enough; it isn’t very clear what’s going on with the regional views.)

Einstein’s sex life, as gleaned from his recently-released letters, and how it was reported in the media.,,1834502,00.html

Account of growing up in Scotland with two blind parents.

Apple documentation: “What is a third-party product?” And who are the first and second parties?

Great photographs, as reviewed by people on the internet. “Sam, GORGEOUS scene I luv it! Too bad u couldn't get a little more color in sky area. Blues should be a little more saturated. Also the rule is u need to have either sky or land (lake?) dominate, not just split right down the middle. Try to move the camera after u focus. A great shot though please see my entries and leave your comments. Ted.”

Why do adults in cars now deliver newspapers? Levitt doesn’t know, but there are a few good theories in the comments, e.g. (1) parents are worried about the children’s safety, and so don’t let their kids deliver papers; (2) less houses get newspapers delivered, so it’s more efficient for someone in a car to do it; (3) increases in minimum-wage laws have made it a more attractive job for adults.,,1832135,00.html

An alternative cinema in Brighton is making their own Coca-Cola. (For some reason the recipe calls for a very small amount of vodka.)

Things I didn’t know: there is still Shaker community, though there are only four of them left. Their website explains why they share all their goods: “Those who give up all material things for the sake of the Gospel learn by that same Gospel that they may learn to live without assurance of the morrow in joyous confidence that they will lack nothing. The spirit of Christian poverty is more than the absence of wealth. The New Testament never condemns wealth as such, only when a person’s possessions come between him and God is there any real danger.”

An article on the pastor of an evangelical megachurch who preaches that the church should stay out of politics has (predictably) got NY Times readers all excited: it’s currently the most emailed story on the site.

[Boyd] said he first became alarmed while visiting another megachurch’s worship service on a Fourth of July years ago. The service finished with the chorus singing “God Bless America” and a video of fighter jets flying over a hill silhouetted with crosses.

“I thought to myself, ‘What just happened? Fighter jets mixed up with the cross?’ ” he said in an interview.

(Did the church play a positive role in the civil rights movement, as a critic suggests?)

Long Tail doubters: Slate says Anderson is overreaching; the WSJ says his data is bogus. I’m still pretty skeptical of this (previously); whatever the shape of Amazon’s sales tail, it’s a lot fatter than it would have been because if you want a rare book, Amazon’s pretty much the only place to get it. (Another way of looking at this is that if Amazon were the only shop you could buy from (if all purchases went through Amazon), there would be no long tail.)

The surprising advantages of rubber sidewalks: they last longer than concrete (in areas with lots of tree roots and/or snow clearing), they’re environmentally friendly (they’re made from old car tires, and weigh a quarter of the equivalent in concrete) and they’re easier on the joints. I wonder how well wheels roll on them—will they serve as anti-skater devices as well? (Looks like Yahoo News is finally using some sensible URLs.)

Some really fun Japanese Rube Goldberg devices.

“Wikipedia Celebrates 750 Years Of American Independence”: “... Little did such founding fathers as George Washington, George Jefferson, and ***ERIC IS A FAG*** know that their small, querulous republic would later become the most powerful and prosperous nation in history, the Unified States Of America.”

Fifty-year-old Bill Buford—former editor of Granta, and former literary editor of The New Yorker—recently spent two years working in various New York kitchens, including that of Mario Batali’s Babbo: “Babbo’s kitchen combined two of Buford’s great loves: combative male bonding and learning. ‘The kitchen was a kind of aggressive, hands-on university,’ he admits. ‘The excitement I felt was akin to reading John Donne for the first time or finally getting a command of Shakespeare. It was the kind of excitement I had in university.’”

“In defence of M. Night Shyamalan”—though this is a “defence” of the “with friends like these, who needs enemies?” variety. (Similar piece at Crushed by Inertia that quotes from the Shyamalan tell-all.)

Three Japanese guys domino a whole apartment-worth of stuff.

Reviews of street fashion photo blogs. Big ups The Satorialist (suitably).

Athens (where 200,000 Muslims now live) is getting its first new Mosque since the Ottoman Empire. (Spain only recently got its first Mosque since the 16th Century also.)

Seems like a bad sign: Airbus has taken no new orders for the A380 this year (more analysis).

Why does China have a 900m x 700m scale model of a 450km x 350km area of the Indian/Chinese border? (speculation)

Scene from the Miami Vice pilot, uses Phil Collins’s “In the Air Tonight.” Bill Simmons, in his pretty useful YouTube Hall of Fame, says: “Two great things about this one: First, it still holds up -- even now -- and "Vice" is about as dated as it gets. Second, up until that point, there had never been anything on TV even remotely resembling that scene. Remember, this was the same era when A) they were still freezing people's faces mid-laugh during the opening credits of any sitcom; and B) nobody realized that you could use music to accentuate dramatic TV scenes. So this was like watching Bill Russell block someone's running hook shot in the mid-'50s for the first time.”

Are cities the new countries? “The most important place to London is New York and to New York is London and Tokyo … London belongs to a country composed of itself and New York.” Mmm, tenuous.

Stealing a bike in NYC: guy steals a bike (his own) four times, and only once (apparently) does he get accosted by a member of the public—by a guy who offers him advice. At one point the cameraman gets told off by the cops for filming from the street. I meant to take some pictures of locked NYC bicycles to accompany this picture of Italian “secure” bicycles but totally forgot.

Recreation of Seurat’s “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte.”

Advertising on eggs: “The best thing about the egg concept was its intrusiveness. … As EggFusion sees it, consumers look at a single egg shells at least a few times: when they open a carton in the store to see if any eggs are cracked, if they transfer them from the carton to the refrigerator, and when they crack them open.” (CBS liked the concept so much they’ve paid for exclusive rights to the laser etching technology.)

Milk crate Tetris.

“There’s a certain combo of facial features and surrounding accessories that screams, ‘I would be an amazing host for a call-in radio show about relationship advice’ so loud even deaf people can hear it.”

I really admire the writing in Vice’s DOs and DON’Ts, those pithy captions aren’t as easy to toss off as they look. Even the winner of the caption contest doesn’t quite nail the tone, and the other entries were apparently rubbish. (The New Yorker’s caption contest is similarly disappointing: despite bringing the distributed power of the internet to bear on the cartoon captioning problem, the results are usually only about as good as an average New Yorker cartoon.)

Overheard in NY + Google Maps mashup. Nicely done!

Headbutt connoisseurs are raving about Zidane’s recent effort (see also).

The perils of introducing too many snack variants: in the last two years, after Nestle introduced Kit-Kats in flavours like lime crush, blood orange, red berry and more, UK sales dropped 18 percent.

A short piece on airport signage and wayfinding solutions. (One of the reasons I like airports is that I like looking at the (generally excellent) signage.)

On the origin and revival of Matthew Carter’s font Georgia.

A lot of work (and patents) have gone into the glass staircases at Apple Stores.

The Nocebo effect: thinking that bad things will happen is a self-fulfilling prophesy. (So should doctors lie to patients about their prospects?)

“More broadly, the data the company gets from transactions could help it improve the way it chooses which advertising to show to which users. Google says it does not currently plan to use transaction data in this way.” It’s going to become more and more difficult for Google (and other companies) to ignore this information in the future—knowing exactly how profitable individual users are is incredibly valuable. Does Google earn or lose money from your use of Google mail?

How to make a playlist for a girl: “First of all, making a mix for a girl you don’t know that well or for a girl that dumped you is the worst thing you can do. She will be lying in bed with the guy she really likes and they will both laugh their heads off at you for putting U2 on there. You can only make a playlist for a girl that you have fucked more than twice and she has to have thoroughly enjoyed herself both times (so, if you had trouble getting it up the first time then it doesn’t count and your ‘two times’ has to start on the second lay).”

No-one goes to Moscow for their honeymoon. Paris seems to be the most popular honeymoon destination.

Objectification watch: “If you lend tools to someone and they come back broken you shouldn't have to pay for the repair and that is what happened to Newcastle.” Newcastle Chairman Freddy Shepherd on the FA “borrowing” Michael Owen for the World Cup, and then breaking him.

“Israeli PM: 'One More Suicide Bombing And I'll Give Them Whatever They Want'”

Standard power connectors. e.g. the C14 the connector used by almost all computers. (Quite a lot of thought has gone into these.) Don’t know how to get there but can we have a world-wide standard for power sockets, please?

Toyota is advertising its Scion on a website visited by to 8- to 15-year olds (i.e. people who won’t buy one).

(Video) How pregnancy happens. V. disturbing Mr. Penis.

Pakistan bans The Da Vinci Code; there were protests from Christians, but the official reason seems to be that it blasphemes Islam by criticising one of its prophets—Jesus.

The ad-stripping, Cory-rant filtering version of Boing Boing has gone away. And because they sent a lot of traffic to one of his sites? Pussy.

Transport for London press release: first they get rid of the routemasters, now they tell us that London’s iconic red buses will now get white roofs to ward off heat?

Pictures of explosions. That is all. (They’re small explosions too. Pretty though.)

History of The New Yorker via the recently-released CD anthology. Less than affectionate; attempts to diminish. (e.g. “The New Yorker is the only magazine in America, probably in the world, to inspire reverence and druidical devotion.”)

“How Brazilian soccer players get their names.” The one-word names are mostly nicknames; defenders are much more likely to be known by their full names than strikers.

“Can good architecture help the sick?” Does architecture and design affect the physical well-being of those being treated for cancer? The Maggie’s Centre charity has managed to convince a number of leading architects to design treatment centres for cancer patients.

A sheep-killing bear is “savage”? Isn’t that what bears are supposed to do?,8816,1191826,00.html

Andrew Sullivan wants to call the view that “religious faith is so important that it must also have a precise political agenda” Christianist (parallels Islamist).

Jack Shafer is not happy with the NY Times’s public editor. He’s been nowhere near as interesting as Daniel Okrent, that’s for sure.

“An Open Letter from Hungry Charles”—Hungry Charles, IFOCE’s commissioner, lays down the rules of competitive eating. Reminds me of 826 Valencia’s Gallery of Signs. I can’t decide: is “reversal of fortune” or “urge contrary to swallowing” the more amusing substitute for, you know, the V word?

The Apple II-style website of The Raconteurs, Jack White’s solo project. All Flash, and using the keyboard is mandatory! (“H for Home,” etc.)

The shapeless official website of Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffet’s $136bn (+ $25bn in B stock?) holding company. The Message from Warren Buffet is also charming.

Random photo set, supposedly from some guy who worked for a real shitty pool company. “Here’s T-Bone pitching a pool skimmer into the truck. This was a real good pitch executed with flawless form. T-Bone could really pitch shit into the van. His brother was a wicked baseball player.” “Safety wasn’t a top priority with the guys. Here’s Kenny jack-hammering in sandals.” “And here’s T-Bone using a Sawz-All waist deep in water.” (background)

What’s known about yawning. (Seems like not so very much.)

OMG in one post Malcolm Gladwell admits he is fallible, uses the word “alright” (three times!) and punctuates with a smiley. This is too much! Update: the “alright” is now “all right”! (Just noticed some people in the comments whining about this too.) Shame, the word is (somewhat) defensible, and the two-worder hurts the rhythm of the title a bit.

Almost perfect story for the media: two miners are trapped 1km underground in a Tasmanian gold mine; they’ve been under ground almost a week, and are likely to be trapped for two more days, but have been able to receive supplies via a small opening. (They’ve been given iPods, which seems to be a poor practical choice given the poor battery life.)

“NASA Announces Plan To Launch $700 Million Into Space.” You know where this is going, but it’s still a pleasant journey.

Don’t be mean, Apple! Also, the iLife ad is a bit unfair in that Microsoft wouldn’t be allowed to bundle anything vaguely similar with Windows. (It also seems like a rip-off of Gus Sorola’s Switch Parody. “Um … that puzzle game, with the Apple logo? That’s a great game. … I beat it but it’s still fun.”) The Which Mac are You? page pushes Intel Macs only. Nice tagline for the MacBook Pro: “Mobility’s Nobility.”

Fire fighters (in sweet suits) chainsaw open the canopy of a F22 Raptor after it refuses to open, trapping the pilot inside for 5 hours.

Why is there such a big market for skin lightening creams in Asia? (“4 out of 10 women in Hong Kong, Malaysia, the Philippines, South Korea and Taiwan now using some kind of skin-whitening cream.”) One thing I noticed in Singapore was that a surprising number the billboards there use Western models. (I’ve got some photographs documenting this somewhere, was meaning to write about this.)

“I can appreciate this prank only by ignoring the fact that his description of it is filtered through the traditional Artist Statement Bullshitizer. It's a fuckin' gag. It's not a bad one. But couching it in terms like "this work" just makes me want to punch him in the junk.”

The U.S. reluctant to release some Guantanamo inmates because they might not be well-treated by their own governments? What?

Interesting art/media projects with refreshingly straightforward descriptions of intent.

Donald Judd’s gallery/sculpture park in Marfa, Texas. (A lot of the photos are credited—but not linked—to Flickr. Can they do this?) The article has a little bit about the Marfa “Prada” (not a real store) that appears in this fabulous photograph; the IHT has more.,0,2402981.story

The LA Times buries the lede! Page 2 of a piece about executives who get paid $1 a year reveals Jobs, Brin and Page are lawbreakers: under Californian law, they’re supposed to be paid the minimum wage, which is $6.75 an hour—and possibly more, depending on whether they’re eligible for overtime. (The spokesman for the Labor Commissioner allows: “We’re not going to spend our time pursuing something like this unless we have a complaint filed on behalf of an employee.”)

The sad story of Nauru: in the 1970s, the people of Nauru were amongst the richest in the world (the whole island is basically phosphate); now the government is forced to ration electricity and water, 50% of the population has diabetes, and a big money-earner is housing would-be Australian refugees. “… Nauru's government (like most others) would rather do almost anything than cut its own budget. So it has resorted to several desperate money-raising ventures, including that old stand-by of cash-strapped third-world governments, befriending Taiwan. A sun-bleached Taiwanese flag flaps wanly outside the run-down colonial villa that serves as the island's only embassy. In return for this dubious honour, Taiwan has lent Nauru money at bargain rates.”

Beijing Olympic stadium construction photographs. (By Herzog & de Meuron; more.)

Beaver Overthinking Dam: “After much thought, Messner decided to reconstruct the anterior section of the dam with poplar wood on Tuesday, after he finished ‘highly necessary’ preparatory work chewing the branches into uniform-sized interlocking sticks. Yet such tasks struck fellow lodge members as excessive.”

A Reddit reader comments: “Anyone who complains that this shouldn’t be on the programming subreddit, shouldn't be on the programming subreddit.”

“Are copycat cars a sincere form of flattery?” The new Lexus LS looks very much like Mercedes’ S-Class.

“Typically, the videotape of the accidental discharge has been broadcast, presented or disclosed to others for the purposes of amusement and to demean and to ridicule Mr. Paige, especially in light of the accidental discharge occurring at virtually the same time that Mr. Paige told his audience that he was the only person in the room sufficiently professional enough to carry the firearm.” The DEA Agent who shot himself in foot while speaking to school kids? He’s suing the DEA for “improper disclosure” of the video.

“Six generals have spoken out against him. Is that a lot?” How many times does Rumsfeld have to offer to resign already? When Abu Ghraib was in the news, he offered to resign twice—but Bush didn’t accept his resignation. (And more recently, he’s said “we all serve at the pleasure of the President”.) Asking him again, however nicely, probably isn’t going to do it.

Head of Al-Jazeera: “George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld complain about us, but we've broadcast more than 5,000 hours of Bush's speeches, live, translated into Arabic; we have not aired more than five hours of bin Laden's.” An average of 20 hours a week over five years cannot possibly be right, so this is either wrong, misleading, or a mis-quote. (What’s especially curious is that the printed version of Newsweek uncritically uses this as the pull-quote.)

Even Homer’s brain knows that “Money can be exchanged for good and services.” Looks like he’s gonna be able to avoid having to declare this as income too, since the IRS grants you an exception if you perform less than 100 transactions a year.

“Experiment: Replace ordinary eggs in cake recipe with Cadbury Creme Eggs and observe results. Hypothesis: THIS IS GOING TO BE SO AWESOME.”

Spike Lee’s “Inside Man” (decent movie) uses this track—“Chaiyya Chaiyya”, from the Bollywood movie “Bombay Dreams”—to incredible (and improbable) effect over the opening and closing titles. (The reviewers of the movie’s soundtrack at the iTunes store and Amazon are singularly obsessed with it.)

Lymphatic filariasis—a disease which results grossly swollen limbs—affects 120 million people; there is no cure, and to eradicate it, “every infected person must be given a dose of worm-killing medicine once per year for six years.” (Or, you can have everyone eat treated salt.)

What happens when opera-goers arrive late? The late policies of various concert halls.

On Muzak, the company who make mix tapes for retailers. Former Muzak executive Alvin Collis: “I walked into a store and understood: this is just like a movie. The company has built a set, and they’ve hired actors and given them costumes and taught them their lines, and every day they open their doors and say, ’Let’s put on a show.’ It was retail theatre. And I realized then that Muzak’s business wasn’t really about selling music. It was about selling emotion—about finding the soundtrack that would make this store or that restaurant feel like something, rather than being just an intellectual proposition.”

(I’m also intrigued by Muzak’s preference for Bose and Klipsch audio equipment. Bose speakers get a lot of stick on the web, but I can remember several occasions when I’ve noticed good sound, checked out the speakers, and discovered they were Bose. Maybe their commercial equipment is better? I had a particularly enjoyable Bose-augmented ice cream at the MIT Toscanini’s a few years ago. The setup included a 10 foot by one foot black cylinder slung from the ceiling that at least looked impressive.)

Slashdotter on Boot Camp: “You get the stability of Windows with the value-of-money of Apple hardware. Sign me up.” (I so appreciate how this anonymous commenter resisted the temptation to add a smiley, too.)

Surprisingly dull and ill-fitting video for Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy.”

French work ethic? The new labour laws are bad because “when I do get a job I will basically have to work as hard as I can to keep it.”

The Mr Men characters are 35 years old! The original author, Roger Hargreaves, died suddenly in 1988; his son has been drawing them ever since.

Target (the retailer) is for some reason donating significant amounts of time and money to police departments, helping them solve crimes that have nothing to do with “loss prevention.” According to an FBI Special Agent, Target has “one of the nation’s top forensics labs”; Target’s forensic investigators “spend 45 percent of their time offering pro-bono assistance to law enforcement.”

“The God of Realism”: Robert Hughes on Rembrandt.

Measuring poverty: in the US, the poverty line for the last 40 years has been set at three times a (very minimal) food budget. This approach has many obvious problems, but, according to this piece, it’s difficult to say even whether it underestimates or overestimates the poverty rate—“Such considerations suggest that the official measures understate the extent of poverty, but the opposite argument can also be made.” (Though it almost certainly underestimates the problem in big cities, where accommodation takes up a much larger proportion of the household budget than it used to.)

Rare picture of two US carriers (the Nimitz-class USS John C. Stennis and the Kitty Hawk-class USS John F. Kennedy), the French carrier FS Charles de Gaulle, the Royal Navy’s HMS Ocean (a sort of carrier for helicopters) and several Italian and Dutch ships.

I’m with Anil on this one: year-on-year, the tech world’s April Fool efforts are pretty dismal. (Google’s effort is particularly leaden—see the tour.) P22’s contribution is a a font of “spacing sorts,” (in metal, retailed for $10 in 1912!) which not only actually exists (“order” it), but includes the full set of Unicode spacing characters.

BusBike: exercise bikes mounted inside a buses that drive loops of Rio de Janeiro combine the best features of … wait, this doesn’t make sense.

Pleased to meet you, with meat to please you: officially licensed NASCAR® meats!,,1708287,00.html

A whole heap of stuff is being built—somewhat improbably, given its history, climate, prospects—in Dubai.

Sweet-as military-styled mobile phone.

Stay Free on John Kerry’s tour rider (at the Smoking Gun): “I can't believe how clearly Kerry reconfirmed the flip-flopper tag.”

How to spin the tires (tyres, surely?) on Rolls Royce Phantom.

James Surowiecki says the newspaper business is still a decent business to be in: whilst there’s no potential for extreme growth (unlike high-tech stocks, say), they’re solidly profitable year after year, and will remain a big industry for quite some time.

Why and how physicians participate in executions. Atul Gawande describes some botched executions, interviews four physicians and a nurse who have participated, and ultimately argues that—even though he himself does not have a problem with the death penalty—if there’s no way to perform executions without the involvement of medical professionals, they shouldn’t be conducted at all.

How aircraft passenger-evacuation tests are conducted. (In a test of the A380, 873 people got off in less than 90 seconds, though they didn’t have to cope with smoke, and weren’t especially fearful for the lives.)

Dick Cheney’s “Downtime Suite” requirements. All televisions are to be tuned to Fox News! Can’t the Secret Service leave the lights on after checking out the room? And he drinks Hotel-provided water? That seems … less than prudent. (New Smoking Gun design, too.)

Trades made by Googlers. They sure are selling a lot of stock. You can also get the trades of specific people, for example, Sergey Brin.

(Debt as a percentage of GDP.) The US is below a whole lot of countries, including Japan, Germany and France. I don’t really understand what all this means, though. Why did Russia need to default on its loans when its debt is only 15% of GDP? What countries are in credit? [Some of the debt is internal; half of Japan’s debt is evidently internal, which is apparently the better sort of debt to have.]

Ha, Philip Greenspun, concerned that the new MIT swimming pool didn’t provide soap in the showers (“I thought this was kind of disgusting because it means that people don’t take soap showers before swimming (in theory someone could make an extra trip back and forth to a locker, but I haven’t seen it done)”) volunteered to donate the soap, but was knocked back. Fast-forward to now, and the pool is shut down, apparently because “the bacteria got out of control.”

Figure I should put this up: the top 50 blogs in September 2000.

The little Virgina Quarterly Review scored six nominations in the National Magazine Awards (only the Atlantic got more). “What makes VQR distinctive is simply that it has the immediacy of the Atlantic or The New Yorker, but its longer pieces (upwards of 10,000 words) appear alongside 20 pages of poetry. … Inside, the magazine has none of the coyness of the current crop of small magazines, like McSweeney’s, The Believer, or N+1.”

Spell-correction algorithms plus customer behaviour data-mining led Amazon to suggest “adoption” to customers who searched for “abortion” until recently. (They disabled this after pro-abortion campaigners complained.)

Ikea founder Ingvar Kamprad (6th richest person in the world) apparently drives a 13-year-old Volvo (well, so he says)—and this when he’s not taking the bus. (There’s links to the (surprisingly humble) rides of other rich people from this page.)

Right to take photographs in public spaces trumps right to privacy. (And right to practise one’s religion, sort of.) But: only if the photographs are considered art, and you might have to prove it.

Live Pelt, by Kelly Heaton, is a multimedia installation based on the transformation of 64 previously owned Tickle Me Elmo dolls, the popular consumer toy, into a woman’s coat. Fashioned from the toys’ pelts and electronics, the coat (entitled The Surrogate) provides full body vibration and is designed to be a substitute lover.”

OED-compiled word FAQ. They want to call CamelCase medial capitals though, which so isn’t gonna work out.

Slate has some doubts about the viability of Catholic planned city Ave Maria—shared beliefs won’t be enough, the author says, you need shared culture too. Well yeah, but residents who move there will know what they’re getting in to, so this might not be too much of a problem. Meanwhile, the Free State Project (“pro-liberty” planned city) appears to be treading water; it’s a bit hard to tell how the other Christian planned community, Christian Exodus is doing. But good luck to them all! More polarisation I say!

In 1962, a U.S. high-altitute (400km!) nuclear test knocked out one-third of the satellites in low earth orbit, including the first commercial communications satellite, Telstar.

Forgot to post about this a while ago: should Craigslist be held responsible for discriminatory ads? (“African Americans and Arabians tend to clash with me so that won’t work out” and so forth.) There’s lots of excellent edge cases here: can you post ads exclusively in foreign languages, for example? Or say “Chinese speakers preferred”? There was a fascinating case a few years ago concerning an apartment building the owner had decided to call Korean World Towers because (or so the argument went) he preferred Korean tenants. He wasn’t Korean himself, and didn’t actively discriminate against non-Koreans—so, the question was, did putting Korean in your building name amount to discrimination?,,1730709,00.html

“Anti-travel” through forgotten & useless parts of Russia. (Vissarion profile)

Take a grim government-issue “Meal, Ready-to-Eat” (MRE), style it up, take a photo.,,1727309,00.html

Wow, Annie Proulx is real unhappy Crash got the best picture Oscar. “And rumour has it that Lions Gate inundated the academy voters with DVD copies of Trash—excuse me—Crash a few weeks before the ballot deadline.” I didn’t think it deserved to win either, but this is unbecoming! And is it necessary to have a go at the Academy as well? “From the first there was an atmosphere of insufferable self-importance emanating from ‘the show’ which, as the audience was reminded several times, was televised and being watched by billions of people all over the world. Those lucky watchers could get up any time they wished and do something worthwhile, like go to the bathroom.” We frisbee players have a saying: it doesn’t hurt so much if you catch the disc. Would she have been so scornful had Brokeback Mountain won?

Poetry like “The Mouse’s Tail.”

Google bad news blog. This is pretty decent, although the most recent entry is wrong in claiming that the $90 million Google has offered to pay in click-fraud settlement is to settle just one case—it’s to settle all of them.

Promoting works of art: the Tate Britain has been running an unusual ad campaign recently. Basically, instead of doing what’s generally done, and promoting a special exhibition of famous art by a famous fellow and encouraging you to run along because this is the one and only time you’re gonna be able to see such fine works in your life, they’re running billboard ads that group a half-dozen works from their permanent collection around a theme—and not grand themes like war or love or the farm but themes more personal, idiosyncratic, quotidian like I have a big meeting, happily depressed and haven’t been here for ages—and suggesting that you might like to form your own personal “collection” in the same vein.

I was a bit sceptical of all this at first (the chatty, cheery tone of the ads was a little disconcerting) but I’m much more up on it now. I’m not sure if it’s right to emphasise one’s emotional responses to art over the aesthetic, but it’s an issue worth thinking about, and quite apart from all this, the ads are certainly memorable, so in that respect I guess they “sell.”

Africa and teamwork inspire me.” Street fashion from Helsinki. (I do genuinely like this, but there is also some quality amusement to be had. Another: “Caps are the corner stone of my style. I collect them but I’ve lost all the others except this one.” More serious: “My style is neo-conservative: I'm a walking contradiction because I respect the muslim traditions, but I mix traditional clothing with punk style. I'm sure there are no other muslim girls with a similar style in Finland.”)

“Overheard made me straight.” “Huh?” “Overheard in New York, the website?” “I know what it is. How the fuck could it make you straight?”,,14049-1988513,00.html

House hunting with the super-rich and super-precious: “It’s almost time for lunch, but Wendy and her team decide to squeeze in one more viewing. ‘There’s a house owned by an artist that might have the character you’re looking for.’ Oh, Wendy, how you must wish you hadn’t done it! … Three hours later, Yuki is sobbing hysterically, Bruce is having a stand-up fight with the caretaker, and the police and an ambulance have been called.”

“Why costume designers hate the Academy Awards.”,,1723120,00.html

To reduce the impact of jet travel on the environment, the founders of travel-book companies Lonely Planet and The Rough Guide are encouraging travellers to “fly less and stay longer.”

Audio of Malcolm Gladwell’s Feb 21st talk on a possible prodigies/late bloomers dichotomy. (This reminds me: in A Mathematician’s Apology, G.H. Hardy wrote: “No mathematician should ever allow himself to forget that mathematics, more than any other art or science, is a young man’s game. … I do not know an instance of a major mathematical advance initiated by a man past fifty.”)

About Yoko Ono’s art and the Fluxus movement she was part of. (She met John Lennon at an exhibition after he climbed a ladder to view one of her paintings (hung just below the ceiling) on which she’d painted the word Yes. Lennon: “It’s a great relief when you get up the ladder and you look through the spyglass and it doesn’t say no or fuck you; it says YES.”)

Good news, bad news: BBC news stories classified by mood.

“It is a sign of the times that there has been no storm of protest over the increasingly manipulative and moralistic character of anti-smoking propaganda.” I particularly dislike the ads that show the damage cigarettes do to lungs, as if it were self-evident that if something looks bad, it is bad.

Reporter goes shopping with fashion-conscious skater Johnny Weir in Turin, helps him buy his 103rd pair of sunglasses and a whole lot of other gear.

Big list of killers with the middle name Wayne.

Are mercenaries ever a justifiable response to a humanitarian crisis?

How to write about Africa: “Broad brushstrokes throughout are good. Avoid having the African characters laugh, or struggle to educate their kids, or just make do in mundane circumstances. Have them illuminate something about Europe or America in Africa.”

The iPod, with packaging designed by Microsoft.

Problems encountered by Australians wishing to wage Jihad: “Thomas, 32, also said that although he loved Islam, his love of beer had made his conversion a dilemma.”

Um, is it not really weird that the purchaser of the 1 billionth song on iTunes gets (as well as Apple goodies) a scholarship at Julliard established in their name? I don’t see how this would drive many purchases, but if the only point of it is a PR exercise for Apple (to demonstrate support for young musicians?), why not give it in Apple’s name?

Video of Cat Power’s “Living Proof,” directed by the very strange Harmony Korine.

It’s seemingly very difficult to get hold of police complaint forms in South Florida. (Great transcripts.)

Dahlia Lithwick: should pharmacists be able to refuse to dispense the morning after pill on moral grounds? Should doctors be able to refuse to participate in executions for the same reason?

Compilation of Macworld keynote bloopers. See Steve Jobs try to work a digital camera!

Malcolm Gladwell (in his new blog!) retracts almost everything he said in favour of the American healthcare system in a 2000 debate on the relative merits of the Canadian and American systems: “I now agree with virtually everything Adam said and disagree with virtually everything I said.” This is nice, because I avoided posting this because I thought Gladwell didn’t make a very good case. (In particular, his argument that young men don’t need healthcare. “I have never bought the argument that the American system is all that bad for poor men. I think it’s fine for poor men. Remember, men don't need health care until they’re middle-aged. If you look at the population of people in America who are uninsured, they’re all young. There aren't old people on that list. And it is not a bad thing for a 25-year-old male not to have health insurance.”),0,3066620.story

Snowboarders love their iPods, listening even when they’re competing in the Olympics.,2106,3578626a4560,00.html

Update on Thomas Hendry, the New Zealander who scored an honorary mention in the 1999 Darwin Awards for winning a bar competition by stapling his penis to a white crucifix, pouring lighter fluid over it, and setting it on fire. He’s now living in Melbourne, runs a goth nightclub, and still has the crucifix. (Australia has very strict quarantine controls; he had to pay customs $30 to fumigate it.)

Nice account of a bank heist in Buenos Aires: the bank was surrounded by over 100 police officers, but robbers got away with cash and safe-deposit boxes through a previously dug tunnel; no shots were fired, and it turned out that their guns were props. (more),0,7900113.story

In NYC, moustaches are proliferating (are they?): “Two years ago, mustaches on young men drew stares. These days, few men ride the L train without one.”

“Competitive Eaters Seek to Weigh Hasselhoff’s Head.”

Kinda interesting discussion about why Pooh (and other children’s book characters) is popular amongst gay men. (Funny how Google Answers results don’t come up very often in Google searches.)

Nobel Prize for literature citations still incomprehensible. Last year’s winner: Harold Pinter, “who in his plays uncovers the precipice under everyday prattle and forces entry into oppression’s closed rooms.”

A link—or at least a correlation—between not taking risks and getting Parkinson’s? “The study found patients with Parkinson’s disease had smoked less, drank less alcohol and caffeine. They also scored lower on sensation-seeking and risk taking behaviour, and higher on anxiety and depression than the comparison group.”

What’s the deal with these pictures and characterisations of scientists, supposed produced by 7th graders before and after visiting Fermilab? They’re clearly fake in some way: what 7th grader says “in turn”? Or uses “truly” like this: “A scientist, truly, is a normal, happy, nice person.”

“For years, suspicion has been growing in the orchards of the Wenatchee Valley in Washington State and in the food industry at large that fruit, nature's original hand-held convenience food, is simply too poorly designed for today's busy eater.” Excellent piece, touches on many issues.

“Sullivan replied that he thought it meant ‘stubborn,’ but the word is a vulgar slang referring to a woman’s body part in tight clothing.”

Somewhat chilling insurgent propaganda video of a sniper operating in Iraq.

“There’s no substantial business today in charging companies money for the privilege of indexing one’s book …” I do so enjoy Cory Doctorow’s earnest rants. If you fancy yourself as a pundit on this sort of stuff, shouldn’t you know that “charging companies money for the privilege of indexing one’s book” almost exactly describes the relationship between the magazine business and Nexis? (Nexis is an (enormously expensive) full-text search engine for magazine content.) And that to some extent, this arrangement is even blessed by the courts and authors, given that they agreed to the Copyright Class Action Settlement? Is this not relevant? (I don’t know whether this should happen; I’m merely noting that it does.)

(Also, I just discovered that LexisNexis now offer a cheaper-than-Nexis service called LexisNexis AlaCarte!. The main difference is that the database is smaller (3.8 billion articles instead of 6 billion), and that you pay per article ($3 or so); searches are free. It’s not great—the New Yorker archives only go back to 1999, for example—but it’s at least affordable.)

“For Europeans, scolding the Bush administration for everything from Guantanamo to the Iraq War to secret CIA prisons has become a full-time job. But when it comes to the American scandal over President Bush’s warrantless wiretaps, there’s been a curious reaction from the other side of the Atlantic: silence. Where is the European outrage? … The three worst offenders are not countries you would suspect of playing fast and loose with civil liberties: Britain, Italy, and the Netherlands.”

“Abusive Obsessive-Compulsive Has To Punch Wife Exactly 20 Times.”

Nice multi-variate NY snow-accumulation graphic.

Interview with Dan Savage.

You joke about people getting your advice and then killing themselves, but do you have any actual anxiety about the effect your column may have on people?

No. I feel like I’m a compassionate guy, but I also feel if somebody’s grip on life or sanity is so tenuous that a joke in an advice column that usually is nothing but jokes pushes them over the edge, then if not me, it would have been a leaf blowing past them that did it, or something else. You almost have to feel that way, doing this. And also, I’m not a big anti-suicide guy. I don’t regard suicide necessarily as this huge unspeakable act of selfishness or tragedy. Some people take themselves out for completely legit reasons. Hopefully they’ll get help, hopefully they’ll think about it, but if they want to check out, I feel like they have a right to do that.

Interesting: an Iranian paper is holding a contest for Holocaust cartoons in “retaliation” (BBC’s word) for the cartoons depicting Muhammad. The paper, Hamshahri, says it’s more about probing potential free-speech inconsistencies (which is plausible in theory, at least). Jyllands-Posten has already said it will reprint the cartoons—will the other papers follow suit? (Will it be legal for them to do so? A lot of countries in Europe have specific anti-Nazi laws (governing the sale of memorabilia, at least). Is it legal to deny the Holocaust, say?)

The IE 7 team have some good ideas on how printing should work. (Has everyone given up on print style sheets by now? I never really did see the point of those: anything interesting you might do will also produce a truly disorienting user experience. If someone wants to print just give ’em another page and let them print that.)

Pete Doherty: “While he has been stopped or arrested by the police at least 10 times since November, last Friday was the worst day so far. Before dawn, Mr. Doherty was arrested here on suspicion of driving erratically while on drugs. While he was at the police station, he was arrested again, on suspicion of assaulting a fan at a recent concert. Three hours later, wandering erratically down the street, he was arrested a third time, charged with carrying heroin in his jeans.”,,2087-2025748,00.html

Oh I love slippery slopes! If you want to kill yourself by slashing your wrists, should you be given clean blades? Says one advocate: “There is a clear comparison with giving clean needles to reduce HIV.”

(I also like this one: “‘It’s rough if you’re a transsexual—it’s even rougher if you try to explain that you’re a cat in a human body,’ says another Furry fan, who bemoaned the fact that Furries can’t opt to surgically change their species in the way transexuals can change their gender.”)

Long Annie Proulx piece on how she felt about her short story “Brokeback Mountain” being made into a film.

On Ang Lee: “I was nervous about meeting Ang Lee, despite his reputation as a brilliant and highly skilled. Would we have anything to say to each other? Were the cultural gaps surmountable? … Later, there were some disagreements. In the written story the motel scene, after a four-year hiatus, stood as central. During their few hours in the Motel Siesta, Jack’s and Ennis’s paths were irrevocably laid out. In the film that Ang Lee already had shaped in his mind, the emotional surge contained in that scene would be better shifted to a later point and melded with the men’s painful last meeting. I didn’t understand this until I saw the film in September 2005 and recognised the power of this timing.”

And on seeing the film for the first time: “Here it was, the point that writers do not like to admit; film can be more powerful than the written word. I realised that if Ang Lee had been born in Barrow or Novosibirsk it would likely have been the same. He understands human feelings and is not afraid to walk into dangerous territory.”

Not ideal: Annie Proulx’s short story “Brokeback Mountain” apparently used to be at this URL, but it’s (effectively) a 404 now. The problem is that if you do a Google search for brokeback mountain it returns this page, because a whole lot of pages use “brokeback mountain” as the link text. (The Google cache page says: These terms only appear in links pointing to this page: brokeback mountain.)

( also isn’t returning a “real” 404 error—it’s returning a page that says the page can’t be found, but the usually-invisible response code indicates that the page loaded okay—which I suspect is compounding the problem by preventing Google from removing the page from its cache.)

Where map geeks and music geeks intersect… Map superimposes 20th Century musicians over London’s tube map; musicians at intersections supposedly lie at the intersections of musical styles, too. (Beck gets King’s Cross; the RZA (!) get Bank.) The map is apparently sponsored by London Underground, who are also selling the map; this, according to the introductory notes, is why there’s no station called Massive Attack. (I live at Buddy Holly!)

Johnny Dang is Houston’s jeweller-king of ornamental dentistry.

“There’s no reason for it to exist in English”: Garrison Keillor is very unhappy with Bernard-Henri Lévy’s survey of America. One complaint seems to be that Lévy (who comes across as quite sensible in his Salon interview) has focussed on the outlandish, extreme, supersized aspects of America: “You meet Sharon Stone and John Kerry and a woman who once weighed 488 pounds and an obese couple carrying rifles, but there’s nobody here whom you recognize. In more than 300 pages, nobody tells a joke. Nobody does much work. Nobody sits and eats and enjoys their food.”

