6-30-05Every time I go out lately I see older, single guys, all alone - at bars, at music shows. Sitting there drinking a beer. I feel sorry for them, but then I feel bad about that, maybe they're happy? But of course they're not. I've done it myself, going out alone. You try to tell yourself it's okay, you're having fun, but of course it's horrible and it's not fun. At least I'm still young and handsome, so when I go out alone I can often meet girls and flirt and that's sort of fun. To be old and ugly and going out alone to shows... life is sad.
6-30-05Okay, now I think it's sort of sensible that there are girls & guys divisions of athletic sports, because men have a natural strength advantage due to higher testosterone levels and different skeletal structure. You don't expect men & women football players to compete, for example. However, if you think about that a little more, male & female divisions don't really make any more sense than having divisions for people with different body makeups; why not white & black divisions of basketball, since Africans have genetically longer Achilles tendonds which gives them a jump height advantage? How about football leagues just for short, weak guys? Anyway, the thing that bothers me more is the male & female leagues in sports and competitions where it really shouldn't matter at all - like 9 ball pool, or diving, or archery. And furthermore, why do the women suck at almost all of these? I don't mean to be sexist, but the fact is even when you look at disciplines where brute strength is not a big advantage, the women for the most part cannot compete with men. Where are the female chess champions? The race car drivers? The jockeys? Darts throwers? Pool players? (a notable counterpoint at the moment is golf, where it seems Anika would beat all the men if only she had the strength to drive farther off the tee). (BTW I'm convinced many women's sports are popular only because the girls are cute; for example - tennis, volleyball, pool).
Anyway, what got me going on this very un-PC rant was Drew sending me this link - Tilly wins WSOP event . First of all, it's fucked up that they even have a women's event. It's comparable to having a "minorities only" event - this is an intellectual competition and excluding any people from any event is ridiculous. The thing that's even more ridiculous is how bad the women obviously suck. Anyone who knows poker knows that even the top female pros are not very good. There are a few that are decent, like Jennifer Harmon, but I suspect that a lot of their success comes because they are women, and the men who play with them are jackasses that either under-estimate them, or try to be sweet to them, etc. (don't get me wrong, I don't blame the women for that, it's the fault of the stupid men who play with them and don't treat them like an abstract opponent). Also for the record, it seems some of the top females didn't play in this event, partly because they agree with me and would rather play in the main field, and because it's a rather low buy-in event. In a way, even though I respect that, it's stupid, because this is a very soft tournament and it's easy money. Drew suggests we should do a modern version of "Soul Man" and dress up like girls and register for the tournament.
On a more general note, I've been thinking about this lately in the context of steroids and Lance Armstrong and sports. So, people say it's not fair to use additives to enhance your performance, blah blah blah. But is it fair for Lance to have way over average heart size, higher red blood cell counts? If he's born with those advantages, how am I supposed to compete? Isn't it more fair if I can take some additives to acheive the same blood-ox level as him? With things like testosterone and growth hormone, some people have naturally high levels, and that gives them a huge advantage - why can't I take suplements to match them? Why is it morally better for them to have these chemicals produced by their body, rather than injected? What if I can east foods or something which triggers my body to produce more testosterone, is that cheating? I think it's a mushy topic, and I suppose you have to draw the line somewhere, but I think it's sort of a strange line. For one thing, if we ban unnatural supplements, what exactly are we celebrating in our athletes? Why is a great athlete a hero? Sure, they worked hard, but many lesser athletes worked harder and couldn't reach that pinnacle. Basically they were born with lucky genes, they're a physical freak with a great functioning body.
I've been thinking how easy it would be to be Lance. Yeah, yeah, he trains hard, but that's so easy. When you know you can win - when all you have to do is put in the work and you know you'll be successful, that's cake! The hard thing is what all of us suckers have to suffer through every day - putting in work, for what? Probably it will lead to no success of any kind. If someone told me - if you practice basketball 8 hours a day every day, you can be in the NBA next year, I'd say "awesome!" and get right to it.
There are some fictions we know to be untrue, which however we live by anyway, because we are better for it. One of them is the idea that all humans are "equal" - by any definition of equal, this is clearly not true, and yet going down the path of defining some people as less valuable is so unacceptable that it is wise to live by this fiction.
I once heard a stem cell scientist give an example of a nice thought experiment. The hard-core political Christian right says that an embryo is a life just like a human being. The scientist said that he disproved this to himself very simply - imagine his research lab is on fire, you only have a few seconds before the building collapses. There's a woman inside trapped under a beam. There's also a freezer with 100 embryos in it. Do you save the woman, or the freezer? There's only time to save one or the other, and the other one will burn or whatever. If your answer is the woman, clearly you've decided a living human is different, more valuable, than an embryo. In fact, it's 100 times more valuable than an embryo.
How many embryos would have to be in the freezer before you save the freezer instead? 1000? A million? For me personally it doesn't matter how many embryos - I always would save the living woman instead. That means that I rate a living human an infinite ratio over embryos. In fact, it's a whole different scale. Human lives I rate at a value of near infinite dollar value. Embryos I put more on an earthly value. For example, if there was a billion dollars in cash in the same room, no woman, just the embryos and the cash, I would probably take the billion dollars cash. On the other hand, if it's cash & woman, I save the woman - near infinite value. Another funny thing comes out of this thought experiment. We average humans are incredibly judgemental of people that we know. If the woman is a total stranger, we know nothing about her - she has near infinite value. What if we know her? Maybe she cheated on her husband, neglected her children, stole from us. Okay, now we're considering maybe saving the billion dollars instead of her. Suddenly she's gone from infinite value to finite value - that's a huge change. What if she's a convicted child molestor; it's a man who's a rapist - now many people would let him die, certainly would save the embryos or cash instead.
It's also interesting that in this thought experiment, if you try to think of the cash value you would save instead of a life, it's a very very high value. On the other hand, faced every day with the choice of spending $1 to save a human life, just about everyone prefers to keep their one dollar. We're all sort of disgusting weak immoral criminal cowards. We say we value human life, but our every day actions kill for no good reason. For the pleasure of driving our car, we'll melt the glaciers on Kilimanjaro, which ruins the farm land on the mountain side, which leads to the deaths of thousands. We want to eat beef, but we don't want to face slaughtering the cow. I think I've gone on "tilt" now, I'm off my thread and my rocker.
6-29-05Dan didn't clean the wooden cutting board after using it. Should I just do it myself? That risks making her feel like I'm always following her like a busy body, correcting everything she does, which is horrible. Should I tell her to do it? That makes me annoying, always correcting, pointing out minor flaws. Do I just let it go, ignore it? That risks ruining the cutting board, or worse but less likely, it risks getting disease from it. Should I just drink some more booze, so that I get stupid and don't have to constantly think about things like this? That's okay, but sadly temporary. Perhaps a lobotomy...
6-29-05I've been playing some online poker again. I'm playing 3/6 limit on party poker, and I've been making about $100/day, just playing 2-3 hours a day. I've had this going for almost 2 weeks now, so I don't think it's just a good run. I've had my aces cracked every time I've had them; some of the best pots I've won are just bizarre shocking pots of two types - (1) I have the nuts or nearly the nuts; some guy keeps reraising me! I wonder what the fuck does he have, is it possible I'm beat? I reraise him nonetheless (this is 3/6 after all, I might slow down in 30/60). We get a showdown and he's got something like just a pair, sometimes not even top pair. (2) I have some crappy hand like a flush draw on the flop, so I'm calling down, there's lot of action, people betting and raising, I get stuck and wind up hanging around to the river; the river checks down and I win the pot with high card or a crappy pair or something like that (!!).
It's these occasional ridiculously bad plays that provide the overlay. Anyone who's played poker knows that you don't make money by playing against people who are almost as good as you. If nothing else, the rake would kill your profit margin. You make your big profit from the really really bad players, the drunks, the tilters.
The depressing thing to me is that $100/day isn't even enough to live on.
6-28-05Places like India and China are still just barely on the rise; the vast majority of their people are still horribly impoverished and uneducated, but even the beginning of them moving from 3rd world to 1st world is causing major ripples in America. Eventually it seems that more and more of the world will rise and the playing field will level. What is the long term result of this? America's monopoly on education and skills and industrialization will disappear. The world economy will work to equalize pay and costs across the globe. Currently a decent blue collar job in America pays around $40k a year. A similar job in China pays $400 a year. There are far far more people in the 3rd world than in the 1st world. What happens when those numbers equalize? The average will be around perhaps $4000 a year (it might be even lower, but costs will also drop). Basically the result is the complete impoverishment of everyone but the super elite. The "middle class" will be way below current poverty conditions. The only way to prevent this is with A) severe protectionism or B) heavy taxes on the rich & redistribution to the poor.
