Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Move over Global Warming

from Techdirt

Remember back in 1999 when people started talking about "internet time", which was this crazy notion that, thanks to the internet, the usual course of business went much much much faster? Well, it sounds like the Earth tried to get in on some of that, as it's now been revealed that since 1999, our home planet has been making it's annual trek around the sun one second faster than it was for quite some time. Between 1972 and 1999, we had to add a special "leap second" each year, since the Earth was slowing down, and losing a step. However, since 1999, for reasons no one is quite sure, the Earth appears to have caught a second wind and is speeding up a bit.

I can see how this phenomenon, were it to continue unabated, could wreak havoc with our lives and the regular actions of nature. I wonder what can be done to combat it short of enlisting superman. I am also wondering how long ebfore this gets linked, in reality or just media, with global warming...

Setting the bar
Some standards aren't worthy of the name in the first place, and in any event standards will always be in flux. But surely there are a handful on which we might all agree to hold the line—this far and no further, unto the end of days. To start this long-overdue public conversation, I'll propose ten.

I. "EMPLOYEES MUST WASH HANDS BEFORE RETURNING TO WORK" ("Los empleados deben lavarse las manos antes de regresar al trabajo").


III. Notoriety does not denote "famousness," enormity does not denote "bigness," and religiosity does not denote "religiousness."

IV. "The bat shall be a smooth, round stick not more than 2 3/4 inches in diameter at the thickest part and not more than 42 inches in length. The bat shall be one piece of solid wood."—official rules, Major League Baseball

Clean fun to read from Atlantic Monthly. via the Bookslut

Monday, December 29, 2003

'Rings' Movie Inspires Saddam Offer to Find Bin Laden

(2003-12-23) -- A surprise offer by Saddam Hussein to personally lead U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney to Usama bin Laden's mountain hideaway may have been inspired by one of 'Lord of the Rings' movies he has watched while being held by the U.S. military.

Mr. Hussein apparently suggested the idea after viewing 'The Two Towers', the second movie in the trilogy.

While any chance to get Mr. Bin Laden might seem welcome, especially from someone with suspected ties to the al Qaeda leader, the proposal has reportedly caused a "friendly rift" in the Bush administration over whether Saddam can be trusted.

Sources describe Saddam has being humiliated by his capture, somewhat deranged from his time underground and overly influenced by the character 'Gollum' in the 'The Two Towers.'

Mr. Cheney is said to empathize with the former Iraqi leader since he and Saddam have both spent long periods isolated in undisclosed locations and have backgrounds in the petroleum business.

Saddam recently told interrogators, "We'll be nice to them if they'll be nice to us. We swears to do what you wants. We swears to serve the master of the petrol [his nickname for Mr. Cheney]. We will swear on...on the petrol! Yes, on the petrol; on the petrol."

However, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld allegedly told Mr. Cheney, "He's trying to trick us. There's no promise Saddam can make that you can trust."

An unnamed White House official said that if the vice president accepts Saddam's offer, he not only risks offending his long-time colleague, Mr. Rumsfeld, but he may sacrifice is own life.

"But if he doesn't follow Saddam to Bin Laden's mountain lair," the source added, "we may lose our last best chance to destroy this evil forever."

from Scrappleface

zipdecode - ben fry

An impressive and informative zip-code map -
zipdecode - ben fry

I have not figured out how to see Hawaii and Alaska here. But no matter -- hours of amusements can be had.

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Brother Leader and Guide of the Revolution

Interesting tidbit from Slate - Why Is Qaddafi Still a Colonel? - Why Libya's leader hasn't changed his stripes.:

Last week Libyan leader Col. Muammar Qaddafi announced that his country would disclose and destroy its chemical, nuclear, and biological weapons programs. That leaves Libya with one remaining mystery: Why is Qaddafi still just a colonel?

Because, Qaddafi insists, in Libya's utopian society, the people rule, so he needs no grandiose title.


While the media have kept referring to Qaddafi as a colonel—either out of habit or for want of a better option—Libya stopped doing so years ago. Instead, he's referred to as the humble "Brother Leader and Guide of the Revolution."

Monday, December 22, 2003

Parmalat scandal widens

Reuters | Latest Financial News / Full News Coverage: "Media reports said the hole could be as big as 10 billion euros, making it one of Europe's biggest accounting scandals."

