Friday, December 30, 2005

The Year of the Blog

This will probably be my last post of 2005, so I just wanted to say a few things before the year ends. First of all, I'd like to thank Michelle for encouraging me to start a blog and for sharing in my enjoyment of blogging, even if she really isn't all that into it herself. I'd also like to thank MDS for encouraging me to blog more frequently and for stimulating discussions on Data Janitor with his comments.

I don't know if 2005 really was the breakout year for blogging, but it seemed that way to me. I'm not talking about my little corner of the blog world here because I'm not really trying to do anything special here. I was just looking for a new creative outlet and a way to stay in touch with people. I found that, but I also found myself getting involved in the community aspect of blogging, which was not something that I had expected. I can definitely envision a future where more and more journalists work independently and publish their stores in a blog-like format. Readers will be able to assemble a virtual newspaper using feeds from their favorite sources. I used to fear the demise of the traditional newspaper, but I'm now looking forward to it. I no longer buy into the argument that if you give people the option to pick and choose news stories on their own, they will ignore the stories and opinions that they don't want to hear or disagree with. My experience has been the exact opposite.
You can start off reading a single blog or only the bloggers who share your interests or political beliefs, but the blogs you read will inevitably link to other blogs or online media sources. If you like what you're reading in a blog, there's a good chance you'll check out the blogs it links to. If you like what you find there, maybe you'll start checking that blog out on a regular basis too. Before you know it, you're checking out several dozen blogs and reading about topics and ideas that you never used to be interested in. At least, that has been my experience.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Man Bites Dog

According to this story, Cintas employees (with some help from management) are suing the labor union Unite Here for violating a privacy protection law during a campaign to unionize workers at a Cintas plant in Emmaus, PA. The employees are upset that the union organizers obtained their home addresses through a private investigator based on license plate numbers collected in the company parking lot. This apparently violates the little-known Driver's Privacy Protection Act of 1994. I have to say that I'm pleasantly surprised that this law is on the books.

It's unclear whether the workers who organized this lawsuit are more outraged by the invasion of their privacy or the union campaign to organize their plant. If this lawsuit really comes from and is supported by the workers at the plant, I don't see how organized labor has much of a chance of growing or even surviving in its current form.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The People Who Move Us

I am not a big fan of Mitch Albom's writing, but I don't detest him enough to start a blog dedicated to taking shots at him. There are a number of good writers on the web who do a yeoman's work dissecting and exposing the lies, misinformation, and faulty logic that is written and uttered by public figures, but Morrie Schwarzenegger isn't one of them. Mitch Albom is a Terrible Writer spends some time critiquing Mitch's writing, but most of the time, it's just making fun of him and the people who read his books.

That being said, this piece is absolutely hilarious. Full disclosure: I have an extremely soft spot for humor that centers around the People Mover. As funny as this story is, the comments are even more hilarious because no one seemed to realize that the story is a joke.

Least Essential Albums

The Onion's A.V. Club released it's annual list of least essential albums today. I love the least essential albums list. This year's list is somewhat of a disappointment, however. I've never heard any of the music on this list, but that's nothing new. For some reason, the albums that they "honor" and the categories that they have made up don't seem as ridiculous as they have in years past. If I had to pick a favorite, I'd say that this year's best award category is: Least Essential Acoustic Anniversary Version of an Album Everyone's Sick of Already (Alanis Morisette, Jagged Little Pill Acoustic). The money quote comes from the review of The Rose Vol 2: Music Inspired by Tupac's Poetry.

In a shocking lapse in his once-remarkable posthumous work ethic, Tupac Shakur somehow failed to put out a new album this year: It appears that dying in 1995 is finally starting to catch up with him.

Check out some of the least essential albums of years past here, here, here, and here.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Ask Your Doctor if Orencia is Right For You

The drug that Michelle has been working on for almost the past three years just received FDA approval this week. The drug is designed to treat rheumatoid arthritis. I don't really understand most of the information in this press release, but it sounds like a promising new treatment.

Takin' Care of Business

I stumbled across this guy's blog today, and he offers some good advice for anyone who is considering starting their own software company. He gains a large amount of credibility in my book by being the founder of his own software company. I have a lot of respect for people who strike it out on their own and start a business, especially people like this fellow who leave behind a lucrative career in software development for the uncertain world of software entrepreneurship. I often day dream about joining their ranks, but my lack of product ideas and unwillingness to do the dirty work involved in starting a business generally brings me back down to earth.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

No Fair

I have to admit that I have gotten caught up in the whole pop economics fad that has been spreading across the media landscape like wildfire. I had never really paid any attention to economics before, but I am fascinated by the explanations of everyday phenomena offered by the great pop economists of our day. I know enough about economics to know that there is plenty of disagreement amongst reputable economists over all but the most trivial economic problems, so I try to absorb all of these pop economic lessons with a side of skepticism.

One consequence of my new found love of economics is that I find myself thinking like a pop economist when I'm out in the world conducting my business. I have been interested in the idea of "fairly traded" food products for a while and have been meaning to figure out what exactly this label means and pass this knowledge on to my loyal readers. As luck would have it, our friends over at Marginal Revolution have beat me to it. I must admit that I don't really follow the entire argument or even the terminology of the discussion (what exactly is a "development optimist"?) That's ok, because I was always more interested in whether or not fairly traded food products actually deliver on their promise to pay the workers in the field a living wage, not the macroeconomic implications of fair trade. The WaPo article linked to in this piece and a link left in the comments section address this issue more directly. The verdict is a hazy, at best. It is unclear whether trade actually helps the people it purports to benefit. It is possible that any positive impact that it has on the life of an impoverished coffee plantation worker might be offset by the bureaucratic overhead imposed by the fair trade apparatus.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Three Girls for Every Five Boys

I was in NYC recently and I noticed a billboard for the Jewish online dating service JDate in Times Square that struck me as a very atypical dating service advertisement. Check out this link for a picture of the billboard. Incidentally, the aforementioned link is courtesy of the Belligerent Intellectual, a person whom I have never met but frequently posts comments on a blog that I check our on a regular basis (authored by another person I've never met).