Kim rightly points out that it's perhaps not so bad as I imply. As the whole world moves into the information age, the total product of the world economy will greatly increase, which will raise the the average standard of living far above the current level. The point remains that it will equalize. Also point (B) relies on the fact that the super-rich in America will retain an advantage over the rest of the world. Basically economic advantage is obtained by controlling things which the world needs which are not available to all. Historically everyone in America has benefitted from this - simply living in America, with good education, infrastructure, etc. gave everyone an advantage which gave us good quality of life. In the future only the super-rich will have this control - control of natural resources, markets, networks, cash, entertainment.
6-28-05Programmer has become a blue collar job. A "line programmer" (I use line like "line chef" - the guy who just does a task that's assigned, he doesn't make the menu, he chops the onions) is roughly equivalent to something like an auto worker from 50 years ago. It's a good, hard job, it takes some skill, the pay is decent, you can be in the middle class. Programmers now perhaps make more in salary than auto workers, but they had much better benefits. It's a job you go train for at school, become one of the workers in the cube farm, clock in & clock out, code up your components.
6-27-05I don't understand bike messenger bags. Aren't back-packs just better? They're more stable, more balanced, the only advantage I can see for messenger bags is their looks. (Kim points out the answer - messenger bags allow air between your back and the bag, so you don't get the letters all sweaty)
6-27-05This guy has some funny predictions for the 2005 WSOP : Poker Words including who will be at the final table - "Someone named Nguyen. No final table is complete without one." It seems everyone from Vietnam is named Nguyen; in fact, it's around 44% of the population, and there are many villages where everyone has the same last name ( ref ). One thing that always shocks me is that Men "The Master" Nguyen is a well known cheater, using teams (teams of Nguyens no doubt) and chip dumping in tournaments, and yet he's still allowed to play almost everywhere.
6-27-05From the LA Times :
Where is the Wikitorial?
Unfortunately, we have had to remove this feature, at least temporarily, because a few readers were flooding the site with inappropriate material.
Thanks and apologies to the thousands of people who logged on in the right spirit.
Unfortunately, we have had to remove this feature, at least temporarily, because a few readers were flooding the site with inappropriate material.
Thanks and apologies to the thousands of people who logged on in the right spirit.
To quote Nelson - "Ha ha!"
6-27-05Watched the "Legends of Poker" episode of ESPN's "Beyond the Glory". Basically the same old crap, very poorly told, oddly out of order with major anachronisms (eg. pairing video and voice-over that don't match). The one bit that stuck with me was a quote from Barry Greenstein. I've always thought of Barry as sort of a weirdo prick, and only a mediocre player; he designed the Poker Superstars tournament structure, and did a horrible shit job of it, that tournament is a ridiculous all-in fest that provides neither a contest of skill nor any viewing entertainment. Anyway, it turns out Barry was a legitimate computer programmer, who made his starting poker bankroll by working in Silicon Valley (unlike the poker brats like Phil Gordon who got lucky on an internet company in the bubble and took the profits to play poker). It's well known that Barry donates a lot of his winnings to charity. That's certainly admirable, but it's not what put me in his fan club. Barry said (explaining why he donates to charity) something like : "If you're an intelligent person playing poker, at some point you think to yourself - 'I'm wasting my life, sitting all day in a dark card room' - you feel like you should be doing something productive with your life, at least contributing somehow".
6-27-05Once again, the federal government is putting the profit of big business over the wishes of the free market and small business, and even the lives of its citizens. The issue is beef. The issue of beef safety itself is not very significant, I don't mean to overblow it, but the actions of the fed are so ridiculous, it's a good example of negligence and profiteering. Yes, federal testing for Mad Cow is poor and not up to the standards of any other 1st world nation, which has led to most of them banning beef from the US. That's actually not nearly as big of an issue as E. Coli and more generally the condition of inspections and slaughterhouses. The USDA is woefully under-funded to be able to conduct inspections, and their hands are tied if they do find problems; unsanitary plants receive no action, the only thing the USDA ever does is to issue recalls after the fact (they have to have concrete proof of an actual E. Coli contamination, otherwise the business can sue them for lost profit). The recalls require consumers to identify and return the beef, the grocery stores don't do it, which in practice is never done, so basically the contaminated meat goes into peoples' stomaches. Consumers in America have been falsely taught that E. Coli is just a fact of life, and you should cook the hell out of your food. That's not true, and countries with proper inspections and rules have a near zero rate of E. Coli incidents.
That's just background. The ridiculous bit is this - meat packing companies and meat processors and ranchers are forbidden by law from improving the situation. It is illegal to do more testing of your beef than the USDA standard, even if you want your beef to be safer, it's illegal. It's certainly illegal to label your beef as being at any kind of higher safety standard. It is illegal to mark packages of beef with their places of origin and processing. You can mark it with a brand name which might imply a location, but in fact that "Harris Ranch" beef you buy could be grown in Mexico and processed at a major ConAgra plant. The point of all this is to prevent consumers from being able to make their own choice for safer beef. The reason that the government gives is that these labels could create a false fear that lower grade beef is not safe. Of course the real reason for these laws is to protect the profits of major agribusiness. The losers are the smaller agribusinesses and of course the American people. Many small ranches have gone out of business or totally changed their business, because they made super-premium beef primarily for export to other countries, and now they are not allowed to do the extra testing those countries demand, and are not allowed to label their product as having been tested to those higher standards.
BTW Tom rightly points out there are all sorts of other horrible things we do with beef - rbST (growth hormone), antibiotics, use of downers, feeding animals to animals, etc. etc. but that's not even so much the point. Personally I'd like to see most of that stuff banned, but if you want to be a Laissez Faire free market guy, you could say that it's okay if some producers use that stuff, but at least let me choose to buy beef that doesn't use that shit.
6-26-05The Simpsons that was re-run tonight starts with a parental advisory - "Parental Advisory, this episode contains discussions of same sex marriage". That's revolting right-wing Foxism, there's no requirement to put that up, it's shocking! The really important advisory should have been "Parental Advisory - this episode is not funny and may cause your brain to ooze out of your ears".
6-26-05Anyone know a good design magazine or web zine? I can't find one. I used to read "Wallpaper" which was a cool, smug, hip, smart design rag with a mix of architecture, furniture, fashion, and lifestyle. Unfortunately, it changed management in early 2003 (?) and became more of a "lad's magazine" featuring churlishness and commercialism.
6-26-05Being able to use your legs in a fight is a huge advantage. There's an old chinese martial arts pearl that poorly translates to "legs are long but arms are short". Aside from being long, legs are far stronger than arms; in athletes legs have roughly twice the power of arms, and in unfit people it's an even bigger ratio. Another factor is that kicking is less prone to injury; a bare knuckled punch hard enough to knock someone out is very likely to break your hand, which is a major inconvenience; on the other hand, a kick with the shin bone can do a lot of damage with just a bruise to show for it.
6-26-05The media drives itself to extremes. You have these talk shows on radio & TV, and media types interview each other. Now, if you're doing a show on some topic, it's far more interesting to interview people with really extreme views on that topic. You want someone with a controversial stance, they get noticed, they make waves. Someone who's just being reasonable, saying the right thing, doing good analysis - this is not good for ratings, it doesn't get tempers flaring, it doesn't sound good in a ten second spot. So, the media experts go to the wings on every topic to try to say something that gets attention, gets them fame, gets them money. Jon Stewart has of course railed about this in the context of partisan talking heads, but it applies to everything - sports commentators, business pundits, etc.. You can see it in the interviews now, when an interviewer talks to a sports figure (or anyone), they're constantly trying to bait them into saying something extreme, like they hate their opponent, or gauranteeing a victory; if they just provide a sane reasonable interview, it's not interesting enough, the interviewer is disappointed, their story surely won't lead.
6-25-05Can we stop having this debate about classical music being dead, what to do about it, all the fuss about this conductor or that opera season - yes, classical music is as dead as a fucking doorknob, and has been for a century. If it weren't for rich people trying to pretend to be cultured and wanting to be exclusive and pretentious, it would have disappeared completely. Jazz is very nearly dead, and it's falling into a similar vein of being loved only because it's a badge of intellectual superiority.
6-25-05Recipes for a lazy Saturday morning, sitting on the patio in the sun, listening to bird song and NPR's Morning Edition, reading the New York Times.