Would be nice to hear what other European accounting scandals were larger... The corrupting influence of the USA shows up again in the unspoilt European wonderland.

Sharon's fault, I am sure - Egypt's Maher assaulted in Jerusalem
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher has collapsed after being assaulted by a crowd of Palestinians as he entered the al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem's Old City, witnesses say.

Alright, this is a bit of sensationlistic reporting on this site. And I am sure it was the minister's fault, for you know, visiting a holy Palestenian site being a Muslim and all. I hate to think of what they would do to guys who started a war that killed hundreds of thousands of Muslims. Saddam for example.

Friday, December 19, 2003

Heh - Software glitch brings Y2K deja vu | CNET

The flaw involves the way the programs handle date entries, Gavaghan said. To be able to recognize dates, PTC programmers had to set a date for infinity. They chose 2 billion seconds since 1970--when the Unix operating system was developed and Year Zero for many Unix applications.

That number brings PTC software up to Jan. 10. After that, the software will be unable to recognize dates and will no longer operate.

"It's not something where they would lose data," Gavaghan said. "The software just stops working."

Unix itself uses a similar method to resolve dates, but developers chose an infinity value of 4 billion seconds, the maximum a 32-bit system can process. That means that most Unix programs will continue to operate until 2038.

Neat twist on a design of the WTC replacement

Revised design for WTC site unveiled:

"The plan calls for a cable suspension structure that creates an open area above the building's 70 floors of office space, and houses windmills to generate energy. The windmills could provide 20 per cent of the building's energy."

It really looks like the architect for Larry Silverstein is gaining the upper hand in the competition for whose vision would dominate the rebuilding process. Still, I am glad the tower will be so tall:

Taiwan's Taipei 101 tower, 511 metres tall, recently supplanted Malaysia's 452-metre Petronas Twin Towers as the tallest building in the world when crews completed installing the pinnacle. The 110-storey World Trade Center towers were 411 metres tall.


A new design for the Freedom Tower at the World Trade Center site slopes gracefully into a spire rising 1,776 feet (541 metres) [ed: boldface added]

Joey Buttafuoco Arrested

This guy is unbelievable.

Buttafuoco, 47, co-owns California Collision of Chatsworth. He allegedly told undercover investigators how to file phony insurance claims for undamaged cars, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office said.

For those who do not remember how he gained his notoriety originally:

While living in New York, Buttafuoco gained notoriety in 1992 when 17-year-old Amy Fisher shot his wife, Mary Jo, in the face.

Fisher, nicknamed the Long Island Lolita by the New York City tabloids, served seven years in prison.

Buttafuoco, who pleaded guilty to one count of statutory rape, served six months in jail. He and his wife later moved to California and divorced.

His name last was fodder for late night (and other) comedians for months. I am sure it will be making a short comeback now.

Yahoo! News - Unlikely stories of 2003

A short sample includes

BEJA, Portugal - A school janitor set a teenager's leg on fire in an attempt to help the youth recover from an injury he suffered in a fall. The 14-year-old said the janitor applied alcohol to his injured leg and then set it on fire with a lighter. "He told me 'This is what we used to do in the war'. I told him I wasn't in a war," said Antonio Pereira, who was treated for first and second degree burns.


KUALA LUMPUR - A Malaysian man who sought treatment for swelling in his eye had a shock when doctors found a six centimetre length of chopstick embedded just beneath his brain. The chopstick, which ran from under his right eye through his nose and to the back of his left eye, was believed to have been lodged there five years ago during an attack by unknown assailants.

and of course the impossible to argue with logic of

LAGOS - A doctor was shot dead by a patient who was testing the potency of an anti-bullet charm the doctor had prepared for him. Ashi Terfa died when patient Umaa Akor fired a gun at his head after he had tied the charm around his neck. The man was charged with culpable homicide and released on bail as police said the motive to kill could not be established as the doctor had asked him to shoot him to test the charm.

happy holidays...