The thing I can't figure out about this ad is why does it feature a group of three women and five men, none of whom appear to be romantically involved with anyone else in the ad? I could understand if this was an ad for a social networking website that also offered matchmaking services, but as far as I can tell, JDate is what it claims to be, a dating service for Jewish singles. What kind of reaction are they trying to get out of their target demographic in response to this ad? Maybe the reason they are focusing on a group of people instead of one happy couple is to convey the message that a lot of young Jewish singles are using JDate in order to diffuse any remaining stigma surrounding online dating services. Maybe they are having trouble attracting women to their service and are trying to persuade them to check it out by showing them a surplus of eligible Jewish bachelors. Maybe there is a religious or cultural preference for dating in groups that I am unaware of?

My guess is that I'm reading too much into this ad. It's probably most likely that the ad agency that put this one together used the time-tested rule that you can sell any product if you show people who are hip, young, and attractive using it and appearing to have a good time.

Intelligent Medicine

Doonesbury weighed in on intelligent design yesterday. As far as I remember, this is the first time that this issue has made its way into Doonesbury. It's takes intelligent design to one of its logical conclusions, with amusing results.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

America's Finest News Source

I read out a number of blogs that cover the latest goings on in the current battle over the teaching of evolution in our nation's science classrooms. That's why I was surprised that I didn't hear about this story until I read about it in The Onion today. The whole thing would make a create feature story in The Onion, if only it wasn't true.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Sushi Drive

When you think of Japan, three things that probably come to mind are excellent cuisine, food models, and microelectronics. It's good to see that someone has put together a product that leverages Japan's excellence in all three of these disciplines.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

The Lost Lennon Tapes

In today's Syracuse Post-Standard, Sean Kirst recounts a night in October of 1971 when the Beatles (sans Paul) almost got together for a reunion concert in Syracuse. Lennon and Yoko Ono were in town for the opening of Ono's first major art exhibition, which was on display at Syracuse's Everson Museum of Art. Read Kirst's column here. Also check out the front page of today's paper (PDF). Make sure you read the "Art or Hokum?" editorial excerpted from the September 27, 1971 edition of the paper. The caption on the photo mentions that Lennon and Ono headed to the Onondaga Nation territory after their visit to support its efforts to keep Interstate 81 from cutting through their reservation. Apparently, they were unsuccessful.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Disposable A/V Club

Am I the last person on earth to learn about disposable video cameras? Apparently, they have been on the market for six months now, but I just learned about them today. I think it's a really interesting concept, though I don't see myself purchasing one anytime soon. I have two questions about these miracles of consumer technology. My first question is how much of the pricing model is based on re-packaging and reselling the cameras multiple times? On a related note, I wonder how hard it would be for an enterprising hacker to figure out how to turn one of these things into a video camera that you could use over and over?


I'm not a huge fan of Microsoft Windows, though I'm not one of those people who harbors an irrational hatred of everything produced by Microsoft. That being said, I've never bought into any of these anti-trust rulings that they have faced, including the latest installment, from South Korea. Microsoft has, in my opinion, the least sustainable monopoly in the history of private business monopolies. Microsoft has numerous competitors (various Linux vendors) who offer a complete operating system including applications that can read files created by Microsoft applications and write files that can be read by Microsoft applications. This operating system and its applications can be yours for the low, low price of nothing. I run Linux on my home computer, and I agree that it's not as polished or user-friendly as Windows, but I can still surf the web, check my e-mail, and read and edit word documents and spreadsheets. There are people who need to use Windows because the applications that they have to use are only available on Windows, but the majority of home PC users don't fall into this category.

I don't really understand how stripping Windows Media Player and Messenger out of Windows is going to help Korean consumers and software companies. Furthermore, forcing a company to help consumers access their competitors products sets a bad precedent. Why not try and capitalize on the negative sentiments against Wal-Mart and try to force them to include links to local mom & pop stores on their website?

The success of the Firefox web browser proves that Microsoft's monopoly is not as strong as some people make it out to be. Firefox would not have been successful had it not been open source (see Opera). Anyone who wishes to cut into the market share of any of Microsoft's core applications will have to follow Firefox's example. There are enough computer users today who are tech savvy enough to try a new application if it is free and easy to install and use. If the new application really is an improvement, word will spread and market share will develop. This won't dethrone Windows in and of itself, but if enough "killer apps" are developed to replace Microsoft applications, it will make leaving Windows for Linux or some other OS easier for the average consumer. Since these applications will almost certainly be open source, there will probably already be versions available for Linux, Mac, and other OSes by the time they become widely used on Windows. If not, an army of software developers from around the world can be pressed into service (for free, once again) to port the application over to a different OS.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Dagwood on Outsourcing

Two comic strips that rarely take on sociopolitical issues weighed in on outsourcing and the class struggle today. Dagwood and Blondie learned the true extent of globalization in today's comic.

Baldo learned an important lesson about the class struggle in America today.

It's pretty difficult to inject social commentary into a comic strip that usually avoids commenting on such matters. Baldo succeeded in making an interesting point, but Blondie largely failed. There are a number of reasons for this. For one, Baldo, a comic strip that has roughly 70 fewer years under its belt than Blondie, arguably has a more richly developed set of characters. Comic strips have at most four panels a day to make some kind of a statement. By building up a set of characters with distinctive and nuanced personality traits, a comic strip writer can add humor, drama, and insight to a comic strip without having to draw it or write it out explicitly. Since we know nothing about the fellow at the electronics store who is helping the Bumstead's or their personal economic philosophy, the only thing that this comic strip tells us is that Dagwood & Blondie haven't read the business page of any of the newspapers that they inhabit since the early 1970s.

Baldo, on the other hand, relies on the relatively new character Che and his already established revolutionary credentials to deliver a poignant observation about the class struggle in America. Che, whose name is an allusion to Che Guevara, I assume, is one of Baldo's classmates who generally parrots the standard socialist student boilerplate about capitalism and worker oppression. In today's comic, we learn that Che is a child of privilege and Baldo learns that the people who yell the loudest about worker oppression often know very little about working themselves.

If you enjoy the comic strip commentaries I write from time to time, be sure to check out the Comics Curmudgeon, who does this on a daily basis.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Brother, Can You Spare Some Gas?

I was approached by a guy with a gas can in downtown Syracuse today who asked me for some spare change because he and his wife had just run out of gas. He gestured over to his car, parked on a nearby street. There was definitely someone sitting in the passenger seat who at least appeared to be a woman so that part of his story was plausible. His plea would have been a little more convincing had the car not been idling at the time. It also would have been a little more convincing if he was near a gas station instead of in the middle of the downtown retail and entertainment district.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Meet Your Insane Mommy

I'm hardly the first person to comment on the woman who went nuts on Trading Spouses. I've never even watched the show, with the exception of this clip (full disclosure: I couldn't even finish watching it, not because it's not hilarious/disturbing, but because the I really can't get into reality show drama and I hate that annoying background music they always play).