(I don’t think this is terrifically meaningful complaint—travellers fixate on what’s different, not what’s similar. It’s not the sensibly-sized drink portions you write home about, it’s the really really big ones.)

In reponse, Lévy’s basically accuses Keillor of being a Francophobe; in his review, Keillor says, “as always with French writers, Lévy is short of facts, long on conclusions,” though this comes just after he complains about Lévy’s sweeping “as alwayses,” so it’s probably a joke.

Update 3rd Feb: added Lévy’s reponse, softened Keillor criticism.

Agenda for Iran’s Holocaust Conference. 12.15pm: Famous Jews in History: Were They Really Jews?

Amongst journalists, Tab is an improbably popular drink.

(Podcastable) Radio News from The Onion. e.g. “Report: Lab Monkeys 96 Percent More Likely To Use Cocaine Than Those In Wild.”

Great profile of a very successful and very good children’s entertainer called the Great Zucchini … who also, as it turns out, has a gambling problem, an organisational problem, and (most likely) some psychological problems as well.

A live discussion with the author of the piece addresses some of the obvious questions, like what the Great Zucchini thinks of the story, and whether the piece is likely to mess with his career, in the same way that David Friedman’s career was apparently damaged by Capturing the Friedmans.

Brad Pitt looking like Jennifer (when with Jennifer), Gwyneth (when with Gwyneth) and Angelina (when with Angelina).

Blurring images to make them look like shots of miniatures.

Great, informative, exchange between Valerie Lawson, the author of a book on the creator of Mary Poppins (Pamela Travers) and The New Yorker. Lawson felt that a recent article about Poppins carried insufficient acknowledgement of her work, given that it contained many details about Travers that could only (Lawson says) have come from her research.

What seems to be the case is that: (a) The New Yorker did do more original research than Lawson had anticipated; (b) some of the facts uncovered by Lawson were subsequently repeated in documentaries, etc. about Travers, and not sourced in ways that made clear they were due to Lawson, and this made it possible the New Yorker to argue that they had alternative sources; and (c) overall, Lawson should have been given more credit. Anyway, all this is couched in extremely delicate and precise language (particularly that of the letters from The New Yorker, who necessarily needed to be more careful) that makes wonderful, fascinating reading.

(I don’t think Lawson should have sent the final letter for publication; it doesn’t seem to reflect her feelings about the matter, and now The New Yorker have her printed complaint reduced to what the CJR describes as a “relatively benign effort.”)

“Man lives in tree after domestic spat.” (India crazy.)

Until the 50s, heroin was a legal, and relatively commonly prescribed drug in the UK.

On the dwindling numbers of craftsmen working in haute couture. “Since the 1920s, when there were about 10,000 French embroiderers, the population has shrunk to about 200, Lesage said.” Some of it does seem unnecessarily inefficient: “… it is common for Michel to send a hat to Lesage for embroidery and then to Lemarii for plumes and petals.” (Oh! to work in plumes and petals!)

Haha, first London snatches the 2012 Olympics from Paris, now this: “London set to host the start of the Tour de France in 2007.”

Mostly thoughtful and sincere criticism of Sarah Silverman’s comedy: “Silverman’s inconsistencies also extend to the convenient shield of her meticulously crafted persona of the oblivious racist, which she fades in and out of during every single interview.”

The issues surrounding Iran and its (apparent) run for nuclear weapons. (Fred Kaplan is not hopeful.)

Re audiobooks: how to read footnotes, and other textual annotations? (David Foster Wallace apparently says “dot dot dot” when he hits an ellipsis.) What to do about “I{heart}NY”?

Awesome: some guy’s list of the best 65 music videos of 2005. A lot of bands I’ve never heard of, but good descriptions, and every single link goes directly to a QuickTime-compatible download. Even more impressive: as of now, none of the links are broken! The no. 1 pick—Sigur Rós’s Glosoli—is one of my favourites as well.

The Wish FAQ: “Hint: Avoid phrases that are open to catastrophic interpretation, such as ‘for the rest of my life.’” (Sadly no ruling on this situation (Overheard in New York): “Teen boy #1: I’m starving. If I had three wishes, I’d ask for three David’s bagels. Teen boy #2: Why not just use one wish and ask for three bagels?”)

Good piece on how reality TV shows choose contestants, how the shows are run, and how contestants and failed contestants are affected by the experience. The conclusion seems to be that the producers: (a) don’t actively manipulate people, because they don’t need to—they do put prospective contestants through a lot of tests in a (largely successful) attempt to predict how they’ll behave; and (b) they will selectively edit to highlight aspects of a contestant’s personality. (Also, a psychologist involved in the screening process explained his involvement by saying: “… I saw it as a social-psych experiment, something that’s almost impossible to do now because the experiments might cause people emotional strife or discord. I was given the chance to look at people’s personalities and make predictions about their behavior and perhaps do some good in protecting someone from being put on the show who shouldn’t be.”)

Eurasians are more beautiful, healthy, intelligent, etc.? (Nice theory, not very convincing.)

The Red Cross is apparently running an ad that ridicules almost all well-meaning attempts to “save the world”—except donating blood, that is. (I can’t get the ad working on my Mac.) Whilst I do believe that every charity needs to think seriously about why it is more important than its brethren (as with religions, if they don’t believe they are more worthy than the others, they should close down), and anyone trying to get money for e.g. Greenpeace, say, should certainly be able to explain why theirs is a better cause than, say, e.g. Unicef (and vice versa), directly attacking other charities seems unproductive, ill-mannered and unbecoming.

The right way to sell RFID (cartoon). (I didn’t know Dr. Fun still existed! Some others: beavers, Knuth.)

Some cute fake signs. (Matches English signage pretty accurately, actually, particularly the tube ones: “In case of train delay / please snap stresstwig.”)

Some young Japanese are shutting themselves into their rooms, and effectively never coming out.

Interview with author of American Plastic: A Cultural History, on how plastic’s reputation has changed over the last hundred years.

Profile of Bode Miller, the maverick skier somewhat notorious for telling 60 Minutes that he’s raced drunk.

Surreal: once upon a time, prospective al-Qaida recruits filled out enrollment forms that included fields for what the applicant wanted to do after training (“Train and return,” “Jihad,” “Work within a group.”), and the details of an emergency contact.

Julian Dibbell makes $11,000 selling items on Ultima Online, asks the IRS if this is taxable income, or what. They don’t know, and suggest that he pay $650 + lawyers’ fees to find out. (I think part of the problem here is that some of this money is bound up in virtual objects still held within UO—although fundamentally I don’t see why the issue is that different to the issue of taxing stock market gains, another self-contained system of completely virtual “goods.”)

Dahlia Lithwick is reporting on Sam Alito’s confirmation hearing. “There are, it seems, better and worse ways to game your Supreme Court confirmation hearings. … Sam Alito has chosen to simply bore his way through, and as a consequence, two days into the hearings, the Democrats on the judiciary committee have hardly laid a glove on him. … There are some tangible benefits to this approach: For one thing, Alito has thus far generated not one flash of heat. There has been no clash, no argument, no losing of his temper. He is like a very, very smart rock.”

iTunes 6.0.2 phones home to Apple with your listening history? Turns out that it only does this if the “MiniStore” pane is open, but the fact that it does this at all, and never made it particularly clear that it does it, is kinda dodgy.

I do find it interesting, though, that there are people who are upset and concerned about this sort of behaviour, and there are also people who are happy to record their listening history on—and these are often the exact same people (!). Cory Doctorow, for example (who wrote the Boing Boing post), has voluntarily given almost 25000 tracks’ worth of his listening history. There are clearly significant differences between the and iTunes cases, but the practical difference seems slight. For some reason people think they are getting something from sending their listening history to, but not to the iTunes Music Store. I guess it’s that seems more … grassroots, open, community centered—but why does this make such a difference? (And can, Flickr, and so on continue to have this feel?)

The 4-Year-Old on a Blind Date.

Check out the Ron Jeremy version! (In the kinder, gentler, pre-Internet times, people took photos of passers-by being startled by a backfiring van.)

Furniture in the style of minor historical figures: artist Paul Davies, inspired by a single image of a sturdy and stolid-looking 80s video-game champ called Ned Troide (once played Defender for over 60 hours!), has created a line of “Ned Troide” furniture. (e.g. combination fake fireplace and hot dog cooker.)

Self-sacrifice is evidence of God? Email claims that mostly older Buckhannon miners gave some of their oxygen to the one survivor, a young father, and says that this “could only be the work of the Lord.” (Uh, no.)

Are take-away pizza menus good design, or bad? “The fact is, pizza flyers set up precisely the right expectations about the product and the service: cheap, cheerful and quick. The choice of visual language any graphic designer makes should be appropriate both to the message and to the intended audience.”

Somewhat eager analysis of SNL’s infamous Chronic of Narnia. “The Narnia rap doesn’t use the MCs’ extraordinary whiteness as a comedy crutch. Rather than invite easy laughs by reciting a tired checklist of ghetto stereotypes, Samberg and Parnell ditch the bling and Cristal to riff enthusiastically about the stuff they like—Magnolia Bakery’s ‘bomb frostings.’”

Flash games produced by the Nobel Prize’s education/outreach division, completely inexplicable in purpose and design. Michele puts it well: “high-minded yet fail so hard.”

For the Lord of the Flies game, for example, you not only need to have read the book (you are warned about this), but—unless you have a very good memory—need to have read the book in like the last month, because the very first thing you need to do is drag icons of various different objects (hats, glasses, etc.) and speech bubbles onto named characters.

Pictures of Volkswagen’s extremely pretty “Glass Factory,” which contains the production line for the Phaeton. It has wooden floors. (Or at least it looks like it; actual wood doesn’t seem much out of place, though.)

(Largely silent) documentary about a (largely silent) order of monks is popular in Germany.

This is No Game: “You will never know what it’s like to work on a farm until your hands are raw, just so people can have fresh marijuana. Or what it’s like to go to a factory and put in eight long hours and then go home and realize that you went to the wrong factory.”

The inexplicable popularity of Chuck Norris. (CHUCK NORRIS!)

“Plan To Straighten Out Entire Life During Weeklong Vacation Yields Mixed Results.” Letter to the editor: I sympathise…,1518,392850,00.html

The restaurants in Ikea’s German stores are apparently very popular: there’s only 37 stores, but they have the 11th highest revenue.

“Flocks of people wait outside early every morning in order to storm the buffet at 9 a.m., when the store opens its doors. Long-distance drivers like to use IKEAs as rest stops since most of the stores are easy to see from the highway and are located close to an exit.”

Somewhat interesting report on the reliability of Apple laptops, a subject somewhat close to my heart. I suspect the absolute numbers aren’t reliable—people would have been more likely to actually complete the survey if their machine had required a repair—but the differences in failure rates between machines, and components of machines, is interesting. The hard drive on my model of 12" PowerBook, for example, is about twice a likely to have been replaced as the average. (I had to get mine replaced.)

(Someone should also use this data to figure out if the (extremely expensive) extended warranty is in fact worthwhile.)

Lone Star Statements: One star Amazon reviews of notable books.

The traditional year-on-year German NYE TV show is a 1963 B&W recording of an obscure British skit involving a nonagenarian birthday celebrant, her Butler, and four invisible guests.

Major manufacturer of foam blanks for surfboards suddenly closes, leading to a whole lotta surfboard theft, reflection on whether the (apparently very toxic) process can be improved.

Alternately grumpy/informative piece on the development and role of professional sports in the US. (References both Teddy Roosevelt and Chomsky!)

“I opened a charming neighborhood coffee shop. Then it destroyed my life.”

A French far right charity (maybe just a far right group trying to be provocative) is feeding only non-Muslim and non-Jewish homeless people by serving pig-only meals.

Mil Millington’s Christmas Card: “Every single thing we’d hope to have ourselves in 2006, we hope that you may have also, after we’re bored with each one of them.” (Includes picture!)

“In-Progress Ideas for New Yorker Cartoons.”

El Kabong: “A maneuver used by Jeff Jarrett and The Honky Tonk Man in particular, it simply involves breaking a guitar over somebody’s head.” [sic]

Brazilian city contemplates requiring businesses to provide a third transvestites-only bathroom.

Piece on Oscar-winning actresses who subsequently go on to make dreck.

(1) The US apparently has a long-standing policy that any food aid must be purchased in, and shipped from, the US. (And is alone among large donors in requiring this.) (2) US nongovernmental aid organisations actually like this arrangement, because they make money by selling a whole lot of donated food that isn’t needed for emergencies. (3) Bush tried to change these rules earlier this year, but Congress voted against it.

(Hrm, I’m a bit sceptical of this, particularly (2). Are all the aid organisations really against it? Why are they been given food that is profitable to sell anyway? (Who are they selling it to?) And how can there be a surplus of food aid?)

Just discovered this. Are there any other groups aside from 43* and now 23* [update: oh, and 37*, whoops] that are using a number as a domain prefix? It seems unwise—you can’t copyright or otherwise protect a number, right? (One of my favourite naming fuckups is the motorway situation in the UK. At one point they decided give the motorway-class roads the M prefix; roads not quite up to that standard were given the A prefix. All of which meant that when they upgraded parts of the A1 to M-class standard, they had to call those parts the A1(M)…)

“Everything I have ever”: poster containing “over 400 highly detailed silhouettes [um],” printed in bright orange, then overprinted in silver paint that you can scratch off to reveal the objects you own.

Nature encourages its readers to “to push forward the grand experiment that is Wikipedia, and to see how much it can improve.”

Typography humour. I would laugh at anyone who actually wore this, but it is cute.

Surreal ad for German hardware store. More: 1, 2, 3.

Adam L. Penenberg proposes that Apple run iTunes like a stock market, with price determined by demand. “The more people who download the latest Eminem single, the higher the price will go. … Music prices would oscillate like stocks on Nasdaq, with the current cost pegged to up-to-the-second changes in the number of downloads. In essence, this is a pure free-market solution—the market alone would determine price.” One issue relating to this sort of idea is that the tracks aren’t transferrable, and this, combined with the fact that Apple know which tracks you bought, means that they could in theory apply per-customer pricing. (Own Kate Bush’s entire back catalogue? Well then you’ll likely to be willing to pay a premium for her latest album.)

Captivating “interactive essay” (photos plus commentary from the photographer) on London’s inner-city housing estates. Towards the end there are some pictures of some of the grime artists mentioned in Sasha Frere-Jones’s New Yorker grime profile.

“c-jump,” the computer programming board game. (Linking here instead of the game itself because of the comments.)

Fascinating: the Red Cross is trying to negotiate a third, “neutral” emblem. This calls for diplomats! Lots of them!

“Muahmmad (sic) Ali - How to be a Man 101.”

“Are we done with the fucking pennies yet?”

The World Health Organisation is to stop hiring people who smoke. How is this legal? If this is legal, then it should be legal to hire only smokers, which would solve the most troublesome aspect of my argument for smoking in (some) pubs…

John Seigenthaler’s Wikipedia entry was wrong for 132 days, which makes him unhappy.

Business-related stock images. (e.g. equal opportunities.)

Astronaut Dale A. Gardner—in space at great expense—seems to have spent quite some time putting handsome letters on his sign.

Curious: you have to read this through a Wikipedia filter (i.e. take best guess when hit with inconsistent information), but as it turns out, it’s actually illegal to sell or grow marijuana in the Netherlands … it’s just more-or-less officially—and consistenly—unenforced. (Mostly because of various international treaties to which the Netherlands is a signatory, it seems.)

Difficult-to-descibe art: a large wooden box (filled with people) functions as a replicator—put something in a slot in the side, get a copy back.

I don’t know—I love this cartoon.,,1605007,00.html

Architect Shigeru Ban—who’s currently working on a Pompidou outpost—has several unconventional ideas, including a love for building with paper, and of working for charity.

A willingness to overturn precendent (Roe, maybe?) is not necessarily a bad thing: Bowers v. Hardwick needed to be overturned to get Lawrence v. Texas.

One hell of a kill switch: to discourage a secondary “grey market” for that (much-hyped) $100 laptop, “the machine is disabled if not connected to the network after a few days.”

Anne Applebaum has a nice Le Monde catch: “Katrina’s devastation points the finger at Bush’s system … Issues forgotten for years are back to the fore: poverty, the state’s absence, latent racism.” Oops! (Le Monde, September 5th.)

The different levels of diplomat, and their respective levels of privilege/immunity. (They can always be issued with traffic citations.)

Thrilling Pikes Peak run. (Another car movie, this time through Paris.)

“I would like to create a playground for children … a normal playground is flat but I want an undulating one, with bumps.” The ambitions of the creator of Katamari Damacy, an apparently successful video game in which the player rolls around a sticky ball, which picks up all sorts of random bits and pieces, making a bigger and bigger ball. (?)

Cory Doctorow ranting again, this time about Google Print. I do find it odd that the people who are all for Google Print appear to have no problem with the DRM that locks you out of the full-text. If it can be copied, it should be copied, right? Isn’t that the principle?

Alternative town planning: Curitiba, a midsize Brazilian city, is a surprisingly nice place to live. (Sounds suspiciously idyllic to me, though it’s probably nice in the scheme of things, and I’m interested in town planning in general.) racaille

Is racaille, as used by Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy to describe the rioters in Paris, better translated as rabble or scum? Sarkozy’s racaille is widely considered to have been unnecessarily provocative, but to me rabble (which the BBC is using) isn’t an especially strong or offensive word. Given the reaction, scum (which the NY Times is using) seems a much better fit..

Stupidly expensive “audiophile” products … like the $485 volume knob and the $1500 power cord (“apparently the miles of lowly aluminium high voltage lines that brought your power to your house are of no consequence”). (Does anyone take these seriously? Or is it a “legal” penis-enlargement scam?)

Chuck Shepard’s News of the Weird column.

Apparently, “literally” has been used for emphasis for ages.

Map of Golden Gate suicides. (“… several people have crossed the Bay Bridge to jump from the Golden Gate; there is no record of anyone traversing the Golden Gate to leap from its unlovely sister bridge.”)

Sign mischief via iiiii. Where I went to university the signs on the study carrels could be turned from “Please return books to sorting shelves” to “Please turn books into snorting elves.”

Old school newsgroup reminiscence! This thread is somewhat representative.

Henry Blodget’s psychological profiles of Bush appointees (via their financial disclosure forms) have been rather good; this one is of Ben Bernanke. (Another, of Harriet Miers, reveals that at 60, she has a net worth of only $675,000 despite earning $624,000 a year in her last private-sector job; Blodget speculates that this may be because she’s had to spend a lot on medical care for her mother.)

Justgiving collects money for charity, but their fees (5% of donation) are more than PayPal’s

Surreal story about conjoined twins Reba and Lori Schappell. Says Lori, of attending her sister’s country music concerts: “I have to pay, just like every other fan that comes …”

A study of that thank-you note business, via Miers.

”Why South Korea leads the world in stem-cell research.”

“The truth is that individuals and institutions usually turn to architecture at moments of decline. … ‘During a period of exciting discovery or progress there is no time to plan the perfect headquarters … The time for that comes later, when all the important work has been done.’”

Geologists puzzled after hot ground starts fire.

Google mail removing instances of “gmail” from site for UK users; from October 19th, all new accounts will be And: “What if I’m a UK user who already has a Gmail address? Will that address ever change? / Unfortunately, we don’t know…” Ouch.

“Why is Africa Still Poor?” (Book reviews.)

Fun little one-button Flash game.

Wow, there sure are a lot of products called P990.

Book review: how to be successful the hip-hop way. The author apparently gets new trainers every second day—if you’re going to go that far, why not get a fresh pair every day? It would be a waste?

Total asshole awards. (Gold is the money.)

On the greatness of Bill Simmons, ESPN’s Sports Guy. Simmons really is a helluva writer, and I wish I was able to appreciate more of what he writes. I love how his quotes archive is mostly sports quotes, but with some non-sports quotes mixed in, as if the sports/non-sports balance matched their real-world relative importance.

“Strategy for Reading the Best of CL page”

Personal filing system—involves no categorisation!

Malcolm Gladwell on the college admissions process.

The best places to live, according some calculation. (Only three countries in the top ten: Canada, Australia and Switzerland.) The problem with these lists is that they bear very little resemblance to where people say they would like to live.

Hurricane-starved bit bulls take on an actual bull.

Dahlia Lithwick is impressed with Roberts’s first day in court. (She’s not so happy with Miers’s, though it seems a little unfair for her to be personally criticised for only being in the, oh, let’s say, top 0.1% of legal professionals rather than the top 0.001%.)

How the NBA is marketing itself to China via Yao Ming. (Apparently, a few years before David Stern took over the NBA in 1984, the final was shown on tape delay.)

Planned Parenthood Southeast Pennsylvania is asking people to pledge them some amount of money for each protestor that turns up outside their clinic during Setember and October; a billboard will display a running total of the amount raised. This is kinda neat: essentially they’ve arranged things so that the greater the effort their antagonists put in, the more money they raise. The runing total is a work of genius too: without it there wouldn’t be much point doing this. (Though I can’t quite figure out why this part is so important.) It also raises the intriguing possibility that the pro-lifers would start up a pledge-a-picket scheme of their own. They could even make one up: psychologically, it would have the greatest effect if its total fluctuated randomly, but was always slightly more than Planned Parenthood’s.

Story difficult to summarise, but basically someone ran into the back of someone else’s Saab, causing some minor cosmetic damage; in lieu of damages, the perpetrator tries to get the Saab owner to accept a donation to Katrina victims.

What the “@” sign is called in different countries.

Physically possible (i.e. gravitationally possible) arrangements of planets.

Pretty reference maps. (Printable versions too.)

“How did rocks from Mars end up here on Earth?”

Man and his synthetic clothes builds up thousands of volts of static electricity, starts scorching things.,12980,1564369,00.html

“Nobody dumbs down the finance pages. Imagine the fuss if I tried to stick the word ‘biophoton’ on a science page without explaining what it meant. I can tell you, it would never get past the subs or the section editor. But use it on a complementary medicine page, incorrectly, and it sails through.”

(In an introductions to one of the essays in Mark Bowden’s Road Work, he writes that it won an award for science writing, which was “proof positive that you didn’t need to know a lick about science to conquer science writing.” The essay itself isn’t bad, but this is a dangerous attitude—particularly when so cavalierly expressed!)

Leonard Cohen possibly broke.

Make camera-phone ready “barcodes” for URLs. Intended for pasting Wikipedia URLs on monuments, but it works with any URL. (And arbitrarily long ones, too—it seems to deal with these by making the “barcode” finer and finer. (I guess this is all somewhat similar to the CueCat.)

On black people “looting” and white people “finding.”

Dahlia Lithwick on Rehnquist.

Alice-in-Wonderland-inspired Leibovitz/Vogue picks.

List of current international border disputes—given that just about every country has one or more, it’s a puzzle that anything gets done.

Spotting the fake: the (new) New Oxford American Dictionary contains a copycat-busting fake word starting with E.

Curious: Cory Doctorow endorses ISP’s plan to monitor network traffic, report what songs are being traded (via audio-analysis software) back to record companies.

“A Collection of Word Oddities and Trivia.”

Octopus takes a shark!

Overheard in New York best of, more or less.

Good summary of a Scientific American piece on how small children think.

Profile of Hermann Chinery-Hesse, who runs a software business in Ghana. There’s an interesting section on “Africanized Code.”

Besides being compact, his programs also write frequently to disk, reducing the chances of losing data if power is lost, as it often is. Because Internet connectivity remains relatively expensive, his programs also work offline as much as possible. And to combat the rampant piracy, beta versions of software rarely leave Soft’s premises, finished products don’t have an autoinstall function (you need a Soft technician to launch them), and batches of bug fixes are often delivered individually to customers rather than generally released.

Why doesn’t Soft write everything in Linux, the open-source language available for little or no cost? It would seem a no-brainer for a software entrepreneur in a desperately poor region of the world. Not so, and the reasons show why Chinery-Hesse is no ordinary third-world software tycoon. Linux is simply impractical for his purposes. "It can’t be used for serious business," he says, because it would be too easy for employees of a business to learn to use—and abuse—the source code of essential programs.

"In Accra, an IT manager earns $100 a month," Chinery-Hesse explains. "He has access to all of a company’s data, including backups. With open-source, he can learn to generate bogus reports. He’ll delete charges and pay himself or others money." Besides, "if we went for open-source, we would be relegated to basically doing installation and training," he adds. "Do I want a country of software developers or a country of installers?"

A model complaint letter, I think. (On EasyJet.)

Excellent! More progress on lab-grown meat. I don’t understand why (some) vegetarians are objecting though. Maybe if they’re also hard-core anti-abortionists, but this can’t be many—? "saul bass"

Wow, Google really messes up this search—Saul Bass (in English) isn’t even on the first page. (Both Yahoo and MSN get it right.)

The awesomeness of ‘super daters’: “He found that ‘super daters’, people who have many short relationships, have a good effect on others’ lives. This is because they break up weak couples, forcing their victims to find better relationships.”

Star Wars business cards.

Wow, Nokia have gone for a splash page, with sound! How 90s!

“How vanilla became shorthand for bland.” I hate hate hate it when I get a milkshake with no flavour when I ask for a vanilla milkshake. (I also hate the fact that you can’t really buy a proper milkshake in the UK, but this is an outburst better suited to another time.)

MSN 5.0 (for Mac) looks rather nice. The features page says it can be used across different networks (!)—anyone got this to work/know what it’s about? Update: you need Live Communications Server, so basically corporates only. I didn’t realise Microsoft was officially supporting other IM networks. (Or that other networks would let them.) Curious.,,18030-1695558,00.html

Article on the rise (apparently) of supper clubs. “A good supper-club host will seat you between a person you want to work with and one you want to sleep with.”

“I judge this book by its cover, and my judgement is -- AWESOME.”

Count the film references in these Stella Artois ads!

Unusual off-field injuries to sportsmen. (David James put his back out reaching for the remote control of his TV.)

A “psycho-financial analysis of Roberts”: “Bottom line? Roberts the investor is smart and conservative but, like most of us, prone to following the herd.”

Woman falls on hot manhole cover, gets branded by Con Ed logo: “Elizabeth C. Wallenberg, 27, was burned just above her buttocks and on her left arm when she fell off her skateboard onto a cover over a steam pipe at Second Avenue and 13th Street in the East Village shortly after midnight on Aug. 11, 2004, said her lawyer Ronald Berman.”

60 Minutes hire freelance camera crews to film the exact train their profiled subject is travelling in as it speeds past.,,20709-1695834,00.html

The Pope has expensives tastes?

Really weak, meandering justification for why the BBC initialy used the word “terrorist” in 7/7 reports but now don’t.

Withering review of The Fat Duck, alleged by the Guardian to be the world’s best restaurant.

Contemporary movies that might endure for 50 years.

Thoughtful piece on what the deal is with top-selling artists who are proud to note that they have had “classical training.”

Amazon’s best-selling artists. This doesn’t match up terribly well with the RIAA’s list of top-selling artists (not the same time period, etc., but whatever): it’s not just the long tail, it’s different purchase patterns all round.

“Video Games Live”: orchestra plays video game music live. There’s some audio samples on the right-hand side.

“… it might seem galling that a group of such young people have the temerity to proposition you on handling your IT needs.” Ah, Indian outsourcing. (This company does, in fact, truly exist.)

London hospitals apparently have parachute-ready staff; just one has 31 trained doctors and paramedics. I hesitate to think what sort of disaster would require medical staff to arrive by parachute in a metropolitan area though, let alone hundreds of them.

Ah, excellent: people are seriously researching vat-grown meat. Producing meat by running sunlight, carbon dioxide, water, etc. through a cow is so not efficient! (Also, it kills the cow.),3605,1523143,00.html

“Given that the justice department has announced that the information Gary downloaded was not ‘classified’, and he was stoned much of the time, perhaps we can assume that Nasa is not too worried about his ‘discoveries’.”

One for snopes? 1500 Turkish sheep follow each other off a cliff; 450 die.

Jorn Barger of now semi-homeless in SF?

Lee Friedlander, and street photography in general.

What living in New York must be like, according to NY best of craigslist postings.

The All-New Sesame Street.,3604,1521345,00.html

Trouble for Swiss Army knives.

McDonald’s is wondering whether redesigning their uniforms will encourage employees to wear their uniformes outside work.

Scrollbar art installation.

Choosing O’Connor’s successor. I quite like Grover Norquist in the NYT: “They don’t need me lobbying on this stuff—they know what to do … My only recommendation is that they nominate someone who is 12 or 13 years old.”

“Supposing you were a supervillain, would you prefer to have minions, or henchmen?”

Bikini-clad doll falls into spheres … mesmerising.

David Remnick’s elegant Tyson encomium.

“Political insiders”—Democrats and Republicans—on whether Hillary Clinton can win the nomination/Presidency in 2008. 1. “One question: do people trust her? If George Bush can play a shell game with WMDs, rely on faulty intelligence, … [etc.], then it is fair to say that the trust issue is up for grabs and certainly Hillary has a shot.” 2. “Although she is bright, talented and extremely capable of handling the job, Senator Clinton has the burden of being poised to run after John Kerry. Kerry has probably soured many Democrats on Northeastern, elite intellectuals leading our party.”

Bastard tetris: next brick is the worst brick possible, as computed by a “special algorithm.”

Why there are “American” universities everywhere.

First-hand account of the Yalta conference. Stalin apparently had a lemon tree flown in so that Roosevelt could serve his martinis with a twist.

OMG there was a “Cardinal Sin.”

Sweet drifting from the Dukes of Hazzard.

Editing “journalism’s greatest prankster,” Hunter S. Thompson.

About Grant Wood’s American Gothic: the judges weren’t impressed, but a “powerful” museum patron arranged to have the painting awarded third prize in a competition run by the Art Institute of Chicago, and then persuaded the institute to buy it.

“The 3rd Annual Nigerian EMail Conference.”

What happens when anti-smoking campaigns meet safer cigarettes?

Uber-hacker jwz finally … buys a Mac!

“To this end, Chen has taken steps to ensure that future monkey sex at Yale occurs as nature intended it.”—do monkeys understand money?

French stereotype reinforced: lazy French lexicographers working on the ninth edition of the standard French dictionary meet for three hours every Thursday. It’s been 70 years since the last edition, and, according to this piece, they once spent a year considering a single verb—faire.

Every page of the New Yorker on 8 (!) DVDs. If the search function is good, this might be worth getting. (Seems like the search is not full-text.) There’s at least three Talk of the Town pieces I’ve been trying to track down for years: (1) account of a class of kids who were each given an egg to look after for a week; (2) something on the wild number of area-code changes London has had over recent decades; (3) something about a (Jewish) plan to run wires over and around some big city (London again?) to increase the area of their “homes” so that they can go more places on the Sabbath. (Probably horribly mis-remembered; I think I read all of these 10 or more years ago.)

Timothy Noah’s account of his 1999 conversation with Mark Felt. In answer to Noah’s question about whether being Deep Throat would really be so terrible, Felt said: “It would be terrible. This would completely undermine the reputation that you might have as a loyal, logical employee of the FBI. It just wouldn’t fit at all.”

There’s a spot of disagreement over who owns the rights to the Guerrilla Girls name.

The business of insuring movies: the insurer of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider—The Cradle of Life “was so strict that it did not even allow director Jan de Bont to be at the Luna Temple set during shooting because he had a prior leg injury. To avoid the possibility that he might slip on the set’s wet floors, the loss-control rep had him direct the entire seven-day sequence via closed circuit TV from a remote location.” Also: Nicole Kidman is getting expensive to insure after her knee caused delays to Moulin Rouge and Panic Room; in order to secure insurance for Cold Mountain she had to put some of her salary aside in an escrow account and body doubles had to be substituted for any activity that might damage her knee, including bending down.

Not a situation puzzle: mystery man (found a month ago clad in a soaking wet suit and tie) can’t/won’t speak, but plays the piano wonderfully well. (Also noteworthy: his social worker has neither attempted to figure out what the music is that he plays, nor found the time to follow up his one “definite lead”…)

“In the early years of the Soviet Union, many believed that architecture could function as a tool of social transformation. It was a time when architecture—and the ideas it expressed—still felt dangerous.” (Audio slideshow associated with Russian Icons.),9950,1481375,00.html

“She finds no ‘implied’ biting in the text, and calls mere dunking ‘out of the question.’ She concurs that the crumby madeleine material is already in the spoon as it approaches Marcel’s mouth.” (Reconstructing Proust’s madeleine.)

“Unless the Vatican reconnects with ordinary people here in the Catholic heartland … the Vatican’s obstinacy may yet kindle a Re-Reformation.” Huh? So, to keep up numbers, Catholic bigwigs should promulgate ideas popular with the populace rather than those that are (so they believe) right or the truth? Isn’t this like saying that accepting Jesus as the Messiah would be a good move for Jews? I suspect that whether the Catholic church endures as a viable institution is much less of a concern to the Pope than (and here’s my caveat again: what he sees as) doing God’s will.

The number one argument against national ID cards is that it will lead to more cops and judges being killed, and the number five is that it will lead to more dirty illegal immigrants driving unsafely on the roads? Gee, I don’t want to minimise the deaths of police officers and all but—is that the best you can do? Forgive me for thinking that there might be far-reaching (and specific) civil liberties implications of a national ID card.

“So next time you decide to get a case of road rage, think twice about who you might be screaming and swearing at through the window.”

Does fungus-derived meat-substitute Quorn need a warning saying that it may provoke a severe allergic reaction?

Can the police commandeer your car? (In a lot of places yes, though if you refuse you only have to pay a fine.)

Stories of guitar greats who learn, after mastering a difficult riff, that it has actually been recorded on two guitars.

“I don’t know how it’s gross negligence really. I mean, it’s gross and sure, finding a finger in your food is traumatic, but you’ll get over it. You get over most things. Nobody intentionally chopped their finger off and put it in your food. The real person that needs to be hiring an attorney is the person who LOST THE FUCKING FINGER, you litigious motherfucker.”

I thought these were already available commerciall but whatever: HooAH! bars will soon be available to the public. “The military operational requirement for ration storage is a minimum of three years at 80 degrees F or six months at 100 degrees F, which presents a challenge not faced by other nutrition bars.”

Paul Boutin on Wikipedia. I think this article is pretty much right-on: Wikipedia is wonderful, but it’s not perfect, and it should be cited with caution (if at all). Perhaps a variation of Groucho Marx’s “I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member” applies: when it turns out that I can make some sort of improvement to practically every article I read (and 90% of my edits do in fact correct mistakes of some kind that I would be horrified to find in a paid-for reference), I’m not inclined to think too highly of the source in question. Also, even if the Wikipedia ends up killing the Britannica (and it + Google probably will), this doesn’t make it better than the Britannica: it merely makes it more evolutionarily successful than the Britannica, which is quite another thing.

Doing more with less: toilet flush research.

Japanese company decides whether Christie’s or Sotheby’s should auction its artwork via Rock, Scissors, Paper.

What might happen in M. Night Shyamalan’s new film. “The sea nymph is a sexually insatiable fish but is vulnerable to water: 10 to 1.”

Antony and the Johnsons: Hope there’s someone. There’s quite a few good free MP3s on Secretly Canadian’s website: Scout Niblet’s Uptown Top Ranking and Songs: Ohia’s Farewell Transmission being but two.

“Would it be disrespectful to call an Orthodox Jew on the telephone at at time when it is not Shabbat for the Jew, but was still Shabbat for me?” (Yes.) Reading this reminded me of another religious-observance question I’ve been wondering about: what do you do if you’re a Muslim who happens to be in Antarctica during Ramadan? Apparently, what you do is fast between the hours of sunrise and sunset in a neighbouring country.,1564,1560921,00.html

Armin Meiwes to be tried again? Huh? How is this not double jeopardy?,3604,1462820,00.html

The best restaurants in the world.

Target’s beautifully designed new pill bottle. (Flaws of existing designs on the previous page.)

Estimation quiz. The instructions don’t really explain it properly, but the “error” you specify works a little bit like a standard deviation—it’s better if the correct answer is within the limits you specify, but you can still get some points if it’s not. (Analysis of the results (read afterwards!): 1, 2; from the second you can work out your overall rank.)

When do we get another Einstein? Would Einstein even get published today?

On Dove’s “real beauty” campaign. I don’t particularly mind these sorts of campaigns, as long as they don’t attempt to deny the existence of (or function of) ugly. We’re not all equally beautiful, and nor should we be.

The 11 white males who did OS X 10.4. (Or as trading cards.)

Conference accepts computer-generated computer science paper. (Looks like Alan Sokol, at least, was suitably cautious in not attempting to draw any strong conclusions from the fact that Social Text accepted his nonsense paper “Transgressing the Boundaries”: “From the mere fact of publication of my parody I think that not much can be deduced.”)

(I’m giving Sokol the benefit of doubt here; in an earlier piece he seemed much more gleeful: “… to test the prevailing intellectual standards, I decided to try a modest (though admittedly uncontrolled) experiment: Would a leading North American journal of cultural studies -- whose editorial collective includes such luminaries as Fredric Jameson and Andrew Ross -- publish an article liberally salted with nonsense if (a) it sounded good and (b) it flattered the editors' ideological preconceptions? The answer, unfortunately, is yes.”),5744,12844414^7582,00.html

Rupert Murdoch: “The challenges of the online world.” “[Young people] want their news on demand, when it works for them. They want control over their media, instead of being controlled by it. They want to question, to probe, to offer a different angle. Think about how blogs and message boards revealed that Kryptonite bicycle locks were vulnerable to a Bic pen. Or the Swiftboat incident. Or the swift departure of Dan Rather from CBS.”

How to cut different things.,,3-1559107,00.html

Some guy found the (integer) 13th root of a 200 digit number in just under 10 minutes!

Freshjive parodies Stussy logo; Stussy sues. (Wonder if Carrie McLaren et al. get animated about this?)

On Tony Wheeler, the founder of Lonely Planet.

“Today, more than 40 percent of the black girls born in California in a given year receive a name that not one of the roughly 100,000 baby white girls received that year.” (Piece concludes that “black names” are correlated with poorer outcomes, but not the cause.)

I don’t have any particularly strong feelings for or against Susan Sontag, but this strikes me as a particularly vulgar reminiscence. (Especially the way in which Sontag is diminished through selective quoting.)

“Almost all men agree that beer and hard alcohol are acceptable man date beverages, but wine is risky. And sharing a bottle is out of the question.”