Frittata : I make a lot of frittatas these days because they're one of those great flexible things that you can do with whatever you have on hand, and they're quick and you only need one pan. Heat an oven-safe skillet with a little oil. Add chopped onion and raw chicken sausage; brown, scrape the bottom of the pan to get all the tasty brown bits up; add some very finely chopped potatos and cook until soft; add some chopped tomato and cook until softened; add some microwaved frozen spinach (microwave in a covered bowl until thawed and warm). Prepare eggs : roughly 6 eggs in a bowl, whisked well. Make sure you salt & pepper; I added fresh oregano from my yard. Sprinkle the mix with goat cheese (which will become soft gooey nuggets in the frittata), and pour the eggs over it all. Keep cooking on medium/low until it starts to set up (don't stir after you add the eggs). Place under the broiler a few inches down and cook until nicely brown on top, usually a few minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool a bit. Slip a spatchula under it to loosen. Put a plate upside down on top of the pan and flip the pan over to get the whole frittata out. Cut in wedges like a pie. Sprinkle the top with fresh herbs (parsely and green onions are nice) and grated parmesan.
French Toast : The key to great french toast is to start with great bread. Many books tell you to use stale bread, though that's not really necessary. Do not use those horrible grocery store sliced breads, get a real loaf of bread. The best breads I've used are brioche and challah, though today I used a ciabatta and it was great. Cut some nice thick slices, about an inch thick. Prepare the custard : eggs & milk, with not too much milk, and more egg yolks than whole eggs; if you want to make it really rich, use half and half instead of milk. Add a teaspoon of vanilla and whisk. Soak the bread, spooning the custard over as appropriate. Use a small pan to soak them so the custard is deep. Soak at least 5 minutes on each side. Heat a pan with a little vegetable oil. Now here's the trick bit : take the slices out of the custard and sprinkle the side you're going to put down in the oil with granulated sugar. Fry at a low temperature so the middle will cook by the time it gets golden grown. Sprinkle the top with sugar before flipping. The sugar sprinkles will add a slight caramelized crust to the french toast. Remove to paper towels and pat dry to remove excess oil. Top with powdered sugar and caramelized apples (saute thinly sliced apples in hot butter and sugar until the butter and sugar start to brown). Tastes like a french apple tart or a Pain au Raisins with the sweet eggy custard gathered in the folds of the escargot of pastry. Chez Zee in Austin, TX has the best French Toast I've had at a restuarant. Brian says Greens in SF is good too.
6-23-05A lot of people know things now like "K7 is favored against random hands". The problem is that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing; (I've made this mistake in the past myself). The situation where this usually comes up goes like this - you're on the button, no one has come in the pot, and the big blind is on a pretty short stack. Now, you want to put him all-in here with quite a lot of hands; the question is what hands exactly? A similar question arises when you are the guy in the big blind and the button has just put you all-in. What hands exactly do you call with? Now, the details depend exactly on your opponents are playing, but let's talk in general. First of all, let's toss out this idea of "random hands". The only time these random-hand statistics actually come in is if the big blind guy is forced to be all-in with any two cards, eg. if his stack is less than or only slightly more (eg. <= double the big blind). If his stack is more reasonble where he could fold, (eg. >= triple the big blind), then he's not playing random cards. He'll fold his very weakest hands, and call with better hands. So, now your EV is not based on how your cards do against random hands, rather if he folds some fraction F, your EV is F* his big blind , plus (1-F) * his chip if he calls * P , where P is your chance of winning against hands with which he calls. Note that F and P are linked, if he folds all but very good hands, P will be very low, but F will be very high, so your EV is good. He can compute his optimal F to fold, but we don't really need to get into that. Basically we know he's going to keep high cards and fold low cards. What does that mean? Well, for one thing, hands like K2 don't look so good any more. K2 is a 50/50 hand against random cards, but against someone who will fold some hands, that greatly increases your chance of being dominated by Kx. Basically in all-in scenarios, all you care about is domination. If you go in with AK and he has 56, you're only a 60/40 favorite - not a very good overlay at all. If you go in with K2 and he calls with 56, you're only a 55/45 favorite!! On the other hand, if you go in with K2 and he calls with K7, you're a 35/65 dog. So, roughly, you want hands that dominate, not hands that are dominated. In fact, it's better to have hands like 56s where both cards are likely live.
Let's consider one other case - say you're in the big blind, very nearly all in (perhaps you have two big blinds left to call with; if you only had 1 big blind left, you have to call with any two cards), at a full table. Someone in early position makes a solid raise, and all else fold. It was a full table, so he probably has a pretty good hand, even though you are nearly all-in. What should you call with? Well, we see the answer above. Hands like K2 are bad calls, because it's likely you're dominated. Obviously you can call with any pair or very high cards; depending on his exact tightness, very high cards might by A9,KT,QJ or better - eg. hands that have a good chance of dominating, not too much fear of domination. The other hands you can call with are hands that are likely to have two live cards - especially low suited connectors, like 56s,67s,etc. (though suited is not a big factor, it's just a nice little bonus). Oddly this is a situation where you might lay down K9, but call with 89 or 79.
One more case - let's say you're playing No Limit against someone who's just way too tight preflop. If they come into a hand, you fold, because they're only playing super-premium hands. Now, they're making a mistake, so you can make money on that; their mistake is they fold their blind too often, so you need to be stealing it. So, in any good steal position, you want to bet at them. They will only call with very premium hands (pairs, A9 or better, etc), and raise with super-premium hands (JJ or AK or better). So, what hands should you raise with? Well, you can almost raise with any two cards, they're just folding way too much. You should fold some hands, and this is a very extreme case where *if they call* they're likely to have dominating hands, so you should fold hands like A2, K2. Hands like 56s are better. If they raise, you throw almost any hand away, so the only question is what do you want to have on the flop if they call. With weak high card hands you're too likely to be dominated, your best cards to steal with are low suited connectors. Note that this is a bit different because we're not talking about all-ins, but actually seeing the flop with chips to spare.
6-22-05For the discerning mysogenist : "Venus Beauty Institute" is a pretty mediocre movie, but Audrey Tatou in it has this brief scene where she's just breathtakingly beautiful. "Sex and Lucia" is a beautiful movie, though in the end I find it doesn't really leave an impact (sort of like a clever argument without a point); Paz Vega in it is frequently nude and gorgeous.
6-22-05The town of Santa Maria is a primarily hispanic, agriculture based town. Usually it stinks horribly of vegetables like broccoli and cabbage, which fill the air with a putrid reek. Right now the whole town smells powerfully of strawberries - a lush perfume that floods your senses and intoxicates you.
6-22-05The world seems to be becoming grey, everyone is far away and dull. The masses in the bar lifts their pints in unison, like factory workers pulling levers. The cheerful young woman at the grocery store, who provided a friendly word in my lonely day, now looks old and wrinkled, she only scowls and goes about her business. Drivers seem to not care if they have an accident, on the road I'm madly avoiding them as they pull out in my path.
6-21-05The TV coverage is in some sort of collusion with the NBA. It's sort of like all media and our government these days - there's some sort of tacit agreement that the TV coverage will do what the NBA wants. The TV guys never disagree with the refs, never point out ridiculous bullshit, and in fact these days they don't even show replays of the fouls. When there's some crucial controversial foul, the NBA coverage almost never shows a replay, instead they go to commercial and show a replay of the last successful play. This is obviously an attempt to keep the audience pacified and thinking it's a legitimate sport.
p.s. I think this Finals is the best in many years, perhaps the best since Jordan was in a finals. The Pistons and Spurs are my two favorite teams in the NBA, because they're balanced, they play team ball, not super star one on one, they play tough, they play defense, etc. it makes it fun to watch.
6-21-05Often you can know things to be true without being able to defend them or really know why. I've written about this before in the context of poker - poker intrigues me because of the way it reflects the human thought process; there are these great poker pros, like TJ Cloutier, who really do not understand poker theory and couldn't tell you why they play exactly as they do, but they know how to play. This is a very human way of thinking, cobbling together circumstancial truths and creating a knowledge base that they can extrapolate from. I was made to think of this by an old PBS Frontline "Rumsfeld's War" , which is a great episode. One of the things it talks about is Rumsfeld's argumentative style of managing. Whenever someone in the Pentagon would present a point, Rumsfeld would say "prove it". He would challenge the assumptions, require them to be justified, attack the bases of rationale. (this is extremely reminiscent of McNamara, btw). This sounds great in principle, I've often done that in my own experience as a manager. The problem is that you can easily tear down things that are in fact correct. In Rumsfeld's case, his subordinates and advisors were telling him that roughly 400,000 troops would be needed in Iraq to properly secure the peace after the war. Rumsfeld attacked this and wound up with a much lower number. Of course the originals advisors were roughly correct, but that was based on experience, and Rummy was able to dig it down through argument.