My first question is why did this woman agree to be on the show? Isn't the whole concept of trading spouses anathema to Christian morality? I understand that an actual spouse swap is not being performed, but if people are getting bent out of shape about someone wishing them "Happy Holidays", you'd think that a show even mentions the concept of wife-swapping would be condemned as an affront to the sanctity of marriage.

My second question is how stupid is she? I'm sure that the producers of Trading Spouses were barely able to contain their excitement when they interviewed this woman for their show. I've never seen the show, but based on the commercials I've seen and articles I've read, it's pretty obvious that the idea is to match someone up with a family that is the complete opposite of their own. You would think that Christian fundamentalists would be acutely aware that not everyone in this country is down with their program, given the never-ending stream of screeds, boycotts, and demonstrations their leaders generate to combat the never-ending threats to their way of life.

The answer to both of these questions is that this woman, like most people, wanted to be on TV. Until TV evangelists develop their own reality TV programs, people of faith will be forced to cozy up to the liberal elites in Hollywood they so despise or give up their dreams of becoming a quasi-celebrity. The weird thing about Trading Spouses: Meet Your New Mommy is that for a show that purports to undermine the institution of marriage, it's full of old timey family values. Take the subtitle "meet your new mommy" for example. They only swap the wives on this show. A radical feminist interpretation of this subtitle might suggest that this show reinforces the idea that wives are the property of their husbands, who are free to exchange them for goods, services, or other wives. A more nuanced interpretation would suggest that at the very least, fathers are generally not involved in the lives of their families enough to make an interesting TV show based on two families swapping fathers. After all, the father leaves for work before the kids wake up, comes home late, eats dinner alone, then passes out in front of the TV. You could swap most fathers with a trained circus bear and the family would be none the wiser for at least a couple of days. Finally, in order to trade a spouse, you need to have a spouse, which means that this show probably features more in-tact nuclear families than per episode than most other shows on TV.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Land Down Under

Qantas and Air New Zealand have recently confirmed that they do not allow men to be seated next to unaccompanied minors on their flights. This policy is ridiculous, of course. Airplanes offer no privacy and very little personal space (at least in coach). If that's not enough to stop the most unrepentant child molester, the possibility of getting beaten senseless by a mob of angry passengers probably is. If Qantas and Air New Zealand really care about the safety of their passengers, why stop there? Men also have been know to molest grown women. Why not seat all of the men in one cabin and all of the women and children in another? I'm not denying that molestation is not a serious issue, but I think that treating all men as potential child molesters is insulting and an extreme overreaction.

I don't want to get on men's movement kind of rant here, but as a man, I often consciously avoid making eye contact with or showing any interest in children I encounter in daily life out of the fear that the parents might mistake me for some kind of pervert. I'm probably overreacting, but policies like the unaccompanied minor rule reinforce the idea that men are not to be trusted with children who are not their kin.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Yeah Boyee

I'm going to have to disagree with AdFreak's evaluation of Miller Lite's latest commercial. If you watched at least five minutes of NFL football yesterday, you probably know what I'm talking about. The commercial takes place in a courtroom, where the never-ending debate over which beer tastes better (Bud Light or Miller Lite) is being settled at trial. The expert witness on the stand is none other than Flavor Flav. As soon as I spotted Flav on the stand, I started trying to figure out how they were going to work his trademark catchphrase "yeah boyee" into the commercial. Spoiler Alert: They manage to squeeze in the requisite "yeah boyee" at the very end, when Flav and the attorney representing Miller Lite exclaim it in unison over the judge striking down an objection from Bud Light's legal defense team. The commercial wasn't funny and it was painfully obvious that the ad writers came up with the idea of getting Flavor Flav to say "yeah boyee" in a commercial first, then built the rest of the script around that. That being said, I still think Miller Lite tastes better than Bud Light.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Underground Railroad

When you think of the underground railroad, one of the places that comes to mind is Upstate New York. Harriet Tubman lived most of her adult life outside of Syracuse and many escaped slaves passed through the area on their way to freedom in Canada. When you think about a more literal underground railroad, you have to think of New York City and its hundreds of miles of subterranean railway. I was unaware of this until I saw a poster for a screening of The End of the Line in the men's room at Clark's Ale House, but the city of Rochester, New York used to have a subway system. As the documentary states, Rochester is the smallest American city to ever build and abandon a subway system. I'm not exactly sure why the abandonment disclaimer is included. Is there a smaller city that has yet to abandon it's subway system? Were cities like Boston or San Francisco smaller when they built their subways than Rochester was when it built its subway in 1927? I'm not going to make it to the screening of The End of the Line, since it's out in a suburb of Rochester, but I'd really like to see it sometime.

The Minutemen

I don't often agree with Cal Thomas, but I do give him credit for saying what he thinks, even if what he's thinking doesn't necessarily jive with what prominent conservatives are thinking. He takes on illegal immigration in his latest column. Thomas argues that illegal immigration is destroying our history, language, culture, and faith. I don't really buy into this argument at all. I don't see why social conservatives have any reason to be appalled by the culture and faith of most illegal immigrants. Most of them are coming into the US from heavily Catholic countries where so-called traditional family values are very strong. Language is a common concern of a lot of people. The anti immigration camp likes to tell stories about how immigrants from Latin America are not making any effort to learn English, while people who favor some sort of immigration reform generally downplay this figure and assert that almost all immigrant children are fluent in English. It is true that current immigrants to the US, either legal or illegal, are much more likely to retain their native language and perhaps other aspects of their native cultures than the immigrants from the early 20th century. My maternal grandmother doesn't know a lick of Polish, despite the fact that her parents settled in the US only a few years before she was born. Today's first-generation immigrants are more likely to be bilingual. I think that this is a good thing and I have seen no evidence that retention of native languages diminishes anyone's ability to integrate into American culture.