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Requiem for a Machine - The season's hot gadget proves that PDAs are obsolete. By Paul Boutin

Requiem for a Machine - The season's hot gadget proves that PDAs are obsolete. By Paul Boutin

Treo 600: It's not a PDA, or even a combination PDA/cell phone. It's a phone, pure and simple. (Service is available from at least four companies: AT&T, Cingular, Sprint, and soon T-Mobile.) To be clear, this is a phone that contains everything you used to buy a PDA for: Palm operating system, a QWERTY keyboard, a bright color screen, digital camera, Web browser, video and MP3 players, instant messaging, desktop-sync software, and more. But the important thing is that it has the form of a phone, not just the function. If you saw one lying on a desk, you'd immediately know what it was. Could you say that the first time you saw a PalmPilot?

While, I still have my very first Palm I am not particularly attached to that type of a PDA anymore. What I would like to see is how the Treo, or anyone else for that matter, handle the separation of personal and business lives. I am still waiting for something that would be able to have separate calendars and adderss books but be able to show them together on screen and be used together when calling or sending mail.

Nevertheless, finally having only one device for the phone, organizer, mp3 camera, and a small camera looks very nice. Of course, Verizon does not support it yet...

Bizarre - Saddam, the great dictator of fairy tales

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Saddam Hussein spent the final weeks before the war writing a novel predicting that he would lead an underground resistance movement to victory over the Americans, rather than planning the defense of his regime.

As the war began and Saddam went into hiding 40,000 copies of Be Gone Demons! were rolling off the presses.

I cannot imagine that the writing is as bad as presented in the article. With whatever little compassion I can muster - it has got to be a bad translator.

Salim freed his long hair. He was so strong. He was fighting the Romans like a hawk. He was riding a white horse and shouting: "Allah akbar! Let the debased be debased, and let Ezekiel Hescel and the Roman dogs be debased! Long live the Arabs and long live Islam!

"Damn the pagans!"

Salim was carrying a sword and his colleagues were giving him another sword when the first was broken. The Romans ran away as Salim got close to them.

...The arch-villain of the piece is Ezekiel, an immortal Jew whose presence runs throughout time. A fat, evil old man, Saddam probably had Ariel Sharon in mind.

At least he did not lose his fondness for anti-semitic diatribes...

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Photo: site - Konrad Photography

Some very nice stuff. What I particularly like about many of the works is that their power does not come from complicated compositions or formal arrangements, but from superb understanding of the work's intent. Using selective focus to its utmost many of the works grip your heart simply by rendering common setups into a sharper, cleaner, more understandable version of themselves. But understanding is fleeting. With the sharpness and clarity comes the miriad of nuances and details. Just like, pardon a banality, life itself.

Photo: Portrait of a woman with wine glass

This is a pretty unusual portrait for today's taste and fashion. For one, the model does not appear at all relaxed and inviting. At first glance the rigid pose, the mannered way in which she holds the glass, high forehead are intimidating. She is not trying to sell you anything -- either a product or herself. Looking at the picture longer you realize just how extraordinarily beautiful this woman is. And how unfamiliar her expression looks (at least for me). We are used to portraits that express some emotion, seek to pull the viewer into their emotional world and context, or both.

This work does neither. It is beautifully lighted, as is always the case for the author - Vadim Piskarev - and flawlessly executed. Some of the comments under the work [sorry, in russian] feel that the rigid and unnatural pose detracts. I strongly disagree. As the author himself says,

...not all portraits must be of blue-eyed blondes with 90-60-90 figure and puffy lips

After looking at the picture I do not even see the face. The face does not quite matter. It is the arch of her back and the steely quiteness of the grip around the glass. If the liquid inside the glass is poison she will drink it rather than fling it away. She seems to be willing to take on the world and would be up to the challenge. But she is the one who is going to decide which challenges to accept and which to ignore.

Haiku of the moment


End of content reached

while more parsing required:

tag nesting error?

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Montreal Gazette - Smart soldiers decided to flee the Rings battle

...each of these computerized soldiers is assessing the environment around them, drawing on a repertoire of military moves that have been taught them through motion capture - determining how they will combat the enemy, step over the terrain, deal with obstacles in front of them through their own intelligence - and there's 200,000 of them doing that."

Basically, all the necessary information for decision-making was fed into this network of computers without determining for them whether they would win or lose.

But this attempt to ensure that they acted spontaneously almost sabotaged the the battleground sequences.

"For the first two years, the biggest problem we had was soldiers fleeing the field of battle," Taylor said.

"We could not make their computers stupid enough to not run away."

read the whole thing, it's funny. And impressive in a CGI sort of way.