Guess who? “What strikes one now is the similarity between the predicament of the Vatican and the predicament of the Kremlin about 45 years ago. Between the death of Stalin and the end of Khrushchev, the crucial question was: How much heresy and revisionism and autonomy can be permitted, without endangering the entire ideology of the regime?” Christopher Hitchens, natch.

Photographing medieval tapestries.

Ikea bends (but only a little!) to sell to foreign markets.

Fred Kaplan: Paul Wolfowitz might be a good choice to lead the world bank. I think he may well be a good choice too—I agree that Wolfowitz is deeply idealistic, and to the extent that he’s a hawk, he’s a hawk not because he believes has a high regard for the use of force. His interview with Sam Tannenhaus of Vanity Fair is worth reading. (One thing that Wolfowitz may have trouble with is the requirement that aid be provided “without regard to political or other non-economic influences or considerations”—democracies can’t be favoured.)

Very impressive Dahlia Lithwick piece on the debate over female opinion writers.

Headline slightly better than the reality, but: “Lab fireball ‘may be black hole’.”

Angry bed positions.

He has a point: “Before the war: bad that no countries supported the US. After: bad that all the countries that supported the US no longer support the US.” bar

Oh crap, Google searches now take the order or search terms into account? (bar foo) This is new, right? Now I have to figure out which of my search terms is the most important and/or try different permutations?? (Yahoo and MSN do the same thing.)

Branding America: “… in the Soviet Union of the 1950s and ’60s, there was Pravda on the one hand, Voice of America on the other. The former dished out the dreary boilerplate of the ruling Communist Party. The latter offered exciting rhythms from the forbidden outside world. … Today, an official American image, even a well-crafted one, would have to compete with a vast array of newspapers, magazines, radio broadcasts and, most crucially, satellite TV networks.”

David Greenberg’s review of a seemingly flawed right-wing history of the US is somewhat notable for its explicit division of conservatives into the “conservative elite”—neoconservatives and libertarians who respect “the values of higher education, science, reason, and expertise”—and the “populist” conservatives of talk-show radio.

Are bloggers journalists? “… bloggers play games with definitions as well, choosing whatever identity suits them at the moment. In a case pending in California, Apple Computer has subpoenaed three bloggers who reported what the company believes are trade secrets about its future products. The bloggers want to be admitted as part of the journalist class protected under California law. But in an altogether different set of circumstances, bloggers and Web sites facing the prospect of being regulated by the Federal Election Commission take the position that they are neither independent media (which faces one set of restrictions) nor partisan advocates (who face another), but rather belong to a privileged category called ‘the Internet,’ which government mustn’t tax or touch in any way.”

Watch to the end!,9865,1432991,00.html

“Rather startled, I watched this scene from close quarters behind the window until 19.10 hours during which time (75 minutes) I made some photographs and the mallard almost continuously copulated his dead congener.”

“When’s it due back?” “The day after tomorrow.”

What chefs eat when they travel.

And this will work better than <META name="keywords" ...> because … ?

“Spy’s guide to surviving London life.”

“So you don’t care if the recording industry tanks?” “No, we need a new model … A post-pop star model, where music is free, and performers make a modest living through touring!” (See following strips.)

Renting a house in Baghdad.

”Do intravenous sedatives act instantly?” (re: Vinvent Vega stabbing Mia Wallace in Pulp Fiction.)

Obituary for The New Yorker’s one-time Grammarian, Eleanor Gould. “Miss Gould once found what she believed were four grammatical errors in a three-word sentence.”

Meghan O’Rourke’s take on the Larry Summers girls-vs.-boys episode. It’s better than William Saletan’s, which suffers from an excess in confidence.

Wow, it’s amazingly difficult to report your identity stolen.

An unauthorised bathroom attendant visits the Times Square McDonald’s…

The Vice Guide to Picking Up Chicks. (The US version has a link to a pretty PDF version.) Personally, I wouldn’t say that black people “fuck up” biggish words, but I guess Vice know what they’re doing…

The Vatican is offering exorcism lessons.

Pictures of a lass dressed up as Ronald McDonald. Unsettling! Also, she’s in the Philippines—does this make it better or worse??

On the trend towards more and more product placement in TV. “ That means we’d end up with two tiers of television—pay TV and free TV—with the free stuff functioning as a kind of Muzak, an inoffensive backdrop for commercial messages.” (This piece also claims that Seinfeld’s Pez, Snapple, Snickers and Junior Mints episodes weren’t the result of product placement deals.)

“Gay rights activists have protested at a north German zoo’s plans to test the sexual orientation of six male penguins which have displayed homosexual traits.” (Seems like one of the more benign forms of animals testing, really.)

“Stupidity as a Firing Offense,” in which Dahlia Lithwick argues that you can’t retract tenure, even to idiots like Ward Churchill, ends with the correction that he attended Sangamon State University, not Sangaman State University—even though Sangaman is what his official bio says… (Also, does the first sentence of that J.S. Mill quote actually make sense to anyone?)

Great headline: “Gangland trial witness admits no hitman experience.”

On the decline of secularism in France. A French politician suggests the state fund mosques; a 1905 law stopped the state giving money to churches, but since it had been doing exactly that for hundreds of years, Christians already had nice plots of land for their churches and plenty of money—neither of which Muslims have. (Although in some cases, the sheer number of churches probably amount to a burden on the church. Last year, in Dijon, I wanted to see how many churches I could run to in five minutes, and film this with my camera. But I left the battery in London, sadly…)

Scalia might not be too bad as Chief Justice … if liberals can get a moderate in his place. (Well, der.)

NY Times has a new, busier, most-emailed page. (And, damn, the “email this article” link doesn’t email the full text no more either … though the old email this article link works with new pages.)

“Thanks a lot, hot guy.”

Peculiar place for a thoughtful post about what it’s like to be a homicide detective.

Commercially unsuccessful user-pays chair re-released as performance art piece to demonstrate that … this is what life will be like in the future? … even though no-one would buy it? Huh? What?

William Saletan on the Larry Summers women-in-science flap.

Malcolm Gladwell reviews Jared Diamond’s “Collapse.” Apparently, the Norse colonies in Greenland died out because they’d chopped down all the trees, over-farmed the land—and wouldn’t eat fish. (I’ve heard that well-intentioned aid agencies in South-East Asia have had a similar problem: they’ve tried to feed people “broken rice” but even starving people won’t eat it because broken rice is what animals are fed.)

Is there any good reason for Google to have an outpost in, uh, the Cook Islands? (Doesn’t seem to be any “big,” “enormous,” or “,” entity doing business in the Cook Islands either.)

On inaugural addresses.

Graph shows that some American brands are perceived as more “American” than others; only slight correlation between Americanness intention to avoid the brand (discussion).

Anti-seat-belt-law campaigner involved in car accident; is “ejected from car” and dies…

“… today we stand at the forefront of popular culture: independent, talented and comfortable with the skin we’re in. We are really feeling ourselves. Perhaps that’s why we’re so alarmed at the imbalance in the depiction of our sexuality and character in music. In videos we are bikini-clad sisters gyrating around fully clothed grinning brothers like Vegas strippers on meth. When we search for ourselves in music lyrics, mixtapes and DVDs and on the pages of hip-hop magazines, we only seem to find our bare breasts and butts. And when we finally get our five minutes at the mic, too many of us waste it on hypersexual braggadocio and profane one-upmanship. … This cannot continue.”

Fab skating video!

“The international press comments as tsunami relief grows competitive.” (e.g. Australians have been hailed the most generous people on earth after pledging more than $15 million for victims of the Boxing Day tsunami during a star-studded fundraising concert tonight.) At least in the first few days, the media seemed to be taking a perverse delight in figuring out exactly how many people had died. I remember hearing a radio interview with an official from Indonesia who happened to have flown over parts of Aceh; all the reporter seemed to want to know was how many people were thought to have died.

”What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?” (Richard Dawkins—boy is that man predictable—says that he can’t prove that God doesn’t exist … well, the other way round.) Simon Baron-Cohen begins his answer by saying that he is “not interested in ideas that cannot in principle be proven or disproven,” which is what I might say too—what really matters is what people believe to be true, not what is true of false.

The Economist attempts to “elucidate” what it was that Einstein did.

Wow: man gets left alone in interrogation room, pulls out a gun from his pants and shoots himself in the head.

A radio without buttons! Rocked forward/backward is on/off; “scrolling” left/right changes the volume, up/down changes the frequency (pictures/text).

Nice Jerry Orbach encomium.

When adjusted for improvements in medical care, Iraq is about as dangerous as Vietnam.

Chinese property developer builds replica of 17th Century French chateau in suburban Beijing, names it after himself, and declares, “it cost me $50 million … but that’s because we made so many improvements compared with the original.”

Countries in which a small minority holds much of the wealth. (In Indonesia, the Chinese (3% of the population) hold 70% of the wealth—though the credibility of these figures is somewhat undermined by the peculiar claim that Bill Gates has 40% of America’s wealth…) The preceding Q&A with Amy Chua is worthwhile too.

Conservative group explains how to legally celebrate Christmas (in the USA). I don’t really understand the point of trying to avoid Christianity at Christmas when Christmas happens to be a national public holiday, and only Christian holy-days are so recognised. (That is, Christianity is clearly given special treatment.) Both Singapore and Malaysia, for example, have national public holidays that observe Christian, Hindu, and Muslim holy-days, as well as Chinese New Year.

Intriguing (if condescending) social engineering experiments in Bogotá: mimes mock jaywalkers; citizens respond to the behaviour of others by flashing “thumbs-up” and “thumbs-down” cards at them…

“But can a community govern itself by Jesus’s teaching of mercy alone? It is sinful for the Amish to withhold forgiveness—so sinful that anyone who refers to a past misdeed after the Amish penalty for it has ended can be punished in the same manner as the original sinner. ‘That’s a big thing in the Amish community,’ Mary said. ‘You have to forgive and forgive.’”

Backgrounder on the UN’s oil-for-food scandal.

BBC gets suckered by pranksters pretending to be Dow representatives who claim that Dow is offering $12 billion in compensation; this is Dow’s response. “Dow shareholders will see NO losses, because Dow’s policy towards Bhopal HAS NOT CHANGED. Much as we at Dow may care, as human beings, about the victims of the Bhopal catastrophe, we must reiterate that Dow’s sole and unique responsibility is to its shareholders, and Dow CANNOT do anything that goes against its bottom line unless forced to by law.” (No! No! No! Not sure where I got this, or why I believed it—in fact this response is another Yes Men prank.)

Michael Ignatieff: “the promotion of democracy by the United States has proved to be a dependably good idea.”

The first few (amazingly small) capitals of the United States.

Left-handers exist because they’re better at fighting?

“How To Govern From the Clink.” (Two Indian MPs are currently in jail.)

Wow! Radiohead mixed with the Beatles. (more)

“This is rock-and-roll.”

Dahlia Lithwick on the Supreme Court’s take on medical marijuana.

Yale get Harvard fans to hold up signs saying “WE SUCK”? But their “WE SUCK” photo looks way better than the one in the video. Photoshop?

“i’m turning into a dude.”

“Head of the state’s crime command Graham Morgan says computer problems have meant that in some cases the entire pornographic image was revealed when the email was opened.”

Breakdown of votes in the Ukrainian Presidential election. It would have been nice if the media had made it clear that there’s, uh, a PERFECT DOWN-THE-MIDDLE SPLIT.

“Just as him, ‘Which are you?’” (I like the piano!)

Review of The Pope in Winter. The Pope wears contacts! (Reviewer remarks that this “hints at personal vanity.”)

Why is all the media complaining about the NBA brawl? Fans loved it! “At this exact moment, millions of people were talking, probably for the first time in history, about a regular season NBA game.”

A 55 year sentence for selling pot? Even tough-on-crime judges think it’s too much.

On the digital art market.

“JFK Reloaded is just plain creepy.” (“thanks for doings this important research and sharing your controversial conclusions.)

The future of public transport? Looks like proprietary cars on a proprietary road. This company is trying to do the same thing.

Business people who box.

Nice meeting-Radiohead story.

Going home to fix our parents’ computers.

Interview with a cocky Shin Bet interrogator.

Seinfeld donates his puffy shirt to the Smithsonian.

Why European support for the US has waned (for some reason described in terms of “legitimacy”). “U.S. legitimacy among Europeans rested on three pillars, all based on the existence of the Soviet communist empire. The sturdiest pillar was Europe’s perception that the Soviet Union posed a strategic threat to the West—a reality made manifest by hundreds of thousands of Soviet troops parked in the center of Europe—and its understanding that only Washington possessed the power to deter Moscow. Europeans also perceived the Soviet Union as a common ideological threat. The United States prided itself on being the “leader of the free world,” and most Europeans agreed. Finally, Cold War bipolarity conferred what might be called ‘structural legitimacy’ on the United States. The two superpowers’ roughly equal strength meant that U.S. might, although vast, was kept in check.”

Er, maybe it’s not a good idea to get theater critics to write reviews of math books. “An accumulation of random data always generates this curve of probability, as if conjuring it out of the air.” No, it doesn’t. The means of sets of samples do, but the samples themselves don’t. (And what is a “curve of probability,” anyway?) He also seems to think that the results of flipping a coin are pre-determined: “And yet, as Aczel illustrates, after about the first 120 tosses, the results begin to come up 50-50 (though not all at once: for example, from roughly 250 to 550 tosses, the coins will mostly land heads-up, a lead that tails will catch up to later).”

Human being are built for running? “Our poor sprinting prowess has given rise to the idea that our bodies are adapted for walking, not running, says Lieberman. Even the fastest sprinters reach speeds of only about 10 metres per second, compared with the 30 metres per second of a cheetah. But over longer distances our performance is much more respectable: horses galloping long distances average about 6 metres per second, which is slower than a top-class human runner.”

Music video for “Encore,” from DJ Danger Mouse’s Grey Album.

Dahlia Lithwick: what the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court does.

A mostly sensible review of Wikipedia, from a former Editor in Chief of the Britannica.

How to figure out whether you have an HP iPod.,4120,1348748,00.html

Article about Pixar, including brief discussion of the “uncanny valley.” (The way in which near-photorealistic images are somehow more creepy than both real images, and less-realistic images.) A Pixar executive also wonders why people are so interested in how many days it takes to render their images: “Great ceiling [Michelangelo]—how many brushstrokes?”

Jonathan Franzen like Alice Munro a lot. (He uses also uses “I” a lot in the review, and tells a lot of jokes that are more about himself than the book, but whatever.)

A question to ask Alberto Gonzales at his confirmation hearing.

MP3s of the free-to-share, free-to-sample (for most purposes) CD that comes with the November Wired. If you have wget, you can download the MP3s with wget -r --span-hosts --level=1 -nd --accept mp3

Slate is running an amazingly supportive and amazingly uncritical piece on the Marines who pilot UAV’s in Fallujah, calling in air strikes. Still somewhat thrilling though.

“I’m interested to see what all of you crazy people look like. No lj-icons, please. This is not a fucking meme -- I’m genuinely interested.” Strangely captivating.

What 51% Bush/48% Kerry looks like.

“Straight male seeks Bush supporter for fair, physical fight - m4m.”

Why aren’t computer games funny? “One of the difficulties in trying to create funny moments is that gamers aren’t audience members so much as actors. It’s easy for a game designer to make someone feel like Bruce Willis or Sly Stallone by putting a virtual gun in their hand. But how do you go about making someone feel like Charlie Chaplin or Bernie Mac? Can you make a gamer actually commit comedy?”

British reactions to the US election. I want to write properly about this. Many of these reactions (particularly that of the Mirror) strike me as illegitimate. As a non-US person, it’s quite okay to be concerned about the US’s foreign policy (US foreign policy affects the rest of the world like no other country’s does), but there’s basically no legitimate claim on anything else: on gay marriage, capital punishment, the economy… You might not like it, you might think it indicates a moral failing, but it’s nothing to do with you. (Also—and I think this is important to remember—for every putative outrage perpetrated in the US, another country does it better: other countries execute more people, are more racist, have less democratic institutions, have more powerful corporations, and so on. So to improve the lot of humanity, you want to focus on countries other than the US.) A single mother living in rural Arkansas is not likely to be voting on the same set of issues as a Mirror reader—if she votes for Bush, why this this make her dumb?

So great Jonathan Franzen short story … which mostly survives not being a short story at all—it’s more a collection of short paragraphs. (Fortunately Franzen can pack a whole lot more into a paragraph than anyone else alive, but still…)

Reference sites suggested by the NY Times. (Wikipedia not included!)

Kim Jong Il wants to know: “Is your e-mail address still”

Louis Menand on JFK’s inaugural address.

Looks like Bush will win Clark County…

Making electronics kosher.,8816,1101041025-725113-1,00.html

How Nike made it in China. (After Liu Xiang won the 110m hurdles at the Olympics, Nike ran an ad: “Asians lack muscle? / Asians lack the will to win? / Stereotypes are made to be broken.”

Man, I would have got more excited if those damn journalists had made it clear that the human-like remains discovered on Flores were not Homo sapiens. Half the time they’re described as “hobbit-like humans” too, which is so not correct!

Weirdness: Slate asks its contributors who they intend to vote for; in reponse, Christopher Hitchens says many garbled things, including “I do think … that Kerry should get his worst private nightmare and have to report for duty.” Slate interprets this as a vote for Kerry, but when it turns out that Hitchens did not intend his message to be construed as support for Kerry or Bush, Slate apologises and blames an editing error!

(Also, Hitchens’s assumption that declaring his support for one or the other constitutes an “endorsement” demonstrates quite some hubris: as Jacob Weisberg explains, the purpose of the exercise was to: (a) replace an official endorsement by the magazine and (b) to “emphasize the distinction between opinion and bias.”);s=sullivan102604

Andrew Sullivan: Why I am supporting John Kerry.

“… most of us believe, mistakenly, that a poll is a simple tabulation of a random sample of voters. In reality, polls are full of additives and preservatives, subtractions and selective multiplications, none of which are generally published.”

(Note also the less condescending “most of us believe…” instead of “most people believe…” device.)

It’s not “The Ukraine,” it’s “Ukraine.”

(What else (apart from a name) can you change “by deed poll”??)

Apple uses Lucida Grande italic! (“Stream Music Wirelessly to Your Home Stereo”) Looks kinda crappy too. (Oh yeah, this is noteworthy because Apple doesn’t provide an italic version of Lucida Grande with OS X; the “italic” Lucida Grande here is probably Geneva or Verdana italic. As far as I can tell Apple doesn’t use Lucida Grande italic anywhere else on their site.)

Who Slate staffers are voting for. Interesting: Christopher Hitchens (what is he going on about?), Steven Landsburg (idiot—but thinks he’s a contrarian), Robert Neubecker. Dahlia Lithwick is Canadian?

Update: Hitchens went for Bush in The Nation—?

eBay advice (scams, tricks sellers get up to, etc.), from the Museum of HP Calculators, but fairly general.

On temporary, “pop-up,” stores that sell limited edition brand-name gear to generate buzz.

The Long Tail: in an Internet economy, you can make money by selling stuff most people don’t want (e.g. Bollywood films)—because you can find them, or they can find you. True, but is it really the case that “more than half of Amazon’s book sales come from outside its top 130,000 titles”? This didn’t sound right; I emailed the author who referred me to a paper which estimates that “47.9% of Amazon’s unit sales fall in titles with ranks above 40,000.” (Seems much more likely; am investigating further.)

(Whilst Amazon may have approximately 5% of total book sales, it almost certainly has a much greater percentage of rare book sales; the tail is likely to be “artificially” lengthened because consumers can’t (easily) buy rare books from physical shops.)

Update: Chris Anderson, the author, says that the Long Tail uses the same technique as the paper linked above, but with 2004 data. He’s also suspicious of the figure, though, and suspects that the actual 50% point falls lower in the rankings. If only Amazon would say!

Close & instructive analysis of two versions of a Raymond Carver short story.

The Superficial: “If you’ve ever wondered what a $10 million bra looks like, wonder no more. And if you’ve ever wondered what an armpit vagina looks like, wonder no more as well, because this is an armpit vagina…”

Whether Republicans or Democrats are more civil. The comments are worthwhile too: “Leftists, on the other hand, are raised on viewing any sort of restraint as tantamount to self-censorship, so we tend to speak our minds in public a lot more. I think that leftists are more aggressive and in-your-face in person.”

John McWhorter wonders (in RealAudio) why all the people in New Yorker cartoons are white (text).

Wow, there exists someone who doesn’t like The Catcher in the Rye! And (partly) because the writing is bad!? I admit the dialog sounds a little odd sometimes (I’d put this down to it being set in America, and in the 1950s), but I have no problem with the other components of his prose.

Richard Posner: Law Reviews suck, because they’re edited by students. For some reason, Posner makes it sound as if Law Reviews are edited with almost no faculty (or professional) oversight at all, which doesn’t sound right. Why is he trying so hard to avoid criticising faculty?

Newton the loser: “Newton never married, apparently never had a lover, and never even had a real friend, as we use the word in our sociable times. He never had a scientific collaborator; indeed, he fought bitterly and ruthlessly with other great philosophers. Having been a fellow and professor at Trinity College, Cambridge, for most of his adult life, he left behind not a single person who claimed to have been his student.”

On censoring textbooks: “Almost two dozen states have state-wide textbook adoption policies, and two of these states, Texas and California, are so large that they represent a substantial portion of the market. Textbook publishers are therefore in thrall to these states. California has strong liberal lobbies, devoted to the idea that no cultural group be discriminated against with regard to language and imagery. Texas is dominated by conservative lobbies that concentrate on moral content. The combination produces textbooks that are severely curtailed in both directions: at once attuned to political correctness and deferential to so-called family values.”,13918,1329858,00.html

Letters the Guardian received in response to their ill-conceived Clark County project. (… which has now been aborted.)

Nobel Prize for Literature committee is still fucking up citations. The subjugating power of cliches? What? (Compare them to the citations for physics, chemistry, economics…)

Malcolm Gladwell: the high price of drugs is not (just) the fault of drug companies.

Some (non-trivial) percentage of professional musicians on beta blockers?

Cute w4m ad let down by: (a) poor subject line; (b) poor last sentence.

Great headline: “What (Sex) Boys (Sex) Think (Sex) About.” The unusually titled Jennifer 8. Lee on the NY Times’s headline-writing process (first question).

The Poncho: not a good idea. I actually don’t have any great problem with the poncho, especially when worn with brio. (Wearing a poncho to avoid dressing up, on the other hand, is not such a good idea. This encounters a problem similar to that of wearing a No Fear t-shirt during non-hazardous activities, such as mowing the lawn, or shopping at the mall…)

Extracts from jwz’s diary leading up to the Netscape 0.9 release.

Kurt Andersen on why Netscape matters: “Paradox No. 2: Christopher Columbus Was a Failure. His business model did not pan out: no western route to Asia, hardly any gold, abandonment by his investors, not much of an enduring first-mover advantage for Spain ... but he fucking discovered America. Netscape is vestigial and may cease to exist before long, and may or may not be a Fortune 500 company a decade from now, but Jim Clark and Jeff Bezos will always be Columbuses.” (Inside Magazine, 2000-12-13)

ISPs don’t check the legitimacy of takedown notices.

Art in public spaces: Harmen de Koop’s “Sandbox.” (more)

“Dedicated to the misuse of Chinese characters in Western culture.”

Fold a t-shirt in about 3 seconds! This is awesome!

“If you are voting for a leader, why would you pick the LESSER evil? Wouldn’t you want a GREAT evil to lead you? Who wants to be led by a completely mediocre evil?”

A comparison of Bush and Kerry’s logos: “Loose letter spacing between the ‘K’ and ‘e’ communicates inexperience.”

CIA World Factbook entry for “World.” Includes a brief history of the 20th Century, many mentions of environmental/developmental problems, and an unusual map projection.

“The year ahead in the Supreme Court.”

Camper’s new restaurant: “Europe’s craziest company has just opened the world’s weirdest restaurant. … Not because it doesn’t have tables or chairs. It doesn’t. Not because you can bring your bicycle in. You can. And not because–while you eat stuffed rice-balls with your fingers–you’re offered big screen images of, say, sports events or pop concerts. You aren’t. Diners are treated to pictures of donkeys in Majorca. While listening to soothing sounds of the sea.” (Sounds like a McSweeney’s restaurant.)

“Australians hold anti-war rallies.” 1. However messy Iraq might be, the situation doesn’t seem to have reached the level of war. Were any of the protestors actually describing it is such, or is this just the BBC making things up? 2. How does bringing the troops back now help Iraq? Fine, you didn’t want to send troops in the first place. But to bring them back is petulance, not good judgement. (Arguing that it’s to make Australia safer is not only probably factually incorrect, but unbecoming and cowardly—sometimes the right thing to do help others, even if it puts you at risk.) I would still have voted Labor had I been able to, but with less pleasure…

Foreign Aid should preferentially be given to democracies; they’ll make better use of it. Also, according to this piece, the World Bank and the IMF are actually prohibited from “considering democratic legitimacy” in making aid decisions. (They were set up this way to encourage the Soviet Union to participate, and to “minimize the role of politics in macroeconomic policymaking.”)

True: Newspaper photograph shows a pregnant, cigarette-smoking woman worrying about the effect of construction noise on her unborn child.

“Researchers will also be looking for physiological markers that could be humor signatures.”

Why Word, uh, randomly changes text styles. (Still don’t know why it keeps moving my graphics around…)

Features of the new $50. “Your old money will always be good. Every U.S. currency note issued since 1861 is still redeemable today at full face value.” It’s rather brave to guarantee that all notes will be valid for all time, I think. Also odd that this—the official site of the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing—is a .com.

“Who Really Deserves a Silver Star? The military’s unfair awards system.”

What was great about 1984.

More plagiarism from Harvard profs…

Fair—and lightly disparaging—story on political bloggers.

Against McDonald’s or against McDonald’s customers?,11913,1306267,00.html

Exalting prostitution: “But one of the main reasons I enjoy prostitutes is because I enjoy breaking the law—another reason I don’t want brothels made legal. There is a charm about the forbidden that makes it desirable. When I have dinner every evening in Soho I always think: isn’t scampi delicious—what a pity it isn’t illegal. I’m sure I am not alone in this. …”,1280,-4509184,00.html

Dining in the dark in Paris. “Eating is challenging. Scooping a fork across the plate often comes up empty. Celine advises fighting the temptation to eat with your hands—something a blind person tries to avoid in public. But, lowering the head to the plate seems just fine. Nobody can see.”

Strange—and very German—video describing a mechanical version of Pong. (more info)

James Surowiecki: to help poor people, sell them more stuff.

Where Kerry Stands on Iraq—A Kerry–English Translation. Some of this seems a little inaccurate. For example, I don’t think Kerry is saying that the United States shouldn’t have invaded Iraq full-stop. He seems to be saying that had we known then what we know now, the U.S. shouldn’t have invaded Iraq, which is not the same thing. (“We now know that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction and posed no imminent threat…”);image=20040914_miss_universe.jpg

Miss Universe before/after. Awful Plastic Surgery has a similar series on Paris Hilton.

“In short, Bush has pulled Guard troops away from their homeland security duties to fight and die in a war unrelated to the service for which they enlisted. A guardsman who did less than he signed up for is coercing other guardsmen to do more than they signed up for.”

Bush and Kerry answer science policy questions—not very informatively, as it happens. (Horrible Flash/HTML version.) The BBC has a rather clumsily-written summary.

Asking for a seat on the subway: “The seemingly simple assignment proved to be extremely difficult, even traumatic, for the students to carry out.”

“It turns out that almost nothing about Borat’s Kazakhstan withstands scrutiny.”

Does God endorse George Bush? “Of course, it’s always possible God did put George W. Bush in the White House. But if He did, it doesn’t theologically follow that He wants him to have a second term. …”

“Sometimes, despite our best efforts, a cow does get sick. When a cow is ailing, we use aspirin, massage and other natural treatments that enhance and strengthen cows’ immune systems to fight off infections. Should a cow worsen to the extent that she needs antibiotics, she is treated and brought back to health but she is not returned to the milking herd.” Where does Daisy go?

“In search of an ex-Liberal who backs the PM.”

Backgrounder on Chechnya. The author speculates that Chechen terrorists are particularly keen on hostage situations because it worked spectacularly well once before: in 1995, after terrorists took patients at a hospital hostage, Russia agreed to pull out from Chechnya and let the terrorists get away in exchange for the hostages.

“My friends are fond of saying that my last words on this earth will be something akin to, ‘hey y’all, hold my beer and watch this!’ Well, I have outdone myself once again.” (Other good posts: 1, 2, 3.)

Interview with Charles Robert Jenkins, the U.S. soldier who disappeared while on patrol in Korea in 1965, and who has lived in North Korea since. He seems a little confused. I’m also surprised North Korea didn’t take good care of him. (He says that a fellow alleged deserter regularly beat him.)

Paul Graham essay on “the essay.” (Contains a typically provocative explanation of how English Professors came to do what they do.)

Vice’s Guide to Everything: “If you are on the train and you see one of those poor motherfuckers in a dead sprint toward the closing subway doors, DO just fucking hold it for them, please. The MTA is lying: It will not delay other trains, and it’s not ‘safer’ just to wait for the next train—the conductor isn’t going to gas it with some woman’s leg hanging out of the car. Plus it’ll give you this really cool man-over-machine triumph-type feeling.”

Excellent (and not too US-centric) “Emotional Moments” photographs from the Olympics.

“E-mail address it would be really annoying to give out over the phone.”

Melbourne Transport Facts from the Public Transport Users Association. These are pretty misleading facts.

“Melbourne has one of the largest rail systems in the world, with 15 lines. The Paris Metro is a third smaller, while San Francisco’s BART is less than half the size.” The Paris Metro is a subway, and is not comparable to Melbourne’s train system. The RER is a more comparable, and it extends much further out than the Metro. What is the point of comparing Melbourne’s public transport system to that of two randomly chosen cities anyway? It’s a simple matter to find cities that are either less well or better equipped than Melbourne.

”We also have the biggest tram system in the English speaking world.” Why the anglocentricism?

“Our motor vehicles produce 81% of those greenhouse gases attributable to transport, while public transport is the source of only 3%.” What the PTUA don’t tell you is that transport accounts for 21.3% of national emissions, and that of this, only 54.9% comes from cars—so overall, cars are the source of about 8% of all greenhouse gas emissions (source). (The PTUA pull a similar trick on this page, which contains a pie graph showing that 49% of household emissions result from transport. It is not at all clear that this is not a per-capita-style calculation.) I’m also suspicious of the 3% figure for public transport—the source linked above provides a category for railways, but it specifically excludes electric rail. (Also, trams burn dirty brown coal.)

“If Melbourne is to cut greenhouse emissions 20% by 2005 (the internationally agreed target), one in every six journeys now made by car will have to be shifted to public transport.” Cars account for only 8% of national emissions, so I don’t see what’s going on here.,,1275047,00.html

Researcher wonders why there’s less coverage of women’s sport than men’s, even when participation rates are taken into account. I don’t know that participation rates are really the right point of comparison here. Why do flyweight boxers get much less media attention than heavyweights? Junior soccer teams less than senior? The drivers of Formula 3 cars get less than those of Formula 1? The sport-loving public seems to have a preference for the strongest, fastest, highest irrespective of age, weight and height. To some extent, the public is probably equally disinterested in a participant’s sex.

Weirdly-written piece on the iPod’s shuffle function: “Dan Cedarholm, a Web designer in Salem, Mass., insists that his iPod has a predilection for the indie punk band Fugazi. Even though he only has two of the band’s albums stored on his ‘vintage’ 5-gigabyte device, the band seems to dominate his iPod to a degree wildly disproportionate to the amount of space it occupies on his player’s memory, he said. ‘It is truly bizarre,’ said Mr. Cedarholm, who no longer likes Fugazi.” Who no longer likes Fugazi!

Louis Menand on democracy and voting. “… my interest in an election is best served if I choose the candidate whose policies are most likely to benefit me or the people I care about.” Is this how you’re supposed to vote?

Anti-IE advocacy via FUD: “Internet Explorer can make your computer unsafe. Why not switch to a browser that’s more secure?”

“Carmen Electra and Dave Navarro are planning on releasing a sex guide featuring their sexy tips on how to have sexy sex. As interesting as a Carmen Electra sex guide sounds, I’d be more interested in a Dave Navarro ‘Land Somebody Way Hotter Than You’ guide. …”

“I Just Landed the Best Fucking Job in the World!”

More great anecdotes in a Talk column. A construction worker goes into an ACLU office to get a political sticker to put on his helmet, and the only one they have is “Marriage for Everybody”?

How attractive you’re considered to be depends on your name … maybe. (More information from the researcher. Seems like a useful followup study would be to compare “Tim” and “Tom.”) A few years ago a psychiatrist discovered that his fellow psychiatrists were more likely to diagnose a “Matthew” as having schizophrenia than a “Wayne.” (Waynes were more likely to have a personality of substance disorder.)

Australians being encouraged to give up plastic bags for a week; the event is called the plastic bag famine. Way to minimise the real thing, eh?

Web site for London’s (fairly hard-core) campaign to get people to not give money to beggars.

“Don’t give to people begging on the street; you could be killing with kindness. … those begging are unlikely to be homeless … 62% of people arrested for begging in Camden and 42% in Westminster gave fixed addresses when charged. … Money given is likely to be spent on drugs and/or alcohol … Those arrested for begging in Camden: 80% tested positive for Class A drugs 62% have a conviction for Class A drug offence 83% had a conviction for acquisitive crime offence.” (What proportion had none?)

(Questionable language used in the FAQ: “Beggars can gain fast access to a hostel bed in Camden & Westminster and it does not cost them a penny”; “It is rarely residents who give but they are the ones that suffer the most from the problems of persistent begging in their neighbourhoods and the anti social behaviour that goes with it.”)

There must be an interesting story behind all this. It appears that only one charity is a “partner” in the campaign; I think St. Mungos was once, but they now say that whilst they “broadly support” the campaign, they “would never say that people should never give to beggars, it is up to individual and the circumstances at the time.”,6761,1277111,00.html

“The Virtue of Idleness.”

Profile of Brad Stine, a Evangelical Christian standup comic.

I’d like to know more about some of the astounding disaster-recovery efforts described here. (1) In 1977, a factory that was Toyota’s sole supplier of a valve used in the breaking system in all its cars burnt down; Toyota had only three days’ worth of supplies but was able to get production going at pre-fire levels within a week. (2) A company lost all the people who knew the passwords to their off-site backups when the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center came down, but were able to get access after going through everything they knew about the people who died, and trying variations as passwords. (This surely can’t work very often. I don’t think it would work with mine! Knowledge of past passwords probably helps quite a lot.),1367,64439,00.html,1,4374833.story

On coaching Indian call-center operators to be more, uh, American. After I got some cards stolen in St Petersburg, I called American Express to see how I could get some money out on the Amex card I still had. (I couldn’t, incidentally; if you want support when you’re travelling overseas, get a regular Amex card, not a blue one.) The guy I spoke to explained that in order to do something-or-other, I would have to call back during “business hours.” So I asked what time it was now (to work out the time difference) and then there was a pause, and then he said he didn’t know…

Circle Line Party set to roll this Friday!

“The Religification of John Kerry.” It still surprises me that more Americans are prepared to vote for a gay candidate (59%) than an atheist (49%).

Profile of Estee Lauder, Helena Rubinstein, and Elizabeth Arden; each was “a short, hyper-ambitious, social-climbing saleswoman who loved wealth, invented her past, dumped her husband when he seemed a drag on her career, peddled emollients and powders that promised eternal youth, and dined out on her aphorisms.”

Two brothers (out of a set of triplets) need kidney transplants; since they’re almost genetically identical, they’ll both be suited to the same kidneys, meaning that someone (doctors, fortunately) needs to choose one to get a transplant first.,3605,1261986,00.html

This is excellent: a United LA–Sydney flight returned to LA after “B-O-B,” used by air crews as a code to signal the best looker on board, was found written on an air-sick bag and interpreted as meaning “bomb on board”! (The main story addresses the problem of how much information should be disclosed to passengers while the aircraft is in flight.)

Sveasoft have produced a new firmware for a Linksys wireless router. The software, like the original software, is based on Linux, and is licensed under the GPL: once you own a copy, you’re free to give it to anyone you want. However, Sveasoft themselves will only give you a copy of “pre-release” version of their software if you pay to “subscribe” to this service. Ordinarily they wouldn’t be able to charge very much for their software, because once one person has a copy of the software, they are legally allowed to give it to all their friends. (They could also sell it for less than Sveasoft charges.) However, the deal with Sveasoft is that if you do this, they won’t sell you newer versions of their software. According to the FSF, this is quite okay.

Bad words once in the Mozilla source.

Rather comprehensive survey of which countries drive on the left, and which on the right, and associated issues. (Discussion of Sweden’s 1967 switch, what pedestrians do.) I can confirm that on London’s tube, you are instructed to stand on the right on escalators (and overtake on the left) but otherwise walk on the left.

BBC radio bloopers. Try Brian Johnston’s giggly attempt at the cricket score!

Great pictures from Vice. “I don’t think the fat (glandularly challenged) kid’s a poser. Look at the bottom of his deck.

Spammer-baiter gets Nigerian spammer to send him $80, draw on his chest with a marker.

If you accuse the California Education Secretary of being racist … and you feel so strongly about this that you plan a civil-rights demonstration against him … then surely you should at least apologise when it turns out that you were wrong?

Who’s hotter: Kerry sisters or Bush twins?

“My dog the nihilist.”,3604,1240462,00.html

McCain: everyone’s first pick for VP.

How does the Smoking Gun get Kenneth Lay’s (private) letter to Governor Bush? It can’t be the case that all letters sent to Governors automatically become public property.

A 1995 review of a collection of Pauline Kael essays. The overall angle seems to be that neither the New Yorker nor Pauline Kael is as good as they are made out to be. (This is by Louis Menand, who now writes for the New Yorker (maybe he did then, too); he recycled his Auden/Agee anecdote in a recent review of Eats, Shoots & Leaves.)

On the surprising connections between Fascism and homosexuality. (Some of the organisations mentioned here don’t check out—whilst they do seem to exist, they’re insignificant.)

On writer’s block.

William Saletan: “This is why Kerry had to pick Edwards: Kerry sounds so much more attractive when Edwards is doing the talking.”

The text of the Freedom Tower’s cornerstone is set in Gotham.

Pedestrian gets whacked by a car! (More info.)

Princess Diana memorial: a ring of flowing water, £3.6m. A co-worker noted that this would make a wicked Pooh-stick course…

Timothy Noah wants Barbara Ehrenreich to keep writing for the New York Times.