Another factor at play there was finding subordinated willing to screw themselves. This is common practice in management, and I was often subject to it in the video game industry. Basically, the manager has an answer they want to hear, but they want to make the subordinate suggest it so that they can then blame you and say you asked for it to be that way. In games this happens with schedules. There are many ways to do this, but in large teams, such as the Pentagon, one of the tricks is to find someone willing to accept your number and promote them, which also demotes the person who refused it. For example, a manager wants the primary team to add some feature; the lead says it'll take 10 days; the manager says, oh, I was thinking more like 5 days. If the lead stands firm at 10, the manager puts his feelers out under the table and finds a guy on the team who says he can do it in 5. If the lead still objects, the manager goes around him and gives the task straight to the guy who said 5. Very quickly, the lead learns that if he wants to keep power, he needs to agree with the manager or he'll be short-circuited. The same thing happens all the time in government - when an adviser is giving answers that the boss doesn't like, they're simply cut out of the picture, and someone saying the right thing is brought in. Then the boss can say "it's not my fault, it's what the advisers told me", though of course the boss created that truth.
6-21-05It seems impossible to remember actual feelings or senses. That is, I can remember that I enjoyed breakfast, or that I like scones and coffee, but I can't actually remember what it's like to experience that; I can't recreate the sensations and feelings that filled my head at the time. The memory is of the facts, which maybe seems sensical because that's how we record history in writing and such, but actually it's quite odd to me. The experience of the human mind is full of many aspects and processes and a whole inexplicable cloud of tangents; the conscious rational observant part is only a tiny piece of the machine - why doesn't our memory record all of that? Instead it seems our memory is not recording our mind at all, but rather watching the scene like a 3rd party and writing down the facts like a court reporter, unable to see inside our real, complex mind. This, I suppose, is what drives us to recreate the things that make us happy, because we can't remember the pleasant sensation, we have to experience it again to stimulate the full brain again.
This is sort of a sad reality about sex. I love all the rich sensations and pleasure of sex, but sadly, as soon as it's over, you can't really remember how it felt. You can remember what you did, you can remember if it was especially good or not, but you can't actually remember how it felt. Looking back on my sexual past, I can't really say when I had the best sex - I don't remember that at all. I remember exceptional events, physiological exceptional cases, unusual locations, things like that, but those were generally not the actual best times, and I can't remember at all how it felt.
More and more I'm learning to live my life for the memories. Filling your life in the present tense is a constant struggle - the "now" is constantly changing into the past, and you have to do yet another thing to fill the new "now". Soon you get tired and can't keep up the struggle of constantly finding something exciting and pleasant and new to fill each moment. On the other hand, if you do something that leaves you with a rich memory, it can fill many moments of your life for years to come.
6-20-05I despise my TiVo and my Sony DVD player. Why? Latency. Latency is the worst thing for user interfaces. I press stop on the damn DVD player and I'm not sure it even took the command because it takes so long to execute. I love my NAD amplifier. It's all analog and the switches are actual wired electric switches, not buttons that send commands to a chip; the response to every action is instantaneous. This is not a minor detail; Joe Ybarra used to love to talk about this with frame rate - the difference between 40 fps and 60 fps, and more exactly, the latency, is not some small numeric difference, it's not like getting 40 chocolate chips vs. 60 chocolate chips - there's something dramatic that happens when your interface is smooth and responsive and perceptually instantaneous. Suddenly the device is like an extension of your body & mind - it's not some external apparatus that you're fighting with and compensating for, it's your tool and it's doing your wishes and it suddenly tickles some loving part of your brain.
6-20-05The liberals and opposition have always allowed the opposition to set the tone of the debate on 9/11 . One of the many example of this is the idea that "9/11 changed everything". This was part of the mantra of the neocons in justifying the seizure of new powers, and the liberals echoed it. Most of the media did too, even those who opposed the administration never doubted the idea that we had to drastically change our government and our civil liberties and our military after 9/11. In reality, this contention is pure nonsense, and those changes have been almost all for the worse. There's nothing about 9/11 that compels us to abandon the Geneva Conventions, to sacrifice our civil liberties, to destroy the checks & balances of our government, to abandon the rule of law - our country has been through far harder trials, and those structures have been created to protect us from abuse *especially* in times of difficulty.
I think it's a common thread in my ranting - things like insurance companies, your friends' common decency, the Geneva Conventions, etc. - as long as things are going well, everyone is hunky dory. Then, suddenly there's some difficulty and people say, well, this difficulty is unexpected and we have to break the rules. Well, what the fuck are the rules for then? You follow them when there's no reason to break them, when life is easy, and then when you're supposed to pay the piper and the rules really come into affect, that's a special circumstance and it's an excuse to break them.
6-20-05If I were Al Qaeda, I would mount a world-wide coordinated attack on the world's oil pipelines. Apparently this is already happening to some extent ( says the Washington Post ) , though there's not much news on it, and it's mainly in Iraq. What they should do is prepare and then unleash simultaneous attacks all over the world. Pipelines are very easy targets because they are incredibly long, you can't defend the entire length, it's easy for the terrorists to pick some spot on them and blow it up. The major pipelines also run through countries where terrorists can easily operate - Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, Indonesia. The current terrorist attacks are just a nuisance which is perhaps reducing the world's oil supply by a few hundred thousand barrels a day. If they could mount an attack in all those countries at perhaps 10 major sites, they could reduce supply by millions of barrels a day. It takes several days to repair pipeline breaks, and by then the terrorists can hit the same pipeline again in a different place. Perhaps 100 small cells would be needed. If this could be sustained for several weeks, a panic could be introduced in the world oil market, sending the price of oil and futures through the roof. This would not really be a disastrous blow to oil supply, but with the way financial markets over-react irrationally, it could easily set up a financial crisis in the markets, especially with the precarious state of the current world economy.
This would bombing pipelines idea struck me as the plot of a bad movie, and of course it is, it's sort of in the Bond movie The World Is Not Enough
While researching this idea I found two semi-crackpot web sites about the oil pipelines in Afghanistan, still interesting reads - wanttoknow , newhumanist ; these are classic examples of the principle that crackpot ideas are over-represented in open debate, because crackpots are far more motivated to exposit their views than sane people. I also found this amazing web site from the amazing "World Press" web site summarizing lots of news on Afghanistan, oil, Islam, etc. at worldpress.org
6-20-05Just about every parking lot in the world is designed badly. Traffic is routed in and then flows along a lane right in front of the businesses. This lane cuts through the pedestrian traffic between the businesses and the parked cars. The parking lot would function far better if the major traffic lane was in the back or middle of the parking, not the front. Car traffic would then run parallel to the pedestrian traffic up and down the aisles. The lane at the front could perhaps remain as a non-major route (which is established by the in & out points of the lot), or it could be cut off completely and replaced with just U's connecting adjacent lanes and barriers between each pair of lanes.
6-19-05Re : recent basketball rant. Game 5 of the finals. Great game, close all the way, often tied. Final seconds of the game, it's tied 89-89. Only a few posessions left in the game, each one is crucial. Pistons have the ball. They inbounds, and Billups drives to the hoop. He's blatantly fouled on the shot by Duncan, but there's no call. Spurs get the ball. That moment just decided the outcome of the game.
p.s. Robert Horry is a god in the clutch; correlation would suggest he is responsible for most of the recent NBA champions. See previous predictive post; the original prediction about the "Robert Horry Factor" is due to Andy Richter when the Rockets were playing the Knicks.
6-18-05The new show "30 Days", created by Morgan Spurlock of "Super Size Me", is worth watching. The idea is to take normal people (such as Mr. Spurlock, though he only participates in the first episode) and put them in someone else's shoes for 30 days, so that we can all learn about what that experience is like. The concept is ridiculously flawed - the participants are not in the context of the experience, they come into it with all their posessions and life from the past, they have a camera crew with them which hugely distorts the reality of any experience, and they know it will be over in a finite time so they can anticipate that end - so the way the show pretends to be a valid sociological examination of a topic is ridiculous. I've always wanted to make documentaries like this - it gives you a great excuse to try weird things, and with a camera crew you can talk to strangers and they'll tell you their life stories. Mr. Spurlock has a very pedantic way of narrating his experiences; he doesn't let the documentary speak for itself, he provides exposition at an elementary school level. For example, he'll go to a coffee shop because he wants a cup of coffee, they tell him it's $4, he says no thanks, that's too expensive; then we're treated to his commentary "wow, that's an hour's wage. I can't afford that. All the things I used to take for granted are just too expensive on minimum wage!". Thanks. Furthermore, he engages in the standard poor documentarian hyperbole and exaggeration. For example, they struggle to pay for food, but any person really in poverty would have food stamps. They rack up huge medical bills for silly little problems, when if they were really in poverty they could have MedicAid or one of the state programs for cheap/free health care. I would say the show is interesting enough to watch, but some skipping ahead on your TiVo might be necessary; it's a half hour worth of content packaged in an hour long format.
