Tuesday, November 30, 2004

BBC NEWS | UK | Commuters 'suffer extreme stress'

BBC reports that:

Commuters can experience greater stress than fighter pilots going into battle or riot policemen, a new study says.

I am not surprised.

Dr Lewis, who measured the stress levels of the commuters for five years, has identified a syndrome he calls "commuter amnesia", where people forget large parts of their journey because of stress.

"The survey suggests an average commute is between 45-60 minutes," he said.

"That is at least a working day a week that you are losing completely out of your life.

"Switching off the mind, turning people into zombies for 90 minutes, seems to me a quite appalling waste of talent."

Dr Lewis said commuting makes people feel "frustrated, anxious and despondent".

No kidding. Of course, there is no reason to passively waste time commuting. I overcame my tendency to become nausiated when reading on the bus and am now able to read, or listen to lectures and music on my iPod. Most people I know do the same - listen to music, read, or peruse newspapers. Perhaps British trains are even more crowded than NYC's, but I am sure many people still manage to make the commute less than a complete brain waste.

Monday, November 29, 2004

charity event - worth attending

9"x12" Small Works Show
and Sale

Opening Party: Friday, December 3, 2004 at 7:00 PM
(Exhibit is on view through Friday, December 22, 2004)
Artists are invited to submit artwork for The Creative Center Annual Small Works Show and Sale.

I am a big fan of the Center and their work. Please come in and buy some artwork. Many of the works are by new and up-and-coming artists (IMO), and so this may be the only chance to buy their works for under $200. Under $100 in some cases.

an idea whose time has come

Marc Cuban has an interesting idea:

I’ve decided to start a new hedge fund. However, this hedge fund won’t invest in stocks or bonds, or any type of business. It’s going to be a fund that only places bets. A gambling hedge fund.

Read the whole thing...

Friday, November 26, 2004

interesting NYT article

Very well-written article by Frank Rich for the New York Times. Not without counter-arugments and counter-examples, but, IMO, a solid and refreshingly honest look at the TV programming, its collusion with the sports leagues, advertisers, and its supposed collision with FCC and "family values" groups.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Travelogue:: Monday (continued)

Second visit to the Staatopera was more successful, inasmuch as we found the ticket counter and obtained. Tickets for that evening's perofrmance of â??Sleeping Beautyâ??, a Tchaikovsky ballet. What we really wanted were tickets to â??Nabuccoâ??, but we knew that those were sold as of at. Least 3 weeks ago, so we did not hold out too much hope.

Our main objective was to spend a nice evening out with dinner, theatre, and dessert after the performance. We were not disappointed. The opera house is gorgeous, very much living up to the hype. The perofrmance itself was enjoyable to me, as an amatuer, except for the ever bizarre third act. I really do not understand why Aurora's wedding is attended by the fairy tale creatures who seemed annoying and gimmicky to me.

In any case, we planned to go to Sacher hotel for coffee after the performance. This is fairly famous Vienese hotel, at least insofar as all city guides mention it as a landmark. Certainly the proprietors of many Vienese restaraunts have gotten the â??turn of the centuryâ?? look down, and Sacher got it particularly well. The interior is beatifully decorated withfark red cloth and wood paneling. The atmosphere is formal but relaxed, with attentive and friendly waitstaff. The dessert specialty is the â??sacher tortâ??, which they have been making for 132 years. Sacher tort is definitely worth trying, combining as it does the best qualities of a great desert. It is sweet withoutbeing cloyiing, dense without being heavy, and has a bit of tartness to offset a dark chocolate covering. In short - very enjoyable.
Sent wirelessly via BlackBerry from T-Mobile.

Travelogue: mondays are long

Monday. Woke up and went in search of food. Slept for 12 hours before doing that, so had the twin feelings of restlessness and residual sleepiness. Conquering one and surrendering to the other we made our way to a mini-mall with a supermarket and a cafe. Bought some water for walking, and an excellent bag of mandarins, and moved on to breakfast.

As usual great pastries and good tea. Some much needed calories too.

The weather was not very cooperative - intermitent rain with snow, but it got better as the day went on.

More to come.
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Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Travelogue: Vienna notes

Today is very windy. Very. Items in stalls at the market are getting overturned, and leaves make their swirling vortices dance across plazas. Nevertheless it dry and relatively warm - reasonable traveling weather.

We ducked into a small cafe which is part of some italian cafe chain. That means they have paninis on the menu and play different American music on the radio. Actually, it is Eric Clapton right now, but the point gets across, I think.