Text message “synonyms.” (“Do you want to in out?” vs. “Do you want to go out?”, etc.)

Don’t trust Islamists? (A surprisingly one-sided piece for Slate.)

“Can you really review a 957-page book in 24 hours?” (re: Clinton’s memoirs.)

Rather cute pixelated musician caricatures. (Are just the images available anywhere?)

The best bits from Clinton’s autobiography. He thinks Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude is “he greatest novel written in any language since William Faulkner died.” I’m with Andrew Sullivan on the couch question though: I find it very unlikely that he slept there for months.

The McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform Act makes it illegal for foreign nationals to promise to contribute money to candidates—?!

Destructive review of Lynne Truss’s Eats, Shoots & Leaves. (Louis Menand)

“Separately, there was an indication yesterday that Google’s vaunted corporate culture may be under stress as a result of competition and the stock offering. As of yesterday afternoon, typing the words ‘out of touch management’ into Google caused the search engine to list as its first result a page describing the company’s top management.” (Google: out of touch management.)

(Kottke update.)

Long Christopher Hitchens piece on Moore and Fahrenheit 9/11.

Fascinating account of an upcoming Metallica documentary that evidently focuses on their therapy sessions.

Ha: Missy Elliot cancels tour dates because “due to the unusual number of artists presently touring Europe,” there are not enough tour buses available.

Firefox advocacy: “Why Mozilla and Mozilla Firefox are good porn browsers.” (See also the Pornzilla project’s bookmarklets, and the “list of bugs that impact porn surfing.”) “Pornzilla is not an official project. Since nobody has contributed to our testing budget, these tools have only been tested with free porn sites.”

The surprisingly interesting 20th century social history of milk.

“And the most wonderful thing about beer is that it has that ability to ‘reset’ your palate. Take cassoulet, for example: Rustic southern French reds are good, but French beer is a much better choice. Cassoulet can be like cement, but beer busts it up and makes it seem so much lighter.” (“When the Right Wine Is a Beer.”)

Weather forecasting for the tube!

At age 10, Fidel Castro, wrote to Roosevelt and asked for a ten dollar bill…

Americans are adopting British idioms?

“Had I actually killed myself, I can only imagine what the local papers would have said: Local Man Runs Self Over.”

Researchers can’t do stats right: study finds that the reported probability that a result was due to chance is wrong 11% of the time.

Interesting Straight Dope on military budgets. (Not mentioned here is that Australia, for all the fears about being attacked by Indonesia, etc., spends far more on its military than any other country in the region: more than twice as much as Singapore, and probably as much as everyone else combined.)

Gambling machines are better regulated than voting machines (editorial). (Why aren’t the makers of gambling machines in the voting machine market? It would seem that similar (and simpler) technologies are involved: they count things, they report things, and even better, they probably also have reasonable security given that they also have a great incentive to detect cheaters…)

Reagan and the market for “Russian” pro-wrestlers.

The National Enquirer doesn’t make stories up (anymore), but still few people believe that what it prints is true.

Graphs and tables from the EPA’s National Air Quality and Emissions Trends Report (2003). Comparison of 1970 and 2002 Emissions.

Panel of economists performs cost-benefit ranking of proposals for improving the lives of people in developing countries. The four ranked highest: HIV/AIDS control and prevention measures, combatting malnutrition, trade liberalisation, and malaria control. (See also the UN’s development goals.)

“A bad week for the Bushies”: even Abu Ghraib has disappeared from the front pages.

Like the Free State Project (motto: Liberty in Our Lifetime)—but Christian! (I’m tipping the Christians get their state going first.)

“The Stalinist roots of John Kerry’s new slogan.”

US politics: pander to interest groups by suggesting that you’re considering “their” candidate as your running-mate!

On flag design.

Alleged faults of the EU voting procedures.

NY Times acknowledges that some of its Iraq pieces “included incomplete information or pointed in a wrong direction.” A substantial apology, although it makes a point of saying that individual reporters (i.e. Judith Miller) were not at fault. Also interesting is that much is made of where in the paper an article appeared, and where the later and less sensational corrections appeared—especially since the articles that appear on the Times’s website (unlike those of the Washington Post) carry no note indicating where on the printed paper they appeared. (On which page did this apology run?),6903,1222496,00.html

Lightweight description of the “chaotic inflation” theory of the universe’s origin, which apparently has the implication that the universe could have been created as an experiment, and with few resources, and now be so small that the experimenter has lost it…

“How Does a Court-Martial Work?”

Timothy Noah compiles a list of excuses for Abu Ghraib from putative right-wing commentators: it’s the fault of moral relativism, gays, porn, feminists… I would have guessed that the left’s first (or second) thought would have been to offer similar excuses for the involvement of women, but I haven’t seen any of this. Indeed, a remarkably forthcoming Barbara Ehrenreich, writing in the LA Times, admits that the photographs disabused her of the notion that women were morally superior to men (or at least the idea that women have “a lesser inclination toward cruelty and violence”).

Fred Kaplan: “The prison scandal keeps getting worse for the Bush administration.”

Looks interesting: generate big (multi-page) images from much smaller images.

Photos of Seattle’s new public library. The New York Times really loves this building.

Hello London! A wedge-shaped 3.4m x 2.6m studio is selling for US$200,000/AU$280,000!

Pew Research Center get about a 30% response rate to their telephone surveys (I would have guessed much lower); since the overall demographic profile of their respondents matches that of surveys with much higher participation rates (e.g. census data), they consider their results to still be valid.

Interview with (I think one of) the Vatican’s astronomers. Fairly wide-ranging. “… if you’re going to convert somebody, you have to treat them as an equal. There are people, when they came to the Americas, who thought that, well, we can enslave these people because they don’t have souls. And the Church said, “You can’t do that.” If you’re sending a missionary to somebody, you’re implicitly saying they’re equal.”

Surprisingly interesting slideshow: how Helen of Troy has been depicted at different points in history.

“I chased you for 12 years around the world, and I still can’t find you.”

On slot machines. This piece is frustratingly vague on just how manipulative slot machines are. Slot machines will apparently deliver an exciting “near miss” more frequently than they should—but is, say, the probability of a win independent of the result of previous games (i.e. how much you’ve won or lost so far)?

“Bush ‘sorry’ for Iraqi prison abuse.” And ABC just couldn’t resist! Bush did use the word “sorry,” but to take it out of context and put it between quotation marks casts “doubt on the [word’s] sincerity … [making] something kind of snide and sinister out of something simple and straightforward.” (As Dave Eggers wrote of a similar situation.)

With quotes: BBC, Xinhuanet.

Without: New York Times, The Age, The Guardian, Aljazeera.

The Washington Post—perhaps realising that there was no way to use “sorry” in a headline without either (a) vouching for its sincerity at A1 headline scale or (b) making it appear insincere—sensibly avoided the word entirely and went with Bush Apologizes, Calls Abuse ‘Stain’ on Nation.

(Google News: bush sorry.)

U.S. Federal Sentencing Guidelines! (Also available in Palm format!)

Seymour Hersh’s “Torture at Abu Ghraib.” The guards seem to be putting a lot of blame on M.I. Mark Bowden, in an article in The Atlantic wrote that “coercion should be banned but also quietly practiced” because “if you can save lives—if people are plotting mass murder and you have a chance of preventing it—it’s hard to argue against whatever methods work.” I wonder if he still thinks this. (interview)

“A renegade New Zealand sheep that managed to evade the shearers for six years has finally had a haircut.” (I thought sheep shed their wool in winter—?)

Friend’s writer’s assistant Amaani Lyle claims that she was subjected to “sexual-gender harassment in the workplace.” Many funny and/or weird incidents laboriously enumerated (not all of which sound illegal, actually): “… 59. Greg Malins would take a copy of the ‘Friends’ script cover and blacken out letters to make it say penis. 60. When he would blacken out the letters to say penis, Malis would say, this is the most important thing you’ll learn on ‘Friends’. … 81. Andrew Reich made a nasty calendar where he made the calendar state rude and obscene things. … 83. I can recall sitting around waiting to go home while writers were sitting around pretending to masturbate and continually talking about schlongs. …”

“What’s With Our 15 Intel Agencies?”

“How Do They Measure Calories?”,12084,1192928,00.html

Martin Amis short story: “As one of the doubles of the son of the dictator, I am often to be found in the Palace of the End.” (The body doubles have to look exactly like their dictator, and the dictator is subject to rather many disfiguring assassination attempts…);item=3189039958

Auction for Erdös number 5 up to $152.50! (My father-the-mathematician emailed: “This is weird, because there are a couple of thousand people with Erdos number 2 (mine is 3), so an Erdos number 5 must be as common as dirt.”)

What NASA’s “Planetary Protection Officer” does.

Yeats’ “The Lake Isle of Innisfree,” and Pound’s parody. (Shame the parody doesn’t do anything with the “bee-loud glade.”

(I first saw this on the Underground— Transport for London sometimes puts up pleasing poems in place of ads.)

John Kerry speaks French, but (at least recently) hasn’t been flashing it. (Just how good is his French, anyway? A French journalist gives Kerry a pat on the head by praising his word choice

Interesting: someone has been caught and convicted of a crime through a relative’s DNA. So having some proportion of the population’s DNA on file gives you at least some of the “benefits” of having everyone’s. How much DNA do you need for, say, 90% coverage? Do collection rates (through differing rates of incarceration?) vary across communities? (e.g. Black Americans versus White Americans.) And is DNA profiling possible? (Suspect is white, possibly bald, has Tay-Sachs disease.),2763,1193886,00.html

”Tony Blair rejected George Bush’s offer of keeping British troops out of Iraq, it emerged yesterday, as the two leaders mounted a united front on the year-long campaign.” Huh? What is the Guardian on about? Blair is the leader of the United Kingdom. He can send or not send his troops wherever the fuck he wants, irrespective of what Bush may have “offered.”

“Mr Blair will be asked to justify a decision to go to war when he had a chance to keep British troops out of harm’s way with no political sanction.” What is meant by “had a chance”? How does rejecting this offer make Blair any more (or any less) of a bad person?

Article on civilian military contractors good in own right, also illuminates a few related issues. (Legally, the’re unlawful combatants, like those detained at Guantanamo Bay.)

On summer-blend gas.

The press was suckered by the Iraqi National Congress’s defectors—who’s apologised for this, and who not?

Tipping your way into fine restaurants. “Outside, I realized I had just witnessed the gold standard. The maître d’ turned down the money when it was a bribe, gave us the service anyway, then accepted the money as a well-earned tip.”

The Q&A section of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani’s website.

What makes an Ayatollah? “The route to becoming an ayatollah (‘sign of God’ in Arabic) is quite unlike the path toward becoming, for example, a Catholic bishop.”

Reasons to not like Bush (and vote for Roy Moore). (“After September 11, 2001, George W. Bush has engaged in a silly ecumenical project to try to pretend that all religions are really the same and equally valid.”) Timothy Noah remarks: “This veers so close to self-parody that Chatterbox wonders whether the site was put up by a partisan Democrat.”

Rwanda history recap. Writer is prepared (refreshingly) to hold the Rwandan government to Western values: “The RPF uses the genocide in much the same way that the Bush administration wields the emotional power of 9/11 to justify its actions and paint its critics as unpatriotic.”

“The warning comes after a group of ‘mud football’ players in the rural town of Collie, Western Australia, were struck down by Aeromonas hydrophila. The water-borne bacterium infects open wounds, causing pustules. … Fresh water is the key to safer mud, says Vally.”

Isn’t science wonderful? Imagine explaining this to someone from another planet: to test a theory about how things move (Einstein’s theory of general relativity), earth people have spent about 40 years designing a device containing four small spheres (supposedly the most perfect spheres ever made). This device will be strapped to a rocket and shot 400 miles out into space whereupon the balls will be made really cold and then spun at 10,000rpm. If the balls slow down, or tilt, or something Einstein wins.

The main project page has a good pdf (note that superscripts are missing) describing the science involved, including how they’re going to suspend, spin and measure the sphere-gyroscopes. (Another page briefly describes the three (small) ways in which the predictions of Einstein’s and Newton’s theories diverge within the solar system.)

Royal Australian Mint FAQ. Noteworthy is the one-word answer to the question “Does the RAM provide free samples of coins?” as well as the fact that there’s a limit on the number of coins that you can hand over at shops. (From reading the linked act (I am not a lawyer), it seems that this is done via the definition of legal tender—more than 20¢ in 1¢ and 2¢ coins does not constitute legal tender, and thus shops aren’t required to accept it. US comparison.)

“Coach Fitz’s Management Theory.”

Is too much choice a bad thing? “It helps explain why so many people at age thirty are still flailing about, trying to choose a career—and why so many marriageable singles wind up alone.”

Michael Ignatieff reassesses his support for the war. He doesn’t get to the point of regretting it, but he does come close. (“… I supported an administration whose intentions I didn’t trust, believing that the consequences would repay the gamble. Now I realize that intentions do shape consequences.”)

“How did movie zombies get so fast?” (Short answer: special effects.) See also Standards for Vampires.,4120,1178723,00.html

Fun piece on accents in film.

Splendid book review: Solitary Sex: A Cultural History of Masturbation. The reviewer (following his source) argues that modern demonisation of masturbation began during the Enlightenment. Because it was in its climactic moments deeply private, because it dealt with fantasy, and because it was thought to be insatiable it defied reason—and therefore was to be distrusted. (I don’t quite follow the argument here, but it’s worth reading anyway.)

“Do Unbuilt Architects Get Paid?” (Re Zaha Hadid, the Iraqi-born architect who just won the Pritzker Prize (she’s always described as Iraqi-born) had, until five years ago completed just one building—a fire station.)

Short piece on the preparer of last meals for those about to be executed.

A few interesting issues here: standard British sign language apparently has such gestures as a hand miming a crooked nose for “Jew,” a limp wrist for a homosexual. A TV show for deaf people recently decided to change these signs to some less offensive whereupon the acting chairperson (note chairperson!) declared that the changes were a form of discrimination, in part because the changes were made without consulting deaf people, I think. (Also: the sign for a Chinese person changed from pulling the eye into a slant to miming some sort of Chinese national dress, which doesn’t seem all that much better.)

Project to find two strings with the same MD5 hash, I think. This is quite irresponsibly described, because they give the impression that internet commerce is doomed if a collision is found; it’s not. (About cryptographic hash functions: a hash function has the form y = f(x). That is, the function is given some number (x) as input (or file; files can be considered to be one big long number), and it returns some other number (y) as output. In the case of the MD5 hash function, the number returned is always 128 bits (about 30 digits) long. Cryptographic hash functions are supposed to have the feature that given y, you can’t figure out what x might have been. (Compare to y = f(x) = x + 1; with this function you can easily determine x if given y.) Because the number returned is 30 digits, and there’s very many more numbers more than 30 digits long, the MD5 hash function must produce collisions. This project is effectively trying to find two numbers that have the same hash value, which is not the same as being able to efficiently find x given y.)

Been on: Singapore, New York, Paris, Moscow, London, Washington D.C., Barcelona, St Petersburg! (Not listed: Boston, Bilbao, Shanghai, Prague.)

Artificially created cities (i.e. cities built recently, to be capitals).

Are you a member of an Indian Tribe? (System seems dehumanising, reductive, silly.)

Somewhat cheeky article on Schwartzenegger, civil disobedience, gay marriage, and Cuban cigars.

Insanity: five linked roundabouts make up Swindon’s “Magic Roundabout.”

The Grey Album is actually pretty damn good, although I’m sure it’s naughtiness is part of its charm. However, the existence of one or more pieces of good-though-illegal art is not, in itself, an argument for invalidating the laws that made them illegal in the first place. The greytuesday site argues that the Grey Album should be legal. And perhaps it should. But what should not? What is sampling? What is music? If I lay a few tom toms over the White Album is that sampling? Is adding background music to a recorded speech sampling? I can’t support a movement to reform music law before knowing what the desired reforms actually are: and the greytuesday site has precious little to say about this.

The differences and similarities between what San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom and Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore have done (and their respective attorneys general).

Font news: the U.S. State Department changes it’s font from Courier to Times New Roman.

Roy Moore: a third-party candidate who’ll take votes from oBush?

The decline of Colin Powell.

On adjectives. (Piece misses my favourite line about the (mis)use of adjectives: “Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs. The adjective hasn’t been built that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place.”—The Elements of Style).,1799,13515,00.html

“My cat is Paranoid Scitzophrenic. He is Biploar. Manic Depressive.” (Another crazy craigslist animal: a fish.)

President Bush has asked that America spend about as much on the military next year as it did in 1968. I’d like to know the percentage-of-GDP comparison but I’m in St Petersburg right now and can’t be bothered checking… I’m guessing it’s not quite so exciting, though. Maybe 5% then, 3% now?

Why the intelligence community thought Iraq had WMDs (partial reason): “Prior to 1991 the intelligence communities in the United States and elsewhere believed that Iraq was at least five, and probably closer to ten, years away from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Of course, after the war we learned that in 1991 Iraq had been only six to twenty-four months away from having a workable nuclear weapon. This revelation stunned the analysts responsible for following the Iraqi nuclear program. The lessons they took from it were that Iraq was determined to acquire nuclear weapons and would go to any lengths to do so; that in pursuit of this goal Iraq was willing to use technology that Westerners considered crude and obsolete; that the Iraqis were superb at concealment and deception; and that inspections were inherently flawed—after all, there had been inspectors in Iraq prior to 1990, and they had been completely fooled.” (This is a very good piece.)

“Are there senior citizens who need prescription drugs on the Moon? Does the religious right favor a Moon base? How about illegal immigrants, would they be willing to take Moon jobs that Americans don’t want?”

Great interview with Anthony Lane, movie critic for the New Yorker. “I tend to send my copy in on deadline, which by New Yorker standards is tacky. It has to go through three or four proofs. The fact-checkers proof; the grammarians proof. And it is amazing. Someone does go to see the film, to make sure I’m not lying. If I’m reviewing a Tim Burton film and I say that Ewan McGregor’s wearing a bright blue shirt, they’ll say to me, ‘It’s more like bright turquoise’. But you should get it right, especially if you’re going to have some fun with it. Otherwise it’s cheating. The New Yorker is the only place in the world where you can pull a piece to change a comma to a semi-colon. It’s a haven for the pedant. I love it.”

Fur boots start out as gigantic fur boots that are then shrunk?? (See picture.)

On “Top Ten” lists. (Louis Menand)

“Free Trade Butters”—are they really for free trade at all? (Michael Kinsley)

The ingredients necessary to get married in a Las Vegas chapel. (“Lots of alcohol, a weakness for extreme experiences, and some dirty nasty porn-star-like fucking-sex.”)

Kurd Sellout Watch, Day 310. (Kurds have been very lucky so far.)

Is child molesting a sickness or a crime? (Dahlia Lithwick)

“The smiley is an attack on writers and readers alike. If it is funny, it doesn’t need a smiley. If is not funny, a smiley won’t help it. The smiley teaches writers that anything they write will pass as humor as long as it is punctuated properly. It teaches readers that they must ignore their better judgment, and look only at punctuation to determine intent.”,6000,1097818,00.html

Lynne Truss has written a book called Eats, Shoots & Leaves: “She writes for those who winced at the posters advertising the film Two Weeks Notice and who felt real pain when they saw in print the name of the pop group Hear’Say.”

Dick Cheney uses the verboten “empire” in his Christmas card.;item=2448756945

“Honda CB500T rolling chassis - horrible.”

On releasing the news of Hussein’s capture: “Iraqis were to have a role in announcing the news and that the images of the quarry were to be broadcast worldwide as quickly as possible, to leave little time for conspiracy theories to course through Iraqi towns and villages.”

(I’m travelling at the moment, and found out about it via spam: a message with the subject “News Flash - Saddam Hussein Captured! Get the Cards Before They Sell Out!”)

“The only presidential candidate with a truly coherent position on President Bush’s Iraq policy is President Bush. He supported it before the war started, he supports it now, and he thinks or pretends to think it’s working well. … Like mice frustrated in a maze, the [Democratic] candidates seek escape routes out of this logical trap. Sometimes they say that the current mess is not the result of the decision to go to war. It is the result of Bush’s inept leadership during the war and/or the postwar occupation. … But the resolution these gentlemen supported gave war-making authority to George W. Bush, not to some idealized, all-knowing president such as themselves. … If Bush bungled this authority, entrusting him with it was a big mistake.”

“French Panel Recommends Banning Head Scarves in Schools.” (Typically good, broad coverage.)

FindArticles has been redesigned, and now lets you browser magazines issue by issue. (This is the page for Harper’s.)

Leader of the Democrats (Australia’s third party) assaults a Liberal Senator, apologises, stands aside, then declares: “If anything good can come of this incident, it’s to reinforce the fact that behaviour such as this is unacceptable.”

Graphical comparison: is Beijing looking more and more like city depicted in Blade Runner? (The National Stadium, particularly in this rendering, does have the same look.)

President Bush at Whitehall Palace: “We must shake off decades of failed policy in the Middle East. Your nation and mine, in the past, have been willing to make a bargain, to tolerate oppression for the sake of stability. Longstanding ties often led us to overlook the faults of local elites. Yet this bargain did not bring stability or make us safe. It merely bought time, while problems festered and ideologies of violence took hold.” There’s other interesting bits in here too; it’s basically a summary of why the US went to war with Iraq. (Does Bush present a logically consistent case, or are other factors (e.g. oil) involved?)

“At one point my roommate called me while we were at the concert and asks me how my date was going. I turn to my date and say, ‘how’s the date going’ and she says, ‘I’d say its going pretty well.’” It gets worse.

John McWorter has a shot at Mark Abley, who goes a bit gaga over the Mohawk language, which uses the same word for goodness and law. Abley: “I had the impression that a three-hour philosophy seminar had just been compressed into a couple of minutes.”

McWorter: “Abley marvels that the Boro language has words that mean specific things like ‘to love for the last time’ and ‘to feel unknown and uneasy in a new place.’ Okay—but English has a word for when two acquaintances, through sharing an experience or reminiscence, experience a sense of deeper connection for the first time: BONDING. How spiritual we English speakers must be … then—get this—we have a word for the first time a couple has sexual intercourse: CONSUMMATE.”

“The subtext of Abley’s approach here is a school of thought that proposes that indigenous people are ‘realer’ than we are, more in touch with spiritual realities that ‘civilization’ has long wrested us from to our detriment. I understand that a good while ago, this notion was a useful way to counter the myth that indigenous people are ‘savages.’ But I wonder how many people who read a book like Abley’s need to learn that in 2003, and in the meantime the tradition too often smacks of clapping wildly when a child manages not to spill any of her food.”

Peter Jackson comments on goofs made in the first two movies of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Newsweek: When Arwen and Frodo are being chased on horseback by the Ringwraiths, the soundtrack to the scene is a cantering horse. A canter is three beats, whereas a gallop—which is what the horses on screen are doing—is four very fast beats that often sound like a single beat.
Jackson: I should’ve—well, it’s too late to fire anyone. The damage has been done.

Daily newspapers, unlike magazines, don’t directly respond to the letters of disgruntled readers. Jack Shafer says that a paper’s silence may sometimes give readers the impression that it is conceding error, and argues that they should mount a more active defence. (The Washington Post ombudsman’s report mentioned here is also worth reading.)

Irving Tobin reads every page of the Times (save the sports, Escapes and Circuits sections), and is one year, five months, and four days behind in his reading.

(Irving buddy, there’s a way out: “Select All” / “Mark All as Read.” It’s gonna hurt bad, you’ll wonder if you’ve done the right thing, if you’ve missed out on something terrifically important, something you needed to know, something that would’ve made you laugh, but you’ve gotta bury those doubts deep. Just blow your papers away my friend, blow them away. Tomorrow there will be more news.)

The EcoSphere: an air-tight glass sphere containing sea water, red shrimp and algae. Give it sunlight, and it goes for two years or more.,3604,1083010,00.html

The politics of protest: “So long as the protesters look like the usual suspects—multiply pierced, Genoa-style activists in torn clothes and mohican haircuts—then, I’m told, the White House will not worry. They will be able to say Bush enjoys the global support of all but a few anarchist weirdos. If the demonstrators look like the UK equivalent of America’s ‘soccer moms’, regular people of all ages, including plenty of women—tricky to bring out on a weekday—then Washington may have to rethink.”

(Guy-Pride Parade Sets Mainstream Acceptance Of Gays Back 50 Years (The Onion): “‘I’d always thought gays were regular people, just like you and me, and that the stereotype of homosexuals as hedonistic, sex-crazed deviants was just a destructive myth,’ said mother of four Hannah Jarrett, 41, mortified at the sight of 17 tanned and oiled boys cavorting in jock straps to a throbbing techno beat on a float shaped like an enormous phallus. ‘Boy, oh, boy, was I wrong.’”)

“Media Criticized For Biased Hometown Sports Reporting”:

“Photos almost always featured the home team, usually in a moment of victory,” Wilborough said. “When the players and coaches of the opposing team were discussed, it was usually in the context of how they were ‘destroyed’ or ‘stomped.’”

“Airpower’s Century.” (Interview with Walter Boyne.)

“This is getting ridiculous. I think it’s high time we all agreed on some common standards for use of the M4W and W4M postings.”

“The Second Coming of Philip K. Dick.”

Conversation between screenwriters Quentin Tarantino and Brian Helgeland. I think I’m beginning to like Tarantino more than I like his films.

Tarantino: “… that’s all I could do in school, just write new scripts. Eventually, the teacher complained to my mom. And at some point, when my mom was mad at me, she said: ‘Oh, and by the way, this little writing career of yours? It’s over!’ And I thought, This little writing career? This little writing career? You have no vision. I will never buy you the house that Elvis bought his mother. And to this day I have not bought my mother a house. And I never will!”

On New York’s Chinese-language dailies. (Interesting tidbit: the text runs left-to-right on each, which makes it easier to incorporate English text—though isn’t the text on Chinese website left-to-right as well?);art_id=1417

The most valuable & most desirable privately-held works of art in the world. (Somehow a Rembrandt is still in private hands.)

On states offering incentives and subsidies to companies in order to get them to relocate. Indiana Governor Joseph E. Kernan says: “I understand the argument that taking jobs away from Boston and putting them here is nationally a zero-sum game. … But Indiana, like virtually every other state, is not going to unilaterally disarm.”

Richard Stallman has a solution: “… the states should increase their bargaining power against companies by forming a union. We could call it the ‘United States of America.’ …”

On the changing meaning of “media bias”: “In fact, ABC or CBS is far more likely to be described as biased than Mr. Limbaugh—or for that matter, the very liberal Michael Moore. That would have puzzled Harold Ickes, who reserved his most caustic attacks on 1930’s press bias for partisan columnists. But today bias is applied only to those who won’t own up to having an ax to grind.”

Sometimes, Google lets me down: full-text search of 3 billion documents is a wonderful thing, but if you only have generic keywords, Google isn’t able to do its thing. This article, which summarises two papers on the amount of pollution ships emit, contains a graphic showing pollution levels over the Atlantic; the shipping lanes are clearly visible. I’d like to see a similar map of the whole world, but specific searches (for the authors’ names, etc.) produce nothing useful, and all other search possibilities are hopelessly generic… (The “large image” link doesn’t work.)

Good article on PETA and its savvy founder Ingrid Newkirk. (“I am not only uninterested in having children. I am opposed to having children. Having a purebred human baby is like having a purebred dog; it is nothing but vanity, human vanity.”) I can’t figure out PETA’s line on pets; PETA believes that animals are not ours to use “for entertainment” (among other things), which would seem to preclude pet ownership in itself, but their site has numerous factsheets on how one should behave toward “companion animals.” poll

A poll found that 59 percent of Europeans think that Israel is a threat to world peace; no country polled higher. This does not mean that Europeans think that Israel is the greatest threat to world peace, as many of these headlines insist. (“Israel No. 1 Rogue State: EU,” “Israel is No 1 threat to peace, says EU poll,” “Israel biggest threat to peace: EU poll.”) A country can be a threat without being the greatest threat.

The wording of the question is important, too. Were the respondents asked whether the existence of Israel posed a threat to world peace, in the same way that the existence of, say, nuclear weapons pose a threat to world peace? Newspapers often don’t cover polls well, I find.

“You would think the following scene occurs every day: Cops pull over a speeding vehicle and search for drugs. Crack is found. All three passengers insist the drugs are not theirs. So the cops arrest them all. The constitutional dispute today is whether the cops had probable cause to arrest everybody, or just the driver, or just the guy next to the wad of bills in the glove compartment, or just the guy in the back seat with the crack. All of which is interesting. But even more interesting is that this is a case of ‘first impression’ for the high court—meaning no one has brought this kind of challenge before. Apparently, in every other car ever stopped, someone has cheerfully admitted to owning the drugs.” Great article. The justices are in fine form for this one too.

Indian Casinos and Californian politics: “Public support for the tribes has also been undercut by revelations that profits from casinos have flowed to so few Indians. The financial rewards of casino ownership are greatest for tribes with the fewest members—which, perversely, assures a concentration of gambling wealth in a very few hands. Among tribes that have done well for the very few: the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, whose casino generates $100 million a year for only about 110 tribal members ($900,000 each); and the Table Mountain Rancheria tribe (Sacramento), whose 100 members each receive approximately $350,000 per year.”

The State Library of Victoria is currently running an exhibition of Lewis Morley photographs. (Morley is most famous for his photo of Christine Keeler seated naked behind a chair.) The photographs are mostly interesting for who they are of—largely celebrities of 60s London—so it’s a good thing that they’re accompanied by decent, often wry, notes. (From one we learn that only two of the many couples that appear in the exhibition are still together.)

(I decided to see Swimming Pool after seeing this photo of Charlotte Rampling —big, on a light box (much better that way)—in the center of the room.)

World Beard and Moustache Championship pictures! “Americans made a stronger showing than expected, capturing four titles.”

Loving Gary Larson box set review (US$135!).

Yes! Celery really does require more calories to eat than it has in it. (Cecil Adams says the energy required to warm up ice-cold cold beer does not, unfortunately, exceed the calories in it.)

Extracts from a few different articles on internet porn and how it might (or might not) be changing men’s perceptions of sex and women.

The Authors Guild (what, no apostrophe?) doesn’t like Amazon’s full text search.

“Whether your works should be in the program is hard to say. This program will likely prove to be useful in promoting certain titles. Midlist and backlist books that are receiving little attention, for example, may benefit from additional exposure in searches. For other titles, the program may erode sales. Most reference books would be at clear risk in such a database. So would many (if not most) travel books and cookbooks. Most fiction titles are not likely to be greatly threatened.”

(The Guild’s argument that, with effort, you can read most of the book without paying for it needs to be refined: this is true of books as well, which can be borrowed, photocopied, transcribed, thumbed through in bookshops, and so on.)

This might be a case in which the public’s interests are aligned with those of publishers and retailers, but not with those of the author. (c.f. digital music, where the prevailing opinion seems to be that the interests of the public and musicians (and possibly retailers) are aligned, and in opposition to those of the publisher.)

(The Authors Guild has previously urged members to not link to Amazon because Amazon sold second hand books; a subsequent clarification maintained that they have nothing in principle against the selling of second-hand books, only with systems that make buying them really easy to do…)

Obscure Economic Indicators: the Baltic Dry Index measures the cost of shipping raw materials, which makes it a good indicator of “economic growth and production.”

“After all, it doesn’t deal with container ships carrying finished goods. It deals with the precursors to production: bulk carriers carrying building materials, cement, grain, coal, and iron. Unlike stock and bond markets, the BDI ‘is totally devoid of speculative content,’ says Howard Simons, an economist and columnist at People don’t book freighters unless they have cargo to move.”,1412,60890,00.html

Seems like one of the reasons why some TVs shows aren’t available on DVD is that it’s difficult to acquire the rights to the music. (And other TV shows released on DVD have different music.),5753,-2317,00.html

It’s called the “Tiananmen Square massacre,” but did anyone actually die there? There’s astonishingly little evidence that anyone did. (Responses are unfortunately a little out of sequence.)

New York is replacing WALK/DON’T WALK signs with signs that display either a large white figure in mid-stride or a large orange hand. (Paumgarten snidely describes this as the “Zurichification of our street corners.”)

The hand has always seemed to me a little disproportionate in comparison to the walking man; here we have beautifully-proportioned green walking men and red standing men. (I was once irritated when someone complained that they’re all men, partly because I couldn’t defend the practice…)

The use and development of weapons of war is shaped and influenced as much by the glory they confer as their actual (or potential) efficacy. Examples given: lancing foot soldiers from horseback, hunting U-boats (instead of escorting conveys), strategic bombing in daylight without fighter escort, national missile defense.

(Note also the huge list of “reviewed” books—it’s basically a bibliography…)

What the 191 members of the United Nations have “pledged to do” “by the year 2015.” A good list. Specifically environmental goals (e.g. taking measures to prevent global warming) are not included—perhaps because they were too controversial, but also, possibly, because they don’t score very highly on the cost/benefit equation.

(The much longer Millennium Declaration, I now notice, does include some environmental aims, such as ratification of the Kyoto Protocol.)

The Japanese love affair with French fashion (and in particular, A.P.C.). A.P.C. is one of my favourite retailers; I’ve always wondered how they could afford to exist since discovering that their (I supposed) flagship store, in Paris, was about the size of a basketball court. (The store in New York is about the same size.) As it turns out, they have about five in Japan; I guess they do most of their business there. Still, one does wonder how a fashion retailer can afford to produce lavish catalogs, etc. on the back of about 10 stores world-wide.

“Do Good Looks Equal Good Evaluations?”

According to Mother Teresa, abortion is “the greatest destroyer of peace today”: “Many people are very, very concerned with the children in India, with the children in Africa where quite a number die, maybe of malnutrition, of hunger and so on, but millions are dying deliberately by the will of the mother. And this is what is the greatest destroyer of peace today.” (She says almost exactly the same thing at two other points in her speech.)

Her lecture also contains a baffling story: she once took rice to a starving Hindu family; instead of eating it all themselves, they shared it with their starving Muslim neighbours. Mother Teresa approved, commenting: “I didn’t bring more rice that evening because I wanted them to enjoy the joy of sharing.” How thoughtful. In Mother Teresa’s world, it seems, starving families prefer “the joy of sharing” to “more food.”

(Via Christopher Hitchens, who says she was not a friend of the poor, she was a friend of poverty.),4364,1338730,00.asp

Kids review classic computer games.

Haruki Murakami, “Birthday Girl.” (Also: “All God’s Children Can Dance,” “Blind Willow, Sleeping Girl.”)

The parallels between environmentalists (particularly radical environmentalists) and the religious (particularly early Christians). (Pole sitting, asceticism, belief in and fear of things that can’t be measured, etc.)

“From emails exchanged last year between David Armstrong, a former English teacher, and employees of The Coca-Cola Company.”

The “Barefoot Doctor”—a proponent of alternative medicine, apparently—answers hostile readers’ questions…

Linus Torvalds interview.

“If directors really wanted authenticity, gunfights would be short and lethal and a lot of guys would fire without looking. A person might not even know he’s been hit until after the fight is over.”

Cute personal ad. (Mouse over the “elements.”)

“Marketers Turn Monks Into Product Pitchmen.”

Savvy Michael Kinsley piece on Clark, the nature of politics, and “youthful political swoons.”

“Alaskan pilots have a one in eight chance of dying during a 30-year career…” (What’s the chance of a waiter dying through passive smoking?)

Small-business marketing: how to sell pizza.

“NTEU National Council rejects the university industrial relations package announced on September 22nd … The package is ideologically driven and will promote confrontation …” I’m guessing the package itself is bad news, but what’s wrong with it being “ideologically driven”? Why shouldn’t ideology guide policy?,7369,1059068,00.html

I’m not surprised the Vatican doesn’t like condoms; I am surprised their argument is that condoms are ineffective. (And not just ineffective because they come off, break, etc., but ineffective because the AIDS virus can pass through latex.)

Why isn’t it acceptable for the Church to say yes, people will die because of this policy, but to not use condoms is God’s wish? Is it these days unacceptable for monotheists to do something they’d rather not do because God wills it? (e.g. sacrifice your son on a mountain, fly a plane into buildings.)

Suicide, and the Golden Gate Bridge. “Several people have crossed the Bay Bridge to jump from the Golden Gate; there is no record of anyone traversing the Golden Gate to leap from its unlovely sister bridge.”

(The four-foot rail. The article doesn’t mention it, but there are also signs on the bridge giving a number to call if you “need help,” or similar.)

Someone else dislikes Elizabeth Spiers and This June piece is more pointed: “Her self-defense is her own shallowness, and gives her motivation as ‘invitations to better parties.’ The most cynical shallowness is the kind that announces itself as ‘honesty.’”

(The other problem with Spiers’s Gawker is that it is (was?—there’s a new editor now) really poorly written (comparison).)

Upcoming Supreme Court cases. This is worth it just for the line: “In the mid-1950s, Congress responded to the villainous spread of ‘godless communism’ by building more nuclear bombs to protect our shores and by adding the phrase ‘under God’ to the pledge to protect our souls.”

Oh, wow! Wonderful photographs by Guy Bourdin. (Got here via the a page documenting some suspicious similarities between his photographs and Madonna’s video for “Hollywood.”)

Rather nice rant about Microsoft Word embedded in this Louis Menand piece about writing, citations, and style guides.

(Which reminds me: what’s the right way to nest <cite> and <a> tags? <cite><a href="…">The New Yorker</a></cite> or <a href="…"><cite>The New Yorker</cite></a>?)

RealAudio archive of KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic.

For some reason Nic Harcourt’s guests do really good, interesting covers when they appear on KCRW. A few years ago, Travis did their famous cover of Britney Spears’s “Baby One More Time” (starts at 27:20), and more recently Ben Lee did Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful” (13:15) and Dido did James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain” (25:30). (The audio quality of the newer shows is pretty good, too.)

Michael Kinsley: In defense of hypothetical questions. (It’s not valid to dismiss a question as hypothetical.)

… doesn’t exist; VeriSign suggests

Level-headed analysis of the Valerie Plame affair.

“The issue can be especially complicated when the deceased has prepurchased a site, but cannot fit in it.”

John Buchan: not just the author of The Thirty-Nine Steps.

“… I have nothing but contempt and anger for those who betray the trust by exposing the name of our sources. They are, in my view, the most insidious, of traitors.” (Background.) TPM running hard with this.,,43612,00.html

The “Kaleidoscope I,” one of Nokia’s very strange new imaging products. (The Kaleidoscope stores and displays about 20 270x228 images.) The Medallion I and II are digital photoframes on a necklace.