It's really hard for me to get behind the idea that the current wave of immigration that is going on is any different than any of the others that have cascaded across the US over the past 200 years. People have been getting worked up about immigration ever since people who looked, spoke, or prayed slightly differently than the majority started showing up en masse on our shores. In all cases to date, those worries have proven to be unfounded. I don't think that the US is in any danger of seeing street riots like the kind that have been spreading across France. Our culture is somehow uniquely designed to accept immigrants from around the world and at all socioeconomic levels and turn them into Americans. Until you can convince me that the great American sausage-making machine is broken, I'm going to have trouble buying into any of these arguments.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Rock n' Roll, Part 3

Garry Glitter, who's stadium anthem "Rock n' Roll, Part 2" is still a fixture at sporting events around the world, is in trouble with the law again. From the looks of it, Glitter's underage sex habit has once again gotten the best of him. So far, I don't think there have been any calls to yank "Rock n' Roll, Part 2" off of the public address systems of the world. I think that's the right idea. I think music should be judged based on the merits of the song alone. Some might argue that the more we listen to "Rock n' Roll, Part 2", the more royalties Glitter has to finance his deviant lifestyle. I would argue that if Glitter is in fact a pedophile, he'd still be one even if had no money. I think that if someone decided to launch of boycott of stadiums that play "Rock n' Roll, Part 2", they would certainly raise awareness of Garry Glitter, who is far from a household name despite the ubiquity of his song. As the old saying goes, there is no such thing as bad publicity, so a move like that would probably actually help him out.

The Degifter That Keeps On Giving

I found this story very interesting. Basically, a guy who donated $100 to Syracuse mayor Matt Driscoll's re-election campaign committee now wants to degift that money. The article really doesn't really explain why he wants to degift the money. It says that he is disappointed by Driscoll's performance. If that's the case, he probably should have tried to degift this donation before Driscoll was re-elected last week.

I can't image that there is really any legal basis for this action. Once you donate money to an organization, I don't think you have any legal recourse if you later decide that your donation wasn't such a great idea. You certainly have a legal recourse if the organization to whom you donated doesn't use the money in the way that they said they would, but that doesn't seem to be the case here.

The kicker is that this guy has already successfully degifted a $550 donation that he made to Driscoll's campaign last year. I have no idea why Driscoll would have accepted another campaign donation from this guy after that incident. I'm sure that the only reason the campaign refunded his gifts was to shut him up. If there is a nationwide do not accept donations from list, hopefully, Strodel's name is on it.

Snow Day

We got our first snowfall last night. They are calling for another 1-3" before it's all done. I have to say that I do enjoy the snow, despite all of the problems that it can cause.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Paradigm Shift

Every one in a while, you come across something that really changes the way you see and understand events in the world. These kind of moments may make some people feel uncomfortable, but I have always welcomed them and the new understanding that they have brought me. It seems like I've been experiencing a lot of these events lately. Perhaps I have the blogosphere to thank for this. Today's moment came from the Christian Science Monitor, via Andrew Sullivan. In this opinion piece, Bruce Bawer offers up an explanation for the unrest in France. The arguments he makes are mostly things that I have heard before, but he puts them together in a way that really changed my perception of European societies and race relations.

I had always had this notion that race relations were largely an American problem. Western European societies didn't seem to have these kinds of problems. I was familiar with all of the black entertainers who left segregated America to play to packed houses in European capitals, and assumed that Europeans must have a more enlightened attitude towards race relations than us. Over the years, my opinions about these things have become more nuanced, but I kept falling back to this baseline in the absence of any evidence to the contrary. The riots in France and the terrorist bombings in London have really opened up a new window into the state of racial and cultural relations in Europe.

As an American, I find the situation in Europe hard to understand. I've met Americans who hail from all over the world, many of whom have maintained various aspects of their native cultures. I've visited ethnic neighborhoods in many American cities where I couldn't read a lot of the signs or understand most of the people were saying, but I've never felt like I was in some strange land. Even if European countries decide to become more accepting of foreigners than they currently are, I don't see how any of them could be as accepting as America simply because our culture has been built on the idea of welcoming immigrants from around the world and turning them into Americans for so long.

The interesting and scary part of the situation in Europe is that a not insignificant portion of the Muslim population wishes to be segregated. I'm not sure how much of this is due to the fact that they know that not even their children will be considered full-fledged citizens of their adopted country and how much is due to their desire for religious purity. The riots in France look similar to the waves of urban riots that spread across this country during the late 1960s. There does not appear to be an accompanying non-violent civil rights movement within the Muslim communities of Europe. This surplus of rage and deficit of hope does not bode well for anyone.

The steps that European countries take to deal with this problem will shed a lot of light on the ongoing debate over the root causes of terrorism in the Muslim community. Will support dry up for radical clerics in Europe if young Muslim immigrants start to join the workforces and civil societies of their new homelands as some have suggested? Will it take a movement of reformers from within the Muslim community to redefine what it means to be a Muslim in Europe to put an end to the radicalization and self-segregation? Will European countries give up and close up their borders before either of these possibilities is allowed to run its course?

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Radiator Days

I took this picture on Sunday in Boston. This is the first used radiator dealership I've ever come across. This picture really shows what is great about digital photography. Before digital photography, I would've been much more reluctant to take a picture of a bunch of radiators, or some whimsical graffiti, or an unintentionally hilarious billboard, or a whole list of other things that don't seem worthy of preserving on film. Now that I don't have to worry about wasting film on seemingly trivial things, I can snap away at anything that catches my attention. I have found that the pictures I enjoy the most aren't always the ones that seemed like great pictures when I took them. Every once in a while, I get lucky and manage to take a beautiful shot of an iconic building, mountain, body of water, etc. Everything else is pretty hit-or-miss, even when the subject is something spectacular. I often enjoy pictures that capture something unexpected and even unintentional more than yet another mediocre shot of the Grand Canyon. The radiator dealership certainly falls into this category. The danger, of course, is that I'll stop taking pictures of anything but oddities.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Shock the Monkey

I heard about this on Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me this weekend. It's a service that for the low fee of $10, will call you or anybody else and make monkey noises over the phone. I'm not really surprised that such a service is available, but $10 seems like a pretty high price to pay someone to make monkey sounds over the phone. You're not even talking to a real monkey, after all. Of course, if their service starts to get popular, you know someone is going to create an offshore monkey phone callcenter so they can undercut on price.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Missing the Point

I have been reading about conservative religious groups organizing boycotts for at least the past fifteen years. I can't recall any of their campaigns actually hurting the companies that they have targeted or persuading them to change their policies. I'm only mentioning their latest campaign because this one hits a little bit closer to home. The latest target of their ire is the American Girl doll company, because of a $50,000 donation that they made to the Girls, Inc. charity to support science, math, and athletic programs. While I'm sure that their are some religious conservatives who are opposed to educating girls, the main reason that they have organized their latest boycott is because Girls, Inc. is pro-choice and accepting of homosexuals.