Off to drnk tea.
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Sunday, November 21, 2004

Travelogue: arrived

... And safely to arrive at home.

That we are pretty far from yet, is without doubt, but we're safely in Vienna.

More later.
Sent wirelessly via BlackBerry from T-Mobile.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Travellogue: Test post from blackberry

Inaugural post in the fall travelogue series. Posted via blackberry.
Sent wirelessly via BlackBerry from T-Mobile.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Book Discussion: Cryptonomicon

A lost soul who chanced upon this weblog writes:

Your blog indicates that you?re reading the Cryptonomicon. I finished it about a month ago and have very mixed feelings about it. That book doesn?t seem to have much of a plot. Or rather, instead of a plot it has a loose direction in which the main characters are going. However, it seems to me that Neil changed his idea about the plot development at least a few times, and that the book could have used a whole lot of abridging and editing. Each chapter is a fascinating story in itself, but reads better as a collection of short stories. In short, I found it very difficult to have the attention span to actually get through the entire book, and almost given up on it a few times. That?s very much a let down after the first 100 pages or so were very hard to put down. But there are just so many characters getting involved in so many, seemingly irrelevant subplots.

And finally, much like Snow Crush and The Diamond Age, the ending of the book is almost an afterthought. Stephenson seems to be unable to come to a satisfying climax to the story. Perhaps it?s the torrid pace of the book in general, but he exhausts himself and the reader by the time 70% passes.

I think because I am a computer geek, and he, unlike vast majority of authors who go into details, actually got the details right it was an easier read for me. Overall, I think you are right in many respects. Certainly, the idea with the data vault seemed to have been concocted for two reasons -- he wanted to talk about technology and cryptography and their implications as well as to have a connection to some of the
past. The book itself is almost an intro to cryptography primer.

I have also read two of his Baroque Cycle books. They are weaker than Cryptonomicon, and just as long, but still chock-full of useless details and information he finds so fascinating. Since I am not unlike him in that respect - it works for me.

The way I understand his writing process is that he basically chooses an area he would like to either explore or publicize and then he creates a plot around it. There was a very interesting interview with him on slashdot a week or two ago. Worth reading.

Related posts on this weblog:
Neal Stephenson interview
Book Review: Cryptonomicon
and slightly less related - Back from the conference

Q&A with a counter-insurgency's manual author

via defensetech:

Last week, an Army counterinsurgency field manual came to light, which
seemed to be at odds with the operation in Fallujah. Now, Lt. Col.
Jan Horvath, the main author of that controversial manual, shares his
thoughts on Fallujah -- and more -- in an interview with Defense Tech.
In it, he's sometimes critical of U.S. operations in Iraq -- the
Fallujah strike should have emphasized "operational secrecy and
surprise," for example. But he finds a lot of good in how American
troops are handling this ongoing guerilla war.

very interesting article. read the whole thing.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Water Strider pictures

a friend emails:

You may have seen this in the news before. But it’s very cool, MIT kids build a tiny robot that actually walks on water. But for me, I’m fascinated with the biological experiments they’ve done. Added surface dye to water and actually photographed water-strider’s (a bug) footprints in water.


yeah. very very neat pictures.

more on light travel blogging

Of course, as soon as I claim to be going away, I suddenly get both 5 minutes of free time and a wild idea for a topic to write about... Books. In this case specifically travel books about Austria.

These are some that I have perused:

Amazon.com: Books: Streetwise Vienna
Amazon.com: Books: Vienna (Eyewitness Travel Guides)
Books: Lonely Planet Vienna (Lonely Planet Vienna)

and the longest title of all...
Books: Fodor's Vienna and the Danube Valley: The Guide for All Budgets, Where to Stay, Eat, and Explore on and Off the Beaten Path (Fodor's Vienna and the Danube Valley)

we liked the Eyewitness guide the best.

this looks like it was mailed in

and indeed it was. Since I am going to have my blackberry with me on my trip, I am hoping to try some seat-of-the-pants reporting from the scene. Or at least a pretense at it. I am sure this wonderful, and inherently insecure, blogger feature was meant for bigger and better things.

oh well.

tripping away

I am going away for a few days on a short vacation. Thus the usually light posting will be replaced with even lighter posting.

cheers all.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Weekend fun: Brooklyn Museum of Art.