These products would work so well as works of sci-fi futurism (check out the ad—cool, huh?), but as actual real-world products to sell?

Christopher Hitchens’s very nicely worded appreciation of Edward Said.

“I’m tired of all ye Medieval freaks trying to tell me how great the Medieval times are.”

Profile of Bernard Lewis (he’s 87!). This is mostly here for its mention of a compliment Lewis considers “amongst the finest he’s ever received.” It appears in the preface to a fundamentalist Muslim group’s Arabic translation of one of his works, and runs: “I don’t know who this man is. He is either a candid friend or an honest enemy, but in either case, one who refuses to deal in falsehoods.”

(Another nice compliment (of Richard Posner): “If he did not exist, it would be hard to believe that he could.”)

How to untangle telephone cords!

Michael Moore’s response to his “Bowling for Columbine” critics.,12084,1044992,00.html

Book review: Authenticity: Brands, Fakes, Spin and the Lust for Real Life. Authentic, in this sense, seems to mean stuff you couldn’t possibly be accused of wanting because you saw an ad for it.

An authentic life, then, is a life supposedly free from marketers’ manipulations. But can this be achieved? It seems to me that an “authentic” life is as studied a life as anything else: it requires that you be just as aware of what you wear, eat, drink and listen to as anyone else—probably more so. (If my father buys white Nikes, it’s because that’s what they have at the shop. He didn’t not buy white Nikes because he saw an ad for them during Friends, or because he knows they’re a multi-national organisation.)

(Rob Walker makes a similar point in a related article in Slate.)

“Hello. I just downloaded some illegal MP3s and my friend told me that the RAII is going to sue everyone who downloads music. What should I do?” (There’s a few pages to this.);s=levy091703

Nice philosophical exploration of the WSJ’s argument that the poor should be taxed harder, lest they forget just how naughty taxes are.

What fifth-graders think of Radiohead.

Jenna and Barbara’s Bush’s Friendster “profiles.” (Unfortunately Barbara’s not within reach of my “Personal Network”…)

Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez of Proenza Schouler are only 24 (profile).

What is says on the box. (How can you know the bear’s okay?!) (1.8Mb)

How generals get elected President. “Wesley Clark, as pundits have noted, faces many obstacles if he wants to be president, including the lack of a campaign team and a late start in fund raising. But he has mastered the two historical requirements: He doesn’t act as if he needs the job, and he doesn’t act as if he wants war. For a general, that’s a good start.”

Steven Waldman says: (1) even if Jews weren’t complicit in Jesus’s death, the Bible says they were (so don’t complain about Gibson’s Passion!); and (2) whether they did or didn’t is theologically irrelevant. (Issue is surely very complex; this seems a little too glib a summary.)

High court transcript (involving dividing and multiplying by zero, somehow): “Now, I required to increase the speed of light within a fusion engine so as to fuse the four hydrogen atoms which I claim become susceptible to fusing through the increased speed of light. Now, I have given no credit to—”

Gibson retires from blogging: “I’ve found blogging to be a low-impact activity, mildly narcotic and mostly quite convivial, but the thing I’ve most enjoyed about it is how it never fails to underline the fact that if I’m doing this I’m definitely not writing a novel.”

I’d wondered about this: if nuclear bombs are so bad, why do people still live in Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

Dahlia Lithwick suggests that the Supreme Court debate over the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act sets two elements of democracy—equality and freedom—against each other. (Never really considered this conflict.)

(c.f. The perils of stock photography…

The ABS has removed historical estimates of the number of Aborigines in Tasmania from their website because “the historical context in which the articles were intended to be viewed was not in all cases made evident to people accessing the site”; this “may have offended some people.”

Professor Bunyip believes this has something to do with Keith Windschuttle’s dispute with various historians over (among other things) the number of Aborigines living in Tasmania at the time of British colonisation—Windschuttle believes that there were about 2,000; others believe the number was between 4,000 and 10,000—and, according to one of Professor Bunyip’s readers, the missing articles support the lower estimate. (Geoffrey Blainey review of Windschuttle’s book.)

Fortunately, Google’s cache holds one of the articles: The Aborigines of Australia, contributed by W. Ramsay Smith. This makes clear what is meant by the “historical context” not being “made evident to people accessing the site”: for some strange reason, the fact that this article appeared in the Year Book Australia of 1910 is not immediately apparent. The only date that appears on the first screen is 2002, and it’s only by looking at the Bibliography that it becomes clear that the article was written a very long time ago. (Unsurprisingly, the article contains quite a few dodgy statements about the physical characteristics and customs, etc. of Aborigines that the ABS is not prepared to stand by in 2002.) Evidence of a conspiracy against Windschuttle? I don’t think so. (Though the ABS certainly could’ve been clearer about why they were withdrawn.)

(I do hope the ABS puts puts the articles back (though hopefully with better presentation): it is important that everything they’ve ever produced is available to the public, for all time—for some purposes, the wronger they were, the better.)

Fred Kaplan says the U.N. U-turn signals a comeback for Colin Powell.

(Kaplan seems to be wrong about as often as he is right (even taking into account the fact that some of the time he’s writing about something he wishes would happen, rather than expecting it to). He was right about Peter J. Schoomaker being named the new Army chief of staff (great article describing Schoomaker’s philosophy when head of special ooperations—he wants “warrior diplomats”), but wrong about James Baker being sent to Baghdad to supervise Iraqi reconstruction.)

“The private dreams of publicly held companies.”

Top private companies in: the US, the world excluding the US, Australia. (The top 50 public companies have revenues exceeding $40bn (see Forbes’s lists); only three private companies do.)

Slate’s “Field Guide” to the 2004 presidential candidates.

Voter registrations in the social science departments of 32 elite American colleges and universities: 1397 registered Democrats, 134 Republicans.

Why is this? Republicans not as keen to enter academia? Discriminated against when it comes to to hiring? Not as smart? (A noteworthy lack of diversity whatever the cause.)

A history of modern Israel, more or less, and how it has featured in European and American foreign policy. (It describes the circumstances that led Israel to be a “great liberal European cause” before 1967, and the U.S. to be an “ever more reliable friend” since.),1,5755648.story?coll=la-headlines-business-manual

U.S. Judge A. Howard Matz issues preliminary injunction prohibiting L.A. real estate mogul Donald Sterling from using the word “Korean” in the names of his apartment buildings: “Use of the word Korean in the names of residential apartment buildings would indicate to the ‘ordinary reader’ that the buildings’ owner is not only receptive to but actually prefers tenants of Korean national origin.”

(I’m wondering if anyone’s gone after the clothing company FUBU (“For Us, By Us”) which—as well as being provocatively named—seems to feature only black models in its advertising.)

An unusual false beard. (Note: inclusion in this blog no guarantee of authenticity!)

Tibor Fischer’s review of Martis Amis’s Yellow Dog: “Yellow Dog isn’t bad as in not very good or slightly disappointing. It’s not-knowing-where-to-look bad. I was reading my copy on the Tube and I was terrified someone would look over my shoulder (not only because of the embargo, but because someone might think I was enjoying what was on the page). It’s like your favourite uncle being caught in a school playground, masturbating.”

Britons ignorant of their history, the story accompanying this graphic argues—though the questions seem pretty hard… (Three of the four figures respondents were asked to identify appear on the back of banknotes.)

Norway’s defence minister—embracing the idea that “security is no longer just about territorial defense”—is transforming her country’s military. “Put more simply, size doesn’t matter as much in today’s localized and technologically driven armed conflicts. What does matter is speed and the ability to bring narrowly defined skills to the front lines. And this is where small countries like Norway or the Netherlands or future NATO members like Latvia come into the geopolitical picture. The evolving nature of conflict presents opportunities for Davids to fight alongside Goliaths, if they bring the right slingshot.”

Horrible, horrible, “garden path” domain name. And this is the official site?

“I think the magic box used to belong to Chairman Mao.”

“If you had seen all this, you may well have asked yourself: Is this really a matter on which I need to form an opinion?” (On parallel universes.)

Cartoon: The Muslim World.

“Activate” self-esteem? Is The Body Shop distinguishing between self-esteem (“favourable appreciation or opinion of oneself”) and self-respect (“a proper respect for oneself as a human being” / “regard for one’s own standing or position”) here? Self-esteem, as described on this page, ends up sounding a lot like a sort of unyielding self-satisfaction: the state of feeling good about yourself whatever the situation is you find yourself in.

Theodore Dalrymple does distinguish between the two, to some effect: “self-esteem (which is very different from self-respect) is almost always an unattractive quality, whatever a person’s other merits, in so far as it implies self-regard and even self-obsession.”

Site of small fonts & great charm.

Eighty-five, and still pulling beers: “Mrs Byer is working at 8am and seldom goes to her residence upstairs before 11pm. Retirement is not on the cards. ‘Not till I die, dear.’”

Martin Amis’s latest novel is this “summer’s literary equivalent of Gigli”: “In The Daily Telegraph, Amis’s fellow novelist, Tibor Fischer, called the new book ‘terrible’ and said he would be embarrassed to be found reading it on the Tube in case anyone thought he might be enjoying it. He hoped, he said, that a friend would shoot him if he ever wrote a book that was anything like Yellow Dog.”

(Reasonable summary of Schwarzenegger’s campaign.),1,6561673.story

Fascinating Iraqi army debrief. Bad leadership and bad communications led to their defeat, ex-commanders say. Some of the quotes are amusing: “The only order I got was to dismantle my airplanes—the most idiotic order I ever received” (Brig. Gen. Baha Ali Nasr); Gen. Omar Abdul Karim didn’t realise the regime had collapsed until looters attempted to break into his headquarters.

I’ve wondered for a while what the statue of limitations was for; apparently, “their express purpose is to protect defendants from having to defend against ‘stale’ charges, since with time evidence degenerates, witnesses relocate, and memories fade.” (I had thought they also served to protect you from charges brought against you decades later, as harassment.)

“Arnold’s Nazi Problem: Why won’t he repudiate Kurt Waldheim?” (Some good comments at the bottom.) I think Schwarzenegger will become the next Governor of California, and for the most part not for bad (i.e. celebrity/fame-related) reasons. Schwarzenegger in Pumping Iron: “I don’t have any weak points. …” (Does anyone have a link to the photo of a sadly flabby Schwarzenegger in speedos that ran in People Magazine about a month back?)

To turn a bicycle right, you only need to be able to turn the handlebars left: “Once you begin a right turn by countersteering to the left, you might think that you would eventually turn the handlebars back to the right. Surprisingly, it turns out that you never need to turn the handlebars right. Don’t believe this? Try it. While riding very calmly (perhaps coasting) let go with your left hand and push the handlebars with your right hand. With this handhold, you can only force the handlebars left, but you and your bike will go right.”

Among the “fun facts”: the 2nd edition takes up 540 megabytes. (A life’s work, when expressed in an efficient form (e.g. for music, it would be the score, not the digital recording) fits onto a CD. Even counting stuff like email, you probably produce less than 10 gigabytes of raw data in your life. Your life’s work … fits onto a $100 hard drive. We are minnows.)

Artificial diamonds almost a reality. (Maybe for real this time…) The diamond business is fascinating: whilst gold is both rare and (intrinsicly) valuable (i.e. to industry), diamonds are neither—their value is due entirely to their scarcity and perceived beauty, both of which are, to a great extent, controlled and manipulated by De Beers.

The story doesn’t mention it, but De Beers now has about 50% of the world diamond market; in response to the “threat” from artificial diamonds, they’re giving gem labs machines designed to distinguish artificial from natural diamonds: that is, they’re assuming people want to know what sort of diamond they have, even if a machine is the only thing that can tell one from the other. (Beauty is truth? Truty beauty?) But to some extent, people probably do: “It’s not a symbol of eternal love if it is something that was created last week,” says Jef Van Royen, a senior scientist at the Diamond High Council—and he does have a point.

Will artificial diamonds sell? As the article relates, some artificial gems have succeeded (“cultured” pearls), whilst some have failed (“synthetic” emeralds). (To increase the chances of success, artificial diamonds are being marketed as “cultured”…)

Ebert defends his 2.5 star review of Gigli, reflects on why the critics took such pleasure in trashing it (giving, in the process, tacit approval to metacritic and its system of metascores).

(The next letter, from Dave Eggers, got me to “Some Information about Captain Rick’s Booty Cove.”)

Milgram’s “Six Degrees of Separation” experiment replicated with email: “Of more than 24,000 chains started, only 384 found their target. Successful chains were, on average, about four steps long, although this number was biased by the greater likelihood of shorter chains being completed. A typical chain length was indeed between five and seven, consistent with Milgram’s earlier findings.”

Defence of Truman’s decision to use nuclear weapons against Japan: “the Japanese military ferociously resisted surrender even after two atomic bombings on major cities, even after Soviet entry into the war, even when it expected another atomic bomb—on Tokyo.” (Article needs to be better sourced.)

Why flash mobs are stupid.

Why Charles Taylor’s miltiamen are cross-dressers. (I don’t watch the news so I hadn’t noticed…)

Unconventional economist Stephen Levitt: “he has merely distilled the so-called dismal science down to its most primal aim: explaining how people get what they want, or need.”

Ouch: GM has 2.5 retirees for each active U.S. employee; GM and Ford combined paid $7.8 billion in health care costs last year (on profits of $1.7bn and -$1bn). (They want the U.S. government to pay some of their health-care costs—or, as this article puts it, a European style social-welfare state.)

Canadian Government-sponsored report on “when, if ever, it is appropriate for states to take coercive—and in particular military—action, against another state for the purpose of protecting people at risk in that other state” (synopsis, pdf)—a response to a question Kofi Annan directed at the international community: “if humanitarian intervention is, indeed, an unacceptable assault on sovereignty, how should we respond to a Rwanda, to a Srebrenica—to gross and systematic violations of human rights that affect every precept of our common humanity?”

“Idiot Legal Arguments: A Casebook for Dealing with Extremist Legal Arguments.” I wish this was formatted better; the table of contents includes:

Objections to name typed in block letters (all-capitals) Insisting on having name typed with strange punctuation Arguments based on fringe on courtroom flag Similarly, on eagle on flagpole Similarly, on so-called “American Flag of Peace”

Great James Surowiecki piece on the Policy Analysis Market that specifically deals with the moral objections: “Let’s admit there’s something ghoulish about betting on an assassination attempt. But let’s also admit that U.S. government analysts ask themselves every day the exact same questions that PAM traders would have been asking … If it isn’t immoral for the U.S. government to be asking these questions, it’s hard to see how it’s immoral for people outside the U.S. government to ask them.”

I don’t quite like the argument that “[allowing] terrorists to bet on themselves, thereby letting them profit from their own misdeeds, [is] a pure red herring.” The problem is not with, for example, a 10 September 2001 bet that two planes would hit the WTC at about 10 o’clock the next day (insider-trading?!), but bets made by terrorists to compensate for the intrinsic “volatility” of their business. There is some small chance that Al Qaeda’s training bases will be, say, decimated by air strikes—so why not manage this risk by betting that this will in fact happen? If it doesn’t, you have your training base; if it does, you have the money to build a new one.

Short and demoralising summary and history of rape laws: “We have created a system that is bad for everyone. The legal rules for rape have been ‘reformed’ to the point that defendants have few of the usual presumptions of innocence while victims are still humiliated and exposed at trial.”

“The Pentagon scraps its startling plan for a terrorism futures market.” “Startling” is about right—politically, there was no way the program could survive. Even Paul Wolfowitz declared: “I share your shock…”

Gross says that though “on its face, the market is not a preposterous idea,” it would ultimately fail because “many of the figures who would have driven the pricing of PAM securities [e.g. Arafat, Bin Laden, suicide bombers] are not what international relations types refer to as ‘rational actors.’” There are two responses to this argument.

First, markets are much better at taking uncertainty into account than he suggests. Though the balance sheets of publicly-traded companies are (thanks to SEC rules, etc.) more open than, say, Hezbollah’s, a company’s value depends on much more than this. Among other things, investors have to be able to predict whether a particular product (Tablet PCs, the new Ford Falcon) or drug (cure for cancer, AIDS) will or won’t succeed in order to accurately value a company—and in this they would seem to have about as much information at their disposal as those predicting the timing and form of terror attacks.

Second, the business of predicting terror attacks is clearly not impossible (e.g. suicide attacks are more likely in Israel than Australia): and making these sorts of predictions is, in fact, exactly what intelligence agencies are supposed to do. Why not force them to quantify the strength of their beliefs by “selling” them in a market? What is the probability that Iraq tried to acquire yellowcake from Africa? If the only odds the CIA will accept are those that imply a probability of less than 5%, then maybe they aren’t so sure after all.

A market would allow decision-makers to separate the experts from the charlatans: if a supposed expert is continually losing money, then perhaps their predictions aren’t so hot after all. (Though in actual fact—if the market ever did run—decision-makers would most likely take their leads from the probabilities the market itself assigned, rather than the predictions of any one analyst.) To some extent, a market would also reduce the influence of ideological biases in the same way that footy tipsters, if they want to win, sometimes have to tip against their own team. Wishful thinking won’t do when your reputation is on the line. James Surowiecki, in an article published in March, put it like this: “Decision markets also skirt the political and personal issues that so often clog the flow of information within organizations. Because people are rewarded only for being right, they have no incentive to hide information, pursue agendas, or go along with the crowd.”

Michael Kinsley: “Nevertheless, watching on television, I found myself feeling, briefly, that politics mattered to me and I, as a citizen, mattered to politics. These are the feelings that Americans feel the lack of when they complain about politics and politicians. How did Blair do it?”

Wow, Moussaoui trial not going at all well for the Justice Department.

“The deal only applies to Mr Hicks. Separate arrangements will have to be negotiated for Mamdouh Habib if he is named as eligible for trial.” Why on earth would you negotiate trial conditions (i.e. not sentences) for Hicks and Habib separately? They’re both Australian, right? It seems, well, racist.

“Conversation” is … “an exchange similar to conversation”? (Definition 2c.) You can do this?,0,4952758.story?coll=cl-home-more-channels

Blind characters suddenly feature in three different ads. (Interesting side issue about whether blind actors should play the blind characters. I don’t see that they necessarily should (actors do act, after all), though this might not leave many jobs for blind actors…);title=Untitled-1055913477t.jpg

A photo of this image, with artist Naomie Sunner standing in front of it, is on the front page of this week’s Yarra Leader: “Sunner’s image of a family sitting down to a meal of over-sized corn on the cob is presently plastered on a billboard on the corner of Smith and Gertrude streets. The billboard art project was funded under Yarra Council’s arts development program and is intended to generate debate about genetically modified food.”

I quite like this picture, though I don’t find it as disturbing as I think I’m supposed to. Does Sunner know that corn cobs were once about half an inch long, and that it is only through selective breeding that they’ve got to the size they are today? That Mexican Indian farmers had developed six-inch cobs by A.D. 1500? (This information comes from Jared Diamond’s excellent Guns, Germs, and Steel, which, even more incredibly, says cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and broccoli were once the same plant.)

About Billboard’s new digital download chart: (1) the top-selling single sold only 1,500 copies, meaning that (2) a great variety of tracks must be being downloaded, since Apple are claiming their iTunes store is selling 500,000 tracks a week.

Nation-building seldom successful (and less so when unilateral). (If anyone wants to organise a rally in support of responsible nation-building in Iraq, I will go…)

New York writers on how they got their start. Jonathan Franzen: “The lamest assignment I ever took was to write a piece for Details about buying my first suit. The deal was for $2,000 plus a free suit. I wrote the thing and got a suit from Barneys which I still wear. The real bonus, though, was that Details never ran the piece.”

Attorney General John Ashcroft: “We’ve become too complacent … We’ve grown accustomed to thinking of criticism as something that only happens to people in other political parties. But this administration needs this funding to counter a very real threat to its reputation.”

The “Corsair,” an erogonomic keyboard for pirates.

“Any smoker is socially allowed to talk to any other smoker at any time, to ask for a cigarette or a light. The most successful opening line in the known universe—male or female—is ‘Can I bum a cigarette?’ It’s non-threatening, instantly personal and highly sympathetic. All smokers know what it’s like to crave a cigarette and be without one, and so they are always willing to help, always empathetic and egalitarian. No other social phenomenon is quite like it.”,,2-2003310256,00.html

“Shocked six-year-old Leah Lowland checked out a mystery bulge on her Incredible Hulk doll—and uncovered a giant green WILLY.”

“Costing an Arm and a Leg: The victims of a growing mental disorder are obsessed with amputation.” The author thinks this is partly a social phenomenon: “What needs particular attention are the reasons why some people come to be sexually attracted to amputees or to the image of themselves as amputees. The form paraphilias take differs not merely among individuals, but from one culture and historical period to another. When Richard von Krafft-Ebing was writing about paraphilias in 19th-century Vienna, he described men who were sexually obsessed with handkerchiefs. That paraphilia has largely disappeared. Yet many others have emerged. What is it about our own time and place that has helped create an obsession with amputees?”

What wants should society encourage, discourage, forbid? Alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, coke? Fast cars, safe cars, no cars? Homosexuality, sex-reassignment surgery, amputation? (Link from the past: “Tiresias redux,” in which my favourite conservative writer, Theodore Dalrymple, complains about Professor Donald N. McCloskey’s decision to become a Deirdre.)

Curious: during WWII thousands of Russians deserted to fight for Germany. “Some say Vlasov and the other Russians who collaborated with the Nazis aren’t worth crying over—they were traitors, after all. But I’d say they deserve a little sympathy. They could fight for either Hitler or Stalin, and life offers few choices more dismal than that.”

I’m getting interested in what various people think of Mao: see Masterkill.

“Chatterbox is a Democrat because (among other reasons) Democrats are the party of toleration. A small but telling illustration is the name of Sen. Joe Lieberman’s new communications director. It’s Matt Gobush. …”

CD of poets reading their own poems. (An Atlantic Monthly article links to some similar recordings, including Sylvia Plath reading “Lady Lazarus.”)

Update: Great review at Slate.

Jurors are increasingly deciding to not execute those convicted of a capital offence, in part because defence lawyers “have become more skilled and resourceful in persuading jurors that the lives of their clients are worth saving.” A jury convicted Jeremy Gross of a particularly brutal murder of a convenience store clerk; but when the defence laid out the circumstances of his life before them, the twelve jurors (who had indicated that they supported the death penalty) sentenced him to life without parole.

Julian Barnes reviews Michel Houllebecq: Atomised/The Elementary Particles “was very French in its mixture of intellectuality and eroticism; it was reminiscent of Tournier in the evident pride it took in its own theoretical bone structure. It also had its faults: a certain heavy-handedness, and a tendency for the characters to make speeches rather than utter dialogue. But, in its high ambition and its intransigence, it was clearly superior to the other immediate contender for the [Prix Novembre], a novel that was very French in a different way: elegant, controlled, and old-fashioned…”

Also: “The literary world is one of the easiest in which to acquire a bad-boy reputation, and Houellebecq duly obliged. When the (female) profiler from the Times visited him, he got catatonically drunk, collapsed face down into his dinner, and told her he’d answer further questions only if she slept with him. Houellebecq’s wife was also enlisted, posing for the photographer in her underwear and offering a loyal quote of treasurable quality. ‘Michel’s not depressed,’ she told the interviewer. ‘It’s the world that’s depressing.’”

Michael Kinsley says: privatise marriage. (I really like this idea—as he explains, it solves a whole lot of problems all at once. True, the institution of marriage is embedded into various laws and regulations, but as Kinsley says, “in all these areas, marriage is used as a substitute for other factors that are harder to measure, such as financial dependence or devotion to offspring.” And since we’re having to figure out how to measure these factors in order to recognise de facto relationships, why not go the whole way and abolish government-sanctioned marriage altogether?)

Bottled water is neither safer nor tastier than tap water. (Also: Coke and Pepsi both “charge more for their plain water than their sugar water.”)

Tony Jones interviews Christopher Hitchens. It’s all interesting (as you might expect)—here’s how Hitchens distinguishes between Iraq and Zimbabwe: “I think in order for international action to be taken … about four things have to happen.” The state must: (1) have “a proven record of attacks on neighbouring countries and the intention to do so again”; (2) sponsor terrorist and gangster groups; (3) be in violation of the genocide convention and/or be a major threat to the survival of one’s own people; and (4) be searching for “weapons that violate all known non-proliferation treaties.”

“What part of ‘I’m f--king sorry’ don’t you understand?”

(I’m sort of glad in a way that Movable Type is finally getting some licensing grief. The software itself is excellent, but it has always irked me that it wasn’t GPL’ed. I use a lot of GPL’ed software, but I use a lot of commercial, non-GPL’ed software too: my problem with Movable Type is not that it’s not Free Software, but that it’s not Free Software despite relying on a large amount of software that is—software (like Perl and its libraries, MySQL, and Linux) that represent many orders of magnitude more work than that which went into Movable Type. Has Movable Type or TypePad contributed to The Perl Foundation? Pledged to?)

The really messy politics surrounding lesbian female-to-male transsexuals: “Having lived through the fiery feminist years, when challenging male power was central to a particular agenda, some lesbians have gone so far as to say they feel betrayed by those ‘transitioning’—the street parlance for crossing genders. Twenty years ago life as a butch lesbian seemed the obvious path for a masculine-identified gay female. Now, young lesbians immediately enter a community in which the option to change genders is readily available—an option that some say they might be taking up too lightly, injecting their bodies with testosterone and having radical breast-reduction surgery before they’ve had time to explore who they might be as adults.”

Twenty questions/answers: the situation in Iraq now. (I wish more papers would run stories like this—updates, backgrounders, and so on.)

Media Watch says Phillip Adams didn’t plagiarise. What Adams wrote (Weekend Australian Magazine, May 31, 2003):

“Jacques amused himself, and others, with automata that played the flute and the organ. And then there was his immensely successful copper duck. History records that the creature would peck away at food, apparently swallow it through a flexible neck and then, voila! excrete it onto a silver dish. First displayed in 1739, the duck was the toast of Paris. ‘Without the shitting duck,’ said Voltaire, ‘there would be nothing to remind us of the glory of France.’”

What Schuessler wrote (New York Review of Books, Feb 13, 2003):

“While he entertained audiences with automata that played the flute and the organ, his most celebrated invention was a copper duck that realistically ‘gulped’ food through a flexible neck and then excreted it on a silver platter. First displayed in 1739, the duck caused a sensation. ‘Without the shitting duck,’ Voltaire quipped, ‘there would be nothing to remind us of the glory of France.’”

“Didn’t make the grade”? Huh? (Parallels spotted by Professor Bunyip.) &quot;in every sense of the word&quot;

(Mich, from a fridaysixpm discussion I can’t manage to link to…)

Anne Applebaum’s exerience: people are much more aware of, and respectful of, differences of (political) opinion in Washington than in New York. “… young people move nowadays not only to find interesting high-tech jobs but in order to live somewhere they find politically and culturally congenial. They look not only for neighborhoods with decent coffee bars, in other words, but for neighborhoods with appealing political attitudes. Increasingly, this country is segregated not by race or class but by politics.”

Artists getting toey about sales of singles (instead of albums) at the iTunes Music Store, etc. (As time goes on, I think it’ll get harder and harder for digital music/P2P enthusiasts to maintain the view that artists’ and listeners’ interests are perfectly, seamlessly, aligned, and that record companies and the RIAA are nothing but a malevolent force.)

Turns out that the “E-Mail This Article” feature of NY Times stories works with articles older than a week (that you otherwise have to pay for). So, if you get a page which links to for-fee Times articles, run this nytimes emailer bookmarklet on the original page, then select the link again. (The bookmarklet converts links to pages to links to “Email This Article” pages, which you can then use to get the article sent to you.)

(Also, if you select the “Send abstract and link to full coverage” option, you might get a link that works forever.)

Update: If all your pages go through an XSL style sheet at some stage, you can add this xsl:template to your code to add an “(email this)” link after every existing NY Times link (example):

<xsl:template match="a">
  <xsl:copy-of select="."/>
  <xsl:if test="starts-with(@href, '')">
    <xsl:text> (</xsl:text>
    <a href="{@href}">
      email this
    <xsl:text>) </xsl:text>

(Go XSL!)

Graphic proof: fully-inflated sex dolls look ridiculous.

In the end, they get us all: “The Marketing of No Marketing.” “[Naomi] Klein’s view is that [a grass-roots backlash against the incursion of brands into public life] would feed a new wave of activists who targeted corporations. Stewart’s view is that [No Logo] contains ‘many good marketing ideas.’ He says it ‘really articulated the feelings, the coming feelings, of the consumer out there: eventually people are gonna get sick of all this stuff’—all this marketing—‘and say enough is enough.’”

Tremendous history of music in the Twentieth Century—the technical, economic, legal and social—and how each aspect influenced the others. (Very long.)

Two parts to this Kinsley piece: (1) an argument that it doesn’t really matter whether or not Iraq had WMDs that I didn’t really understand; and (2) more on the futility of polls—among other examples of out-and-out ignorance, about one in three people believe that WMDs have been discovered. (Kinsley is particularly good on the inexplicable reluctance of people to answer “don’t know”—although I would expect that most people would request some thinking time if government policy did in fact depend on their response.),2763,974193,00.html

Iraq’s National Museum is not missing very many items at all. “… I conclude two things from all this. The first is the credulousness of many western academics and others who cannot conceive that a plausible and intelligent fellow-professional might have been an apparatchiks of a fascist regime and a propagandist for his own past. The second is that—these days—you cannot say anything too bad about the Yanks and not be believed.”

Fun “L.A.’s Sexiest” heat report. Heidi Fleiss (a judge): “Some beautiful people are not sexy … George Clooney is not sexy. Benicio del Toro is very sexy. Taschen books are sexy. Sexy is when you stand next to someone and you want to say, ‘Get away from me before I rape you.’”

A strange hobby: Greg Packer shows up to various events, seeks out journalists, gets quoted on just about anything.

[Update: AP tells its reporters to “find other people to quote.”]

How to record a cover song: “you issue the copyright owner a notice of intention to obtain a compulsory mechanical licence” then pay them 8¢, or 1.55¢ per minute (whichever is greater) per copy. (You don’t need the copyright owner’s permission.)

(I suppose this also means that 10¢ is about the least you’re ever going to pay for a track from an on-line music retailer.)

“Top 10 Pictures of Thom Yorke Looking Pretentious.” (Yorke: “We operate like the U.N. I’m America.”)

Star Wars kid parody—?! (adm: “parody on so many levels, I get confused just thinking about it.”)

Michael Kinsley’s gotten a bit wilder since he stopped having to be a cautious, responsible editor, but this is a good article on liberties, freedoms, etc., and how they must be vigilantly defended against incipient threats (such as the Patriot Act). (Ooh, preëmption!) Some good lines: (1) “These violations [immigration violations by non-citizens], by the way, suggest a greater love of freedom than most American citizens have ever had to demonstrate.” (2) “The American Civil Liberties Union is alarmed, but the ACLU’s function, which I admire and support, is to be alarmed before I am, like the canary down the mineshaft.”

Style Wars: “a 1983 documentary about the world of NYC graffiti.”

Fascinating: Tucker Max writes about his sexcapades with Miss Vermont (Katy Johnson), judge issues temporary injunction ordering Max to remove all references to Johnson from his site on the grounds (I think this is right—the article rambles a bit) that he disclosed embarrassing private facts and/or is making commercial use of Johnson’s image without her consent. (For the most part, Johnson doesn’t dispute the facts.)

Is he serving a legitimate public interest? “If Ms. Johnson is selling young girls books promoting abstinence and sobriety and creating and publishing ‘character education’ cartoons, her choice to give drunken blowjobs in a guy’s kitchen, or fuck someone she’s just met in her SUV allows for, if nothing else, an informative contextualization.” I love this legal tactic (from Johnson’s Affidavit): “I fear that more will continue to read these stories, including my father, and associate me with TUCKER MAX and his adult audience.” Max can’t write about you because otherwise your father will find out?!

[“Free speech or privacy?”—IHT report. “Santucci [Johnson’s lawyer] did not respond to an e-mail message asking whether his issuing a news release was at odds with his request to seal the court file.”]

“In Japan, ‘Ringu’ made $6.6 million; ‘The Ring’ made $8.3 million there in its first two weeks.” How’s that for cultural imperialism? (Movie producer Roy Lee hawks Asian movies to Hollywood studios.)

Goody or baddie? Dathar Khashab may have been a member of the Baath party, but, as director general of an oil refinery, he also knows how it works.

Three teenagers who teach FBI agents how to IM like 13-year-old girls receive a letter of commendation from the FBI: “One agent kept insisting that he was right when he answered on a quiz that Justin Timberlake was more popular than Destiny’s Child. Another was miffed when the girls told the class that Led Zeppelin was just not cool. Some kept wondering why ‘l2m’ in instant messaging couldn’t be ‘love to meet,’ instead of ‘listen to music.’”

I was wondering about this: “passive-aggressive” pretty much means nothing more precise than “pain in the ass.”

Pew Center survey of world opinion (chaired by Madeleine Albright!) finds that the U.N. is thought to be less relevant now that before the war, and that people thought more favourably of the U.S. a year ago than they do today. (Though in all cases support for the U.S. has grown over the last three months.) Some results that were surprising/interesting:

(Is public opinion good for anything?)

Matrix theology: “As the Architect reveals, Neo is not the first One, but rather the sixth. Why the sixth? The answer is that Neo’s five previous incarnations represent the Five Books of Moses that make up the Old Testament. Neo (representing Christ, and thus the New Testament) differs from his five predecessors in his capacity to love.”

Salam responds to claims that his family had ties to the Ba’ath party. (A story in The Guardian contains more backstory, as well as the news that Salam will soon be writing a column for the paper.)

How very strange! “The Florida woman who’s suing for the right to wear a Muslim headdress in a driver’s licence photograph” was: (a) previously known as Sandra Keller, and converted to Islam in 1997; (b) arrested in 1999 for battering a foster child; and (c) photographed (without headdress) as part of the process; TSG have the photo. (She later pleaded guilty; two children were removed from her care.)

There’s a great article in yesterday’s Australian Financial Review about how Washington—which in 2001 convinced Vietnamese officials (“reared on Marxist-Lenist economics”) to sign a free-trade agreement—are now allowing Vietnam to sell only $US1.7bn of clothing to the U.S. each year. (This because whilst in 2001 Vietnam sold only $50m to the U.S., this increased to $950m in 2002, and was expected to hit $2.4bn this year—the author noted that the Vietnamese were simply doing what poor nations traditionally do: “sew their way out of poverty, as quickly as possible.”)

I hope that article makes it to Rushford’s archive; I haven’t been able to find it online anywhere. Anyway, the above article is good too, and describes how many poor countries pay more in tariffs than many rich countries. For example, last year Cambodia paid $152m in tax on exports of $964m, whilst Singapore paid $96m on $14.8bn of exports.;article_id=4343&amp;page_number=1

Arianna Huffington’s reasons for being against SUVs—that they fund terrorism—were particularly silly; this is a great take-down.

On the search for an abstract definition of the kilogram. (That is, one that isn’t defined by a (unique) physical object, in this case by chunk of heavily guarded metal sitting in a “château” outside Paris.)

Interesting: “One reason the kilogram has lagged behind the other units is that there has been no immediate practical benefit to increasing its precision.”

(The piece also mentions that Japan had to surrender their replica kilogram block after WWII. So only countries in good international standing get a kilogram of their own? And was it physically (and cermonially) taken from them, or did someone just bounce it down the stairs a few times?);s=lazare

“The New Yorker Goes to War.” The subtitle—“How a Nice Magazine Talked Itself Into Backing Bush’s Jihad”—neatly captures the tone of this piece. (The author’s first thought, when faced with The New Yorker’s (putative) change of heart, seems to be not that the magazine is wrong, but that it has let him down.)

“The New Yorker may be just one example of a magazine that has lost its bearings, but, given its journalistic track record, its massive circulation (nearly a million) and the remarkable hold it still has on a major chunk of the reading public, it’s an unusually important one. Where once it used its institutional heft to help broaden American politics, now it is helping to narrow them.”

I don’t think Lazare’s problem is that The New Yorker doesn’t broaden like it once did: it’s that the magazine is not as liberal as it once was.

“Actually there was something novel about this occasion, but it passed utterly below the radar. Discretion prevented anyone from mentioning that Bush’s outfit gave him a very vivid basket.”

“Katayama’s interiors are purposefully designed to be experienced independent of what is being sold.” “You’re not just buying the product,” Katayama says, “You’re also buying the time you spend.”

“A six year old has a crush on me…”

Official Matrix website has section on the philosophy of the Matrix, with papers written by real philosophers! James Pryor (Princeton) asks “What’s So Bad about Living in the Matrix?” and gives three reasons for why life in the Matrix would suck (search for “three possibilities”); I’m not convinced! (I remember arguing a similar point with my high-school English teacher over Nineteen Eighty-Four.)

“The 86 Rules of Boozing.”

“Why is it so difficult to provide universal health care?” The U.S. apparently spends 14% of G.D.P. on health care, or twice as much as Britain and Japan. The article doesn’t mention it, but this is despite Britain’s N.H.S. being free to all (and therefore supposedly subject to the problem of infinite demand).

High school senior exhibits life-size self-portrait outside school cafeteria; the painting has her left breast exposed—officials make her take it down.

“Here’s a terrible confession: sometimes I’ll meet someone and think ‘If you were a character in a book I’d probably feel sorry for you. But as a real person, you’re very annoying and I want you to go away.’ ”

Richard Posner on liberalism and conscription. A nice observation: “… since the left has been notably unsuccessful in restricting economic liberty, and the right has been largely unsuccessful in restricting personal liberty, what we have in fact, though it is rarely acknowledged, is an approximation, though a very rough one, to a Millian polity.” (This gets a little weird and unconvincing at the end; I don’t believe that “nation’s admiration for [soldiers] helps to bind the different income classes together.”)

Two parts to this. (1) A nice riff on Maxim, FHM, etc.: “Have you noticed that male chauvinism is making a comeback?” (2) The observation that one particular threat to society—“misogynistic rap culture”— comes not from the progressive’s traditional enemies of the rich, powerful and wellborn, but from the “urban lower class”—and that they haven’t yet figured out how to deal with this. “How do you react when people further down the social pecking order—whether they are disenfranchised whites or underclass urban minorities—are creating a culture you find degrading? How do you criticize that culture without seeming square, elitist, or even racist?”

Curious sort-of defense of Jayson Blair, via charges of hypocrisy and past institutional malfeasance, by the World Socialist Web Site.