Michelle is involved with the local chapter of Girls, Inc. Fortunately, none of this nonsense has affected their chapter. I doubt that this boycott is going to have any effect on American Girl or Girls, Inc. The religious right is remarkably adept at manufacturing outrage and at missing the point, but this seems like a stretch even by their standards. A multi-billion dollar company (American Girl is part of Mattel) donates a pittance to a charity that spends the overwhelming majority of its time and money helping young girls develop academic, personal, and leadership skills and the religious right is up in arms over a couple statements on their website that conflict with their religious beliefs.

If you're looking to stick it to the religious right and you have some young girls on your holiday shopping list, you may want to head over to your nearest American Girl authorized retailer.

Extreme Makeover

If you're a Blogger blogger, and you're looking for a way to spruce up your blog, check out Blogger Templates. That's where I found the cool new look for Data Janitor. They have a lot of cheesy templates available, but there are some pretty neat looking ones as well. In case you're curious, I choose the Powell Street template.

You Do Not Want to be Odor

I haven't posted in a while, so I'm going to take a couple of minutes to weigh in on an issue that I'm pretending not to care about, namely, the Terrell Owens saga. I'm not going to feign outrage over his actions, nor am I going to criticize the Eagles, his agent, the media, society, the NFL, or anyone else. I am going to criticize Right Guard deodorant for their stupid commercial where a bunch of college-aged guys are playing the fabled playground game "Red Rover" with Owens. In their version of the game, the human chain represents Right Guard Xtreme Sport Deodorant and Owens represents odor. I have no problem with their analogy, however hackneyed it may be, but in order to call Owens into their game, they yell out: "Red Rover, Red Rover, send T.O. over." This sentence difficult to speak, and listen to for that matter, due to the glottal stops between T, O, and over. It also breaks the rhythm of the classic Red Rover call.

The canonical form of the Red Rover call is "Red Rover, Red Rover, Send (two-syllable name) right over." Had they stuck with this form and called out "... send T.O. right over" it would be easier to say (assuming they removed glottal stop between T and O) and in the proper form. If they felt that they needed to deviate from the standard form, saying "send Terrell over" or "send Owens over" would have been better alternatives from a rhythmic standpoint. Of course, they had to say T.O. because T.O. is not just a nickname, it's a brand and the commercial was as much an advertisement for T.O. as it was for deodorant.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

The Derek Zoolander Centre For Kids for Can't Read Good

Former NHL head coach Jacques Demers, who guided the Montreal Canadiens to the Stanley Cup in 1993, admitted today that he never learned how to read. The details of Demers illiteracy are spelled out in his new biography. One interesting detail is how Demers, who is originally from Montreal and speaks both French and English, used his bilingualism as a way to hide his illiteracy. When someone asked him to read something in English, he would decline and say he's better at reading French, and vice versa. Francophone visitors can read more here.

Tip o' the toque: Dusty Young

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

If the Gods Had Meant Us to Vote, They Would Have Given Us Candidates

This weekend, I saw someone driving around town with a sign on their car promoting a candidate for Congress. I was surprised to see this since this is not a congressional election year and because in last year's congressional election, the representative for the 25th district in New York ran without any major party opposition. I checked out the website of the putative Democratic candidate for Congress, Ken Howland today. I can't say that I was very impressed with Howland's resume, website or positions. His editing skills, however, are the most troubling. He copied Michael Bednarik's position on the war in Iraq verbatim from the Bednarik for Congress 2006 website, including the following sentence:
By promoting national defense rather than international offense, Badnarik would bring home our troops from the over 130 countries where the U.S. Military currently maintains a presence, and subsequently secure America more than any current plan offered by the Democrats and Republicans.

Had Howland been smart enough to change 'Bednarik' to 'Howland', I never would have noticed this. There may be some more content copied over from Bednarik's website. The "Our Positions" sidebar has a lot of the same topics as the Bednarik's sidebar. Of course, Howland's positions don't link to anything, so perhaps he's working on copying some more of Bednarik's content over to his site.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Happy Halloween

Have a flippin' sweet Halloween. May all of your wildest dreams come true.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Thursday, October 27, 2005

The Fall Classic

As my friend MDS pointed out to me today, the past two times that I have visited him and gone to see a baseball game, the home team has gone on to win the World Series. It is perhaps even more amazing that over the past six seasons, I have attended a total of seven major league baseball games, and in four out of those seven games, one of the teams playing has gone on to win the World Series. Here's my record, World Series champs in bold.

New York Yankees at Detroit

Arizona at Kansas City

Baltimore at Anaheim
Texas at Boston

Seattle at Kansas City

Seattle at Detroit

Los Angeles Dodgers at Chicago White Sox

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Ancient Creature of the Deep

Tonight's episode of Nova dealt with the coelacanth, that mysterious creature of the deep thought to be extinct until one was discovered in South Africa in the 1930s. I have been a fan of the coelacanth ever since I first learned about it in elementary school. Nova dealt briefly with the social implications of the coelacanth, which I found very intriguing. The internal organs of the first coelacanth were discarded before the fish was positively identified by Dr. J.L.B. Smith. Smith made it his life's work to find another coelacanth and spread leaflets up the East African coast promising a reward for any fisherman who can haul in a coelcanth so he could begin dissecting the animal and seeing if it really was the so-called missing link. When he received word of a coelacanth found in the remote Comoros Islands in 1952, he knew that the only way to get the fish back to South Africa for successful dissection was to charter an airplane. His request eventually reached Prime Minister D.F. Malan, who approved a military charter to retrieve the fish. Malan was an ordained minister and a professed creationist who had any number of reasons to deny Smith's request, but in the end, he calculated that national pride was at stake at allowed Smith to risk an international incident and go to the then French-controlled Comoros Islands to retrieve the fish. Since then, many more coelacanths have been captured and dissected and scientists have learned a great deal about evolution from this so-called living fossil, but Smith's pioneering work led the way and captured the imagination of the world. Malan was an ultra-nationalist and one of the architects of South Africa's apartheid program. If he was able to see that advancing the cause of science was good for his country, despite the fact that it conflicted with some of his personal beliefs, perhaps there is still hope for our political leaders.