Word: "condign"

from Word of the Day:

The Word of the Day for Dec 16 is:
condign \kun-DYNE\ adjective : deserved, appropriate

Example sentence: The principal felt that ordering Matthew to wax the gymnasium floor was a condign punishment for vandalizing the locker rooms.

Did you know?
In his 1755 Dictionary of the English Language, lexicographer Samuel
Johnson noted that "condign" was "always used of something deserved by crimes." Even today, it is most likely to be used to modify "punishment" or a related word such as "redress," "justice," or
"chastisement." And yet, "condign" (which traces to the Latin "com-," meaning "thoroughly," and "dignus," meaning "worthy") once meant "worthy" or "of equal worth or dignity" in English. How did such a
word get chained to "punishment"? It was apparently so condemned in the 1500s by the phraseology of the Tudor Acts of Parliament: "Former statutes . . . for lacke of condigne punishment . . . be littell
feared or regarded."

Monday, December 15, 2003

Red Dawn semiotics

For all the success of the operation Red Dawn in capturing Saddam Hussein, I was immediately struck by how poorly chosen the name was. While I did not see any of the major papers (here or abroad) refer to the title, Slate did. Timothy Noah writes:

Red Dawn is a campy Cold War-era movie depicting the invasion of the United States by Soviet and Cuban troops. A band of youths from a small town in Colorado (including, pre-Dirty Dancing, Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey) name themselves the "Wolverines" and mount a guerrilla resistance against the totalitarians who murdered their families. ("Don't cry, man. Let it turn into something else.") The tip-off that Operation Red Dawn was named deliberately after the movie is that the two hiding places scouted out by the combat team were code-named "Wolverine I" and "Wolverine II." (Saddam was found near Wolverine II.)

The problem with calling Saddam's capture Operation Red Dawn is that it subverts the righteousness of our action with Orwellian Newspeak. (By sheerest coincidence, Red Dawn was released in 1984.) The U.S. military isn't mounting an insurgency against a foreign invader. It is the foreign invader. The real insurgents in Iraq—its Wolverines—are the Baathists and Islamist extremists who continue to wage guerrilla war against the American occupation and its Iraqi collaborators. By stating this, Chatterbox does not mean to insult our troops or pay any sort of compliment to the Iraqi opposition. In this particular situation, Huge Invading Force = Good Guys, and Scrappy Wolverine Resistance = Bad Guys. Even the most vocal critics of the war usually concede this point. Now the Pentagon has undermined this clarity by introducing an unhelpful vocabulary that invites disaffected Iraqis to make stupid comparisons between the United States and the former Soviet Union. How inept can propaganda get?

I have a slightly different angle at the movie than Timothy. I actually saw the movie for the first time sometime in mid '80-s while still behind the "curtain". It was shown as an example of how Americans misunderstand the peaceful Soviet people and a sample of general violent craziness that Americans liked to exhibit. As I see it now, it was a movie that tried to capture the fears of some, not necessarily small, part of the general American public. Now, almost 20 years after its release it is hard to believe that at the time Americans were seriously afraid of the USSR. One can read only so many articles describing the decrepid Soviet military machine before deciding that no threat was ever there. While I strongly disagree with the sentiment, it is irrelevant for the purposes of this post.

I was rather scared by the movie. I could not understand why Soviet soldiers were shown to be not at all like I knew my classmate's older brothers to be. Or my own father and grandfather. Or really anyone else I have ever met to that point. In a typical Soviet fashion, the movie was presented as a propaganda film exemplifying the true thoughts of Americans and their government. It was inconcievable to me, or anyone else who saw the movie, that movies could be made without governmental approval and censorship. Therefore, if it was made that must have reflected the views of the American government.

I imagine Iraqis have a view much closer to that of this former USSR denizen than of a Georgetown resident. Surely they will see the name of the operation as "proof" of all the ill things said about the Americans, their intents in relation to Iraq and Islam. I also find it unlikely that noone on General Staff would not have seen the movie or associated it with the name of the operation -- after all I did so almost immediately and I saw it once 20 years ago.
Pentagon does seem to have a penchant for dark humor when it comes to naming things. Perhaps that comes from having to deal in increasingly lethal doses of violence, but if we are going to have spokespeople on batallion level, let's not give them extra work to do explaining to Iraqis why USA is indeed the evil empire based on a name of second-rate movie.