Fabulous essay on Milan Kundera. (From Harper’s, Nov 2002.) He’s cashed in on his image as a suffering Czech emigre; why, thirteen years after the Velvet Revolution, has he still not returned to Prague? He humiliates and disfigures his female characters; why has he got a free pass from feminists? (Also: Kundera’s five most recent books are unavailable in Czech!)

(Note that I like Kundera very much—see the Bin Disclaimer!)

What will war do to Iraq? (PDF summary.) (I approve of specific, falsifiable, predictions in the field of political science; they make it more, well, scientific.)

Many of these predictions did not eventuate: the war did not last three months, nor did it claim “48,000–261,000” lives; nuclear weapons were not used, nor was there a civil war; Iraq’s infrastructure did not suffer “enormous damage”; refugees escaping the conflict did not “die in large numbers”; Iraq did not use chemical or biological weapons; oil wells were not set on fire; cities were not destroyed.

My question is (and with reference to a previous entry in which I wondered about the extent to which the disagreement over whether it was right to go to war amounted to a disagreement over the expected results): would Medact have supported the war if the outcome was the outcome the coalition got? Contrariwise, would the coalition have not waged war if the outcome was the outcome described in Medact’s report?

A slaughter-house HR manager interviewed in Gig (wishlisted to me by the delicious Rebekah Jude!) said that at her work everything’s recycled, including the cow magnets. Cow magnets? Apparently, they’re fed to cows to collect the pieces of scrap wire they ingest (which would otherwise slice open their stomachs). (More on cow magnets.)

Harrowing IRC log of Brandon Vedas’s final moments as he overdoses on methadone, vicodin, klonopin, restoril…

Urinal design/where you should pee.

The importance of email: “I mean to say, I enjoyed the boy a great deal in person, even if his email skills were lacking.”

Dealers, don’t forget to purchase your drug tax stamps from the Kansas Department of Revenue!,,5-669779,00.html

Surprising: Warren Buffet “still lives in the grey stucco house he bought in 1956 for $31,500.” (Most of this article is about Buffet’s criticism of Bush’s planned tax cuts—but is the world’s second richest man really a credible champion of the poor?)

On Bush’s carrier-top speech: “A U.S.-based British journalist told me that he and his colleagues had laughed through the whole scene. If Tony Blair had tried such a stunt, he said, the press would have demanded to know how many hospital beds could have been provided for the cost of the jet fuel.”

“An Open Letter to Myself”: why you might not want to move to NYC.

“A Guide to Menu English.”

Interview with an N.B.A. camera operator. (Also: nice introduction to the expression “really bringing it.”)

The Be Good Tanyas (awful name for a band), “Ship Out on the Sea.”

Should graduate students be unionised? Pro: they’re not treated very well, and competition between universities will only make things worse. Con: they are treated well, and the relationship between graduate students and faculty is not the same as that between sanitation workers and management.,8599,449436,00.html

U.N. diplomats loot cafeterias after food workers call wildcat strike! “The mob then moved on to the Viennese Cafe, a popular snack bar in the U.N.’s conference room facility. It was also stripped bare. The takers included some well-known diplomats who finished off the raid with free drinks at the lounge for delegates. When asked how much liquor was lifted from the U.N. bar, one U.S. diplomat responded: ‘I stopped counting the bottles.’ He then excused himself and headed towards the men’s room.”

Jane Juska’s personal ad: “Before I turn 67—next March—I would like to have a lot of sex with a man I like. If you want to talk first, Trollope works for me.”

“The Rich Dialog of Neo.”

“You ruined my poo.”

Slate is now making money. (Also discussion of how being an arm of Microsoft helps, general analysis of the economics of web publishing.)

(I’ve always liked Slate, and was a subscriber during its “dalliance with subscriptions.”)

Conceptual artists accuse each other of plagiarism, etc.

Gentle narrated walk-through of Grand Theft Auto’s Liberty City.

If gay sex should be legal because it harms no-one, why not incest? (Followup.)

Wow! 8 Mile DVD has featurette “showing Eminem is a series of spontaneous, real-life rap battles” against extras from the final battle sequence.,15935,423053,00.html

Wal-Mart’s way of doing business. Apparently Wal-Mart is good for manufacturers: their profits are up, and a survey declared Wal-Mart “the best retailer with which to do business.” Apparently Wal-Mart is good for consumers: low inflation is in part due to Wal-Mart’s low prices, and the company accounts for one-eighth of the growth in US productivity between 1995 and 1999.

I didn’t realise this: it’s in fact not okay for the US government to prefer US companies when spending to US tax-payers’ money (e.g. in rebuilding Iraq) because WTO rules “forbid governments to discriminate against the companies of fellow members when they are looking to spend some money.”

Interactive North African/Middle Eastern geography test.

Roger Ebert interview covering Michael Moore, “progressive” movies, politics…

(I almost always find Ebert interesting (and by “interesting” I don’t mean “provocative”). He’s also the source of one of my favourite thoughts that one can contemplate: what would you most like to see again (or do again, or hear again) for the very first time? Another favourite (from Hanif Kureishi): when the phone rings, who would you most like it to be? And who would you least like it to be? … a third (this one not a question): that out hundreds of millions of potential partners, you seriously consider maybe 1,000. (Herbert Simon.) You can love someone very much, and do much to be with them, and find it inconceivable that you could love anyone else—and yet they were chosen from a set of 1,000 out of a million.)

Why are vibrators more socially acceptable than the male equivalent (whatever that would be)? (I love it when people get all intellectual and thoughtful about sex!)

About Honda’s “cog” ad. (Not fake; it took months to develop and test, and 606 takes over four days.)

New Yorker article on the ethics and economics of AIDS research. This is blurbed as being on whether it’s appropriate to subject AIDS research to the same constraints that govern other medical research, but it actually covers a lot of subjects (and doesn’t actually cover the ethical issue in much depth).

“In 2001, less than two per cent of the twenty billion dollars spent on aids prevention, treatment, and research across the world was devoted to the search for a vaccine.” (Apparently there’s not much incentive to find a vaccine because the ideal vaccine is cheap, and administered once. Also, finding a vaccine looks to be very hard.)

Bush’s subtle discrimination: calling the Iraqis “good and gifted” marks them as special—Americans don’t get such “compliments.” (There’s a great Chris Rock rant about how white people’s idea of a compliment to Colin Powell is that “he speaks so well.”)

rja is back!

On the Marines having second thoughts about draping an American flag from the head of Saddam’s statue: Fred Kaplan speculates that someone back at Centcom watching the toppling on CNN told them to remove it, which would make it a demonstration of both what shouldn’t happen, and what can and should—provided the coalition is pressured enough. (The comments, at the bottom, are interesting too.)

Hitchens gloats: “The next mass mobilization called by International ANSWER and the stop-the-war coalition is only a few days away. I already have my calendar ringed for the date.”

Only 4% of Hollywood’s directors are female.

Why are there still anti-war protests going on? Protests made sense before the war started in that they revealed, to the decision-makers, that a large number of people opposed war. But now that it’s started, it’s not going to stop before Saddam is gone. (And as Marc Cooper writes, “To call off the tanks at this juncture, thereby saving Saddam’s skin, would be a double betrayal of the Iraqi people.”) How do protests, right now, serve the Iraqi people? For protesters to vent their spleen whilst bombs fall is a great extravagance.

What the anti-war protesters should do is not plant banners on warships, but work to ensure Bush, etc. sticks to his promises. Cooper again puts this well: “The responsibilities of the peace movement are far too weighty to be squandered in sputtering and ultimately politically irrelevant feel-good acts of blocking traffic or ripping down fences at military bases. … The peace movement should take an active role in debating and trying to shape the post-Saddam outcome by fighting, first of all, for a thorough roll-up of the Ba’ath regime, for indictment and prosecution of Hussein and his gang, for the fullest democracy possible, respect for the Shiahs and Kurds, for a postwar government that respects human rights. That formula includes an authentic U.S. and international commitment to fund reconstruction and development. And let’s not forget the Bush-Blair promise to finally get serious about the Palestinians.”

William Saletan is more direct: “If you want to minimize the killing, stop resisting the war. Instead, do what you can to make the war transparent and to hold your government accountable for unnecessary deaths. Help the media and human rights organizations monitor the battlefield. Help them get reports and pictures to the people of your country and the world. Build an incentive system that will strengthen your government’s will to spare lives. Its ability will do the rest.”

Timothy Noah solicits advice from PR professionals on behalf of Iraq’s Information Minister. (I’m surprised so many replied actually, but I suppose they know what they’re doing…)

(More of the Minister’s fine work.)

On affirmative action, and college admissions policies: “… This means that colleges like Harvard and Yale can cherry-pick their classes. If Harvard needs an outside linebacker, it can probably choose between an All-Division player with 1450 combined S.A.T. scores and an All-State with 1350. Yale can choose between a legacy [the child of a graduate], a Latina, and a national-science-competition finalist, depending on which hole needs another pigeon, each applicant with two 800s on the S.A.T.s (a credential known as dialling toll-free).” (Harvard apparently rejects twenty-five per cent of its “toll free” candidates.)

Wonderful Mousetrap-style ad for the Accord. (Nice work with the music, too.)

Japanese Adult toys. Hello Kitty “shoulder massager” only $21.50!

How SARS spread from the Metropole Hotel.

McSweeney’s and the short story. McSweeney’s, supposedly an outlet for stories not fitting the mould of the “New Yorker short story” (described by Michael Chabon as a “contemporary, quotidian, plotless, moment-of-truth revelatory story”), now just as sharply defines a short story genre of its own: the “McSweeney’s short story,” which “substitutes nihilism for epiphany” and rejects “conventional notions of structure, character, or coherence.” (I think another defining (and regrettable) characteristic of the McSweeney’s short story is irrepressible whimsy. A McSweeney’s story can never be too cute, it seems.)

Actually, I’m not very fond of either type of short story. I don’t agree with all of it, but B.R. Meyers’s “A Reader’s Manifesto” goes some way toward explaining my problems with modern fiction.

“More than half a century ago popular storytellers like Christopher Isherwood and Somerset Maugham were ranked among the finest novelists of their time, and were considered no less literary, in their own way, than Virginia Woolf and James Joyce. Today any accessible, fast-moving story written in unaffected prose is deemed to be ‘genre fiction’—at best an excellent ‘read’ or a ‘page turner,’ but never literature with a capital L.”

Classic books sell well—over 100,000 copies a year, which is many times more than the best-sellers of a few years ago.

Lt. Col. Tim Collins’s address to the Royal Irish Regiment’s 1st Battalion. c.f. Henry V’s St. Crispin’s Day speech.

(Curiously, there’s several different versions of this speech going around: this one, from the BBC, another at the Weekly Standard, and another at NPR. NPR specifically says that the “sleeping bags” line concludes the speech, but the Weekly Standard puts it at the beginning, and the BBC in the middle…)

How “Shock and Awe” was supposed to work, according to its inventor. (No mitigating circumstance!)

Dahlia Lithwick’s summary of the two University of Michigan affirimative action cases argued before the Supreme Court Court yesterday. “The affirmative action camp is for ‘critical masses’ that look like quotas and for ‘diversity’ that may not bring about diversity. The anti-affirmative action camp is for pretending that other remedies work when it’s clear that you can’t fix race problems by ignoring race.”

What will happen to Iraq’s debt? James Surowiecki argues that “odious debt” should be forgiven—which I approve of, although I hope this won’t make it too hard for poor countries to secure loans. (Countries with high credit ratings (like the US, for example), already pay far less to “service” their loans than countries with low credit ratings—meaning that it costs the US less to borrow the same amount of money.)

International finance is screwed up. Over the last five years, for example, Mexico paid $6bn to the World Bank, India $1.5bn, Indonesia $4.7bn and Nigeria $1.7bn. (See the “net transfer” tables of the “About the World Bank” chapter from their 2002 Annual Report.)

“The Experience Machine.” A strange little video. Not sure what to make of this—is it cute, cool, indulgent, what? (It’s probably important to note that is a website other websites look up to.)

Notes on personal websites: “A very consistent voice cropped up among the new writers: casual, chatty, inoffensive, usually a dash of false self-deprecation, and a kind of subtle condescension—the sound of someone who has been chosen to pass along valuable information to others. This tone of I am interesting, right? was underscored by the guestbooks and comments and karma points and permalinks and trackbacks and referer logs.”

Really … odd: “In response to increasing requests from our viewers, the ‘Big Single’ is made into Realistic Paper Craft at last. Enjoy the authenticity of the model duplicated in the smallest details possible within the limitations of craft paper.”

“All I have to say is, once this is over, the Iraqi people better be the freest fucking people on the face of the earth. They better be freer than me. They better be so fucking free they can fly.” I’m getting a bad feeling about this war.

Zadie Smith’s “Alphabet”—free association on 26 topics. “Girls, (Pretty): … Pretty girls lie at the centre of straight culture, dyke culture, fag culture. They sell everything, they buy everything, they ruin great men and women, and finally they ruin themselves, accidentally, simply by getting old. I think about them. Sometimes I want them and sometimes I worry about them—even though it’s not my business to do so. I wonder about them. …”

“Dead Iraqi Would Have Loved Democracy.” Actually the entire Onion is pretty good this week, right down to the Guide to Prescription-Drug Safety. (“If your pharmacist doesn’t offer to have one with you right there in the store, the shit’s probably no good.”)

About the XM29, the weapon scheduled to replace the M16 in 2008. Fires 5.56mm rounds and 20mm high-explosive rounds—the HE rounds can be set to explode in the air above the target, go through windows and then explode, etc.

(Sometimes I wonder if my (weak and reluctant) support for the war is tainted by my interest in the military, and weapons. I was recently assured that this is okay because I’m a boy but … I still have my doubts.)

Inventor Woody Norris has made a device that can project sound … and some other things too.

Problems of diacritic design for Latin script text faces. (Diacritics are accents, umlauts, and so forth.) A fascinating 30-page thesis detailing the difficulties involved in designing a multi-lingual typeface. Does the dot over the i harmonise with the two dots over the ï? What happens when a î is set next to a f? How should diacritics be aligned?

(The thesis is set in the author’s own Gentium.)

Seems a little broken right now but even the headlines are instructive.

Nate Thayer’s Baghdad diary. Bagdad is seems to be getting more volatile, and more defiant. (Thayer seems to specialise in “extreme” journalism—it was he who in 1997 interviewed Pol Pot in northern Cambodia just before he died.)

Michael Ignatieff: “It is impossible to be certain that improving the human rights of 25 million people is worth the cost because no one knows what the cost will be.” True, no one can know exactly, but it’s certainly possible to assign probabilities (or probability distributions) to the potential outcomes.

Actually, I wonder how much of the disagreement between the pro-war and anti-war camps is over matters of principle, and how much is over matters of fact. Does the pro-war side think the war will be over in 3 weeks, with 1,000 casualties? Does the anti-war side think the war will be over in 3 months, with 100,000 casualities? (I am simplifying; there are certainly many other factors.)

The Red Cross, for example, has medical supplies for 180,000. Does the military think 180,000 will require medical treatment?

How to pronounce “Qatar”: something between “cutter” and “gutter.”

Route 23: Creeps & Weirdos. A questionable anti-public transport ad for Chevy’s Cavalier.

Review of Thomas Struth’s photographs, including comparisons to Andreas Gursky (my love!), Gerhard Richter.

Turkey to send troops into Northern Iraq. Can’t Nato do something about this?,3604,918712,00.html

How the Tomahawk cruise missile is changing the nature of war, to the extent of making previously impossible wars (or strikes) possible.

Blair’s speech to the House of Commons. (1) The first quarter or so deals with Iraq’s well-documented breaches and violations of various resolutions and agreements over the past decade and isn’t very revealing or interesting. (2) He claims that a second UN Resolution could have been negotiated had France not indicated that it would be vetoed “whatever the circumstances.” (If this is the case, why could the coalition not offer Iraq (independently of the UN) the resolution that could have been negotiated?) (3) He positions the UN’s response to Iraq as a test of how the UN will deal with other situations in the future. (For example, North Korea.)

Dropped propaganda leaflets. Strange: Arabic doesn’t appear to use Arabic numerals—? (leaflet)

[Arabic Arabic numerals don’t look like English Arabic numerals.]

Sometimes the media, for unfathomable reasons, don’t ask, or don’t answer, obvious questions. Like: were the missiles fired on Kuwait supposedly banned and/or destroyed? (The ABC is reporting that at least two were Scuds, which are definitely banned.)

High stakes Rock, Paper, Scissors: “‘Rock is the aggressive way to go, Martinez said, adding that she plans to use her $1,000 winnings ‘to go someplace warm.’”

Circle Line Party: partying between stations in the back carriages of a tube train.

“A month earlier, in Mexico, Leon Trotsky had had his head split open with an ice axe.”

Was Trotsky killed by a mountaineer’s ice axe or a bartender’s ice pick? I have wondered about this for years. What would an assassin be doing with a (mountaineer’s) ice axe in Mexico City? (Is there some special significance to death-by-ice-axe?) Does a (bartender’s) ice pick split a head open? This is driving me crazy!

“Death to Death”

A Baghdad blogger: “There is no person inside Iraq (and this is a bold, blinking and underlined inside) who will be jumping up and down asking for the bombs to drop.”

By this I think the author means that Iraqis are not excited by the prospect of war because war is the lesser of two very great evils (war is a lesser evil than living with Saddam)—and you can never be excited by the prospect of any sort of evil, especially when you know that it should never have come to this. (That is, Saddam should have been dealt with, over the past decade, in other ways.)

Fuel cells likely to power portable electronics gear before they power cars: fuel cells are cheaper and last longer than batteries, but (at least for cars) gas is better than both.

Commentary from a “lifelong lefty of the commie- pinko-faggot variety”: “But what right do we have to impose our values on them? About as much right as we had to impose ‘our’ values on them Germans. There’s also the small matter of our values being superior—can we lefties get behind that concept?”

Where Kevin Mitnick, convicted computer hacker and neophyte web surfer, went first. (“Don’t be freaked out by advertising,” Goldstein told Mitnick. “It’s everywhere. So is pornography.”)

Historically black university gets Russian students as part of diversification program. (“It’s worse than the education we had in Russia. But it’s America.”)

Interview with Asya Schween, creator of disturbing self-portraits. (Scroll to bottom to see samples.)

“Unofficial” list of British demands—what’s with the “will promise to”/“will pledge to” shit?! How about “will destroy”?

A veto is the same as a “no” to the U.N. Security Council. (Also some Security Council veto history—U.S. and the U.S.S.R. have together vetoed 185 times, France 18.)

Concert-goer hit in head by … the head of a sheep.

On the House of Representatives’ “Freedom Fries.”

“Why are we in space?” The Stennis Space Center FAQ explains that NASA’s funding represents a penny out of every dollar in the U.S. federal budget and that “diverting this money into social programs would provide a very minimal increase for those immediate needs, while eliminating resources devoted to the future and new solutions to problems.” (I don’t think NASA itself is necessarily bad value, though sending people into space might be.)

(NASA used to have a more official “justification” page on one of their sites but I can’t find it now. It was pretty weak, I recall.)

Mel Gibson and Catholic traditionalists. Catholic traditionalists more or less reject the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. (That mass should be conducted not in Latin but in the popular language of each country, etc.) Story also has some information on Gibson’s $25m movie on the life of Jesus, which is being filmed entirely in Aramaic and Latin, without subtitles.

“Think about F.D.R. He had just won World War II. America was at the apex of its power. It didn’t need anyone’s permission for anything. Yet, on his way home from Yalta, confined to a wheelchair, F.D.R. traveled to the Mideast to meet and show respect for the leaders of Ethiopia, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Why? Because he knew he needed them not to win the war, but to win the peace.”

American books are better made than British books. (I will vouch for this.)

“On a round trip from New York to London, according to the calculations of the Edinburgh Center for Carbon Management in Scotland, a Boeing 747 spews out about 440 tons of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas.”

I screwed up here before in saying that since a 747-400 carries only 170 tons of fuel (215,000 liters) it can’t produce more than twice that in carbon dioxide. But it probably can: I forgot about the oxygen it takes from the air.

What disturbs me more, though, is that the amount (mass) of gas produced is greater than the amount (mass) of fuel burnt. So a car filled with 40 liters (30kgs) of petrol produces at least 30kgs of (mostly harmful) gas. (Petrol has a specific gravity of 0.75, so a liter of petrol weighs about 750g.) How many tons of petrol do you burn each year? For how long have you been driving?

Also: it’s the Edinburgh Centre, not the Edinburgh Center! You can’t Americanise the spelling of a name! caption contest. (Sample of originals.)

British museums, though now largely free (because of lottery money?), still only attracting the rich.

Bill Clinton is apparently being considered for jury duty in Manhattan. (“Apparently” because most of the details were overheard by a court reporter.)

“The Canadians have a sensible proposal for a compromise resolution that could lend some political legitimacy to the coming war against Iraq. …” I quite like this idea, for all the reasons mentioned. Michael Kinsley also has a good piece on various war topics (not just on human shields).

“I’ve Got This Great Idea for a Bold New Ad.” She’s talking about a Levi’s ad (find “buffalos”) … which actually I like.

Strange “dating” system in L.A.’s Korean clubs: “This is how it works: at a guy’s request, a waiter approaches a girl’s booth. He might ask politely if she’d like to be booked. More likely, he’ll grab her by the arm, drag her to a table and force her to sit down. Boy offers Girl a shot of Crown Royal and small talk ensues. But before Boy can offer another drink, Girl blurts, ‘I should get back to my friends’ and leaves. Boy shrugs it off, knowing that another struggling girl will be delivered to his table within minutes.”

Australian P.M. John Howard in the WSJ: “The cost of doing nothing is infinitely greater than the cost of acting.” (You need to register; fake details will do.) A clumsy, not a very powerful piece—for some reason he seems to think that the idea he most strongly needs to defend is that this time a Cold War-style containment policy won’t do—but it’s not too bad, and is at least useful as a clear and for-the-record account of his beliefs.

“I tell Burrows that if he is willing to submit to an interview, I am willing to review his book at length in The Washington Post. The only catch, I said, is that I am going to say that it is, in my professional judgment, the worst novel ever published in the English language.”;s=trb030303

“The unhappy truth is that, if the Bush administration wins the war but betrays the peace, the political consequences for the president will be small.”

“Have You Ever Tried To Sell A Diamond?”—how the De Beers cartel created our love for diamonds. (An article in the March 2002 National Geographic discusses “conflict diamonds” (not very revealing extract); Salon summarises the issues.)

Clare Kimmerle is 79 and has worked at the same McDonald’s for nearly 33 years.

Nauru loses contact with the outside world and now no-one even knows who the president is?

Update. Because this story is weirding me out big time, I called the Nauru Consulate-General to find out what was happening. Apparently it really is impossible to call Nauru at the moment, but the woman couldn’t tell me how long this has been going on for, when it will be possible to call Nauru, or what the exact political situation was. Apparently her boss knows more, but she wasn’t in, though she is expected some time this afternoon…

A Fijian website is carrying recent Nauru news about the island’s airline.

Story from the Independent.

Google News search for Nauru.

Using aerial photographs to produce estimates puts number of people at S.F. peace rally at 65,000, not the 200,000 claimed. (Also, why are police estimates generally thought to be underestimates? Why are they biased?)

Some guy interviews protestors at a peace rally. (View for some of the reasons for my post below—in relation to which, I got a complaint: “Your lack of comments drove me craaaazy today!” I’ll add comments soon!)

Heh: 0.7% of English and Welsh (is there a name for England plus Wales?) give “Jedi” as their religion on census, census takers strike back with: “Whatever its motive, the Jedi campaign may have worked in favour of the Census exercise. Census agencies worldwide report difficulties encouraging those in their late teens and twenties to complete their forms.”

Cypriot politics quite interesting at the moment. (Greek side recently elected anti-reunification president.)

“Tell people the truth. Saddam does not threaten us today. He can be deterred. Taking him out is a war of choice—but it’s a legitimate choice. It’s because he is undermining the U.N., it’s because if left alone he will seek weapons that will threaten all his neighbors, it’s because you believe the people of Iraq deserve to be liberated from his tyranny, and it’s because you intend to help Iraqis create a progressive state that could stimulate reform in the Arab/Muslim world, so that this region won’t keep churning out angry young people who are attracted to radical Islam and are the real weapons of mass destruction.”

I didn’t attend any peace rally last weekend because, well, I don’t think I support the same sort of peace that the peace movement seems to want: the temporary and cheap peace wrought by appeasement, lack of courage, an unwillingness do very much about other people’s problems, and so forth. (Pastor Niemöller’s “First they came for the Jews…” is an argument for preëmptive action as much as it is an argument for the spirited defence of persecuted minorities.)

(Actually, I’m not sure if I completely agree with Friedman on the need for war but I think I am closer to war than no war. Christopher Hitchens has more on France’s deceit.)

Profile of architects Diller + Scorfido. (Of the previously linked Blur Building.) They’re including a wall cut from MOMA (the site of Duchamp’s urinal) in their Whitney retrospective.

Marketing news: pros and cons (mostly cons) of Ford’s effort to make the name of every Ford car an F-word.

BBC Lomo documentary to air 19th February. Site has some very odd videos of random people describing Lomos: “Gnome,” “Biscuits.”

Several photos of the same thing, taken with Lomo and Coolpix, to facilitate comparison.

(The photos that appear at the top of this page are all Lomos.)

Doing dishes by hand vs. the dishwasher: more energy, more water, and not as clean. (How is “energy” calculated?)

“Over the next two and a half years, Güntürkün recorded 124 scientifically valid kisses in public places across the United States, Germany and Turkey.” Hooray for scientifically valid kisses! (People kiss to the right, apparently.)

“You Can’t Beat Off with Nuclear Arms”

Chirac’s preuves indiscutables: undisputed proof or indisputed proof?

Dump of translation-related stuff:

(Timothy Noah’s I-Can’t-Believe-I’m-A-Hawk “confession” is also good.)

Hajj scaling problems: “The most hazardous part of the hajj is the stoning of the pillars at Mina, which is where Tuesday’s catastrophe took place. The ceremony, in which Muslims symbolically rebuke the devil by throwing 21 pebbles at three pillars, has changed little over the past 14 centuries. What has changed is the number of least 2 million people a year now partake, according to unofficial estimates. That’s thought to be a fourfold increase over the number of pilgrims who made the trip in 1970. The pillars, of course, have remained the same size, making access more difficult.”

Shane Warne’s mother gave him a diuretic… (1) When you’re being tended to by some of the best sports doctors in the country, why take a tablet from your mum? (2) What is Warne’s mother doing with a diuretic anyway? Panadol I could understand. (3) He should know to not take anything without running it by his doctor first! Surely! I am suspicious.

Reebok to parody Nike “streaker” ad. (Which is fake, apparently.) Has anyone seen this? [Update: Terry Tate, Streaker Tackle.]

Swap DVDs for a dead raccoon! Buy human breast milk!

What’s happened to Free Willy’s Keiko: he’s in Iceland, and being taught how to behave like a wild killer whale. (This seems to be an unseemly amount of money to spend on single whale.)

Quintessential “Talk of the Town”: the sculptor of “Crouching Man” is now a ninety-three-year-old retired farmer.

Percentage of the $1.1 trillion in Iraqi oil contracts that are held by French or Russian companies: 69. “Curiously free of the usual conspicuous liberal bias” the Smarter Harper’s Index remarks.

Was the Space Shuttle useful? Columbia’s main contribution to human knowledge: “By the end of this year, we will know more than we ever did before about how to collect, catalog, and analyze the debris of a space-flight disaster.”

Some human space flight advocacy: (1) “What can a man do on Mars that a robot cannot?” / “PLANT A FUCKING FLAG ON THE PLANET.”; (2) John F. Kennedy, 1962: “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard…”

(But I think putting humans into space is too expensive. Can’t we wait 50 years for cheaper and better technology?)

“What’s so controversial about Picasso’s Guernica?”

“But diversity, or rather, affirmative- action- as- diversity, is not good for all. In addition to the longstanding problem of disadvantaging some in order to advantage others, the diversity rationale also insultingly assumes that black students bring a black ‘point of view,’ Asians an Asian one and so on, thus reifying the very barriers of race and ethnicity that affirmative action is meant to erase. And why should racial and ethnic ‘points of view’ outweigh those forged by class or culture? Why, as a professor recently suggested to me, shouldn’t the presence of the R.O.T.C. on campus be seen as a means to ensure representation of a ‘military’ point of view otherwise absent from elite universities?”

Sophie Dahl before and after shots.

Spam detection with gzip. (Tech-ish.) Note gzip has 32k buffer—see comments.

“No one is saying that the hiring of Chef Bobo by the Calhoun School, on the Upper West Side, was an intentionally provocative gesture, but clearly it puts the onus on Manhattan’s other private schools to respond…”

How should we use our power? Iraq and the war on terror. Christopher Hitchens and Mark Danner at Zellerbach Hall, Berkeley, this Tuesday.

A history of conscription in the USA: until WWII, individual rights trumped the responsibility to serve your country.

Ideology and Sustainability: “For many, prophesying doom if we don’t change our ways, is a signal of virtue.” Part of a set of pages on progress and sustainability. (The author is, on this issue, pleased to be an “extreme optimist,” which is “a person who believes his country will probably survive even if it doesn’t take his advice.”)

A fine, fine, use of the internet: man records 4,788 dreams had since 1972, types out most of them. They’re cross-referenced: Iran, Bonnie, Danny DeVito, mirrors

I’m in San Francisco now and guess what, they have Starbucks here too. Got here on Sunday afternoon and ran to the supermarket first thing to see if they still had egg nog. (It’s Christmas-only.) Nope. Today I trailed my parents to the City Lights bookstore, Ghirardelli Square (has great architecture/design bookstore) and bits of downtown. Rode the cutest little tram! They have trams, buses, trolley buses, cable cars and two varieties of train here.

Glenn Reynolds profile.

A decidedly Orwellian turn: the Economist reacts to the DCSD’s poorly written anti-Lomborg judgement (see bottom).

(Lomborg has taught me not that environmentalists can be ignored (they can’t) but that environmental problems represent just some of the problems the world faces, and in deciding where to allocate resources, these concerns must be set against each other. What is the cost of implementing the Kyoto Protocol? What are the benefits—and are they guaranteed? Does it make more sense to immunise children against disease, eradicate malaria, provide fresh drinking water to those without it, save the whales? I think it fair to ask these sorts of questions of those soliciting donations: if you’re from, say, Save the Children, why does your charity deserve my money over AI, the Royal Children’s Hospital, Greenpeace, the local school?)

One Look At My Music Collection Will Show You How Much I Respect Women

Medical products and drugs are generally built for white people. (For example, the colour of the (original) Band-Aid is the colour of white people.) I’m somewhat sympathetic to both sides here. (Although I don’t think it’s reasonable to regard peachy-beige contraceptive patches as an affront to your race. Surely it’s more an irritation or annoyance?) Companies can’t produce a different version of their product for every possible group. Sometimes it’s possible to cater to only one: park benches and stairways, for example, are designed (and can only be designed) for people of normal height.

Paying for Moveable Type: “… I feel that $65 is insignificant compared to the value I’ve received over the last nine months.”

I find it quite fascinating that people are very much willing to pay for MT, but not for any of the software that MT depends on. To run, MT needs Perl and lots of Perl libraries. It may also need MySQL, and it probably uses Linux or FreeBSD. Each of these pieces of software is the product of several orders of magnitude more work than that which went into MT. (Even the Perl libraries that come with MT are bigger than the whole of MT: the MT “with libraries” distribution is 3.8Mb, of which 1.8Mb is in the extlib directory (non-MT code); 0.7Mb is in the lib directory (MT code); templates and other bits and pieces make up the remainder.) What’s more, these programs (but not MT itself) are Open Source.

So why do people pay for MT, but not for the other bits of software responsible for getting their writing out onto the web? Is it because MT is the visible front-end to all the bits, whilst the back-end stuff is not? Do the people behind MT seem to deserve it more, or need it more? (It is their full-time job.) Is it because MT is written by two identifiable people, rather than hundreds? Is it simply because they directly ask for money? It’s a mystery to me, but the answer is surely worth knowing for all sorts of reasons. (For example, if it turns out that people are willing to pay money for good front-ends, it might be possible to do something about free software usability (more).)

On Arianna Huffington’s really silly terrorist-linked campaign against SUVs: “The Detroit Project anti-SUV ads let all other drivers off the hook. Is somebody who uses an SUV to cart their family around town really that much worse than a joy rider in a sports car? Is there some minimum miles-per-gallon threshold we can cross and be absolved from all complicity in global terror?”

A cynical Mac lover reports from MacWorld SF. (I’m a little late posting this I suppose.) “Because the Mac Culture is dynamic and constantly changing, except for CPU speeds…”

The Triumph of Hope Over Self-Interest: “People vote their aspirations … none of us is really poor; we’re just pre-rich.”

The mathematics behind the tiling pattern used on the exterior walls of Melbourne’s new Federation Square buildings. The pattern is aperiodic (it doesn’t repeat) despite being made from identical triangles.

Odd little Q&A with Frank Gehry: (1) he didn’t submit a proposal for the Twin Towers site because the sponsoring body was only offering $40,000 per team, and he felt this wasn’t enough; (2) in January 2002 he considered asking Guiliani up to Yale to meet his class, who had been considering how to build an extraordinary public space.

Coke is experimenting with a smaller, slimmer, Red Bull-style can.

Recently I’ve been writing some log analysis code to produce detailed page-level statistics, but a side-effect is that it’s now possible to illustrate what I call the “deformed people” effect.

Basically, it so happens that inserting the terms used to find a page into the page itself increases the ranking of that page. Not so unexpected, I suppose, but the size of effect was a little surprising.

The graph below shows hits per week to the “Meet the Cripples” page linked above; the extra hits in recent weeks came via Google:

Graph of hits to

This page quite suddenly became popular because:

  1. until recently the page contained the words deformed and people—though not next to each other.
  2. the previous iteration of my statistics software included referrer information on the page itself (mirror).
  3. searching for deformed people (used to) suggest this link a few pages into the search results.
  4. a persistent few clicked this far into the search results, and then view the “Meet the Cripples” page, which
  5. (through the stats software) added the text deformed people to my page.
  6. Google, now seeing the phrase deformed people on my page, increased its ranking to #1 (mirror).

So, it seems that it’s possible to boost the rank of some pages (note that no page directly links to “Meet the Cripples,” so the probably more reliable PageRank technology isn’t involved) by tuning the text so that it better matches the sort of things people are looking for. (Which you can easily determine by looking the page’s referrers.)

The speed of gravity is experimentally determined to be the same as the speed of light, meaning that “if the Sun suddenly disappeared from the centre of the Solar System, the Earth would remain in orbit for about 8.3 minutes—the time it takes light to travel from the Sun to the Earth. Then, suddenly feeling no gravity, Earth would shoot off into space in a straight line.”

Update: Nature has the same story, but told more professionally. (I don’t like New Scientist much.) The second paragraph states that the measurement is only approximate (as opposed to the third-from-last), and it also tells in more detail how the measurement was made. There’s no equivalent of NS’s nice Earth- shooting- into- space visual image though.

Analysis of Bush’s Presidency. “George Bush’s party is less economically libertarian than the Republican Party of the 1980’s and 1990’s.” Not a libertarian? That’s because he’s a socialist—at least according to Jane’s, who are taken by his bailout of the airline industry.

retronyms: once guitar, now acoustic guitar; once watch, now analogue watch; once movie, now silent movie. (Not recognised by OED, M-W.)

Pepys’s diary, known as a “diary” for almost 200 years, is now being repositioned as a weblog... First webloggers declare newspapers’ days are numbered, now it comes to this? Just leave Anne Frank the fuck alone, okay?

“I couldn’t believe I was alone in thinking this [you weren’t], so I didn’t tell even my closest friends about it.” With friends like those…

The New Yorker will apparently make money this year (i.e. 2002), for the first time since 1985. Experts in magazine finance are unconvinced.

The New Yorker under Mr. Remnick remains the magazine world’s rough equivalent of doing the Lord’s work…” So sad to see such a beautiful sentiment lodged in a sentence as screwed as this. (“Working for The New Yorker …”? Or is editing the magazine itself the rough equivalent of the Lord’s work?)

I’m reading the letters of Harold Ross at the moment. They’re fascinating, as are all pieces of writing originally intended for none (like diaries) or one (like letters) that find their way to the general public. Ross was keen on Dorothy Parker: “The verses came and God Bless Me! if I never do anything else I can say I ran a magazine that printed some of your stuff.” (Another reason, I think, was that Parker was the sort of person who needed compliments delivered often, and delivered well.)

O Canada! “A loon appears on Canada’s one-dollar coin because the original dies, featuring a different design, were lost in transit.”

Review of The Two Towers:

[Gollum] gives the movie a chance for psychological inquiry—the one thing it doesn’t require. “The Lord of the Rings” is an epic, and one of the defining restrictions—not to say pleasures—of epic is that it both predate and outwit psychology. Motives, good and ill, may be thwarted or confounded, but you don’t read Tolkien for the niceties of tangled minds; you read him for pace and wonder, and the virtues of Jackson’s trilogy, thus far, have been pace and astonishment, which is almost the same thing.

Is Tolkien read “for the niceties of tangled minds”? I haven’t read him, but readers of the trilogy have told me that this is one aspect of the books missing from the movies—in book form The Fellowship of the Ring is not one great big chase scene, for example. I am quite content for the movies to be (merely) thrilling, though.

(By the way, I do enjoy Anthony Lane’s movie reviews, but his writing does remind me of Strunk and White’s advice to look out for words (or phrases) that “at first glance seem freighted with delicious meaning but that soon burst in air, leaving nothing but a memory of bright sound.”)

Battling UV in southern Chile: “On a typical day here this month, the solar stoplight was set at orange, the second highest of four levels, and people were warned to limit their exposure to the sun between noon and 3 p.m. to 21 minutes at most.” (Despite the precision, it seems that they’re more being careful than responding to any science in particular.)

What’s the EFF’s position on digital rights, copyright and so forth? (I’m trying to work out whether or not I should (can) support the EFF.) This page looked promising but it turns out to be real light on detail.

The first “Guiding Principle” is: “Creators should be paid for their work when appropriate. Copyright holders have the right (and responsibility) to make sure that their works are protected from piracy.” Huh? What does this mean? When is it appropriate for creators to be paid for their work? Why can’t you just tell me which currently illegal acts should be legal? Putting lyrics on-line? Books fifty years old? Books that sold less than five thousand copies? MP3s of concerts? MP3s of albums? Movies?

