Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Michael Lewis in NYT Magazine

Michael Lewis in NYT Magazine

Very good article

the kind of person who might one day coach my children. And when I think of that, I become aware of a new fear: that my children might never meet up with their Fitz. Or that they will, and their father will fail to understand what he's up to.

long, but definitely worth the read.

Height per capita

Height per capita

New Yorker has a very interesting and well-written article about height. How it has changed over time, how it is related to income and nutrition, and why (maybe) Dutch are taller than Americans. A long but rewarding read.

original link from Slate

Gaming in Russia

Gaming in Russia

From the Moscow Times: an industry emerges.

Although still in its infancy, the domestic computer game market was worth $100 million in 2002 and is growing at a rate of 30 percent to 50 percent yearly, according to 1C, Russia's largest game publisher.

cool. However, I cannot quite agree with this quote:

The key advantage Russian developers have over their Western counterparts is that their salaries are low.

"The trend with game development is finding talented people at a low cost and that could be a major advantage for Russia," said David Cole, an industry analyst from San Diego.

Does not that seem to shortchange both Russians and "their Western counterparts" ? This statement makes it sound as if the only reason good game are coming from other countries is because their salaries are low. I dare say that were all game development in US underwritten by some charity or government agency, Japanese, Koreans, and Russians would still develop great games. If costs were not lower in Russia, or Ukraine as the case with "S.t.a.l.k.e.r." might be, it reasonably likely that a lot of the top people would now be working in the US for these very same companies. It happened with many other fields, and there is no reason to think it would not happen for game industry.

IMO - Talent is always paid as little as possible and as much as necessary.

Monday, March 29, 2004

Is it legal for Continental airlines to participate in Arab boycott of Israel?

from Volokh conspiracy

Continental Airlines Participating in Israel Boycott:
Date: March 26, 2004

Subject: Select Military Charters Requiring U.S. Passport Holders Only

From: Inflight Policies and Procedures

To: All Flight Attendants


All flight attendants operating military charters into select Middle Eastern and Central Asian countries must carry a valid U.S. passport. Additionally, U.S. passport holders with Israeli stamps in their passports are not permitted to operate these military charters. Non-compliance will result in crewmember removal.

The U.S. Military allows for any crewmember of Continental Airlines to operate a military charter, however each individual country has specific entry requirements to which we must adhere. Effective immediately, any crewmember operating a military charter to the below mentioned countries is required to be a U.S. passport holder with no Israeli stamp(s) in his/her passport. It is each crewmember’s responsibility to know to which country a charter operates when picking up a charter pairing. Passports will be verified at check-in. Any flight attendant who does not meet the aforementioned requirements will be removed from the pairing.

Sample of an Israeli Passport Stamp

Current countries/regions affected include, but are not limited to:



Saudi Arabia



Prior to operating any military charter, verify the following:

Your passport is valid and in your possession

Your APIS information is correct and current in CCS

You are a U.S. passport holder with no Israeli stamps in your passport, if your trip includes flights to any of the above countries

Compliance with the above guidelines is imperative in order to avoid delays, flight attendant removal, or possible flight attendant detainment in a foreign country. Please feel free to contact me at 713-324-1784 or VM 41784, should have any questions. Thank you.

On one hand -- what choice does Continental have? On the other hand... How can this not be a huge problem that is talked about all the time in media and Congress?

Russia's New Rich Amass Art Collections

Interesting - Russia's New Rich Amass Art Collections

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Another thought on the Scalia plane tickets ruckus

After posting this yesterday I realized that there is even less to the story than we are making it out to be. The NYT article says that

Justice Scalia did not say how much he paid for his round-trip ticket, but it seems fair to assume that he bought what is known as a "throw-away ticket" — something the airlines expressly prohibit. US Airways, for example, does not allow the "use of round-trip excursion fares for one-way travel," and reserves the right to refuse to board those who try to use them and to charge them the difference between the round-trip and one-way fare.

But why should we take their word for it? My non-lawyer reading a bunch of policies for discounted fares for round-trip tickets from New Orleans to Washington DC has not turned up any tickets that would "expressly prohibit" using just one leg of the ticket. Why, I must ask, is it then "fair to assume that he bought a 'throw away ticket' - something that airlines expressly prohibit" Even if the NYT contributors found one such ticket, unless the practice was incredibly widespread why should we assume the worst of a Supreme Court Judge and the best of two NYT contributors? In their own words, it would be absolutely not fair to assume that.