Pretty big news in the virtual PC market - EMC Buys VMWare; Forget The IPO

EMC is going acquisition crazy. They recently bought Documentum and Legato, and today made the somewhat surprising announcement that they are buying VMWare. It had seemed that the earlier deals were sort of desperation plays between large companies who were finding their business models smoked out from under them. This deal, however, is quite a bit different. VMWare is a Silicon Valley darling that was expected to go public early next year - and was considered one of the bright spots for the potential IPO class of 2004. Apparently, once the offer was on the table, they believed it was better to take what was in front of them. It will be interesting to see what EMC does with VMWare - as it's a bit far out of their usual business areas. However, if anything, this is a bad sign for those who believe that the IPO market is back.

Or perhaps VMWare folks just did not cherish the thought of finally competing with Microsoft head-on. I wonder what are the exact plans EMC has for VMWare, and how they think ti would fit into their strategy.


Photo: Forgetmenot

This is just an awesome photo in every possible way. What makes a photo great for me is when it is clear that the author can completely manipulate the light, the setting, the model, to "speak" his mind. In this case, the head is clearly blown out, but only a dolt would consider that to be an accidental result that dimishes the photo. Obviously, I think it is a masterly stroke that moves this from "very good" to the "super" category. The overexposure is designed to maximize the contrast between the eyes and face. The letters and the body. Amazing work.

Her first book

Photo: Her first book

Friday, December 12, 2003

Biblical Taxation

interesting - Biblical Taxation

Why Can't They Make More Flu Vaccine? - For one thing, there's a shortage of chicken eggs. By Ed Finn

Interesting insight into how flu vaccinei s made

From Slate - Why Can't They Make More Flu Vaccine? - For one thing, there's a shortage of chicken eggs

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Heh. Dangerous New Technologies

via Transterrestrial Musings - Return of the Cave Capitalist

A few cycles of the sun ago, I gave a talk in front of the clan's children titled, "Be a Scientist, Save the Flat World." Leading up to my visit, the students were asked to chisel an essay on "Why I Am a Cave Geek." Of the essays I read, nearly half assumed that human-created fire was possible, and most were deeply worried about what would happen in their future as fire spread to the edge of the world. I did what I could to allay their fears, but there is no question that many of these youngsters have been told a sleep-on-the-ground-time story that is deeply troubling.

You and cavemen around you have scared our young. I don't expect you to stop, but I hope others will join with me in turning on the sun, and showing our cubs that, while our future in the real world will be cold, with a coming Long Period of Ice, there will be no such monster as the human-replicated fire of your dreams.

Read the whole thing. From "wheel" to "fire" in one generation.

Two new topics

I keep writing short posts that are either information report or comments and add-onds to someone else's posts. I do have a few things I wanted to write about here. Somehow, I never get to do it. I am working on it. Below are the current short topics swirling in my overstimlated and underused head:

  • Subway's healthy menus could be easily improved. Same goes for other fast food places.
  • "West Wing" (TV Show) cybersecurity idiotism

discuss among yourselves.

Social networking notes

from VentureBlog: Conserving Social Capital

The more I think about social networking products that are intended to expand and strengthen social connections in the name of business opportunity the more I think that they misunderstand the fundamental nature of social capital. Social capital is just that, "capital." If you aren't careful you can spend it all up. Sure, there are some relationships that will be more resistant to fatigue than most -- for example, I am sure that I can make a lot of introductions to my dad before he stops taking my calls. But some relationships are far more tenuous. If you have a good conversation with a potentially helpful business contact at a conference, he will probably take your call or read your email the first time you reconnect with him. But that relationship is pretty fragile and if your initial post-conference contact with him isn't at least mutually beneficial, that relationship will be spent before the second email. Even relatively strong relationships can be taxed if they are over-exercised.

If I were to bother the same person for multiple introductions serving only my interests, even a good friend is going to get sick of hearing from me pretty quickly.

I think that David Hornik hits it right on the nose. I have never gotten too involved in the six-degrees, or friendster experiments because short of letting me know that there are 15,043 people who are far removed from me, it did not do much for me. There were only two potential uses for these wide-spanning networks, up-to-date contact information and potential problem-solving contact or introduction. Lacking integration with any PIM tools and absence of controls on information dissemination noone put a lot of their personal info up on six-degrees, or would not let strangers from the 3rd circle and up look at it. Thus I really could not keep in touch with any of these 15,000+ people. Additionally, since I did not actually *know* any of these people, they could not help me with any of my questions or problems. They do not know me and I do not know that, regardless of having my 3rd grade classmate as a common acquantance.