Fun little interview with Alain de Botton, author of The Art of Travel.

(Australia) Many Australian conservatives (including Tim Blair) were once not.

“As visionary as they were, the framers of the Constitution never could have foreseen, for example, that our government would one day need to jail someone indefinitely without judicial review. There was no such thing as suspicious Middle Eastern immigrants back then.”

Hitchens: “unilateral” = bad; “multilateral” = good? Why does the addition of a country or two to an idea’s boosters turn a bad idea into a good one?

Hullo due process! “Bali bombing suspects will be found guilty: police chief” You wouldn’t be trying to jeopardise the trial, would you General? (Anyway, haven’t some confessed?)

Heartening as well as amusing: how seriously librarians take civil liberties.

More testing edge cases: Afghan men bothered by photo showing US soldier searching an Afghan woman—the soldier is female.

Hitchens summarises the events of the last few days, demonstrates the art of spin: “Henry Kissinger prefers his client list to the solemn promise he made to the murder victims of Sept. 11. / Sen. Trent Lott in retrospect thinks that voters were dumb to vote Republican in 1948. / Cardinal Bernard Law asks a foreign potentate if it’s OK to obey the laws of the United States.”

So very beautiful: Katinka Matson’s scanned flowers.

With great power comes great responsibility: on all political and social issues, Google’s policy is Don’t be evil, where evil is whatever Google co-founder Sergey Brin thinks is evil. So when Chinese users were blocked from Google, Brin

ordered a half-dozen books about Chinese history, business, and politics on and splurged on overnight shipping. He consulted with Schmidt, Page, and David Drummond, Google’s general counsel and head of business development, then put in a call to tech industry doyenne Esther Dyson for advice and contacts. Google has no offices in China, so Brin enlisted go-betweens to get the message to Chinese authorities that Google would be very interested in working out a compromise to restore access.

Making weapons and armour for The Lord of the Rings. (10,000 buckles were hand-forged for the Orcs alone?!)

What rules govern a “just society”? Political philosopher John Rawls believed that a thought experiment known as the “original position” provided the answer this question. The experiment runs like this: if you were given the power to choose how society was to run, but you weren’t to know what what place you would eventually take in that society (that is, you had to decide not knowing whether you would be rich or poor, Christian or Muslim, young or old), what rules would you choose? Rawls felt that you would decide on a society in which: (1) individuals were granted every possible freedom compatible with freedom for all; and (2) economic inequalities did exist, but only if they were of benefit to the worst-off. In other words, you’d attempt to maximise the minimum.

Jim Holt here discusses the expected value objection to this argument, which I suspect is related to the observation that an individual’s objectives and those of a society often conflict. For example, though one’s death, or the death of one’s family is (usually) the worst thing that can happen to an individual, it’s by no means the worst thing that can happen to a society. Practically every day a society is given the chance to save a life; instead it fritters money away on sports stadiums, zoos, galleries…

William Saletan tries to make sense of Bush’s vow to topple “every terrorist group of global reach.” people,,SB1038261936872356908,00.html

Fun puff piece on the recommendation engines of TiVo, Amazon, etc. running amok. “After Mr. Meyer ordered a documentary about New York from, it pitched him countless documentaries—even one on the history of the thimble.” At least Amazon has a “Why was I recommended this?” link; Mark Pilgrim’s “Recommended Reading” system doesn’t, and I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s not doing much more than serving up the highest-linked weblogs I haven’t read.

US$100m was recently bequeathed to Poetry, which currently operates with four staff and an annual budget of US$600,000. One writer quips, “That’s probably more money than poetry has gotten, in total, since Homer.”

Electrical engineering for grown-ups: a very big cable shorts out in LA. (Note date—this is ten years ago.)

I quite like the Australia voting system: electorate-wide preferential voting for the House of Representatives and state-wide proportional representation in the Senate. (Voting is also compulsory.) But the details of the Senate’s voting system are insanely complicated! Part of the procedure, for example, involves calculating a figure “to the eighth decimal point, without rounding.”,3604,844116,00.html

The declining shock-value of fuck. Some miscellaneous quotes:

“Ethnic slurs are regarded as the taboo,” agrees Ayto. “Nigger is far more taboo than fuck or even cunt. I think if a politician were to be heard off-camera saying fuck, it would be trivial, but if he said nigger, that would be the end of his career.”


Further verification that fuck is, well, fucked, comes from Andrea Wills, the BBC’s chief advisor on editorial policy. “In research, 50% or more people said the words that should never be broadcast are cunt, motherfucker, nigger, Paki and spastic. Young women also don’t like whore, slag and twat. But fuck wasn’t on the list.”

The final line in the story (from a “middle-class west London mother”): “I’d rather my children said fuck than toilet.”

A 1977 documentary, Pumping Iron, showing Schwarzenegger winning the 1975 Mr Olympia title, is being re-released.

A right to die edge case: Ian Brady was jailed for life in 1966 after being convicted (with Myra Hindley) of “abducting, torturing and killing children.” He has no hope of parole and has been asking for some years that he be allowed to die. But (this is probably customary) the prison won’t allow it. So, three years ago he began a hunger strike; since then he’s been fed through a tube. Should he be allowed to die?

Old-style cargo pilots: “There are four basic food groups: nicotine, caffeine, chocolate and sugar. I carry a thermos of coffee when I get on the plane. I refill it at our hub and buy two packets of Oreos—first pack’s gone in an hour; the second takes me two hours. Oreos work the best—they’re chocolate and sugar. Mix them with coffee, that’s three out of four. What more do you want?”

Strange, energetic, clumsy account of Hewitt’s victory in the Masters Cup: “Throughout, Hewitt repeatedly found angles so sharp that Ferrero could have shaved with them had the Spaniard not put his ablutions on hold for the week.”,3604,840339,00.html

This is messy: Hitomi Soga, kidnapped in Japan by North Korea two decades ago Korea, was recently permitted to visit Japan. She now wants to return home to her husband and children so that they can together discuss where to live—but the Japanese government won’t let her, saying that she’s been brainwashed. To make things even more complicated, Soga’s husband is an American, Charles Jenkins, a US Army deserter who defected to North Korea in 1965. And since the US military police still want him, he could be extradited if he goes to Japan… (Pictures.)

Like something out of Monty Python! R. L. Graham proves that a particular math problem has a solution, and that the solution is less than Graham’s Number—a number so large that a special notation is required to write it down. (According to this page, “if all the material in the universe were turned into pen and ink it would not be enough to write the number down.”) Graham’s Number is an upper bound. What do experts suspect (but can’t prove) the actual solution to be? 6.

(Rad big number notation.)

Mad Magazine parody of The Onion. (According to jwz, Mad was provoked.)

Interesting discussion of fashion and fame via a careful day-by-day chronicle of the clothes Winona wore.

“One of the things I’ve been vaguely aware of for a while now is that for the person who understands fashion, it is the breaking of the rules (always, though, within carefully circumscribed boundaries) that makes the difference between a merely acceptable appearance and one that gets talked about (in a good sense). At a certain point, the difference between accident and artifice vanishes, and I’m pretty sure that for Winona and clothes, at least, that point has long since been passed.”

More on the Bogdanov affair:

Igor’s thesis had many things [referee] Dr. Jackiw didn’t understand, but he found it intriguing. “All these were ideas that could possibly make sense,” he said. “It showed some originality and some familiarity with the jargon. That’s all I ask.”

In the letters section a day later, two physics professors protest a little too much: (1) journals (especially those journals) don’t count anymore; and (2) it doesn’t matter if journals sometimes publish rubbish because nowadays it’s too hard to tell what’s rubbish and what’s not.

(According to ISI’s Journal Citation Reports, Classical and Quantum Gravity is ranked 10th out of 66 “multidisciplinary” physics journals in its “impact factor”; the Annals of Physics is ranked 11th—so I don’t think it fair to say that these are obscure.)

Candid Camera was a “gentle, joyful study of human nature”; its successors are meaner, harsher, more humiliating.

How to’s of the entertainment industry: how to shoot a nude scene/maintain continuity/shoot in the middle of Times Square.

How to avoid an R rating: “What the M.P.A.A. is looking for is responsibility from characters. If they feel that drug use or drinking is being glamorized, they’ll have a problem with it. They are going to respond more favorably if the person who is doing drugs or drinking pays a price for it. They’re also more comfortable if sexualized situations are more played for laughs than for realism—if you’re going to have a condom in a film, it’s better to have it stuck to someone’s foot than used as a birth-control device. And I’ve discovered that it really helps if the guy makes the first move in a sexual encounter.”

Fascinating reverse-Sokol? Two brothers write nonsense physics papers, get them published in peer-reviewed physics journals. It now appears that this was not actually a hoax—the Bogdanovs were at least trying to do proper physics, although their papers should have been rejected for being crap. (Which, from the point of view of the physics community, is an outcome almost as bad.)

A long Usenet thread started on the 23rd of October with a post from the respected John Baez. Among the messages is an amusingly cautious reminder from Alan Sokol that “from the mere fact of publication of my parody … not much can be deduced.” (This is a real quote, but it’s quite a contrast to the first few paragraphs of his Lingua Franca article.)

(Update: French TV Stars Rock the World of Theoretical Physics.)

Vinyl-look CD-Rs! Is there any place in Melbourne that makes CDs from vinyl?

About voting systems.

Michael Moore tries out moral equivalence: Washington sniper was no big deal, etc. because every day “at least eight children killed by gun violence in the United States.” What the fuck?! I can’t imagine this position has much support now; how pissed would people have been if he had had the intellectual honesty to run it whilst the sniper (snipers) was (were) still loose? (Also: I can’t be bother checking his figures, but I can’t believe that there’s never been a day with, say, seven deaths.)

“If you want to do something to make our children’s lives a bit safer, one thing you can do is to participate in one of the various demonstrations taking place this Saturday around the country protesting Bush’s war against Iraq.”—what does one have to do with the other?

The Economist argues for some controversial approaches to immigration, including the idea that “countries should give preference to those who seem to integrate most readily.”

Two other difficult issues:

  1. Why do we not allow two equivalent individuals (an Australian journalist and an American journalist, say) to swap countries, leading to a net gain of two satisfied individuals? (That is, allow unlimited migration between countries with the same income per head—actually this is suggested.) It is because not many Australian journalists want to swap jobs with Indian journalists?
  2. How much is lost (in human capital) when an educated individual leaves a poor country for a rich one?

A companion article contains some interesting figures and graphs.,2763,812709,00.html

Clive James argues that “the true instigation for terrorism might not be the vices of the liberal democracies, but their virtues.” Had to read this twice to realise that amongst it all he advocates … nothing much in particular.

Zac Unger, a firefighter who last year wrote a terrific Slate diary on his job, is this week writing about the birth and first days of his daughter, who was born three months premature (and to a surrogate mother). Fascinating and provocative: in her first ten days of life, Percy ran up bills of $380,000.;itemid=74635

What’s art? jwz’s link to that site about the 1988 MacSE with a 1923 Underwood typewriter as its keyboard generated these comments:

atakra: yet another “artist” with too much time on his hands.
jwz: Can I be as cool as you someday?
baconmonkey: you see, a true artist, one who doesn’t have a lot of time on their hands, merely uses photoshop to lift a concept from a movie, as opposed to engineering something physical, tangible, and functional based loosely on something from a movie.

Is something more (or less) like art if it actually works?

(I think jwz considers this a cool hack, not art. I have a blurred memory of jwz posting a comment to slashdot in which he expressed his disgust that something very similar to his webcollage was being exhibited as art. Then there’s this helpful infographic.),1367,56014,00.html

This is kinda crazy: some dotcom companies are repurchasing their own shares for less than their cash value. (The “cash value” of a share is equal to a company’s cash holdings divided by the total number of shares—to repurchase shares for less than their cash value the total value of a company’s shares must be less than what the company holds in cash.) In other words, investors now not only don’t believe that some dotcom companies will never make money, they believe they’ll waste the money they’ve got!

Curiously straight-forward and (mostly) non-hagiographic official biography of Saddam Hussein. Actually the whole of Iraq’s official website is quite interesting. For example according to the notes of the October 2002 cabinet meeting, Saddam Hussein believes that Zionist interests (not “real American interests”) are behind America’s “hostile policy”: “the American people’s interests lies in dealing with peoples in the world peacefully so as to make its trade interests stable and achieve prosperity with the whole world.”

Delivering bad news: “There were several ways that I could answer Peter’s question. I could give the bald statistics—that more than fifty per cent of people with cancer like Maxine’s die within two years—or I could put it more gently, and say that she had a chance, if a low one, of surviving for more than two years. I could even say, somewhat vaguely, that she was young and strong and had as good a chance as anyone of surviving, on the principle that she would benefit more from encouragement than from statistics. As I looked at Maxine, I sensed that she preferred neither the extreme of ignorance nor the extreme of excruciating detail but some middle ground.”

(I sometimes get annoyed when people complain about how politicians spin facts, or how advertisters spin facts—because the thing is, we all spin, all the time. There’s always lots of different ways to tell the whole truth—spin is the approach least upsetting, most comforting, most reassuring.)

Saddam Hussein and George W. Bush arrange a duel.

Why UN weapons inspectors left Iraq four years ago: what the media said then, and what the media say now.

Eldred v. Ashcroft primer.

On balance, copyright terms should be shorter I think. (Probably much shorter.) But I think some of Eldred’s supporters are a little blind to some of the (not so beneficial) implications of a shorter term. Would the public benefit if Mickey Mouse were in the public domain, for example? I’m not sure that we would. What would it be like to live in a world with a Disney Mickey, a Fox Mickey, a Nickelodeon Mickey? Would this be confusing? Or would there be no Mickeys, because no network would be prepared to bear the risk of him being subverted, distorted, smeared by another?

I can only think of a few high-profile fictional characters in the public domain—Santa Claus, Frankenstein’s Monster, Dracula… Why are there so few? Why is Ulysses not as famous as Superman? Is it because no-one owns him? (Alternatively: is this a problem?)

I also think Jack Valenti is right in suggesting that some old films won’t get restored if no-one owns them. Why would you spend money restoring (and promoting) a film if the theatre next door can show their own copy for free if yours proves successful? (Similarly, drug companies have no incentive (economic) to investigate the possibility that existing (but out of patent) drugs can be used to treat novel illnesses.)

There are advantages and disadvantages to a longer copyright terms; I do think the advantages do outweigh the disadvantages. But one should acknowledge that just as it is true that some “moves” are only likely under short copyright terms, some “moves” are only likely with long.

(These arguments have not much to do with whether the case itself succeeds since that depends on matters of First Amendment law.),2125,55832,00.html

iBrotha: a short film about a Malcolm X-like revolutionary who has a lot of love for Apple computers. The official site contains some interesting images from the film, as well as a fascinating list of four future projects: “The features and short are about reuniting the lost elements of hip hop, exposing the class bias of Harry Potter, a punk organic farming [farmer?] in the Hindu Kush faced with saving his consumerist family and the world-saving chutzpah of showbiz journalists.”;catalogno=ONION:ON8000MAG1

Onion’s Magnetic Headline Kit. Gives you Area, Man, Clinton, Masturbate, Shittier, etc.

Fantastic Columbus biography, provides interesting additional similarities between internet pioneers and Columbus: Columbus was an incorrigible optimist; to his investors he willfully (and wildly) underestimated the difficulty of the voyage (he reported that the estimated distance from the Canary Islands to Japan was a manageable twenty-seven hundred miles—it is in fact over thirteen thousand); he overestimated his own technical abilities.

“Preserving The Islamic Identity in The West” (And Australia in particular.) This is actually a little disturbing. The aim of the article is “to expose some of the sources of misguidance for Muslims living amongst the Kuffar, as well as some solutions and defences we can employ.” So, for example, one must be wary of schools for within them “the mixing of sexes is not only tolerated but encouraged through the placement of children in multi-gender sporting teams and class groups.” And television shows give the impression that “in some sort of sick way … zina [sex] equates with love and is a ‘natural’ behaviour.”

“It is a fact of life that we must, to some extent, keep close company with the Kuffar. This is almost unavoidable given that we work, study and, unfortunately, play with them.” What, I wonder, is meant by unfortunately here? Is a distaste for other Australians compatible with a successful multicultural society? I hope these sorts of beliefs aren’t widespread.

Nida’ul Islam is billed as “A Comprehensive Intellectual Magazine.” It is produced by the Islamic Youth Movement (which is associated with Australia’s largest Mosque) and has a readership of over 4,000. (More articles.)

Oh to be blessed with an ego such as this!

Plot of the blogosphere’s distribution of urls. 84% are linked only once.

A working Lego harpsichord! (Harpsichord because a piano involves 40,000lbs of tension.) Plus: Lego model of Escher’s “Ascending and Descending.” (More on index page.)

“My Experience with Google Answers.” Jessamyn says she enjoyed her time at Google Answers, but complains that the researchers are mistreated and poorly paid. (The question that led to the “jarring episode.”)

What I want to know: why aren’t movies priced according to their running time and production cost?

L.A.’s D.A. wants to put Winona Ryder away for three years: “an exposé conducted by the entertainment tabloid Extra, Celebrity Justice … revealed that in court records of all 5,000 grand theft felony cases filed in Los Angeles County last year, not one defendant was facing penalties as harsh as Ryder’s.” ( not redirecting to anymore either—?)

DVDs aren’t the pure source I had imagined them to be: because movies are displayed at 24 frames per second (24Hz) and the PAL TV format is 50Hz, PAL DVDs play 4% faster than they did in the cinema. (The sound is usually about a semitone higher too.) The NTSC format (North America) is 60Hz: the process of turning 24 images into 60 results in some judder and blurring. I suppose this must apply to movies shown on TV too.

(Strictly speaking the DVD’s region has nothing to do with this: it just so happens that Region 4 DVDs are PAL-encoded because the TVs in that region are.)

(Democracies are fragile and easily manipulated.) Göring: “Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship. … the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”

(Influencing public opinion is somewhat easier under a dicatorship though.)

Compare this to the political philosophy of Lee Kuan Yew: “when people say, ‘Oh, ask the people!’, it’s childish rubbish. We are leaders. We know the consequences. … They say people can think for themselves? Do you honestly believe that the chap who can’t pass primary six knows the consequences of his choice when he answers a question viscerally, on language, culture and religion? But we knew the consequences. We would starve, we would have race riots. We would disintegrate.” (source)

“Libertarian candidate Stan Jones, 63, first discovered his skin was turning blue last year. …”

Ads produced by the Center for Consumer Freedom. They’re, uh, a little heavy handed.;s=hitchens

Hitchens, in his final “Minority Report” column, wearily argues for war with Iraq.

Plus: “Moreover, it’s obvious to me that the ‘antiwar’ side would not be convinced even if all the allegations made against Saddam Hussein were proven, and even if the true views of the Iraqi people could be expressed.” I have this problem too: neither the pro- nor anti-war sides make clear the limits to their support. If it is right to wage war against Iraq, how would the circumstances have to change for this to be wrong? (If it were demonstrated that Iraq is not trying to acquire nuclear weapons? What would constitute evidence of this?) Contrariwise, if it is wrong to wage war against Iraq, under what circumstances would it be right?

This applies to any issue: if you cannot imagine a situation in which the opposite action to that which you advocate is warranted, then you lack sufficient imagination to make your argument in the first place. You have an irresponsible argument if you can only bound it on one side.

This is an amazing illusion. (A proof.)


A real nutty story about children in East Timor learning Finnish (!) because “Portuguese, Bahasa Indonesian, English, and French are all associated with colonialism.” This is proving hard to verify. A story in The Australian (not online) says that “The World Bank donated Finnish picture books for children in Year 1, and Portuguese texts for Year 2.” After this the kids get mostly Bahasa Indonesia, with Portuguese “reintroduced in the final years of high school as a foreign language, along with English.”;cid=4314220

“God bless your pure, innocent love of databases.”

The Sunday morning extreme sports show this week interviewed a Mike O’Meally, a photographer for Skateboarder Magazine. I’m quite taken by his stuff. (The samples here are a little weak and, well, small but Mike does good shit, I promise.)

This is so strange: North Korea kidnaps Japanese citizens in the late 70s and early 80s, forces them to teach Japanese language and culture to spies. Most have since died, but four are still alive, and are living (some married, with children) in North Korea.

The “Forbes Fictional Fifteen”: the fifteen richest fictional characters. Lex Luther was elected President of the United States in 2000? When did this happen?

Related: The Founders’ Club, the 58 Americans who’ve made the Fortune 400 every year since 1982. Forbes argues that “the high churn rate is due mostly to the dynamic nature of American capitalism, which never settles into the sort of equilibrium that would give rise to a permanent aristocracy of wealth.” Is there a British equivalent? Is the churn rate there any different? The piece also explains that the list is limited to 400 names because:

“The Four Hundred” was a familiar shorthand term for high society during the Gilded Age, when Mrs. William B. Astor Jr. was the social arbiter and only 400 people could fit into her Fifth Avenue ballroom. Well, times change: The non-exclusive Empire State Building now rises where Mrs. Astor’s mansion once stood, and not a single Astor, Vanderbilt or Morgan rates a mention on the current Forbes Four Hundred.

(Three Rockefellers made the list.)

Fun little “Amelie” tour of Paris. Found through a google search for link:

I was searching for this because in the article below I’m quoted as saying: “Have you noticed that one of the more popular sites amongst webloggers is the Mirror Project——made up of webloggers’ self-portraits? … Not at all the sort of thing that appeals to geeks.”

I didn’t think this was very controversial (neither that nor the argument that webloggers are more image conscious than geeks) but it appears a few don’t agree! I think we’re talking about different sorts of geeks—by geeks I mean people like Linus Torvalds, Alan Cox (Linux), Brian Behlendorf (Apache), Larry Wall (Perl), Guido van Rossum (Perl) and Richard Stallman (the sort of people who fit the Jargon File’s A Portrait of J. Random Hacker)—but just to check I did this search. Are there many geeks on this list? I don’t see many, although Tantek (funnily enough) qualifies. (Dave Winer is another example.)

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, co-founder of San Francisco’s City Lights Bookstore: “When the picture was taken, I was thinking, Are these the best minds of our generation? ‘Howl’ starts with that phrase. I’d say it was a bit of a satirical question. I am the only one in the picture still alive, because I work out all the time. They didn’t work out except raising the elbow or rolling joints. … I think they [the Beats] would have said that I was a jovial bookstore owner—not really a poet. I hadn’t published anything yet. I just wanted to be considered a poet. I did get my wish. My book of poems, ‘A Coney Island of the Mind,’ sold about a million copies. That’s more than ‘Howl’ sold.”,5744,5114395%5E2702,00.html

“Exposed: my life as a blog” (I’m quoted in this.) Soft, supportive, focuses on the traditional, “old-school” bloggers. The Australian media—even though Australian political blogs seem to be pretty tight with Media Watch—doesn’t seem to know very much about blogging: I got a few calls from radio stations yesterday.

(The printed version sports a screenshot of this site in which the cursive Beebo in the header has a grey, not white background. It’s fixed now: cross-browser compatibility testing via the newspaper!),2125,55093,00.html

Paul Sahner will make you a personal OS X icon (from a photograph) for US$15. They’re quite cute. Why is this less tacky than mall cartoonists? (Also: real stupid lead.)

Fuse 18: Experimental typography.

A thrilling mix-up in the Washington D.C. Democratic Mayoral primary: incumbent Anthony Williams for some reason failed to get his name on the ballot which meant he had to run as a write-in candidate. But there’s nine Anthony Williamses in the phonebook, and four Tony Williamses, and each could claim to be the Anthony Williams people actually voted for! And they can do this up to three days after the election! (In Slate, Timothy Noah is trying to get each of the Anthonys to promise they won’t try to make themselves Mayor.)

Hip-Hop Goes Commercial:

Dr. Dre protégé Xzibit is wary of liquor companies that openly court him—though he proudly sports a Hennessy logo tattooed on his arm. “They offer you free bottles, but what the fuck is that?” asks Xzibit. “They try to get you to [drop their name] by giving you a bottle or two. I’m not stupid. [Hennessy] don’t pay me shit. I just love the product.”

“My Adidas” is a great song, by the way.;entry=2070707

“Does Globalization Cause Terrorism or Cure It?” Robert Wright, often wild, is doing a good job with this series.

“Only Mac OS 9 users see anything to complain about with Mac OS X, because they’re the only people accustomed to something even more polished.”

There’s a print of this fantastic photograph (by Rosemary Laing) in the building I work in. (It gets better if you imagine it 8′ wide…)

Donne: “No man is an island…” I saw About a Boy a few weeks ago. It’s based on a Nick Hornby book and it’s a pretty good adaptation, and a good movie. In it, Hugh Grant carries on about how it’s not true that no man is an island because he is an island an so on. (I don’t remember this being part of the book.)

But this is not what Donne meant! In his essay, “no man” refers to other men. Donne wrote: “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main … any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

Andrew Sullivan and Kurt Andersen talk about weblogs! Andersen once wrote a sublime piece on the irrational exuberance that drove “new economy” for called “The Revolution Is Glorious, and the Sky Is Falling. Get Used To It.”

Relying on journalists and stock-market professionals for one’s view of the Internet’s future is like relying on a referendum of sugared-up 11-year-olds for an assessment of the Jolly Rancher and Pokemon industries. In the mid-’90s, no two groups of high-end professionals had migrated more swiftly or come to depend more absolutely on PCs and the Internet to do their work. No two occupational groups have a more highly excitable, adrenaline-addicted nature, or a greater tendency to skitter along in unthinking packs, sheep-like.

In the same article Andersen declared that we are living in an age of paradox—one in which it was possible to be simultaneously successful and unsuccessful—and famously compared internet pioneers such as Jim Clark and Jeff Bezos to Columbus:

… Christopher Columbus Was a Failure. His business model did not pan out: no western route to Asia, hardly any gold, abandonment by his investors, not much of an enduring first-mover advantage for Spain … but he fucking discovered America. Netscape is vestigial and may cease to exist before long, and may or may not be a Fortune 500 company a decade from now, but Jim Clark and Jeff Bezos will always be Columbuses.

(The article costs 40¢, but I don’t think they actually bill you until buy $2.00 of stuff.)

“Reparations for the Descendants of Women”

A Containerized Chapel! Fits in a standard shipping container! “The container includes a 30kw tactical quiet generator, heating/cooling units, an additional heater, fluorescent lighting, 100 chairs, sound system, keyboard, hymnals, literature and everything needed to provide religious services for Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, or Muslim personnel.”

Army responds to soldiers’ “needs, wants and desires,” produces a sandwich that lasts three years. The bread completely encloses the filling.

Wasabi is almost always horseradish, Argentinian beef is never Argentinian, camembert isn’t camembert because it’s not made from fresh milk: these are some of the lies (American) menus tell.

Managing traffic in New York. Sam Schwartz, who was NY’s traffic commissioner through most of the nineteen-eighties, took his job seriously:

Schwartz ticketed Mayor Koch’s car for illegal parking while they were having lunch together, revoked the parking spot of the archbishop of New York, which was next to St. Patrick’s Cathedral (it caused backups on Fifth Avenue and East Fiftieth Street), and had a TV-news van towed while the crew was interviewing him. But his finest hour was his assault on illegally parked cars with diplomatic plates. Not only did Schwartz ticket these cars; he began towing them, which caused an uproar in the diplomatic community. A special session of more than a hundred delegates to the U.N. was convened to meet with the traffic commissioner. The Russians cited the Geneva Convention, which they claimed guaranteed the right to free parking. The French said it was possible that the entire U.N. might move to Vienna if the diplomats didn’t get their parking privileges back. But Schwartz was unmoved, and kept up his assault until, a week or so later, the United States State Department informed him that American diplomats in Norway and Togo had lost their parking privileges, and that to avert an international crisis Schwartz should consider refocussing his energies. “What I’ve learned from experience,” he told me, “is that in New York people will go a long way to keep their parking privileges.”

(Schwarz also created the “Don’t Even Think of Parking Here” and “Don’t Block the Box” signs.)

The Bush Administration’s corporate credentials? It’s stacked with lots of savvy CEOs, sure, but they’re big government capitalists: almost all were at companies whose success depended on “regulatory approval, government largesse, or cartel-like machinations.”

Seemingly decent, honest (non-breathless) OS X 10.2 review. (Compare: David Pogue.)

”Smoking and venting.” Sean Coffey, 70, factory worker: “The Irish built this damned city—the subways, the sewers. The only thing we have is bars. I work all day for $8 an hour, and if I can’t come to a bar and smoke. …”

The cover letter and strips that made up Scott Adams’s Dilbert proposal. The rejection letters are much more polite (and complimentary) than I had imagined—but I suppose this is only smart … who’s to say they won’t end up, 15 years hence, on the website of the successful cartoonist you rejected? (One suggested that he improve his drawings and write in capital letters, two changes which are, I suppose, amongst the most obvious differences between then and now.)

Hullo font geeks! Adobe’s OpenType User Guide describes some of the features of the new OpenType format (which was developed with Microsoft). Microsoft’s pages have some wild examples of the things you can do (and need to do) to properly set Indic and Arabic scripts. And the freetype project has some screenshots of Arabic text set with an oblique baseline on each word. Us Romans have typography easy!

“Ali Bakhtiyari, the refugee accused of having fraudulently obtained a temporary protection visa, has admitted to the The Age that he spent two years in the Pakistani city of Quetta before paying people smugglers thousands of dollars to get him to Australia. …” (The Age)

I don’t think it very good form (or a good tactical move) to make much of Ali Bakhtiyari’s lies. (Blair probably shouldn’t have paid much attention to him in the first place.) Bakhtiyari may have lied, but others, without doubt, didn’t, haven’t and aren’t: Blair would get more mileage from his point on the political spectrum by sticking to its traditional strongholds of principles, consistency, fairness, the rule of law, etc.{B62669DB-290B-427A-AB1B-4D888F4F3DB5}

“A strange transformation is afoot in the consumer landscape of food products. The meat has found its way out of the refrigerator.”

Sub-editor attacks a Giles Coren review, changing the lazy dog to a lazy dog, rendering his “All 26 letters of the alphabet in a 35-letter sentence” remark incorrect. This is his angry email. Not quite sure why he the instead of a but anyway.

I found some cute pangrams in font samples somewhere:

We took a breezy excursion and gathered jonquils from the river slopes.

Sweet marjoram grew in luxuriant profusion by the window that overlooked the Aztec city.

Jaded zombies acted quickly, but kept driving their oxen forward.

What it’s like to have sex in a metal tube with an MRI machine looking on. (The account is “charmingly though imperfectly translated.”)

Calvin Trillin tracks down a fondly-remembered legend: when poured into black glasses, you can’t tell the difference between red and white wine.,7541,776983,00.html

Sub-editor attacks a Giles Coren review, changing (in the familiar pangram) the lazy dog to a lazy dog, rendering his “All 26 letters of the alphabet in a 35-letter sentence” remark incorrect. This is his complaint. (Not quite sure why he used the instead of a but anyway…)

The type samples at incorporate some nice pangrams:

We took a breezy excursion and gathered jonquils from the river slopes.

Sweet marjoram grew in luxuriant profusion by the window that overlooked the Aztec city.

Jaded zombies acted quickly, but kept driving their oxen forward.

Problems with IE’s SSL implementation, etc. You can count on Slashdot to jump up and down about any security problem that Microsoft pooh-poohs—but I think this one is fairly serious.

It it is strange, though, that neither the online retailers nor credit-card companies ever seem to be too concerned by these sorts of security problems either—especially strange in the case of credit-card companies, who would seem to have the most to loose. American Express, for example, offers an Online Fraud Protection Guarantee: “Use the American Express Card online, and you won’t be responsible for any unauthorized charges. Period.” If it really is a problem, why isn’t Amex worried?,2125,54333,00.html

Ellen Feiss fan sites.

Anne Applebaum reviews Christopher Hitchen’s review of Martin Amis’s Koba the Dread. She writes: (a) that the “the horror of Soviet camp guards lay not in their sadism but in their total indifference to prisoners’ fate”; (b) that “totalitarianism … was the product of institutions, of bureaucracies, and above all individual choices and decisions of millions of people” (i.e. individual Russians—and not just Stalin—were responsible); and (c) Amis’s decision to criticise Hitchens in particular is peculiar as well as unfortunate since Hitchens, a Trotskyite, well knew the horrors of Stalinism.

Review from 1945: frozen dinners. Lots of (unnecessary?) flourishes. (e.g. “This is all the doing of a New York inventor named William L. Maxson, who has been a grandfather for five months, closely resembles Henry VIII, and is left-handed.”)

(This is by Lillian Ross, who is still writing for the magazine. The latest issue has a “Talk of the Town” piece about “Camp Broadway,” a summer camp for aspiring actors.)

Unwarranted hype? Scientists at Polaroid “reinvent” the principles of photography. Certainly it is surprising how little the technology has progressed over the last 200 years (and the last 100 years in particular). Then: black and white, have to sit still. Now: colour, don’t need quite so much light.

Forceful Francis Fukuyama defence of the West and, I suppose, Occidentalism: “Much as people would like to believe that ideas live or die as a result of their inner moral rectitude, power matters a great deal. German fascism didn’t collapse because of its internal moral contradictions; it died because Germany was bombed to rubble and occupied by Allied armies.” Fukuyama also delivered a John Bonython Lecture.

What scares M. Night Shyamalan: “Freddie Krueger with the blood—that doesn’t really scare me. What scares me is something like this: if I had a photo of my wife on my desk, and it was face down, and I put it up and I walked out of the room and I came back and it was face down again. That’s scary.”

Romanticising the hobo. (Not that I mind.)

Account of the Anna Nicole Smith/J. Howard Marshall courtship, an extract from Judge David Carter’s decision. (Starts half-way down.) “But education is no guarantor of integrity and a discredited profession does not mean a person lacks truthfulness. While Vickie [Smith] certainly drew a more noble image of herself than the facts bear out, her testimony on the statements made by J. Howard are credible.”

Good & fair review of Stiglitz’s Globalization and Its Discontents that ends in a call for a similarly lucid and well-informed book that defends the IMF’s policies. (See also #859.),2125,54154,00.html

Professor Koch has an Apple logo tattooed onto his right arm. (What Dalrymple (my favourite conservative) thinks : “The tattoo has a profound meaning: the superficiality of modern man’s existence.”)

Interesting: more and more people are buying organic food than ever before. But consumers appear to only care about the “organicness” of the food they buy—they buy organic food produced by large-scale agri-businesses, not just small-scale farmers, and they buy food produced by energy-intensive means.{7C3E5A47-1FD8-4436-BD69-E239C2F3A8D6}

Dr Ivo Pitanguy, one of the world’s best plastic surgeons, thinks plastic surgery is a democratic right: “Plastic surgery can be important for self-esteem for anyone and should be available. This is true democracy at work.”

I don’t think the state should pay, but I don’t see anything in principle wrong with (cosmetic) plastic surgery. There’s no substantive moral difference between changes brought about by plastic surgery and changes brought about by, say, waking at 5.00 each morning to go to the gym, eating well, or getting better clothes. Appearance matters, and plastic surgery is a not illegitimate way to effect change.

(Still need to account for: (a) the stigma associated with plastic surgery and (b) the usual failure to acknowledge that one has had plastic surgery—note toupee similar.),,SB1028069195715597440,00.html

Sony Ericsson is pushing their new phone via guerilla (or undercover) marketing, in which actors pose as members of the public. A NY Times article on the same topic quotes an official from the FTC: “If testimonial is affiliated with you in some way, you have to disclose that.” This sounds about right. Guerilla marketing isn’t quite product placement.

Mathematician fills in blank spot in Escher print. (original, filled in.)

Curious coincidence? There seems to be a correlation between linguistic and biological diversity.

Marx & Spenser: cute. (Also: Groucho Marx and John Lennon, a 1995 postage stamp from The Republic of Abkhazia.)

Gadfly was first a print magazine, then an on-line magazine; now it’s no longer a magazine at all. This story, from the archives, is about Frank Lloyd Wright and his “Fallingwater”—another good piece was Deeper Than Deep Throat, which is oddly absent from the archive.

Is this a warblogger’s straw man—a deliberately weak and easily refuted summary of an opponent’s argument? Ted Rall writes a particularly retarded critique of the “War on Terror.”

Rethinking the US constitution—just how democratic is it? I don’t think it’s necessarily wrong for 12 per cent of the population to control 44 per cent of the senate (through residing in “small” states)—equality of representation was presumably offered to prospective states in an attempt to alleviate concerns that (once incorporated into the Union) their interests would be ignored and I don’t see why this was ever an especially bad deal for anyone.

(Hertzberg tells us Dahl thinks we should not venerate the founding fathers: “If we worshipped the framers a little less, we might respect ourselves a little more.” One of my favourite Emerson quotes is similar: “Meek young men grow up in libraries, believing it their duty to accept the views which Cicero, which Locke, which Bacon, have given; forgetful that that Cicero, Locke, and Bacon were only young men in libraries when they wrote these books.”)

Did Pius XII do enough for the Jews? ”Perhaps the reason why these charges against Pius XII are so infectious is that they are constructed in such a way that they cannot be disproved. They are what Karl Popper called an unfalsifiable proposition: however many public attacks on Nazism Pius XII did make, one can always say he should have made more. Moreover, the denunciations of Pius today, unlike his own ones of Nazism, are cost-free: unlike Pius’s decisions, on which the lives of millions depended, today’s attacks on him produce a nice pharisaical glow of moral superiority, not to mention extremely profitable book sales.”

Jack Saturn applies for his old Pyra job. (More),2125,53972,00.html

Artists Andrew & Andrew: “For attention-seekers, they were quite reserved, almost shy. They wore the same preppy outfits: red polo shirts, linen pants and yellow sneakers. Their haircuts were cropped short. They drank the same vodka tonics and when they smoked, Andrew lit two cigarettes. Like twins, they finished each other’s sentences.” See their Baked Goods division.

Darius McCollum has an unhealthy fascination with the NY subway system: over the past twenty years he has been arrested nineteen times for various offences, including impersonating subway workers. (From Harper’s; long.)

Ghanians digitise environmental violation tickets written by the NYPD: “… they imagine that the city is sparkling clean. Why else would people be given tickets for not cleaning up after their dogs?” (Also a worthy pro globalisation datapoint.)