On the other hand, it did give me some perspective about costs - though that's actually something I've been getting already from talking to my girlfriend and her friends, who basically all work minimum wage jobs. They make roughly $50/day after tax. I used to make around that in an hour. In the last few days I've made $500 just playing a little poker on the net (yes, I started again). All the little things I buy that I don't even consider luxuries - things like canteloupe and prosciutto for a snack - are just insanely expensive by minimum wage standards. Of course, we wealthy American consumers become incredibly blase'. Something like a nice ice cream or a fancy cup of coffee are special treats to someone who can't afford them, but they're just little snacks or part of the daily ritual to us.
I wonder if some day we'll have tourism to things like minimum wage living. We almost do already, where rich people can go and rough it in the jungle for a few weeks and pretend they're living like the natives.
6-17-05Driving cross country and stopping at truck stops, watching the truckers. It seems odd to me that these massive truck stops are supplied with fuel from trucks. Why is it better to have these fuel trucks bring fuel and then have other trucks take it away - why not just give more fuel to the original trucks? For trucks making the cross country drive, give them enough fuel to make it all the way? The answer is perhaps a bit surprising - it's most efficient to haul the fuel shorter distances. So, if the fuel truck can get from a pipeline/station to the truck stop in a shorter distance than you're driving, it's more efficient to have him run the gas for you.
6-17-05I tend to date very social girls. Not because I attract very social girls or because of any natural affinity or because we fit well, but rather because I'm so anti-social that the only girls I can strike up a conversation with are ones who are willing to do a lot of the ice-breaking work.
6-17-05Book idea : Make an online collaborative "choose your own adventure". I start by writing a short linear story, but at many points there are potential branches. In the initial version there's only one choice for each branch, but anyone can modify it to add branches, and thus create a whole new path of the narrative. The community can add to those paths, expanding the tree in the direction that interests them. The author can watch his work grow and change over time as the community directs it.
6-17-05There's a bird's nest in the veranda at my house where the trumpet vine grows. The nest is very poorly constructed; the baby bird's tail feathers hang out the bottom, but it manages to stay in. So far my cats have not found a way to get up to it. They can't climb the straight posts of the veranda; I suspect they could climb the trunk of the trumpet vine, but they haven't figured that out yet. The momma and daddy bird fly around outside constantly in a state of distress, since I and my cats both walk near the nest and send them into defensive fits.
6-16-05In these days of anti-Bush sentiment among liberals, let us take a moment to reflect and remember why Bush is in power - it's because of Nader and all you fucking morons who voted for the Green party back in 2000. Thanks guys, real smart, you obviously made your point and the Republicans in power have really listened to the message you sent on election day - the message that liberals are a pack of self-defeating fools that can be easily brushed aside.
6-16-05I realized a while ago that the idea of living without pain must be very modern. These days if we get a pain in our back, in our tooth, what ever, we do something about it. If we can't, we take drugs to soothe the pain. This must be very new. Even 100 years ago, it must have been standard to live in pain all the time. Anyone past 20 or 30 is going to have pains that can't really be cured, especially in the past with lesser medical and dental powers - people must have just had throbbing and shooting pain all the time, and just lived with it. I'm sure they didn't think much of it - it's just the way it was. Of course the same is true for all the senses; everything stunk horribly for centuries, and people were used to it, it was just the background odor of life.
6-16-05Accupuncture is a sham, says study . I've always been a big believer in the power of placebos. They have very little affect on me, because I'm such a skeptic, which is a shame, because they provide free health boosts. People who take Echinacea and really believe that it helps them - I'm sure they're helped by it. Of course, scientifically it's nonsense, but if you believe it, your body will respond. People who are believers and take placebos can have lots of wonderful beneficial reactions to various treatments, like accupuncture, accupressure, herbs, cleansing, etc. etc.
6-16-05Torture is well known to be a very poor way to get information from suspects, because they are just as likely to lie as tell the truth, and it's impossible to sift out the real information from the garbage. On the other hand, the believable threat of torture is a very valuable method for getting real quality information from suspects. That suggests that we need to occasionally torture people, not for their information, but simply to create the image that we are ruthless interrogators. In that sense, the public airing of our prison scandals is actually a good thing, because it makes it well known that if you don't talk, bad things will happen to you.
Around 2/3 of the terror suspects takes since 9/11 have been released due to lack of evidence. For any law maker who believes the treatment of these men is justified and just, there is a simple mental test : imagine yourself in those camps, wrongly suspected of terrorism.
6-15-05Watched "The Insider" ; quite a good movie, awfully long, but I hardly ever felt like it was dragging and didn't pine for the end. It's rather surreal seeing Mike Wallace and all the CBS people playing themselves next to Al Pacino and other actors, but you quickly forget about it, and it adds a huge amount of realism, sort of mentally tricks you into thinking it's a documentary. The whole thing reminds of the mystique of the old CBS News organization; the movie, of course, was made before the Dan Rather resignation, and it seems oddly prescient in a way. People can commit the most horrendous of illegal acts, but if you report about it and get any tiny detail even slightly wrong, they'll destroy you. I think it's quite a scandal that CBS and Rather got slammed over the memo nonsense. First of all, it's absolutely true that Bush used his ties to avoid war service, does anyone serious deny that? So CBS wasn't reporting anything false at all. In the mean time, Bush was feeding the Swift Boat nonsense, which was absolutely untrue. Dan Rather resigned over the memo nonsense, while in the White House, no one had the dignity to resign over Abu Ghraib, no one resigned because of lies about WMD's in Iraq, or the ties of Iraq and Al Qaeda, etc. etc. Here's a page about Rather from a right-wing "media watchdog" whose mission is to slander the press as liberal-biased.
Marie Brenner writes great in-depth investigative articles. You can read them all on-line.
6-15-05Professional/televised basketball is a sorry, broken sport. (Okay, M.S. points out that I'm exaggerating greatly; I still enjoy watching it). First I'll describe the problems, then how they might be fixed. Unlike most people, I don't just long for the glory days of Jordan and Magic. Great players and dramas come and go. The problem with the sport is not the talent these days, it's the structure, which has become inherently broken. Problem #1 is the fouls and the refs. Problem #1A is that foul calls are incredibly important to the outcome of a game, and they're so often wrong. Now, my critics will say the refs are doing their best, that it's very hard, and it all averages out. That's simply not true; there is a distinct bias towards stars; some players become skilled at flopping, or charging and intentionally drawing contact, etc. The fact that it's a smart play to just drive at the hoop and draw contact is a reflection of a ridiculous problem in the rules. The whole idea of rules in sports is to force the game to be played in the elegant and beautiful way that the fans and players want to see (the Rugby and Soccer rules are some of the great examples of this, with the rule of Advantage, etc.). Problem #1B is that fouls slow down the pace of the game, and it's just no fun to watch a game that's jerking and halting; basketball games these days often have no flow, no story, no rhythm, because of all the fouls and other interruptions. Problem #2 is that the end of most basketball games is just horrible and anti-climactic. A good spectator game should be like a battle, a drama, and the end should be the climax. Instead, we have end of games that are a series of time outs and fouls, with long commercials and foul shooting in between, hardly any play. The last 1 minute of a basketball game can take 15 minutes of real time. Instead of a final push of excitement, the loser goes out wheezing and desperate. Problem #3 is that the foul penalty is not as bad as giving up the shot - that is, 2 free throws is worth less than 2 points, so it's in your best interest to foul someone rather than give up an easy basket. This leads to things like the hack-a-Shaq and the intentional fouls at the end of games that are a foul distortion of the play.
The key issue here is with close games and with the end of the game, because that's really the key moment we're watching for. Imagine a tie game with a minute left to play. That should be incredibly exciting - it all comes down to this, the crucial moments, the big plays! What really happens in the NBA in these situations? Almost always a tedious, painful viewing experience, with the problems I describe above. This should be the best part of the game, not the worst!