Until these tools evolve a way to amass capital, social or financial, but making judicious introductions of people to each other I do not really see how they would be useful to me.

ps. ask me in another couple of years if I still feel this way.


via Crooked Timber via Volokh Conspiracy - Chess Boxing World Championship

Iepe the Joker won in the 11th and last round of the match, which is a chess round (the match starts with four minutes of chess, followed by two minutes of boxing, then chess again, and boxing, etc; max 6 rounds chess, 5 rounds boxing). Luis the Lawyer ran out of time and his flag fell.

What a bizarre event.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Mr. Cellophane

Mr. Cellophane

interesting - Bush's Mr. Cellophane - Goodbye to Mel Martinez

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Flu Vaccine Gone, CDC Recommends Abstinence

from ScrappleFace

2003-12-05) -- With factory inventories of flu vaccine completely depleted, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have issued an alert recommending "abstinence."

"Our official CDC guidelines suggest Americans completely abstain from influenza," said a CDC spokesman. "Not getting the flu is the only 100-percent effective method to guarantee that you won't need the vaccine. Since we're all out of the serum, we're issuing this alert to reduce the demand for it."

The CDC also announced that it had raised the Homeland Influenza Index to "Orange" due to increased "chatter" in the media about the flu.

"Orange signifies that the index is higher than yellow, but not as high as red," according to the spokesman. "Since the influenza virus is invisible, odorless and omnipresent, we suggest that Americans take appropriate precautions."


Per-Plaxo question

Mr. Len. writes

I've seen several people at my school and elsewhere in the past months trying to use Plaxo to keep my info up to date in their address book. I didn't trust Plaxo with my data, though wondered whether I'm the only one so paranoid. Here's an interesting article that echoes some of my concerns and reviews several potential alternatives.

Yesterday I read a similar post from some VC about Plaxo. The basic question everyone is raising is that it is not clear how they plan to make money, and until it is clear noone should trust them with their contact info.

Of course, I already replied to somene's request, which I now sort of regret.

Few weeks ago I was looking for a book in one of my boxes and came upon a "product plan" I created with a team of people I no longer remember for the OPIM 210 class. It was that calendaring and scheduling idea. I seem to have gotten both the comptetetive landscape as well as features required right. The prof. whom I otherwise liked a great deal, did not think it was a particularly good idea. I got a B. I think he was wrong then, and I see that noone has yet created a similar product. I think the time for such a product to be developed by a small company has passed, but I am still proud of that plan. I
think it showed a lot more understanding of the internet and software than I have now.

This brings me to my next thought. MovableType is a leader in the
weblog publishing space. It is also free, sort-of open source product. The team that created movabletype has now created a service called that hosts movabletype weblogs and has some additional features for easier management of multiple weblogs and stuff. Many serious users use it and really like it. However, the reason this service is successful is because the free MovableType product was open-sourced and developed a fairly large following and a large library of free add-onds. This contact information subcategory seems ripe for a serious open-source product that would run by individual users. You could run a server and service just like Plaxo would, except by virtue of beign free and of being run by you I would trust it a bit more. A web of trust can be formed and so on. Eventually, if it got big enough someone might run a commercial service on top of the free software to charge for the upkeep of the servers or provide some additional value-added services. However, privacy implications would not be so scary because there is an open-source foundation and alternative for all users. That would limit abuse and add transparency to the actions of these commercial operators.

Monday, December 08, 2003

Admission [of love]

Photo: Great setup and execution - Admission [of love] by Oleg Elesin

Capitol Hill Blue: Abercrombie & Fitch: The naked truth

Hehe. Some fun facts about Abercrombie & Fitch 2002 catalogue - Capitol Hill Blue: Abercrombie & Fitch: The naked truth

The link above is related to this slate article.