Nice journal: True Porn Clerk Stories. (Last Post)

Snopes’ Urban Legends Reference Page combine nice detective work with some good analysis of how and why legends spread. This page, dealing with the rumor that Subway’s pitchman Jared has died, notes that the various false reports of his demise cruelly attribute his 245 pound weight loss “to reasons other than successful dieting and willpower” and that “each of these explanations has a dark component that serves to erode his accomplishment.” (Recent Additions)

On the Womera escapees: “So the guy lies about where he’s from and why he came here, his family arrive knowing they’ll be placed in detention, and his kids get mixed up with morons who use them for anti-government propaganda … and this is somehow our fault?”

I tend to agree with this, although I can see why people who don’t think asylum seekers should be locked up at all (including me) might be moved by this case—though of course this doesn’t change their legal or moral position (compared to that of two brothers who don’t escape, say).

(Compare the brothers’ story to that of two British PoWs, for example, who escape from a prison camp in WWII and who almost make it back home—you feel for them (and want to hear their story) even as you concede that they were acting illegally in trying to escape, and their captors justified in punishing them.)

“Anti-Spam Legislation Opposed By Powerful Penis-Enlargement Lobby”

Frenchman writes wildly popular 62-page pamphlet, Cowardice of Air France, gets canned by reviewer: “Because Lindon, in this context at least, is a repellent human being—no more worthy of respect than the lemmings of Air France.”

Photo: the Mighty Og.

International Blog MEETUP Day. I don’t know about this. Melbourne bloggers to meet at Starbucks? Huh? (Compare: LA.)

Entertaining: Star Wars fan films. Troops won the pioneer award.

Review of Joseph Stiglitz’s Globalization and Its Discontents. Stiglitz is an ex-chief economic adviser of the World Bank and a Nobel laureate; his book questions the IMF’s policy of urging greater financial and capital liberalisation upon the countries it deigns to help.

(I find this issue interesting also because the anti-globalisation crowd seem to group the World Bank and the IMF together—here a former World Bank official attacks the IMF in their language. Slate: IMF and World Bank: What’s the Difference?)

”Japanese” movie posters. (Introduction)

Pleasant Nick Hornby summary of the World Cup goings-on. He tries to argue that some of the footballers view the World Cup as “an unattractive alternative to a well-earned beach holiday”—I don’t agree. I actually find it cheering that very rich footballers care so much about the World Cup (for which they are not paid at all): they really want to play, they really want to play well, and they really want to win. So it’s about sport, it’s not about money. I suppose this is the way one has to be, if one is to be a great at (any) sport.

(My) Vice-Chancellor David Robinson is in plagiarism trouble. (The Vice-Chancellor is equivalent to President.)

(Update: the V-C is to leave! I didn’t think this would happen. He is widely hated though. Last night the English department, at least, was celebrating with champagne.);s=ackerman070802

On that Palestinian toddler dressed as a suicide bomber—what does it mean?

(Going back a few months—I passed up on linking to this when it happened for some reason.) Ann Coulter on Halle Berry’s winning of the Oscar. I particularly appreciate the whining about how Berry is only half black, and the marvelling at how Berry can feel such kinship with black folk when “her white mother … was beaten and abandoned by her black father.”;s=peck070102

Reviewer Dale Peck is deeply unhappy with Rick Moody: ”Rick Moody is the worst writer of his generation.” (First sentence, first paragraph). Thrillingly inflammatory!;s=wilson070522

1922 review of Ulysses: “Not content with inventing new idioms to reproduce the minds of his characters, Mr. Joyce has hit upon the idea of pressing literary parody into service to create certain kinds of impressions. It is not so bad when in order to convey the atmosphere of a newspaper office he merely breaks up his chapter with newspaper heads, but when he insists upon describing a drinking party in an interminable series of imitations which progresses through English prose from the style of the Anglo-Soxon chronicles to that of Carlyle one begins to feel uncomfortable.”

Running with the bulls at Pamplona. (Click through.)

NY’s top chefs sometimes use pedestrian ingredients in their dishes: “One day at Atlas, which closed this week, David Coleman, the chef, and two of his cooks were putting together an order of arctic char. One cook poached the char in goose fat. Mr. Coleman gently folded together micro-sorrel, fennel seed, shallots, cacao nibs and lemon zest to make a delicate topping for the char. Meanwhile, the third cook prepared the foundation of the dish: Quaker instant grits, stirred over heat with milk, shallots and mascarpone cheese.”

Chomsky describes the US as “the greatest country in the world”:

BENNETT: … why do you choose to live in this terrorist nation, Mr. Chomsky?

CHOMSKY: I choose to live in what I think is the greatest country in the world, which is committing horrendous terrorist acts and should stop.

The Hot-or-Not guys rate women: “ ’Oh my God—these women are all tens,’ James said, looking around the cavernous space. ‘Or at least a disproportionate number of them.’ ”

The Joy of Cooking: “Its breadth and pleasantness are unsurpassed. There is no better first cookbook, and it’s a trusted companion even for amateur chefs who’ve been cooking for decades.” I think mine contains instructions for making coffee.

Turkish coach practises diplomacy, comments on the Rivaldo incident: “We know that players can make mistakes on the field during the game, and they can also make some mistakes regarding fair play.”

The Army Chief of Staff’s reading list. Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War: “The story of the Peloponnesian War has many lessons that continue to be valid today: the destructive ‘imperialization’ of an all-powerful democratic state, the arrogance of great power politics, the lure of conquest even when reason dictates otherwise, the cult of personality in a military at war (Pericles and Alcibiades), and the always delicate balance of power between the military and the political structures of a state.”

”… the U.S. Supreme Court today ruled that corporate earnings statements should be protected as works of art, as they ‘create something from nothing.’ ”

The Mets’ pitchers eat Gino’s penne vodka with grilled chicken. “The fact that the Mets have so far been the sole beneficiaries of the penne doesn’t bother Phil Mangiafridda, a lifelong Yankees fan. ‘It don’t matter,’ he said. ‘I root for anyone who comes in here to eat.’ ”

Lennox Lewis profile, by David Remnick.

Handsome version of the “Bill of Rights,” stamped in metal, suitable for use in making political points at metal-detectors.

Edward Said on the Middle-East peace process. He doesn’t like Arafat either.

On the unabridged Kamasutra: “The surprise is that descriptions of sexual positions are a relatively minor part of the Kamasutra; what really matters are the folk recipes (which are nuts) and the moral advice (which is vile).”

Paean to on-line personals.

Mahathir criticises Malays for not making enough of their government-given advantages. Would like to know more about the circumstances of this.

Scott Shuger has died in a scuba diving accident.

“A Father’s Pain, a Judge’s Duty, and a Justice Beyond Their Reach.”

“Uncle Sam Buys an Airplane.” “All this new thinking was in the service of an even blander-seeming, yet revolutionary, concept within the military: CAIV, or ‘cost as independent variable.’ In layman's terms this is nothing more than the idea that the airplane would be held to a cost target. In most military contracting, cost is the dependent variable.”

“Interview with an escalator.”

Contains plausible explanation of the “root of lesbian mystique.”

The Argentinian soccer team models … handbags!

“The key to comfortably using the one-button [Apple] mouse is simple: put the mouse under your palm, not under your fingers.” This is a pleasant way to weild a mouse.

Porn-maker Sam Stern's journal (the contents page) is very good, although it does take a few readings to figure out the right way to approach his writing; a few readings to “get it.” Sometimes he describes shoots he's done, sometimes he talks about his relationship with the porn industry, and sometimes he talks about, well, other stuff.

This paragraph, on why he hates journalism, resonates:

I've thought before that the very essence of reporting, of critiquing and evaluating, even of storytelling, is one of reductionism, oversimplification. I hate most journalism for this reason. Fiction is preferable to me because I never have to question the veracity of the reportage—it's filtered through the narrator, or novelist—it's made up. It's when it comes to telling about life that I start to distrust, not only the actual story that I'm hearing or reading—but the ability of speech and words in general to accurately describe an event or an occurence. People are liars, and even when they're not, they leave a lot out.

(I don't hate journalism, but I do have the suspicion that almost any proposition can be sensibly argued for.)

From the police blotter: “Police said they did not disbelieve people who thought they had been woken up by a chimpanzee. They are looking for a suspect who is three-foot tall with a large amount of luxuriant dark hair.”

Boxers vs. footballers: “why is [it] that Lennox, and Mike in particular in this case, were repeatedly able to take vicious assaults on their bodies and come back for more, while the slightest hint of contact on many players in these finals produces a reaction like they've just had their legs amputated with a light beer for anaesthetic?”

I made a special trip to my local to see that fight. God I love boxing.

Another report—Tyson was remarkably gracious, especially when compared to the Tyson of the past. And in Gadfly, Neal Shaffer explains why we need sportsmen like Mike Tyson.

Gardner Botsford collects unusually-titled books. (Amazon reviewer Henry Raddick (interview) has an eye for the off-beat too.)

“ ‘Listen to this picture’ is the catalogue of an exhibition by the photographer Pierre Bailly consisting in portraits of twelve women, at home, while they are listening to their favorite music.”

“When I grow up, I want to be a principal or a caterpillar.” —Ralph Wiggum

“What kind of reaction do you get when you tell people you design fonts for a living?” Font designers vent. From

Information Security Begins With You!

Splendidly dogmatic essay on punctuation: “Periods and commas are lovely because they are simple. They force the writer to express his ideas directly, to eliminate unnecessary hedges, to forgo smart-aleck asides. They also contribute to the logical solidity of a piece of writing, since they make us put all our thoughts into words. By way of contrast, a colon can be used to smooth over a rough logical connection.” (The author especially dislikes semi-colons.)

This is one of my favourite colon-droppings ever:

It is possible that there are uglier towns in the world than Walsall, but if so I do not know them: and I consider myself better than averagely traveled.

(From the lead to Crudity beyond belief, by Theodore Dalrymple. I suppose he's “[smoothing] over a rough logical connection” here but goddamn it was worth it.),1282,52997,00.html

Man in charge of important password-protected Norwegian historical documents dies taking the password with him; hackers' help is requested. (Why were they password-protected in the first place?) The story ends with a moving tale of Web designer Kenny LaGuardia's misfortune at the hands of a “Dead Man's Switch”—a program that, if not regularly reset “automatically carries out a series of pre-designated tasks.”

”I went on vacation, and forgot all about the switch,” said Kenny LaGuardia, a Web designer from Los Angeles. “When I returned home, the program had posted, ‘So I guess I'm dead’ messages to all the newslists I subscribe to, and destroyed all my adult entertainment files.”

Woody Allen is suing his “former producer and friend Jean Doumanian”: “He said he had intended that he and Ms. Doumanian would remain friends and actually enjoy the lawsuit, like playful adversaries in a Spencer Tracy-Katharine Hepburn film. He said he thought that she would find the suit ‘amusing’ and that they would be “having dinner at night at Le Cirque and facing each other by day.’ ”;s=kauffmann061002

Decent review of Attack of the Clones. (Actually, more a review of the Star Wars universe.)

Two other analyses of Star Wars politics: from Salon (in 1999), “Star Wars” despots vs. “Star Trek” populists (about every third paragraph is readable) and from The Weekly Standard, The Case for the Empire: Everything you know about Star Wars is Wrong. (The premise of the second is rather similar to that of this Usenet post from 2000: “star wars trilogy is vicious rebel propaganda.”)

I quite liked Attack of the Clones. I liked the plot. I have described it as “complicated,” but I've discovered people don't agree with me about this. I think what I really mean is “nuanced.” Sure, the plot can be stated in a couple of sentences, but to stir up universe-spanning conflict (including two entire armies!) to make your request for additional powers more reasonable—now that is fascinating. It's completely unprecendented in human history! Imagine if Napoleon, say, pulled some stunt like that? How intriguing would that process be?

An exchange between Ed Koch, one-time mayor of New York, and Woody Allen. Koch is unhappy that Allen attended the Cannes Film Festival, ignoring the boycott called for by some Jewish leaders.

Perhaps someone can enlighten me: why is France widely considered to be an anti-semitic nation of long standing? There was that Dreyfus Affair, but France provided arms to Israel for much of its first decade. (There was a falling-out after the war of 1967.) What led France to do this? (Even the US didn't become actively involved until later.) Was the move not popular with the public?

(The article linked above is not brilliant, but I can't find a better web resource.)

Found via this sticker:

Red Meat

(The other scenes of people made happy by red meat are: (1) a judge (in wig, carrying book, head thrown back, laughing hard); and (2) a set of four butchers (in aprons, clanking pots and pans and tongs together). Priceless!)

The excerpts used in an English exam taken by New York's public-school high-school seniors have been “extensively altered,” etc. I don't think anybody needs to get very excited about this. It's not first-and-foremost an example of the sort muddle-headed thinking over-zealous liberals get up to, and that conservatives like to mock. It's mostly a mistake. It will be changed. (Slate: the wronged authors can sue. NYT: the policy has changed.)

W. Kip Viscusi says that smokers do correctly assess the risks of smoking. I don't know about this—lots and lots of experiments have demonstrated that people aren't very good at evaluating risks.;s=hitchens

Tut, tut, Christopher Hitchens. You repeat the story that the FBI allowed (helped?) the Saudi ambassador, Prince Bandar, fly several members of the Bin Laden family out of the US on September 11. But they didn't.

Update: I finally found the January 21 Minority Report column Hitchens refers to. There he implies that the Prince's appearance on the Larry King Show of October 1st is the source of his information. But the transcript (Reminder: “It's 2001, and we can Fact Check your ass.”) reveals that the Prince, though he talked of the flight, said nothing at all about the date the Saudis left. Where is Hitchens getting his information from?

I like those I admire to be, at least in matters of simple fact, unassailably correct—in all things, and at all times.,2125,52397,00.html

Lowercase sound: small sounds made lounder pose as music. Pretty!

“Thirty-five editors of the international editions of Cosmopolitan were in New York last week for a conference…”

“Why cities without gays and rock bands are losing the economic development race”

I'm interested in why some cities are seemingly more successful than others too. I had put success down (somewhat imprecisely) as being related to “hustle.” This article (a teaser for a book) ranks cities according to a “creativity index.” I didn't look at the numbers, but these statements were interesting:

“Places that thrive in today's world tend to be plug-and-play communities where anyone can fit in quickly. These are places where people can find opportunity, build support structures, be themselves, and not get stuck in any one identity. The plug-and-play community is one that somebody can move into and put together a life—or at least a facsimile of a life—in a week.”

“Talented people seek an environment open to differences. Many highly creative people, regardless of ethnic background or sexual orientation, grew up feeling like outsiders, different in some way from most of their schoolmates. When they are sizing up a new company and community, acceptance of diversity and of gays in particular is a sign that reads ‘non-standard people welcome here.’ ”

“A vibrant, varied nightlife was viewed by many as another signal that a city ‘gets it,’ even by those who infrequently partake in nightlife.”

Update: An article in the NYT discussing the book mentions two alternative theories that attempt to explain a city's measure of success: the “social capital theory” developed by the Harvard political scientist Robert D. Putnam, which says economic growth is tied to the amount of civic participation and social cohesion in a community and the “human capital theory” associated with Mr. Glaeser and the University of Chicago economist Robert E. Lucas, which says economic growth is driven by concentrations of educated people.” (Florida's theory is described as the “creative-capital” theory.)

Anne Applebaum: “Is India's nuclear rivalry with Pakistan completely unlike the old nuclear rivalry between United States and the Soviet Union—is it so unique, in fact, that Cold-War-style nuclear deterrence between the two rivals is destined to fail?” (She mischievously uses the fact that twenty near-disasters—but no disasters—have occurred as evidence that one won't happen.)

Some people, she claims, argue that the situation is particularly dire because neither Pakistan nor India appreciate the effects of nuclear weapons. She calls this argument “borderline racist”—but I'm sure the people making these arguments were saying the same things—about Americans and Russians—during the Cold War. Anyway, would a nuclear exchange really lead to “the death of the subcontinent”? I mean, people still live in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Padraic P. McGuinness: the hunting (he says “fishing”) of whales should be allowed to resume now that the whales are no longer in danger of extinction. (Tim Blair suggests a compromise: “Let's just kill the whales, but not eat them.”)

Are good fund managers simply lucky fund managers? About stocks, Nassim Taleb is sure of only one thing: that the probability of exceptional events—S11, say—is invariably underestimated.

This is a New Yorker piece, so as well as arguments you get pretty flourishes:

“He was always so conceptual about what he was doing,” says Howard Savery, who was Taleb's assistant at the French bank Indosuez in the nineteen-eighties. “He used to drive our floor trader (his name was Tim) crazy. Floor traders are used to precision: ‘Sell a hundred futures at eighty-seven.’ Nassim would pick up the phone and say, ‘Tim, sell some.’ And Tim would say, ‘How many?’ And he would say, ‘Oh, a social amount.’ It was like saying, ‘I don't have a number in mind, I just know I want to sell.’ ”

(I suppose a similar observation is behind index funds.)

“Some U.S. Backers of Israel Boycott Dailies Over Mideast Coverage”

Malcolm Gladwell on one the inventors of television: “Philo Farnsworth's travails make a rather strong case for big corporations, not against them.” (Another recent Gladwell article was remarkably big-business friendly—is “capitalism, the benefits of” the subject of his next book?),6000,718044,00.html

“Catherine Millet does not look like a person who has slept with the whole world.”

On patrol with the US Army in Kosovo. (A Humvee's door weighs 400 pounds!)

The Liggett Group is introducing nicotine-free cigarettes. (Made from genetically modified tobacco.)

“The invigilator, maths teacher Richard Jowett, appeared to have been looking at the material on his personal computer, forgetting it was linked up to the monitor.”

Policy statements of the World Medical Association. e.g. World Medical Association Declaration on Hunger Strikers.

Joy Oriola wanted to take out a restraining order against Adam Thaler under California's Domestic Violence Prevention Act (DVPA). Did their four “social outings” amount to a “dating or engagement relationship,” as was required by the Act? And so the court defines “dating”: “It is a social relationship between two individuals who have or have had a reciprocally amorous and increasingly exclusive interest in one another, and shared expectation of the growth of that mutual interest, that has endured for such a length of time and stimulated such frequent interactions that the relationship cannot be deemed to have been casual.” Oriola lost her case. (She was able to, and did, obtain a conventional restraining order.)

Other interesting aspects of this opinion: a section on the history of dating in America (“The practice of ‘dating’ evolved in this nation during the 1920’s…”) and a footnote explaining why Thaler is seeking sanctions against Oriola and her attorney for serving him “in an unduly humiliating manner” (“Respondent was distraught and began to cry in front of his coworkers…”).

In 1978 the Supreme Court decided that affirmative action is legal because it promotes “diversity.” This argument (which was advanced just one judge—the one who broke the 4–4 tie) has over the years become more and more difficult to sustain. The problem, writes Dahlia Lithwick, is that the principle fails to elevate racial diversity above other kinds of diversity—the diversity that would come from admitting Alsation goat herders, for example, or Wiccans.

Banknote folding fun. What country are these from? (From Post No Bills.)

The media couldn't deal with Pim Fortuyn's apparent contradictions. Also: “… Fortuyn was socially tolerant, even libertine, and it was for that reason he felt he could not be a multiculturalist.”

Heh. I'm so proud of the Age for busting out the wood for “gangbusters” on their front page today. (The accompanying article.)

K9 Billboards: “Dogs are magnets; they're ice-breakers—and even the hardest-edged New Yorkers love them.”

“Corporations can be found liable for deceptive advertising if they make misleading public statements about their operations and conduct, the California Supreme Court ruled Thursday.”

The court found that commercial speech—defined as anything “likely to influence consumers in their commercial decisions” (for a long time companies have not been allowed to lie in advertisements)—was not protected by the First Amendment. (The court did not find that Nike had lied, only that it is not allowed to do so—though I don't know would you'd mount a First Amendment defence if the truth would suffice.)

Does this rule apply to religion? Religions are more powerful than the mightiest corporations (and not only economically). How about those marketing campaigns! John 3:16 is: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Is this true? If false, it would surely rank as one of the greatest lies ever told.

(The decision—haven't read this yet.)

A very long, very sad story: forty years ago the Aral Sea was the fourth-largest inland body of water in the world; by 2010, it is estimated, it will be completely gone.

The region has suffered great environmental and economic damage. (Evidence for both: the “fishing town” of Moynaq is now eighty miles from the sea.) And there has been attendant social damage. Even the dogs seem to have lost hope. In one incident, the author sees two boys (brothers) in the street. He asks the younger his name. Before the boy can reply, he is inexplicably set upon by his brother, who hits him from behind; the blow knocks him to the ground. As he tries to rise, his brother again pushes him to the ground, and then walks away, “having satisfied some obscure but insatiable impulse.” This is what happens next:

I waited for tears, the shrieks and cries of fraternal terror. Nothing. The naked dusty child was silent. The dog trotted over, and as the boy picked himself up he searched the ground blindly with a small hand. Finally he stood holding a triangular rock. He turned and threw it at the dog, hitting him full in the ribs; the dog flinched but otherwise took the blow in silence. The boy simply walked away. I made soft kissing sounds to summon the dog, who was understandably skittish. I persisted. I didn't know what else to do. When it slinked over, head lowered and panting, I saw a strange red spiderlike creature embedded in its collarless neck. I extended my hand. The dog bit me and staggered off.

(From the April 2002 Harper's.)

NASA gets spare parts from eBay!

Rats can be controlled by little computers strapped around their heads. Most interesting is the information that the effect is in part achieved through the stimulation of the portion of the brain that mediates pleasure. Is it acceptable to make animals do our bidding because they (in a fairly strong sense) “enjoy” it?

One character in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a pig who, when presented to a table of diners, begs them to eat him. (He nominates his choicest cuts and so forth.) Would it be right to breed animals that behave in this way? They can't be said to suffer—so to what degree is suffering irrelevant?

“In Praise of the Missionary Position.” Nerve's got a lot uglier (and “busier”) since the last time I looked.

Naomi Klein: anti-Semitism pays political dividends to Sharon and so it must be checked.

For Sharon, Jewish fear is a guarantee that his power will go unchecked, granting him the impunity needed to do the unthinkable: send troops into the Palestinian Authority's education ministry to steal and destroy records; bury children alive in their homes; block ambulances from getting to the dying.

This is an extraordinary piece, especially for a Klein. The facade of a synagogue near her house was “just badly scarred by a suspicious fire”; the tragedy (and thus the reason why the globalisation movement should condemn anti-Semitism) is not that it was attacked, but that the attack led to a sign on the door that read, “Support Israel—now more than ever.” (I am also amused by the “just.”)

Doctors who smoke. (A Times article of a few years ago described the smoking culture of Denmark. Dr Bruno Timmerman (presumably a smoker) said: “You have to weigh it up and find a balance between what is dangerous and what your need for relaxation is. I don't see that a few cigarettes a day will harm you. It is better than being stressed.”)

Why does VeriSign's service agreement have its own URL? (Redirects to a site.) is coming up for renewal soon; I'm going to move it somewhere else, partly because of the incident and partly because their system for changing DNS entries is really awful. Recommendations?

Any UN inquiry into what happened at Jenin will necessarily be less about facts than it is about analysis and spin:

Israel's critics want the investigation to focus on what Israeli soldiers did to Jenin; Israel wants to include what Jenin's terrorists did to Israel. Critics want to begin with the assault; Israel wants to begin with events that provoked it. In evaluating the Israeli military's behavior, critics want to treat the camp's residents as civilians; Israel wants to treat them as abettors of terrorism. Critics want to ask whether Israeli soldiers distinguished civilians from fighters; Israel wants to ask how the fighters got mixed in with the civilians. Critics say a massacre should be defined by how many civilians were killed; Israel says it should be defined by whether the killing was deliberate.

Jessamyn asks great trivia questions. Hard ones but.{5F5BDF34-59FF-4F8E-9BA4-72C0F483324A}

Canadians don't know the difference between right and left. (I was pretty surprised recently to find conservatives and liberals so neatly split over the present Middle East crisis.);s=cottle042402

“Want to see a woman go berserk? Try tossing out these tidbits at the next office happy hour: Female fertility begins to decline at age 27.” Michelle Cottle asks why is this an issue for women only: “Sure, we're the ones who carry the babies—but that only lasts nine months.” (Men should take certainly more responsibility; this translates to greater decision-making power; and this, I think, translates to the power to veto a decision to forgo an abortion.)

Video of Alexandra Beller dancing. (Believe me, I'm as surprised as anyone to learn that I find dancing pretty.)

Jacob Weisberg is the new editor of Slate.

Story on the Long Bets Foundation I linked to earlier. “Cosmologist Stephen Hawking has made a number of high-profile wagers on future discoveries. In 1975, he bet Kip Thorne a subscription to Penthouse (the loser would get it mailed to his home) that a celestial mystery named Cygnus X-1 would turn out to be a black hole. It didn't.”

Scientific American editor John Rennie responds to Lomborg's rebuttal. (Background)

His reponse is not very satisfying. A pull-out quote (i.e. one that is designed to serve without the support of context) reads: “The discussion is not about whether his statements are correct; it is about whether his arguments are correct—the plans of thought he develops from those statements.” Does Rennie mean to say that he does not dispute the facts? I'm sure he doesn't, but this goes perilously close.

More interesting is the discussion involving the Kyoto Protocol. Rennie more or less agrees that the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol would only have a “trivial effect” on global warming: environmentalists, he tells Lomborg, only ever thought of it as being a “first step.”

I don't think Lomborg has a problem with the Kyoto Protocol being a first step. What he does have a problem with is the cost—is this the most appropriate use of resources? Lomborg claims it could (if “implemented inefficiently”) cost $1 trillion, or “more than five times the cost of worldwide water and sanitation coverage.” Is this right? (How much does Rennie think it will cost?) Over what period of time?

How much do we value (other people's) lives? How much to we value the environment? How much do we value the arts? (Museums? Libraries?) How much do we value sport? How much do we value health? (AIDS?) How much do we value beer? An environmentalist's list of values has the environment ranked highly—and so they try to persuade others to devote more resources to the environment; others may not rank it quite so high.

(By the way, I don't like the way Lomborg is usually described as an “ex-environmentalist.” It doesn't mean anything, and it certainly doesn't add credibility. (The title of his book has the same problem.) This form of argument is almost always wrong. “I'm not sexist, my own mother was a woman.”)

“…actual questions from actual interviews conducted by Microsoft employees on the main campus.”

Russian Peasant Multiplication.

What philosophers think: can the killing of non-combatants be justified? (The linked Michael Ignatieff story is also worthwhile.),5500,684671,00.html

What you learn about the middle east conflict from the TV news. (Also: “Connections back to how the present intifada began, when Ariel Sharon walked through the most holy Muslim sights…” Uh.)

About Ultimate Frisbee!

Nokia phones are designed in California by a Californian!,5942,4146710,00.html

Theodore Dalrymple is very, very upset at the state of Britain. “There is hardly a British city or town of any size in which to open one's eyes is not to experience one's retinas being attacked by a scouring pad.”

The Supreme Court rules that fake child porn is protected speech. It's fifty pages or so but it's good reading.

In response to the argument that fake child porn should be prohibited because it is difficult to distinguish from real child porn (thereby making it difficult to prosecute instances of real child porn), the court—disagreeing—notes: “The Government may not suppress lawful speech as the means to suppress unlawful speech. Protected speech does not become unprotected merely because it resembles the latter.”

Clarence Thomas—though he voted with the majority—wrote a separate opinion in which he questions this argument. Thomas: “if technological advances thwart prosecution of ‘unlawful speech,’ the Government may well have a compelling interest in barring or otherwise regulating some narrow category of ‘lawful speech’ in order to enforce effectively laws against pornography made through the abuse of real children.”

I think that this is largely right: it's sometimes necessary to prohibit or control a certain activity or product not because it's inherently wrong, but because they're easily confused with something that is. It's not inherently wrong to wear a helmet into a bank, for example—banks prohibit it though because it's impossible to distinguish the helmet-wearing motorcyclists from the bank-robbing kind. (A tax is levied on blank media (at least cassette tapes) for a similar reason.)

“It was then that the couple decided to call off their trip to one of Christianity's holiest shrines.”

OS X: emacs-like keyboard shortcuts that use Control (ctrl-a, ctrl-n, etc.) work, by default, in Cocoa apps. Following the instructions half-way down this page (find “Key bindings”) will get you the Alt shortcuts too.,6000,683900,00.html

Christopher Hitchens.

Lowest Ebb: “In the spring of 1970, when I was twenty-two, I was arrested by the Orono, Maine, police. After a traffic stop, I'd been discovered in possession of some three dozen rubber traffic cones.” (Stephen King)

(Last letter: Bush says (in relation to stem-cell research) “no human life should be exploited or extinguished for the benefit of another”; how is this to be reconciled with his views on capital punishment?) This argument was initially appealing, but now I'm not convinced it's viable. Incarceration has four aims: deterrence, protection of society, punishment, rehabilitation. But is capital punishment meant as a deterrence or punishment? I think Bush means it to be a punishment.

(Atul Gawande and Natalie Angier discuss these questions in Slate.)

How kids use websites. They click advertisements (!), because they “cannot yet distinguish between content and advertising.” I also like the story of the six-year-old who complained, “This website is for babies, maybe four or five years old. You can tell because of the cartoons and trains.” We once had a houseguest called Marcus (age six) who once spoke proudly of the enormous size of his bike:

Marcus: … and I also have a bike.
Me: You do?
Marcus: It's a really big bike.
Me: Really?
Marcus: It looks like it's for a seven-year-old.

(I liked Marcus; he was a good kid.)

The US chases oil in Equatorial Guinea—human rights be damned.

The Windsor boys remember their great-grandmother.

“For years, a rule against copying your neighbor's order was observed fairly strictly. Customers who had just arrived might ask someone at the next table the name of the scrumptious-looking dish he was eating. Having learned that it was Burmese Hummus—one of my favorites, as it happens, even though it is not hummus and would not cause pangs of nostalgia in the most homesick Burmese—they might order Burmese Hummus, only to have Eve shake her head wearily. No copying.” YOU HAVE TO READ THIS.

Amazon's top free Indie Music downloads. This is actually worthwhile. I used to have a link to the top Rap & Hip-Hop downloads but I can't find it now. (e.g. Kristin Hersh, “Your Dirty Answer”; Tanya Donelly, “The Night You Saved My Life.”)

Vogue's pathetic attempt at body-type diversity.”

“Pro-Palestinian” or “peace activist”?

Ghostwriting vs. plagiarism. “Dan Rather and other journalists have put out ghostwritten books—in effect, claiming to be the authors of books they didn't actually write—without losing credibility. But when Joe Klein wrote the best-selling novel “Primary Colors” and published it under the name “Anonymous,” he was accused of dishonesty for claiming not to be the author of a book that he did write.”

How long till a weblog gets one of these, eh?

History of TrueType.

“With you always.” e.g. Truck driver. Artist woke in the middle of the night “with a clear, vivid impression that the Lord wanted me to do some special drawings” … but wait! Larry had never drawn before.

Lucky number freaks: the US Government is offering you the chance to buy bills bearing your favourite serial numbers.

"L.A. Confidential (1997, Warner Bros.). A highly regarded film, tightly written, well-acted, beautifully filmed, but pretty mediocre in its use of type."

(1) Arsenic contaminates (many) water wells in Bangladesh. (2) UNICEF sunk some in the 70s and 80s; the British Geological Survey in the 80s and 90s. The government is suing the BGS--but not UNICEF--because UNICEF could not have been expected to have anticipated the problem. (Huh?)

Another improbable story: Hollywood, TiVos, and the unexpectedly long Oscars.

Deaf couple wants to have deaf children. (Interesting: how the other unusual attribute of the couple is dealt with—c.f. the National Post.) There's a followup article at the BBC.

"In fact Geneva now had to act on the unpleasant new discovery that whereas formerly civilians went off to war now the war came to them." Alistair Cooke: the Geneva Convention should be revised--as it has been four times before--to reflect the changing nature of war.

"The 'TLS': a 100-Year Love Affair"

"Strangers When We Meet"

Pachelbel's Canon, scratched. This is a great album. (350k)

Only just now figured out that the two ways of ordering quotation marks (either after periods (and commas) or before) are the American way and the British way:

She starts calling him “boss.” — New York Times

During this time of “might made right”, excess among the rich was thoroughly encouraged. — Economist

More examples

(I very much prefer the American way—logic be damned.)

(Is it clear that I don't necessarily agree with what's linked here?)

Everyone can vote on what will be the new M&Ms colour, including those from "nations in which no citizen has previously had the opportunity to cast a governmental vote."

"Confessions of a Hot Sleeper"

"If the World Trade Center falls on you because of an astonishing plot by a comic-book villain, we give you (or your survivors) a couple million dollars. But if your house falls on you when no one is looking, through nobody's fault including your own, we do not even guarantee you basic medical care.",4273,4378766,00.html

Mr Millington's first novel is one of the five best debut novels of the year.

Were the Americas, pre-Columbus, vastly more populated than previously thought?

The gentrification of a neighbourhood doesn't lead to "an exodus of the poor and the working class." (So what does the process involve then?)

Tips for frugal living.

Amazingly long article on the connexion between game theory and drafting in NASCAR races. The drafting bit is fascinating. (Didn't read the second half.)

Misspellings of "britney spears." Over 20% get it wrong.

Little piece (book review) on indexes and indexing. Good books have good indexes. (I really want to write "indices.") Robert Latham, editor of the 11-volume set of Pepys's diaries, says somewhere that he and his wife spent something like two years on the index alone. And it is a fantastic index. If you look up money, for example, you are referred to all entries that mention his bank balance. (At one stage I wanted to graph bank balance vs. time.)

More indexing trivia: the 1897 Sears, Roebuck and Co. Consumer's Guide says: "If you don't find it in the Index, look very carefully through the entire catalog." (This is the quote that heads the index to Knuth's TAOCP, Volume 3.)

"Awards for self-flattery at the Oscars"--a deconstruction of the Oscar-acceptance speeches.

"Bloggers vs Journalists."

A $2000 bet held by Long Bets, an spin-off of the Long Now Foundation: "In a Google search of five keywords or phrases representing the top five news stories of 2007, weblogs will rank higher than the New York Times' Web site."

This question is not at all well put--is Google going to be around in 2007?--but, procedural issues aside, if the question is whether the New York Times will decline significantly in importance in response to pressure from weblogs, my answer is a firm no. Especially if we're talking about the "top five news stories."

A professional journalist is not an amateur journalist whose work just happens to be distributed to a few hundred thousand people every day. This is a weblogger's conceit. The work of professional journalists has prominence for several reasons: (1) they are professional writers and researchers; (2) they are paid to spend every hour of every day on their stories; (3) they know how to get and how to deal with sources; (4) they have significant resources at their disposal; (5) their stories are invested with the authority of their employer.

Dave Winer, who proposed the bet, carps that reporters sometimes get their facts wrong. This is true. But the New York Times is much easier to trust than some guy with a website. (Why should I trust what this guy Dave says? Who is he?) People like brands, because they provide some guarantee of quality (deliberately provocative link). In my city, now even tradespeople have brands.

How are webloggers ever going to cover the war in Afghanistan? Enron? The New York Times has a six reporters working on Portraits of Grief alone: webloggers won't trump journalists by 2007, or ever.

"ancient Scottish tradition of basing your food on a dare"

Pretty "Fell In Love With A Girl" video clip done with Lego blocks.

Excellent: we're finally on the way to producing artificial meat. Growing meat in a vat can't be all that much harder than, say, cloning animals, and--as a way of producing food--it must surely be more efficient than running minerals, sunlight, water and vegetable matter through a cow. (Also: you don't have to kill the cow.)

A kinder, gentler, more loving multi-national corporation: the Sony website has an "Employee Pick of the Week.",3605,668039,00.html

Author of the Guardian's famous corrections column: "How dare you, sir. You are speaking to the person who has practically eradicated in the Guardian the misspelling of Lucian Freud. The rogue Lucien, having occurred six times in the year 2000, cropped up only once last year, and so far, only once this year in an item on our website. When people ask me if I have achieved anything in my four years in this job, this is what I proudly hold aloft."

The State of Washington complains about the licence plate "CNLNGS." (Defence on the next page.)

"The Basho of Honk"

Dan Nakamura discography. An article in the street press here described his latest project, Lovage, as "camp hip-hop."

James D. Watson's "embarrassing new memoir."

(Christopher Hitchens and the artful deflection of awkward questions.) Question: "You're a highly-paid newspaper columnist. How do you square this with your left-wing leanings?" Hitchens: "Nothing's too good for the working class."

"A case study in the power of standards." (Questions: Do standards always evolve? Is government involvement always unwarranted? Does the best standard win? Is it important that it does?)

Luigi Miraglia sees Latin as a (the?) language of intellectual inquiry and argument; in a hotel confiscated from the Mafia by the Italian government he wants to set up an institute for the study of Latin.,1643,38604,00.html

The 101 dumbest moments in business of last year.,,1-236031,00.html

UK government advisory council recommends that cannabis "be reclassified from a class B narcotic to a class C." (How does the media spin stories? Compare The Times story to the one at thisislondon--where does this site come from, anyway?--which is headlined "Cannabis is given health all clear," and contains the line, "In healthy young people, cannabis is even said to have a similar effect on the heart as exercise." The BBC takes the middle ground.),3604,665861,00.html

Patents don't matter (much): Switzerland and the Netherlands had no patent system at all for the last half of the 19th Century, but companies still prospered. (I am not convinced.)

"Women do not, by and large, make terrific criminals. In the United States, women commit only two crimes as frequently as men. The first is shoplifting. The second is the murder of their own children." Why are mothers who kill their children thought mentally ill, whilst fathers who do the same are considered violent criminals?

Tim Blair asks why the anti-free-trade left isn't vigorously defending Bush's right to impose steel tariffs. Part of the answer, I think, is that the left is more interested in results than general principles; contrariwise, the right is more interested in general principles than results. Of course, results and principles both are important: so the left elevates measures designed to alleviate poverty, suffering, and so forth to the level of principles, whilst the right argues that policies derived from general principles--"all men are created equal," for example--also lead to better outcomes.

Tim Blair--who values consistency highly--can't understand why the left isn't interested in steel tariffs. But the left just don't value consistency to the extent that he does. The imposition of tariffs on steel won't affect the lives of those most in need, the left have decided--and since they weren't actually particularly interested in general principles in the first place, steel tariffs in the USA isn't something they care about.

(I'm still writing this...)

"A mentally-ill gunman apparently unhappy with widescreen televisions has shot himself dead in an Amsterdam office building after a seven-hour siege."

"Faking It: Sex, Lies, and Women's Magazines"