Amidst the general chaos of our household, we did manage to get out on Sunday afternoon. Destination - Brooklyn Museum of Art. I have not been to this museum in ages. The renovated plaza in front is gorgeous, and fits in very nicely with the neo-classical old facade that still towers of it. Took Dear Daughter to see an exhibition of Sargent children's portraits. She liked it. As did I.

Somehow I got a strong impression that were Sargent working today, photography would have been his medium. Despite the often impressionist palette and loose brush work, the poses and expressions of the sitters, something I think was key to the artist, are probably easier to capture with a camera than a brush. In this case "easier" refers not to the technique per se, but the ability to capture the desired expression showcasing artist's intent. Even photographing children (adults too, but especially children) is hard work in terms of setting up the shot. How much harder must it have been to have the children sit for hours with minimal movement?

On additional note of kudos to the museum, I have to mention the excellent annotations to all the portraits. In a move I have not seen before, the curatorial staff put short biographies of the sitters next to each work. This extra bit of information provided an interesting backdrop to evaluate and reevaluate one's impressions of the works. When viewing portraits I often find myself project the visual impression into the biographical domain. What was this person's life like? What was s/he like? What awaits this boy? [ed - Death in the trenches of WWI, as it happens. ] The notes were, in my estimation, non-intrusive and informative. This is one curatorial addition I would like to see more often.

I highly recommend seeing the show. The museum itself is very nice, with cheap parking ($5 or so for 2 hours) and a few gorgeous parks nearby - Prospect Park & Botanical Gardens - being just two of them.

Friday, November 12, 2004

notes from around the country

MrLen writes:

It's snowing in Cambridge! Tiny flakes in the air, though they seem to be
melting by the time they reach the ground.

cool. it is drizzly and cold in our town.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Finally! Google Brings E-Mail Client Access to Gmail

From eWeek article:

On Wednesday, the company began providing free POP3 (Post Office Protocol 3) access on Gmail accounts. The rollout is expected to reach all users over the next two weeks, said George Harik, director of Googlettes, the name of the Google group overseeing its startup services.

this has been long-awaited, by me at least. I am looking forward to trying this out in the nearest future. Hopefully, there will be nothing to report except praise.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Neal Stephenson interview

[via Transterrestrial Musings] a Slashdot interview with Neal Stephenson, author of Snow Crash, Cryptonomicon, and the Baroque Cycle Trilogy.

I am quite a fan, although not a crazed one, and so I strongly recommend looking through the interview, and reading Cryptonomicon(at least), if you are not faimiliar with his work.

Clay Shirky: a new post

I subscribe to Shirky's mailing, but usually feel strongly enough about his essay to recommend them to many other people. This is one of the longer essays, and I am still parsing through a lot of it. Nevertheless, I am going to recommend this essay, as well as some of the other things in his mailing, such as:

- Fred Wilson's Open Source conversion

There was an amazing thread on Fred Wilson's blog, spread out over a
week in early October, related to his outlook on the tech industry
after installing Firefox.

First, tries Firefox, on the recommendation of another VC.

Then he says "Interesting, but not such a big deal."

Then, on getting some clue from a blog reader about tabbed browsing,
he says "Interesting, and maybe a big deal."

Then he groks Open Source as a consumer phenomenon.

Then he sells all his Microsoft stock.

Then he defends that decision, predicting a tidal wave of community
driven software development.

And the remarkable thing about seeing it blog format is that he never
tells the whole story of his conversion in a coherent, retrospective
way. you just see it unfold as he did.

I strongly recommend subscribing to his mailing list. It is not a lot of mail -- one essay every few months, but it is usually worth the wait.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Another 8 electoral votes

According to US Census, there is a congressman per every (on average) 651,000 people. Electoral votes are distributed on the Congressman+Senator formula. With population of 3,808,610, Puerto Rico would get 8 electoral votes. I would imagine that Puerto Rico would also vote solidly Democratic, which may not change the outcome of this Presidential election, but certainly affect the balance of forces in the Senate, and to lesser extent in the House of Representatives. Given how many people of Puerto Rican descent live throughout the rest of the United States, and many of them in contested industrial states - perhaps a marginally greater turnout of them could have affected Ohio, and make other states less competitive, allowing Democrats to spend more effort on other battleground states.

The issue of Puerto Rico becoming a new state has been raised before. I wonder if this is something Democrats should try pushing before 2008.

Time-Shifting communications

A friend writes:

'time-shifted' communication:

found this story interesting. I've gotten bad at checking my voicemail
since getting hooked on the blackberry. And the blackberry is only
good for short messages -- anything else gets pushed off.