Excellent article on Costco vs. Wal-Mart.

from Fortune via EHH - COSTCO -
The Only Company Wal-Mart Fears

Just a couple of days ago I was speaking with EHH about Costco, and now he sends me this excellent article. It pretty clearly articulates what I have been noticing as a customer for some time now - Costco does not have the best prices on everything, but it has convinced enough of its members that it does. It understands that people do not care as much what paper towels to get, but like the fresh-baked bread and fresh-cut meat at great prices. In return these members are paying almost regular prices for upscale items that you would not ordinarily buy at a price club warehouse discounter. Myself, I rarely leave the store without a $150-200 charge on my credit card.

Saturday, December 06, 2003

2004 Predictions by Thom Hogan

Digital photography market.

2004 Predictions by Thom Hogan. The two most interesting to me personally are,

The third new Nikon DSLR will shake up the industry. Last year I predicted the appearance of parts of the F6 (the autofocus system ended up in the D2h). Well, this year I'm going further, saying it will appear fully. Essentially, the F6 will be like a medium format camera in 35mm size. The main component will simply be a light-proof box with lens mount, shutter, and mirror mechanism. Perhaps that part will also have a power supply in it. But everything else (and perhaps the power supply) will be modular. You'll have your choice of bolt-on film or digital backs and your choice of viewfinders. Backs and viewfinders can be interchanged mid-roll/mid-card. I'll go further and point out that Nikon will use the Olympics in Greece to launch this hybrid. If I had to guess at price, I'd guess US$2000 for the base, US$1000 for the viewfinder/metering; US$500 for a film back, and US$2500 for a digital back. The interesting thing will be whether Fujifilm also provides a digital back for this camera, as they have a full-frame 11mp sensor that would be perfect for it (and, of course, interpolated up to 22mp in finished images). Even more interesting will be that at least one digital back choice down the road (probably not 2004, though) will be a dedicated high ISO back. And, the whole thing will do 8 fps on film and whatever the digital sensor can handle (up to 8 fps). Medium format camera makers, such as Mamiya, will be cringing when they see this product. Kodak will, too, as it means that they'll have to consider making a back for it, but with a much lower price point than their current MF backs to stay competitive.

And of course, now that my brother got the S2 I am dreading, somewhat, the S3, which looks quite nice by itself

The S3 Pro is a full frame replacement for the S2 Pro, either using the same N80 base or a slightly upgraded base body. Resolution is 11mp (22mp with interpolation). Price is announced at US$3999, but wanders around a bit before shipment due to pricing changes by others. The second DSLR will be a 4/3 body and mount, have 5mp (10mp with interpolation), and be in the US$1500 range by the time it ships. Neither camera will ship before June 2004.

The 4/3 system looks interesting, and the idea is that it would take lenses from all 4/3 manufacturers (like Olympus). But I am really looking forward to getting affordable full-frame sensors. And thus S3 looks very very nice. I do not think it will go for the $3,999 either -- $2,500 to $3,000 would be my guess. At the same time, as more "designed-for-digital" lenses appear the advantage of the full-frame sensor will dwindle, and the new lenses are lighter and smaller. Moreover, I do not even have any old lenses.

Friday, December 05, 2003

Word Up - Which dictionary is the best? By YiLing Chen-Josephson

Word Up - Which dictionary is the best?

Total Score: 90 (Stock, 24; Definitions, 21; Usage Guidance, 12; Etymologies, 12; Enjoyment, 21).

Unclear on what I mean? Read the linked article.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Photo: "Dancing figures" by Lex-x

U.N.: North Korea's Experiment Failing

You think? As millions of people are starving the world's last totalitarian Communist state would be considered by most a failing experiment. However, that is not what UN is talking about.

"We have just started to discover and realize the magnitude of the problem," Hyder told reporters in Seoul. "It's more than a momentary blip."

Could they be talking about reported cases of cannibalism? Gulag-like camps? Nukes pointed to South Korea and Japan? Persistent efforts to sell nuclear and missile technology to the highest bidder? No way.

By dabbling with capitalism, North Korea is creating a new class of urban poor that is worsening its hunger problem, a top U.N. official said Wednesday.

About 1 million urban workers have fallen victim as once centrally controlled industries have to cut costs and jobs amid free-market pressures, said Masood Hyder, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator in North Korea.

Obviously, it is much better to have a centralized economy that cannot feed its people than to have ever-so-slightly less centralized one that at least gives a shot for people to buy rice at 44 cents per pound, instead of the rationed pound of rice going for 17 cents. Except it is rationed. Which means there is not enough of it, otherwise who would be buying it for 44 cents/pound?