So, how might we fix these? Well, one step is easy - reduce the number of time outs, and get rid of the rule that the time out advances the ball to mid court. Perhaps also limit how often you can take a time out. The next thing to address is the fouls. Part of the problem with the fouls is that when a ref sees contact and isn't sure whose fault it is, they'll just randomly pick someone and call the foul. This call is easily biased by stars, floppers, etc. A far better option is to simply not call the foul if you aren't sure who did it. If there's contact and it's not clear that one side is at fault, you let it go. Now, this will result in far fewer foul calls and could lead to more contact, but you can fix that easily, you simply have to make it worse when a foul actually is called. We can preserve the two-shot foul shot, but make each shot count for 2 points. Another option would be to keep the foul shots the same, but make them like a technical foul, you retain posession of the ball. This makes it very undesirable to commit fouls. We could also change the foul-out from 6 to 3 or something like that. Basically the goal is to make it more like a yellow/red card in soccer - penalties are rarely called and they don't interrupt the flow of the game, but when they are called, they're quite bad, so it keeps the players from just constantly fouling each other. The result is that the normal flow of the game can go on for much longer stretches, there's more pure play, less of the officials getting involved in the outcome of the game and breaking up the drama.
This kind of thinking is of course crucial in game development. You have to decide how you think the game is best played. Many designers chafe at this - they protest "the player paid for the game, they should be able to play however they want!". Not so, the goal is to encourage the kind of play that will be most satisfying for the player. Rules and penalties are important to keep the game played the way it will be most satisfying. This is most obvious in multiplayer games, but it's certainly true in single player games too. Part of the reason is that in a single player game, you are not only the avatar in the game, you are also a spectator whatching the story of your avatar unfold, and it's a better story if you are winning through prowess, not exploits.
6-14-05The Dems and Reps are both far more extreme than the majority of Americans. The obvious question is - why don't they move to the middle in order to win more votes? Well, there are a lot of reasons, one is they want to motivate the big donors which tend to be motivated by polarizing issues, another is that the middle is very lazy and tends not to vote or take action, while the extremes are very active, etc. Regardless, the fact remains that if the Dems moved to the middle, they could probably take a majority and win congress and the presidency. One way, for example, might be to adopt low-tax and low-spending policies, as well as aggressive foreign policy, but stick with libertarian moral agenda - this is a position so far to the middle, it's almost like what the Republicans were in the old "ideal" days (see previous post). Now, one problem with this is that when the Dems move to the middle, the actual overall state of American politics would move way to the right, because the bisection of the Dems and Reps would move far to the right. That is, if Dems are currently a 1 and Reps a 9, the average now is 5, but if the Dems move to a 4, the average becomes 6.5 Thus, the short term affect would be a severe rightward shift of policy. On the other hand, the Dems would then control the middle ground, and once they have control they could move back to the left. Unfortunatley, the populace is a bunch of wishy-washy morons, and their liberal/conservative scale is entirely relativistic. That is, once the Dems move to be a "4", the populace and the media redefine that as a "1", and the entire scale is reset with the rather extreme "6.5" now considered middle of the road. This is roughly what happened with the Dems under Clinton, when they moved to a far more conservative position (supporting wellfare limits, free trade, etc.), which immediately got redefined as extremely liberal.
Tom rightly points out that this is roughly what the labor party has done in England ; by moving severely to the middle/right they've controlled politics for years now. Part of the problem is that the voters are fickle. If labor has some scandal (such as Blair on Iraq), the voters will vote for the opposition even if their politics are much more aligned with labor. The voters simply like to switch parties every few years, sort of to show the politicians who's boss, and because they get sick of the same flavor.
6-14-05Movies never show people having sex with condoms. Of course that absolutely does affect the behavior of the youth. I was thinking, when a sex-crazed violent thug like 50 Cent becomes an accepted pillar of popular culture, obviously that has a major affect on behavior, but it's not entirely what you would naively suspect. Yes, it glorifies that behavior for the people who listen to his music and want to behave like that (the target audience), but a huge piece of the pie is in how it affects the outside group - people who don't really listen to him or behave like him, the parents, the law makers, etc. - they become biased toward seeing that behavior as normal, and it also gives them a mental excuse for why their kids behave that way. Similarly, shows like "The Real World" not only make kids want to get drunk and have lots of sex, it also makes out of touch adults think that it's normal for kids to do that, so when their own kids are getting drunk and sleeping around, the parents are more inclined to think "that's what kids do these days", which in turn faccilitates that behavior because it's not punished/stigmatized/etc.
6-13-05One of the brilliant realizations of the Bush administration is that the best way to get away with something is to do it in plain view. When you do any act that's questionable, possibly immoral, unethical - if you try to hide it, and then some reporter uncovers it, that makes it big news, everyone pays attention, there's a "hero" reporter and a scandal you were covering up, even if it wasn't a big deal. Conversely, if you do something unbelievably heinous, but never try to hide it, it's hardly news at all, it's not covered, no one cares.
I listened to an interview about white collar crime. One of the ridiculous things about modern white collar crime is that you can commit heinous crimes and be totally unpunished if you didn't realize it was illegal and harmful. This makes it the burden of the prosecutor to prove that you knew what you were doing was wrong, which is incredibly difficult. One of the things prosecutors use is any evidence that you were covering up your actions, trying to hide them, destroy evidence. Thus we return to the idea that if you just commit your crimes out in the open and never try to hide them, you go unpunished.
The news media doesn't know how to handle events that ramp up slowly or continue for a long time. Reporting and TV news are all about big edge events, sudden, breaking, exciting news. Thus, things which happen gradually can easily slip through the cracks and be consigned to back pages.
Most young people don't even know what Watergate is (see my previous post); I blame not the young people, but our woeful education system, which has almost zero accuracte modern history. Furthermore, I think newspapers could do a lot of good if they would include a paragraph or two of context with each major story; eg. instead of the 1000's of words wasted on this pointless nonsense about the revelation of who Deep Throat was, spend a few of those words on reminder context.
6-12-05"Kinsey" is a terrible movie. It's told as a straightforward period hero movie, with villians opposing him, and our hero struggling on despite their small minds, and triumphing in the end, publishing his great work and helping people to be sexually free. It's "Seabiscuit" with sex. The problem with this is that it's a massive distortion of reality. The truth is that Kinsey was highly nonscientific, and was discredited by the legitimate scientists of his time. In his later days, he was having sex with many of his assistants, filming his subjects having sex with each other and with his assistants, and using "science" as a white-wash and excuse for his sexual adventures. One of the big problems with his method was how he sampled for the survey. His survey was not done randomly on a cross section of the populace. Rather, he intentionally surveyed groups that he found interesting or willing - usually actors, dancers, homosexuals, etc. - fringe groups that were far more sexually active than the average. This was part of his agenda; he was certainly not trying to do an impartial survey, rather he was trying to justify his own oddity by trying to show that fringe sexual behavior is very common. Indeed, it was valuable that he brought fringe sexuality into the mainstream discussion, but his figures are garbage, and no sex researcher uses them. In the movie he complains that we don't know the truth about whether some sexual activity is really common or not, and Kinsey did not help with that problem at all. He tortured his wife with his sexual escapades, and he himself descended into deeper and deeper depravity in order to get off; he became a masochist, and was eventually unable to orgasm without inflicting severe pain to himself. Now, I don't have a big problem with movies that fictionalize history and distort it; my big problem here is that the distortion is far less interesting than the truth. The real Kinsey story is full of ambiguity and depravity, a very exciting story indeed of a twisted, flawed man who still does good for society.
6-12-05"Nepenthe" in Big Sur has great hot sandwiches (burgers, chicken, etc.) and amazing views; you pay for it, of course, but it's not ridiculous. A little further up the road in the "town" (more like a hamlet) of Big Sur is another restaurant and cafe with a gas station out front ($3.60 for regular unleaded); the restaurant is decent, but the bakery is superb, have a treat and an espresso. The Tanbark Trail follows a river through stands of big coastal redwoods and lush under-forest up the hillside.
6-11-05It's ridiculous that we use federal money to bail out 1) Hurricane victims who live in well known hurricane-prone areas, and 2) private companies that fuck up their finances, like Long Term Capital, all the S&L's, the many pensions that are now failing, the insurance companies after 9/11 or any big disaster, etc. etc. These are examples of people taking risks; if it goes well, they want to keep all the upside for themselves, but if it goes badly, they want help bearing the downside. Case 1 applies to people who live in flood planes, fire-prone forests, etc. as well - if they want to take the risk of living in stupid ass places like Florida, okay, fine, but it's their risk, I shouldn't have to bail their asses out. and 2) it's ridiculous that the execs and investors can all reap huge profits, then the company goes bankrupt and the taxpayers bail them out; they should be personally responsible and pay from their pockets first, and what's more they shouldn't be able to take dangerous risks with money that's backed by the FDIC or anything like that.