Market Economy

On our last day in Seattle, we headed downtown. We started at Pioneer Square, which wasn't too crowded when we arrived around 11 in the morning. We stopped off at the Seattle unit of the Klondike Gold Rush historical center. The Alaska Gold Rush seems like it was an incredibly futile adventure, even in comparison to other gold rushes. It cost the men about $3000 a head (in 1890's money) to make the long and dangerous trek up to Alaska. By the time they arrived, most of the gold had already been claimed. The gold rush was instrumental in the development of the city of Seattle, however. By outfitting the prospectors and cashing out the lucky few who stuck it rich, Seattle began its transformation to the commercial capitol of the Pacific Northwest during the great Alaska gold rush.

After Pioneer Square, we headed over to Pike's Market. We grabbed some lunch and some coffee at the world's first Starbucks. While I was waiting for my coffee, I wondered if anyone in Seattle has ever boycotted Starbucks under the guise of supporting local coffee shops. I also contemplated the concept of the urban market. Pike's Market probably the second most famous tourist attraction in Seattle. Almost every city in the world has some kind of outdoor food market, but only certain ones have become tourist attractions. Why are some outdoor markets famous the world over and others unknown even to most of the inhabitants of the city in which they are located? The world may never know. When you think about it, a food market is a pretty weird tourist attraction. Who buys fresh produce, fish, and meat when they are on vacation? All of these markets sell enough souveniers, packaged foods, and meals that tourists can find plenty of things to spend their money on. I love visiting markets when I travel, and I even get a kick out of visiting grocery stores when I'm away from home, especially in foreign countries. The strange thing is I never go to the market when I'm at home. I've never lived in a town with a market as famous as the one in Seattle, but I've rarely visited the markets in any of the places where I've lived. Case in point, the Syracuse downtown farmer's market is only a couple of blocks from my office, yet I have never paid it a visit.

We went down to the waterfront after lunch and took a cruise around Elliot Bay. The cruise didn't offer any spectatular views of the bay, but it was very informitive. We cruised over by the port and got to watch a freighter getting processed. The tour guide gave us a quick overview of intermodal shipping, which isn't the kind of thing you usually hear about when you're on vacation, but I found it very interesting, seeing as I'm something of a transportation and shipping geek. As a geek, I was already aware that Seattle is closer to east Asia than any other port city in the continental US, but the tour guide was kind enough to mention it for the rest of the passengers.

After the cruise, we headed back to the market to pick up some salmon. We didn't get to see them throw any fish while we were there, but it was pretty neat to watch them fillet the fish that we bought in about 30 seconds. We took the fish back home and made some delicious sushi and sashimi out of it, which we enjoyed for dinner that night.

On Monday morning, our hosts were kind enough to drop us off at the airport before heading to work. We finally caught a glimpse of Mt. Rainer on the way to the airport. Even with at least half of the peak obscured by clouds, it still looked breathtaking. When we checked in for our flight, the gate agent asked if we would be willing to take a later flight home via Atlanta in exchange for two $400 vouchers since our flight was potentially oversold. This would've meant getting home after midnight instead of 9pm, but for $800, how could we refuse? Having never been in a position to accept denied boarding compensation, I was fairly excited, but in the end, the oversell didn't materialize and we went out on our originally scheduled flight.

Monday, October 24, 2005

What's the Matter with South Carolina?

One of the things that we kept hearing after last year's presidential election was how the fastest growing states (both in terms of economy and population) voted overwhelmingly for Republicans, while most of the stagnant states went to the Democrats. Some pundits see this as a sign that the Republican party will only keep growing in strength, but I have a slightly different take on it, a take that seems to have been validated in South Carolina. If the so-called red states continue to outpace their blue counterparts in economic development, they will continue to draw population from them, which will most likely dilute their Republican majorities. I'm not predicting the South Carolina is going to vote for Hillary in '08, but the influx of blue staters will probably change the kinds of campaigns that candidates of both parties run in South Carolina.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Intelligent Dog Design

Mike Peters, editorial cartoonist and the author of Mother Goose and Grimm, weighed in on the intelligent design debate yesterday.

It's basically a re-hash of the "if intelligent design is true, how do you explain ______ (insert name of stupid person)?" joke/argument. I agree with the Peters' view, but I don't find his latest salvo in the ongoing war between cats and dogs to be all that humorous or insightful.

It did make me think about intelligent design and dogs, however. I'm kind of surprised we haven't heard ID proponents using dogs to explain their "theory". With the exception of humans, domestic dogs are probably the most widely dispersed mammal on the face on the earth. They can be trained to do all kinds of chores that are useful to humans. Dogs, being man's best friend and all, probably understand human emotions better than any other animal. It would be easy to look at all of this and declare that because dogs are such a useful companion for so many people, they must have been designed by an intelligent being.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

B.C. Two-Hander

The Seattle Trip, Part 3

On Saturday, we headed up to Vancouver, B.C. to pay a visit to Michelle's aunt, grandmother, and cousin. We arrived around noontime and met everyone in Richmond, a suburb of Vancouver. Suburb might not be the correct term, because Richmond is actually something of a suburban Chinatown. I've been to a few other suburban Chinatowns before, and they are pretty interesting. They take the look and feel of an urban ethnic neighborhood and apply it to the suburban strip mall. One of Toronto's Chinese suburbs, Markham, even has its own multi-story full-enclosed Asian shopping mall.

We all met up for Dim Sum at Kirin Seafood Restuarant. The Dim Sum experience at Kirin is fairly upscale. They don't have waiters pushing around carts and calling out dishes as they pass each table like a peanut vendor at a baseball game. The decor was definitely several notches above your average Chinese restaurant, with nice tablecloths, carpets, and wood paneled walls. The food was very good, though the selection was somewhat limited, at first. We were told that three of the dishes we ordered: turnip cake, rice porridge, and egg custard, three dishes that I thought were pretty much standard Dim Sum fare, weren't available. In the end, they managed to bring us the egg custard and the rice porridge. The egg custard was delicious and easily the freshest I have ever eaten. It was still warm and soft when it arrived at the table.