To be fair, the UN official is only spinning his official line. After all, he is the U.N. humanitarian coordinator in North Korea. I guess ABC news gets the credit for titling and subheading the article in this manner. One could read these lines from the article

As evidence of the reforms he has witnessed, Hyder cited a blossoming of small enterprises, new stores, mobile phone usage, consumers' markets and price increases.

as something modestly positive. But between the U.N. and ABC, there is only the dark lining (and it is not nukes pointing to US and Japan)

Hunger and health woes, traditionally a rural plight in North Korea, are an increasingly urban phenomenon that is likely to worsen, Hyder said.

A key cause of the new problem is corporate-belt tightening, common in industrialized countries, but largely unknown until now in the communist North, he said.

I always get the feeling that people who work for United Nations do not understand that gainful employment is not something governments are able to guarantee (unlike the Soviet constitution) but a social contract between a productive worker and someone who can make money off that worker's productivity. I have been unemployed and underemployed, and have no illusions on how hard it is to lose a job and support a family without one. However, noone benefits from having millions of people consuming resources and producing goods that noone could possibly want or use. In the same time period USA has lost more than a million manufacturing jobs as well, and China lost millions more. Yet, somehow North Korea prior to these reforms is coming off as some sort of worker's paradise. They did not have layoffs! They also do not have food, but how could that possibly be the result of a corrupt government.

The solution is obviously to pump money into Kim Jong Il's coffers.

While government officials are aware of the strains, there are few resources to provide a social safety net for affected workers. Outside aid would not only help avoid a humanitarian crisis, it would encourage the government to push ahead with its painful reforms, Hyder said.

One way to help would be for international donors to answer a $221 million humanitarian aid appeal from the United Nations and several aid groups, Hyder said. Of that amount, the WFP is seeking $191 million, in part to help offset the effects on restructured workers.

But only 57 percent of the $225 million aid agencies asked for in 2003 has been pledged, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. That shortfall came amid an international standoff over North Korea's nuclear weapons programs and other disputes that have yet to be resolved.

Yeah, that last sentence refers to a rather important issue at the table. ABC News could mention that USA has already bailed North Korea out once. And what they got in return was nukes and missile sales. Let's do that again - it worked so well last time.

pointer to the article from USS Clueless - UNMOVIC is on the job

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Rock of Ages and a Hard Space - The Supreme Court searches for breathing room in its religion cases. By Dahlia Lithwick

The Supreme Court searches for breathing room in its religion cases. By Dahlia Lithwick - Rock of Ages and a Hard Space

The Game (via Volokh Conspiracy)

well-written and definitely something I would love to play. Except I am sure I would not be very good at it.

In The Game’s early days, the team who finished first won the opportunity to plan the next Game. From an outsider’s perspective, it seems a dubious honor. Designing a Game usually consumes the better part of a year. Today, Game protocol dictates that teams volunteer for the job. It’s considered “giving back to the community.” Over 365 days, Orange Crush held weekly planning meetings and sacrificed snowboarding for cryptography. In the month leading up to the event, they worked practically around the clock.


One Orange Crush teammate spent an entire academic quarter constructing a single clue that involved solenoid actuators and looked like an octopus mentioned briefly at the end of The Goonies. The project earned him credit for a graduate-level MIT class entitled Unusual Alternative Input/Output Devices. During The Game, that octopus didn’t get a whole lot of love. No team spent more than an hour deciphering the vibrations it emitted in five-bit binary.

Who says there is no payoff for playing the Game? :)

Big Shot - Why you should get your flu vaccination. By Robert Bazell

Good points all around: Big Shot - Why you should get your flu vaccination

I am going to see if I can get one myself now, and talk to J. and getting her and A. immunized as well.

Monday, December 01, 2003

What Happens to Cheating Soldiers? - Draconian military punishments for adultery. By Brendan I. Koerner

harsh penulties, from What Happens to Cheating Soldiers? - Draconian military punishments for adultery. By Brendan I. Koerner:
"In Maryland, for example, the maximum penalty for adultery is a whopping $10 fine. And John Raymond Bushey Jr., a Virginia attorney who recently pleaded guilty to adultery, was fined $125 plus $36 in court costs. He has appealed the decision."