Having denubked the contention that Scalia may have acted immorally, if not illegaly - a contention also supported at one point by Juan Non-Volokh here

an individual is morally bound to live up to the terms of such a contract into which they enter voluntarily.

we can only come to one conclusion: in NYT's eyes Scalia is immoral merely for not buying the most expensive ticket he could and trying to save some money for his family.

ps. I am amazed how misleading this op-ed contribution was, even by NYT standards.

pps. I have traveled a good deal on the cheapest flights available, and I have never run into this policy. I am not claiming it does not exist, I am claiming that the presupposition of its existence is unfair and misleading.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Scalia's plane tickets

Juan Non-Volokh mentioned an op-ed contribution in NYT "Scalia's Real Ethical Lapse", I had a short comment and decided to post here as well.

As no doubt many readers of your excellent weblog have told you, NYT article you refer to in your post engages in a bit of trickery to make its cheap (IMO) point.

They are comparing apples to oranges, in this case lowest price on a flight with stopovers for some arbitrary dates they chose to an unrestricted one way fare. Any traveler will tell you that unrestricted fares are *always* tremendously more expensive than restricted ones. As of this moment (03/24/2004 6:58PM EST) I can purchase tickets for a round trip New Orleans-BWI tickets for $178 (4/14-4/21 connecting in Charlotte - US Airways flights 870/1042 and 1439/431)

I can also buy a one way trip on Delta

5:00 am Depart New Orleans (MSY)

Arrive Baltimore (BWI) 9:57 am Wed 14-Apr

Duration: 3hr 57mn Delta 715 / 982

Connect in Atlanta (Hartsfield Intl.)

for $119 ... US airways in this case comes in @ $290 although flying into a different airport in the DC area can drop US Airways price down to $209.

But that is not quite the point of the article, even if the exuberant *displayed* difference in prices is the hook to reel the reader in. Try as I might, I was not able to find any reference to the requirement to fly the actual round-trip in the US Airways with a purchase of a round-trip tickets, and the authors of the NYT op-ed chose not to divulge their sources on this.

There is a huge number of combinations to get the lowest price tickets, but it is bizarre to me to imagine that airlines would force someone to burden their planes and tax their resources solely for the unenforceable purpose of sticking it to the consumer. Indeed, as the authors of the article suggest "Airlines, however, charge more for a one-way ticket because they know that some business travelers need the flexibility to buy such tickets, and are willing to pay more for it." However, that is why airlines provide unrestricted and restricted types of fares. This is called product differentiation and airlines are amazingly adept to it.

I am not going to go into high fixed costs for each flight and low marginal cost of each extra passenger that determine this pricing. Suffice it to say that "Barry Nalebuff [who] is a professor of business at Yale" should know better. It would be repetetive to say that NYT should also know better. Clearly they do not know and will never learn.

Perhaps Scalia is not a very good expedia user :)

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Photo: ****j

Photo: ****j by Sergey Belov

This author has the technical ability to transcend photography as technique and present his ideas as pure works of art. I strongly suggest going through his posted collection and become amazed.

There are many people I aim to emulate and am impressed by. For most of them I can conceive (if not truly hope) to someday achieve an occasional output level that is similar to theirs. A lucky shot here, a good setup there... However, Belov's works hit me on a visceral level, like real art should. There is no gimmick here, no pretense, just a direct connection from artist to viewer. Bravo.

Review: Finding Nemo

Review: Finding Nemo

When we first got Netflix, I thought I would be writing up reviews for all the movies we saw. I think "Finding nemo" is the first one I am actually getting to write about.

Just really well-done. Pixar has really taken off not with their super-realistic graphics but with good stories and good writing. All the hand-wringing that Disney and other studios muster about the superiority of Pixar's technology misses the point. Pixar's real advantage is in getting a bunch of motivated and properly incetivized people with minimal oversight and letting them create. By comparison, every late effort from Disney looks like it was done by committee of no less than 50. Other studios fare little better.

The fear of failure is palpable and understandable. These pictures cost a good deal of money, and the audiences of 5-10 year-olds are fickle and difficult to please. However, the solution seems to be not in micro-managing each shot and smoothing every sharp angle, but in what has always worked best in movies -- stories and scripts. Sadly, Pixar seems to be the only studio that is able to apply a grown-up movie aethtetic to its animation products.

On its own, "Finding Nemo" is not my favourite Pixar movie. It was clever and smooth, but somehow lacking in true emotional depth. I do not get wowed by most animation tricks, and was much more impressed by characters from Toy Story. The original "Toy Story" amazed me by how clearly it related to children, and how fun it was for adults to watch. With the exception of "Monsters Inc." all other Pixar movies have had a tendency towards giving a bit more to adults, with gimmicky pop-culture references, culminating with the mediocre "Bugz Life". Nemo is definitely a much more balanced movie than "Bugz Life". It also clearly connected with kids in its target audience. On a recent visit to an aquarium I could not get to a display with either a clownfish or some other fish that looks like the "dory" character. 3rd graders were all over that tank, reliving Nemo's adventures and debating finer points of clownfish coloring. That's the best compliment a movie for kids can get, I think.