After Dim Sum, we all headed to the Capilano Fish Hatchery, located just north of downtown Vancouver in North Vancouver. Vancouver is an amazing city, and I will hopefully get to spend a lot more time wandering around it sometime. Unfortunately, it lacks a north/south freeway, so driving through it takes forever. Still, if you don't have enough time to stop and enjoy Vancouver, at least you can get an idea of what the city has to offer. The southern part of the city has kilometer after kilometer of interesting shops and restaurants along Granville St. As you get closer to downtown, the view of English Bay, high-rise apartment towers, and the mountains to the north overwhelm your view. The compact and lively downtown abruptly turns into Stanley Park, a beautiful and heavily wooded urban park that covers the entire peninsula that sticks out into the bay on the northern edge of Vancouver.

The fish hatchery was interesting. Prior to my visit, I thought a fish hatchery was a place where fish were farmed for human consumption, but that's not really what goes on. Fish hatcheries actually capture fish that are on the verge of spawning (in this case, salmon) and take over for the fish, removing the eggs from the females and fertilizing them with the sperm from the males. They take care of the baby fish until they are ready to go out on their own, then they release them into the river and they swim out and live their lives in the ocean, then come back to the river when its time to spawn. The whole idea behind this is to increase the survival rate of the offspring, thereby increasing the number of adult salmon swimming around in the ocean and eventually, into the stomachs of grizzly bears or sushi connoisseurs.

The highlight of the hatchery visit for me was my new t-shirt. I have developed a strong appreciation of the art of the indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest and I've been looking for a t-shirt that depicts some of their artwork for a while.

After the hatchery, we visited the Capilano Suspension Bridge and Park. This place is basically a tourist trap, but the suspension bridge is pretty neat, though not really worth the price of admission. The bridge is a footbridge that spans the width of the Capilano Canyon. It's no place for those who are afraid of heights, and the bridge sways enough that you almost think that you are taking your life into your own hands as you walk across it, even though it's perfectly safe. The other main attraction was a set of walkways that allow you to walk around the forest 20-30 feet above the ground.

We then headed back to Seattle. Fortunately, the traffic was much lighter going though Vancouver on the way back. On the way into Vancouver, we saw some Toyota Prius taxicabs, which I took as more evidence that Vancouver is a pretty hip and innovative kind of city. On the way back, we saw a Toyoya Prius taxi with rims and a drop-down LCD screen for the passengers. Next time you need to arrive in style in the Vancouver area, look no further than Coquitlam Taxi.

We got back to Seattle around 8pm, had some dinner, and headed back to Fremont for some drinks at a bar called Norm's. Norm's is cool because it's a dog-themed bar, it's smoke-free, and it has some good beers. Of course, almost every bar in the Pacific Northwest has good beers. I enjoyed a Deschutes Brewing Co. Black Butte Porter. One of the unfortunate parts of this trip was it allowed me to taste the beers that I haven't tasted in several years, since it's hard to find a lot of craft beers outside of the area in which they are brewed. Beers like Black Butte and Full Sail Amber Ale had been elevated to ambrosia-like status in my mind, since I remember enjoying them in Oregon six years ago and I haven't tasted them since then. In actuality, they are very good beers, but they didn't overwhelm my taste buds as much as I had hoped. In their defense, I didn't manage to have either one drawn from a tap while I was in Seattle. I've always found that draught beers taste better than bottled beers, providing that the draught is being drawn from a fresh keg.

Java Memory Allocation Myths

IBM developerWorks has a great article about modern JVM memory allocation performance. While early versions of the JVM were notoriously slow, the 1.4.2 HotSpot VM new Object() code path is faster than even the best C malloc implementations. J2SE 6 has support for escape analysis, which is an interesting technique for optimizing memory allocation by detecting objects that can be allocated on the stack or even in registers.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

She's Having a Baby

A woman in Arkansas has just given birth to her 16th child in 18 years. Four of those kids are twins, so that means that she's gone into labor 14 times in the past 18 years, or roughly once every 15 and a half months. If you figure nine months of per pregnancy, it means that she has been pregnant for about ten and a half of the past 18 years. All of the kids have first names that begin with the letter J, just like dear old Dad. The mother is only 39 years old and has gone on the record saying that she'll be willing to accept more pregnancies if the Lord decides that it's in the cards, so she'll probably keep on popping them out until she reaches menopause or her uterus explodes, whichever comes first.

The ironic twist is that Michelle has a co-worker with the same name as the father (different spelling) who absolutely loathes kids.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Wrapped Up

Part of the reason for our recent trip to Seattle was to visit the Salish Lodge and Spa. Our wedding gift from our hosts, Melissa and Brian, was a treatment at this spa, located about thirty miles east of Seattle. This was my first visit to a spa, so I didn't really know what to expect. Upon our arrival, the receptionist showed us to the locker rooms, but didn't really explain what we were supposed to do. In my locker, I found a robe and slippers so I figured that I should change, but I wasn't sure what I was supposed to wear under the robe, if anything. I asked the receptionist, and she told me to wear whatever I was comfortable with. That didn't really answer my question, so I just left my boxers on to be safe.

The treatment started with a foot washing and massage, then we got onto beds covered with a mylar sheet and had mud from the dead sea rubbed all over our bodies. A strategically placed towel kept our private areas under wraps, so the boxers were not actually needed. After getting covered in mud, we were then wrapped up in the mylar and towels and they put on some heat pads to keep us nice and warm. As we basked in our mud cocoons, they gave us a nice scalp massage and washed our hair with some sort of peppermint shampoo. This was probably my favorite part. The peppermint was really strong and I loved the way it made my scalp tingle.

I wish they would have kept us in our cocoons a little longer, because it felt really nice and relaxing. We rinsed off the mud and peppermint shampoo, then got back onto the beds and got full-body massages with hot stones. The stones were pretty neat, though they didn't retain their heat very long.

On the whole, I enjoyed the mud wrap experience, but it's not something that I'll be rushing out to do again anytime soon.

The spa is located at the top of Snoqualmie Falls. As you can see by this photo, the falls are spectacular.

There is a short but steep trail that goes from lodge down to the bottom of the falls, which we hiked after our visit to the spa. The water was rushing over the falls so quickly and forcefully that the cloud of mist that formed where the water hitting the river below made it feel like it was raining at the downwind observation deck that was located above the top of the falls.

I was always amazed by the vegetation you see in the forests of the Pacific Northwest. The ground is covered in ferns and the tall trees have moss growing up their trunks and out onto their branches.

Moss growing up the sides of trees is not all that impressive, I suppose, but it always reminds of the beautiful forests of Pacific Northwest.