6-11-05In Bolivia, there is great unrest over many issues. Roughly, Bolivia has a massive majority of poor native Indian people, and a small minority of rich, powerful, corrupt European caucasian people. The poor majority is successfully staging an uprising against the malicious minority and the self-interested meddling of international powers like the IMF and foreign corporations which are trying to privatize and exploit the country's natural resources (water, oil, land, lumber). One issue which first bothers me is the idea of ownership of natural resources. How can private foreign companies come in and take ownership of the oil which is under the ground everyone owns? Theoretically the resources under the ground, in the sky, etc. are owned by the government, and the government should represent all the people, and give access to those resources for the benefit of all the people. In reality, in Bolivia, as everywhere else, the government sells off the rights at a severe discount, which provides great profits to the few at the expense of the many. This has already happened in America, where our government gave away massive amounts of land to the major developers (notably the railroad magnates) and continues to lease the mineral and lumber rights on national land at severe discounts. The problem with this line of thinking is that if you take it to its natural conclusion, you'll wind up with the idea that no corporation should be able to own any natural resources at all.
The powerful minority in Bolivia is trying to figure out how to retain power but regain peace. Their callow proposal is to separate the small, oil-rich region they control and the large indigenous region. Most likely, that plot will fail. The correct way to retain power is to give in. Give up power, speak for "democracy", but also speak of "capitalism" and "opportunities", give some of the Indians a taste of advancement and wealth, let them think all of them can acheive that success in a "free market" system. Let them compete, but of course retain control of your power networks and corporations and wealth. Let them choose their own trap, let them cheer for "freedom".
6-09-05The best fast food available is -
1) Subway; now that they toast, their subs are better than Quiznos,
2) Wendy's Meditteranean Chicken Salad, basically a decent Greek salad, reasonably fresh, though the chicken is cold,
3) Jack in the Box's Bruschetta Chicken sandwich, good quality bun, real fresh basil and tomatos in the sandwich, I recommend it with no cheese and no mayo.
6-09-05Back in CA, lovely to be home. Hmm.. I'm bored, maybe I'll drive to Canada ?
Random things along the way - Elko Nevada, a mining town, has the stinkiest men I've ever met (B.O. smell) and lots of sad sad bars with men sitting silently in the dark drinking slowly; near Salt Lake City there are many crazy sights - an art work set out in the lake that's like a tree with planets growing on it, made of metal and 200 feet tall; a huge smoke stack for a coal burning power plant, literally as tall as the mountain next to it; salt flats and playa where they race cars, turned to mud by recent rain; near Reno there are some super-hot hot springs which make steam rise out of the earth, and the dirt is hot to the touch; some sort of mining operation which has stripped the face of an entire giant mountain; in Iowa, the freeway rest stops have WiFi, most of the truck stops along I-80 have WiFi too; I watched two truckers get in a fist fight in a bathroom in Nebraska; two truckers in a Wendys in Iowa - they're fat, Russian twins, and they constantly have their arms around each other and whisper in each others' ears; so many dead deer on the sides of the highway through Illinois, Ohio; the toll roads from New York to Illinois cost about $10; the toll roads are like isolated systems, you're far from other traffic or the cities, there are very few entrances and exits, maybe 20 miles apart on average, and they have these areas you can pull over and buy gas and such without leaving the toll enclave; NPR is my savior, but I hate the way Terry Gross says "Fresh Air" so enthusiastically; everyone on NPR is using "iconoclastic" the wrong way, they're using it to mean "iconographic" or "seminal" which is entirely incorrect; the whole state of Nebraska stinks like cow shit and pig shit; Wyoming is insanely windy, I thought the hood of my car was going to be ripped off.
6-05-05Yesterday I took a bakery tour of New York, searching for rare and special treats, French and American pastries, brownies and cookies. I cheated and tried my first place a day earlier - Jacques Torres Chocolate in DUMBO. At Jacques' place I had an excellent hot chocolate, made to order simply with hot milk and grated chocolate; it's powerfully chocolaty, but not sickenly thick or heavy like many. The pain au chocolat at Jacques' was excellent, flaky buttery pastry and dark excellent chocolate, not too thick to overwhelm the pastry; however, the pain au chocolat was a bit old; they claim they bake it all day, but the foot traffic is not high enough to cycle the product quickyl. I started my morning at Balthazar near Broadway in Soho. I tried the "lemon brioche" and "fruit focaccia". Supposedly Balthazar is a great place for brunch, but it was jam packed and the wait was forever, so I took the pastries to go. The brioche was dry and stale, the focaccia is an unusual thing - fruit in the bread, with almonds and powdered sugar on top, not too much sweetness, good bread texture, but again stale; it was only 11 am, but I think they must have done all the baking early the night before. Next stop was the popular Magnolia Bakery in Greenwich Village. Mangolia is a major tourist stop now since it's been on Sex and the City (apparently it was even before then, just not as bad). I had a devil's food cupcake with cream cheese frosting, and a double fudge brownie with botterscotch topping (the plainest brownie I could choose). Everything here is covered in huge amounts of frosting and toppings, a bad sign already. The frostings are terrible - just an overwhelming uninteresting excess of sugar and butter and oil. The cupcake was dry and grainy, the brownie was sickeningly sweet with the topping; with the topping scraped off, it was decent, with a good heavy butter to make it moist and help the chocolat flavor come alive, but too heavy. Nearby Tartine is a French bistrot with their own patisserie ; it looks like a lovely place for brunch where you could get some fresh pastries. Their almond croissant is supposed to be the best in the city, but I found it dense and heavy, again stale; a good croissant is a masterpiece of simple decadence and balance - it should be light and flaky and buttery, crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. The last stop of the day was the City Bakery near Union Square. The hot chocolate is famous, Chris had warned me it was thick, but I found it excessive and unpleasant; the chocolate flavor in the hot chocolate is not nearly as strong as Jacques', but it's far heavier and thicker, almost goopy. The chocolate chip cookie was disappointing as well, too buttery and heavy. But, to my pleasure, the highlight of the day was found at City Bakery - the "melted chocolate chip cookie". It's a chocolate-chocolate chip cookie where the chips are indeed melted and integrated into the dough; it was a bit crispy, but tender, not too heavy or grainy or dry, and the chocolate flavor is intense, even stronger than the hot chocolate, each bite is just a pure dose of beautiful pure chocolate flavor. It's the only item on the tour I would seek out and get again.
City Bakery hot choco fest
New York Metro best hot choco
New York Metro best choco chip cookies
6-04-05One of the things that really disturbs me in New York is the lack of interactions with people. People don't look at you like another person, you're just part of the scenery. Most places it's rude to stare at other people without smiling, here people just look each other up and down. Most places if you look someone in the eye, they'll smile and look back, or look away uncomfortably or coyly. Here, it simply doesn't affect them, they don't react by looking at you or looking away, they just keep doing what they were doing. Of course I'm incredibly anti-social, so you'd think I'd fit it, but I don't like that I'm anti-social, and I like to be around social people to counter-balance my own AS.
Out with some of my sister's girlfriends last night. In the middle of a conversation, one of them mentioned "Black guys and puerto rican men *love* me". Wow. If you've ever been to New York, you know the men here are really aggressive with girls; it's far worse than the classic construction worker stereotype; they will literally hit on your girlfriend while you're holding her hand, press their bodies right up against her, etc. and by far the more aggressive are the african american and puerto rican (and also italian and cuban - more consisely, equatorial cultures). And yet, this girl had personalized it. Never mind that that guy on the corner has been hooting at every girl that walks by, when she walks by and get hoots it's because she's special, he really likes her. I never understood how this technique of hollering so agressively at every girl worked (except when they're really drunk, then it certainly works on everyone), but I guess this is how - some people are so hungry to be loved they don't care what form that love takes or where it comes from.
6-04-05Dance review : "Chunky Move" , an Australian dance company sponsored by their government arts counsil, performed "Tense Dave" at the Dance Theater Workshop in Manhattan. This dance/drama follows a surreal sequence of vignettes centered around an anti-hero (Dave) who is [...]
Art review : Daniel Buren's in-situ installation at the Guggenheim. The Guggenheim museum has long been the locus of a battle in the war between art and site. Wright's fanciful spiral ramp and top-heavy facade are far more famous than any painting inside, and more powerful; this tradition is continued by men like Frank Gehry and Calatrava who create flamboyant architecture that steals the show. Daniel Buren's installation does not try to do battle with the architecture of the Guggenheim, to overpower it and win your attention back to the art - rather, he harmonizes with it, accentuates it, and plays with it. His iconic vertical bars are placed around the museum, highlighting the curves and corners; he adds mirrors and colored windows which cast the architectures in new lights, literally. As you wander around the old exhibits, which seem like odd bystanders in this duet, you find his mark in unexpected corners, painted on the building's white walls. A few of his pieces are too whimsical, too psychadelic, but otherwise he correctly lets the real star shine. In the end, Buren's work does what good art should - it shakes your perception of an old icon so that you see it in new light and appreciate it anew.