Nuclear non-proliferation update

Nuclear non-proliferation update

It now appears that the Russian admiral making the ruckus is backing off his statements. False alarm, this time at least.

ShortNews - the News-Community

Nuclear non-proliferation.

With friends like this, who needs enemies. Russian Nuclear Ship Could Blow At Anytime

The head of the Russian navy, Admiral Vladimir Kuroyedov, has ordered the flag ship of its Northern Fleet, the nuclear powered Peter the Great to return to dock.

"The ship is in such a condition that it may blow up any minute," Admiral Vladimir Kuroyedov said. "It is especially dangerous since the vessel is equipped with a nuclear reactor."

Kuroyedov visited the vessel last week and came to the conclusion that its condition was so poor it needed to be docked as soon as possible.


Thursday, March 18, 2004

Al Qaeda Opens First Embassy in Madrid
from ScrappleFace

(2004-03-16) -- Spain's newly-elected socialist prime minister today declared the start of a "new era of protection from terror" as he cut the ribbon at the grand opening of the al Qaeda embassy in downtown Madrid.

The building, formerly known as the U.S. Embassy, will house the offices and "manufacturing facilities" of the global religious social services organization headed by renowned philosopher Usama bin Laden.

"Spain's involvement in the war on terror caused the recent train station bombings," said Prime Minister-elect José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. "Now that the Spanish people have elected a socialist government, and embraced al Qaeda's diplomats, we have nothing to fear. Al Qaeda has promised to protect us from extremists like those at the U.S. White House and Pentagon."

Mr. Zapatero said he was "pleasantly surprised at al Qaeda's reasonable pricing for high-quality protection."


Tuesday, March 16, 2004


How to shoot snow in action in a city - circus


from dollars and cents - wow

MTV strikes again
"The Post's Reliable Source column reports on a fund-raiser for and at Ford's Theatre. Bush was there and made a small verbal gaffe, calling the theater, where Lincoln was killed, the Lincoln Theatre. But he was one-upped by another attendee, singer Jessica Simpson. Upon being introduced to Interior Secretary Gale Norton, Simpson complimented her, saying, 'You've done a nice job decorating the White House.'" (emphasis added)


"Nanograss" and its implications

Our Southern California biotech correspondent writes about turncoat nanograss (NYT, free registration required), and its implications:

I think this technology will have enormous applications for flow-through devices, and therefore on the entire future of biotech and drug discovery.

These are implications that are not covered in the NYT article. NYT says that possible future applications of this

nails, each about one three-hundredth the width of a human hair and about one four-thousandth of an inch tall, were coated with a polymer that repels water.

are in the fields of energy conservation and generation and computer technology. Or in their own words

Potential applications include tiny batteries that use the nails to hold apart the chemicals until precisely when electricity is needed. The surface could also help to cool future computer chips, where droplets sink in just in the spots that are hot. Installing a surface of the tiny nails on the exterior of boats or a torpedoes could allow them to slice through water more easily. It could also be used for filters and switches for optical networks by moving droplets in and out, turning a surface from clear to opaque.

I am hoping to get some more elaboration on how this effects biotech and drug discovery later. Of course, it is also nice to know my alma-mater participated in this research.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Epson R-D1 Digital Rangefinder Camera

Jsut 2 days ago we wrote about the Rollei digicam that looks like an old Rollei TLR. Now Epson is putting out a 6-megapixel digicams with retro-styling and Leica M and L-type mount compatibility.
Shown only in prototype form and behind glass at PMA this year Epson has today fully revealed their R-D1 'Rangefinder Digital Camera'. This camera has come out of a collaboration between Epson and Cosina, it supports Leica M mount and L mount with an adapter and has a six megapixel APS size sensor

The tide of retro-looking digicams is definitely picking up.

That's a neat looking camera.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

washingtonpost.com: Inside The Real West Wing

Inside The Real West Wing

Map of the West Wing and current occupants of its offices.

Monday, March 08, 2004

Cool looking camera

Rollei Introduces the Retro MiniDigi

Following the current trend for retro looking digital cameras, it seems that Rollei are showing a digital version of their classic 1929 Rolleiflex twin-lens reflex at PhotoExpo 2004 in Japan. The Rollei MiniDigi has a 2 megapixel CCD, a 9mm F2.8 fixed lens and uses SD card for storage. In keeping with the original the viewfinder/LCD is at the top. According to the Japanese news site PC Watch it is expected to sell for 39,800 Yen and will be available from May 21st.