I thought the money line was this:

...generational chasm creates a huge problem for many companies
because they could end up with a situation where half their employees
are leaving messages for the other half who never listen to them.

So true. Of course, this is not the only thing bumbling around in the generation gap, but certainly one of the minor but very visible manifestations thereof.

For the record -- I rarely, if ever, use voicemail in the office, and almost as rarely for personal reasons. If everyone had blackberry-level devices in my personal life I would dispense with voicemail altogether.

Nice midrange camera

Panasonic FZ20.

I think. The biggest problem seems to be poor performance at high ISO speeds. That is admittedly a big problem. But otherwise, it just seems like a sweet deal (and for $550!)

iceland fact

Iceland must have been a pretty grim place in the late 18th century:

During the late 18th century, continuous volcanic eruptions in Iceland heavily damaged a quarter of the island nation, and blotted out the sun's light for several years. [ed - emphasis mine]

read the whole article about the latest Icelandic volcano eruption.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Tradition I can dig

via Techdirt:

People have plenty of different traditions when it comes to getting rid of old software code. Some open source it. Some let it whither and fade away into obscurity. But that doesn't have enough closure for some. Apparently, the techies at Lexis-Nexis like to hold complete funerals for dead code. They literally print out the source code on paper... and bury it. Now that this info is public, any bets on how long it takes someone to sneak on by to try to dig up the old (almost certainly useless) code?

I can relate and sympathize.

from IHT: Global monitors find faults

Internation Herald Tribrune writes:

The global implications of the U.S. election are undeniable, but international monitors at a polling station in southern Florida said Tuesday that voting procedures being used in the extremely close contest fell short in many ways of the best global practices.

The observers said they had less access to polls than in Kazakhstan, that the electronic voting had fewer fail-safes than in Venezuela, that the ballots were not so simple as in the Republic of Georgia and that no other country had such a complex national election system.

Fair enough. I do not have the strength to argue that other last paragraph's comparisons make little sense. Does Republic of Georgia actually have simple ballots? complicated? Why should US have really simple ballots? I do not know. I did find the following particularly illuminating:

Two-member observer teams fanned out across 11 states and included citizens of 36 countries, ranging from Canada and Switzerland to Latvia, Kyrgyzstan, Slovenia and Belarus.
Belarus?! Free elections there have last been held... never. [I know the history of that country]. This is what the US has to say about the last Belarussian elections:
“At a time when freedom is advancing around the world, Aleksandr Lukashenka and his government are turning Belarus into a regime of repression in the heart of Europe, its government isolated from its neighbors and its people isolated from each other.”

The OSCSE itself, said this about 2001 elections in Belarus:

Hrair Balian, the head of the 300-strong OSCE observer mission in Minsk told Radio Netherlands that the Belarus presidential election failed to meet democratic election standards, mainly because of what happened before the elections.

"Election day went fine: we didn't note any major or significant problems, but the legal and administrative framework in which this election took place was defective and could not provide for democratic elections. During the pre-election campaign, there was a high level of intimidation and repression. Many human rights violations took place, particularly against the independent media, opposition campaign activists and non-governmental organisations who tried to monitor the electoral process. The state-owned media was highly biased. Against this, you had an independent media working under enormous pressure."

So, now we can all feel safer, knowing that Belarussian observers have found our electoral system imperfect.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

John Udell: introduction to microsoft shell

John writes:

System administration has always been Windows' Achilles' heel. The graphical tools that simplify basic chores just get in the way when there's heavy lifting to be done. And CMD.EXE, the hapless command shell, pales in comparison to the Unix shells that inspired it. Win32 Perl has been my ace in the hole, combining a powerful scripting language with extensions that can wield Windows' directory, registry, event log, and COM services. But I've always thought there should be a better way.

Jeffrey Snover thought so, too. He's the architect of Monad, aka MSH (Microsoft Shell), the radical new Windows command shell first shown at the Professional Developers Conference last fall.


MSH is quirky, complex, delightful, and utterly addictive. You can, for example, convert objects to and from XML so that programs that don't natively speak .Net can have a crack at them. There's SQL-like sorting and grouping. You write ad hoc extensions in a built-in scripting language that feels vaguely Perlish. For more permanent extensions, called cmdlets, you use .Net languages.

With MSH, Windows system administration manages to be both fun and productive. And the story will only improve as the .Net Framework continues to enfold Windows' management APIs. Competitors take note: Windows is about to convert one of its great weaknesses into a strength

read the whole weblog post or infoworld article.