6-02-05The incredible density of New York City leads to many interesting side effects. I've never been to Tokyo or other cities around the world, but NY is just staggeringly dense. Compared to the US's other big cities - Boston, Chicago, San Francisco - it's totally different. Even compared to places like London and Paris it feels different. London and Paris don't have all the high rises throughout the city, and there are many quiet streets; in NY it seems nearly every street you walk down is packed. This means there's a ton of stuff going on everywhere. There are these nasty little hard-top parks where people play sports, and they're all packed. There are events going on everywhere. Last night I was walking home and I passed a square where they were showing Ferris Bueller outside, projected on a big screen with a crowd gathered around.
Ate Peruvian food last night; it was quite excellent, Peruvian food is similar to other South American food, perhaps a bit like Cuban food, which is to say it's mainly meat and rice (or plantain or yuca) with spices, the differentiating factor being the spices, which are earthy but more herbaceous than the Mexican palate (which is dominated by the earth and smoke of cumin and peppers).
I know it's been said a million times in bad poems, but the landscape of the city really does remind me of wilderness. The city streets are canyons, the cliff walls of buildings towering on both sides; the traffic is a river, ever flowing; in the distance, the great range of big sky scrapers looms high against the sky.
It's funny how it's very easy to mistype words that sound alike. For example, their are words I often misplace. This isn't like "accept" where I actually make a mistake; if my mind is focused on the spelling, I'll always get "their" or "there" right, but if I'm just thinking about the content and thinking ahead about what I'll say next, I can often type the wrong spelling. It seems to me that this indicates that the language portion of the human brain is working phonetically. That is, when we engage in writing, what's actually happening is we're having thoughts in some deep part of the brain; some higher level translates those into structure, sentences, but not yet words; the next level then turns them into words - and this is really a speaking function; in order to write, we simply cut off the link from the speaking brain to the lips, and instead some other part of the brain watches what the speaking brain is doing and turns those sounds into spelling. Of course mistakes can be made in each part of the operation, and one of the cool things about the brain is that it's massively parallel and the various portions work autonomously, so the portion of the brain that's doing the sound -> spelling translation is doing it independently, like a stenographer, and it's not really aware of the meaning of the sounds, that's in an earlier part of the brain. If that earlier part of the brain is paying attention, it will correct you as you go. This sort of brain model is being proven now with things like FMRI (Functional MRI) which show the indepedent bits working and the neurons that are like network cables between these independent bits where they communicate. I think you don't need the FMRI, you just need to engage another part of your brain which can sit and watch the rest of your brain work.
6-01-05New York City is very depressing to me. You think you're good looking? 10 better looking people just walked by. You think you have cool hip fashion sense? Not here, your style is so last season. You think you're a good cook? The restaurant right next door sells braised pork shank with carmelized figs in an apple brandy reduction, cheap and fast. You're a good dancer? Political? A painter? Not here you're not. You're a dabbler, you're an enthusiast, oh, and by the way, get your shit together, you're holding up the line / blocking traffic / blocking the sidewalk.
Driving into New York was quite the ordeal. New York drivers are by far the worst I've ever encountered. I don't mind the weaving around lanes, the honking, etc. that's just agressive, and that's necessary in a crowded city. The huge moronic thing here is that everyone blocks the intersections, which then fucks up the traffic going the cross direction and just slows everyone down overall. If people wouldn't pull into the damn intersections all the time, all the traffic would flow so much better. The other thing that's really annoying here is that if you are at all polite or reasonable, the other drivers get mad at you. For example, if you don't run over the pedestrian in front of you, the drivers behind you will honk; if you don't run a red light, they'll often honk, etc. I'm also having to move my car every day because of the insane parking hours thing. All the spots here have various exclusions, a lot of them are no parking 8am - 6pm ; the others have street cleaning hours when you have to move your car, things like no parking MWF, midnight to 3am. He's a quiz - when it says "no parking Tuesday midnight - 3am" - what does that mean exactly? Is the the evening of Tuesday or the morning of Tuesday? The answer is the morning of Tuesday; I find their use of "midnight" objectionable, and of course military time sure would help.
My sister wants a system where she and her employees can update an Outlook-like Calendar with PDA's and have them all update to each other over a cell network. After an hour on the phone with Sprint, it appears this is possible, but mighty complicated and expensive. You have to set up a dedicated server somewhere, either on your machine or in some server farm colocated somewhere. You have to run Exchange Server on it, which is very expensive. You also have to run their cell server, for Sprint it's the Business Connection Enterprise Edition. Then with your PDA/cell service you have to pay for connectivity to that, and they serve you updates over SMS. It's very difficult to figure out how to do this stuff, because their web sites are shit, and when you call them up, you get complete morons. All these companies have tiered tech support now. When you first call, you get a screener who's a complete moron. They quickly pass you off to a Tier 1 person. The Tier 1 person is basically a moron who's had some training and can read the web pages to you, but knows nothing. The trick then is to convince the Tier 1 person that you need better help so they'll pass you up. Unfortunately, my Tier 1 person had an attitude problem where they didn't want to admit they were a moron, even though I kept asking questions they couldn't answer; finally they passed me up to Tier 2. The Tier 2 person is reasonably competent and can often help you, though it's still the kind of person who doesn't actually understand the concept of applications, files, and networks. Unfortunately, these people deal with absolute moron callers 99.99% of the time ("my cell phone doesn't work" "is it turned on?" "oh, oops"), so they treat you pretty badly. I chatted with the Tier 2 person a while and got them to happily transfer me to a Technician. The Technician actually know what a computer is. Unfortunately, my Technician wasn't familiar with these exact applications and what I'm trying to do. Sigh.
It's crucial to bounce your ideas off other people. Someone like me who sits and percolates in my own broth will metally wander off and produce loads of silly bullshit. A few minutes of conversation and seeing someone else's reaction can give you a test of what ideas are actually interesting, and where you're way off base.
I've discovered someone near my sister has an open WiFi. Yay!
- ► 2014 (48)
- ► 2013 (87)
- ► 2012 (134)
- ► 2011 (237)
- ► 2010 (310)
- ► 2009 (362)
- ► 2008 (697)
- ► 2007 (394)
- ► 2006 (654)
- 6-30-05 - 3
- 6-30-05 - 2
- 6-30-05 - 1
- 6-29-05 - 2
- 6-29-05 - 1
- 6-28-05 - 2
- 6-28-05 - 1
- 6-27-05 - 5
- 6-27-05 - 4
- 6-27-05 - 3
- 6-27-05 - 2
- 6-27-05 - 1
- 6-26-05 - 6
- 6-26-05 - 5
- 6-26-05 - 4
- 6-26-05 - 3
- 6-26-05 - 2
- 6-26-05 - 1
- 6-25-05 - 2
- 6-25-05 - 1
- 6-23-05 - 1
- 6-22-05 - 4
- 6-22-05 - 3
- 6-22-05 - 2
- 6-22-05 - 1
- 6-21-05 - 3
- 6-21-05 - 2
- 6-21-05 - 1
- 6-20-05 - 5
- 6-20-05 - 4
- 6-20-05 - 3
- 6-20-05 - 2
- 6-20-05 - 1
- 6-19-05 - 1
- 6-18-05 - 1
- 6-17-05 - 4
- 6-17-05 - 3
- 6-17-05 - 2
- 6-17-05 - 1
- 6-16-05 - 4
- 6-16-05 - 3
- 6-16-05 - 2
- 6-16-05 - 1
- 6-15-05 - 3
- 6-15-05 - 2
- 6-15-05 - 1
- 6-14-05 - 2
- 6-14-05 - 1
- 6-13-05 - 1
- 6-12-05 - 3
- 6-12-05 - 2
- 6-12-05 - 1
- 6-11-05 - 2
- 6-11-05 - 1
- 6-09-05 - 3
- 6-09-05 - 2
- 6-09-05 - 1
- 6-05-05 - 2
- 6-05-05 - 1
- 6-04-05 - 2
- 6-04-05 - 1
- 6-02-05 - 1
- 6-01-05 - 1
- ▼ June (63)
- ► 2004 (226)
- ► 2003 (74)