This is what it looks like

Friday, March 05, 2004

Really Simple Slate - Our RSS feed lets you speed-read the magazine. By Jonathan?Epstein

Slate adds RSS feeds.

Details here - Really Simple Slate

Thursday, March 04, 2004

L.A. Observed: LAT's 'anti-abortion' opera Archives

Too funny - PC strikes LA Times

Here's why reporters want newspaper corrections to make clear that an editor is at fault for an error introduced to their copy. Last week, the L.A. Times' Mark Swed filed a review of the opera "Die Frau Ohne Schatten" at the Music Center. He wrote that the Richard Strauss epic is "an incomparably glorious and goofy pro-life paean..." But when it ran in the paper, pro-life had been changed to anti-abortion.

Swed was reportedly mortified, since the opera is not remotely about abortion. On Feb. 25, the Times ran this correction:

Opera review -- A review of Los Angeles Opera's "Die Frau Ohne Schatten" in Tuesday's Calendar section incorrectly characterized the work as "anti-abortion." In fact, there is no issue of abortion in the opera, which extols procreation.
Swed was again not amused, since his name was on the piece -- he had been made to look stupid to his readers and to the opera community. If they thought he had misread the work, it might affect how opera fans, players and producers regard him in the future. He apparently demanded a second correction, which ran the following day:

read the rest of the story.

Pointer via Mickey Kaus

Could Kerry Pick McCain for VP? - How a Democrat could choose a Republican running mate. By Brendan?I.?Koerner

Jefferson for Vice-President

Could Kerry Pick McCain for VP? - How a Democrat could choose a Republican running mate. :
There's another far-fetched scenario in which the president and vice president could come from opposing parties. In the event of a tie in the Electoral College, the election is thrown to Congress.
The House picks the president, while the Senate picks the vice president. It's entirely possible that one could select a Democrat while the other chose a Republican.

How cool would that be?

War of the Worms

Mr. Len reports:

There are only so many computers on the Net to infect, and with infection
rates being what they are, it's pretty easy for a well-written worm to
exhaust its target pool relatively quickly. Right now there may very well be
a war for the turf between the authors of NetSky and Bagel worms.

A recent variant of NetSky has the following message hidden in it:

"Bagle - you are a looser!!!!"

Not to be outdone, Bagel carries a message of its own:

"Hey, NetSky, fuck off you bitch, don't ruine our bussiness, wanna start a

NetSky is interesting because when it infects a computer it attempts to
erradicate the presence of another worm (MyDoom) on that computer.

Itsn't this funny?

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Bulletproof Me - The Gun Store is the perfect representation of Vegas' wacky charm. By Tim?Carvell

What dies in Vegas, stays in Vegas

Bulletproof Me - The Gun Store is the perfect representation of Vegas' wacky charm.

perhaps the oddest client Irwin can recall was the gentleman who came in and shot up a photograph of himself—a sign of either deep self-loathing or perhaps a blood feud between a pair of identical twins.

deep self-loathing indeed.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

U.K. - home of e-democracy?

via Crooked Timber

MySociety has just launched a blog-based website called Downing Street Says. It strips out into a readable format each topic covered in the Prime Minister’s spokesman’s daily Q&A with political correspondents, and allows the public to add comments. (BBC story here.)Official transcripts of the daily Q&A and the PM’s monthly press conference are available somewhere on the UK government website. But they’re difficult to find, published in long clumps of text, and of course have no comments sections. Downing Street Says has been put together by volunteers who simply want to make the process more open to the public, and it makes for an interesting read.

I am now waiting for the US version.

Monday, March 01, 2004

Lights, Camera, Action - A post-Oscars reflection on the state of American acting. By Lee?Siegel

very interesting, IMO - A post-Oscars reflection on the state of American acting. By Lee Siegel

When critics do touch on acting, their discussion usually consists of a superficial comparison of an actor's portrayal of a fictional character to how that character would behave in real life if "he" or "she" were an actual person—and stops right there. The analogy would be a critic reviewing a Rembrandt retrospective and praising the paintings as having "figures that seem to have stepped right out of 17th-century Holland," while ignoring just what it is that makes them work in aesthetic terms: the balance of colors, the deftness of the brush, the technical and symbolic nature of Rembrandt's use of light and darkness. Writing in the New York Times two weeks ago, A.O. Scott, one of the most astute critics around, made the same omission when he asserted that we are now in a "golden age of screen acting." His evidence was that many of today's films are distinguished by "the dense, believable humanity of the people who inhabit the stories." What he didn't do was define what it is that makes a character on screen believable.

read the rest.