We made it down to the bottom of the falls, but the view from the observation deck wasn't so great. Had we climbed off of the boardwalk and down to the river, as we were advised not to do, we would've had a better view, but there was some kind of fashion shoot was going on when we got there. We couldn't really tell what it was for. There were two models, one guy and one girl, but as Michelle noted, they were smiling too much to be real fashion models.

North by Northwest

We took a long weekend and headed out to Seattle last Thursday. I was very excited, I really fell in love with the Pacific Northwest when I spent the summer of '99 in Portland. This was my first visit to the region since leaving Portland, and while I had been to Seattle before, I only spent about a day there.

We stayed with Michelle's sister and her boyfriend, who live in a house in the Wallingford neighborhood, which is a few miles north of downtown. On a clear day, their front yard affords you with views of the Seattle skyline, the Cascade Mountains, and the Olympic Mountains. There aren't too many clear days in Seattle this time of year, but we managed to catch a glimpse of all three during our visit.

On Friday morning, we all headed up the street from breakfast at a place called Julio's. I ordered huevos rancheros, which I found somewhat uninspired, but nourishing. After breakfast, our hosts went to work and we walked down the street to the Gas Works Park.

The gas works was once used by the city to convert coal into natural gas, but is no longer operational. Instead of tearing down all of the machinery, they decided to preserve some of it and turn the land into a park. It gives the park a really cool post-apocalyptic look. The park is located on the shore of Lake Union and offers some great views of downtown Seattle.

From the gas works, we headed over to Fremont, which is supposedly Seattle's funky, ex-hippie neighborhood. It definitely had that kind of vibe going on, though not as much as I would have expected.

They have their own spaceship in Fremont

They also have a troll under a bridge, which is pretty funky

Fremont is also the self-proclaimed center of the universe, in case you weren't aware

It also features a huge statue of Lenin, which is more than the People's Republic of Cambridge can say. Still, I would have expected a town where you will see multiple VW microbusses on the road every day to have a little bit more substantial and eclectic counterculture haven. I didn't notice a single head shop or Marxist bookstore in our walk around Fremont.

Of course, what Fremont lacked in loony left weirdness, it made up for in hospitality. I made a purchase at Jive Time, a small used record store, and the clerk was without a doubt the least-jaded used record store clerk I have ever come across. He actually seemed happy that I wandered into his store and paid $8 for a used copy of a CD that I just noticed is selling for $23.99 at Amazon.

Up next: A visit to the spa.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The Big Least

How bad is Big East football this year? Consider this quote from Bob Snyder's column in yesterday's Post-Standard:
Of seven I-A teams still winless this season, three - UB, Army, Florida Atlantic - have been the foils for 31 percent of the Big East's I-A victories.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood

Acerbic Detroit Free Press sports columnist Drew Sharp does not always make very convincing arguments, but his constant criticism of everyone in the Detroit sports scene, especially the underachieving Lions, proves the old adage about a stopped clock; if you keep doing the same thing over and over, you'll eventually look like you know what you're talking about. He called Charles Rogers out for being indifferent, immature, and a colossal waste of time, money, and a number two draft pick in his column today, just hours before the news of Rogers' four game suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy hit the wire. Charles Rogers has made it clear by his actions on and off the field that he wants to challenge Reggie Rogers for the title of the worst player the Lions have ever drafted whose last name is Rogers.

Yay, Big Guy!

I watched the Michigan-Michigan State football game on Saturday more attentively than most I watch most football games, not necessarily for the game itself, but for the commentary. A couple of weeks ago, I learned about the Brent Musburger Drinking Game, and I found it to be hillarious. Michigan-Michigan State was the first Musburger-announced game I watched since learning the rules of the game, so my ears were on high alert for any number of Musburger-isms. While I was disappointed that I never heard him utter the phrase: "Gary, my man" (though I did hear a "Garry, my friend" - not sure if this counts), I loved the way he called the fumble that MSU's defensive tackle Domata Peko returned for a touchdown. Musburger let out a "Go, big guy!" when Peko crossed the 10 yard line with one man to beat and exclaimed "Yay, big guy!" after Peko hurdled the last Michigan defender into the end zone.

I don't know why I'm mentioning this, other than I found it hillarious at the time and still find it quite amusing. Perhaps Musburger is looking for a second career as a cheerleading coach? Yaaaaaaaaaay Big Guy! I think the lesson for all sportscasters, especially the ones who work on TV, is that when you don't have anything useful to say, it's better to just be quiet and let the pictures on screen do the talking.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Growing Family

We are proud to announce our new car, a 2005 Toyota Prius. We took delivery of the 175 inch, 2890 pound bundle of joy on Friday after work. Mother and the as yet unnamed car are resting and doing fine.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Iconoclastic Title

Without a doubt, the coolest title for any religious leader in the world today is that of His Holiness Bartholomew I, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. He could be thought of as the Pope of the Eastern Orthodox communion, but that analogy may not be entirely apt. I don't know that he has as much power over the church as the Pope. He's probably more like the Archbishop of Canteburry, in that he is the spiritual leader for a group of closely related religions. I did a little more reseach on the Patriach of Constantinople and learned that his full title is actually His Most Divine All-Holiness the Archbishop of Constantinople New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch. I'd like to see his business cards.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Charlie Don't Surf

If your CD collection has a gaping hole between Manfred Mann and Marilyn Manson, your prayers have been answered. ESP Disk, the seminal 1960s record label that cut to wax many of the first recorded statements of free jazz pioneers, has started reissuing their catalog on CD. I didn't know that ESP Disk got into rock and pop music after the original free jazz movement started to fizzle out in the late 60s, so I was surprised to see a reissue from 1974 by none other than Charles Manson. I already knew that Manson is, like many psychopaths, a failed artist, but I never knew anyone ever released any of his music. All royalties from the purchase of Charlie's album go to the son of one of his victims. No word on when any of the tracks from "Lie" will be available on iTunes.

Giant Squid

It was reported a couple of days ago that a team of Japanese scientists have captured a giant squid for the first time (on video, that is). I've been fascinated by the giant squid ever since I saw the remains of a giant squid tentacle on display at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum as a young boy. The squid that was captured on video was a mere 26 feet long, which is small, at least by giant squid standards.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

County Line

I've been listening to an album entitled "Field Recordings from the Cook County Water Table" by Brokeback. It's a cool recording, but that's not why I'm mentioning it. It just dawned on my that the first county that was able to identify, with the exception of the county where I grew up, was Cook County. I'm pretty sure that I learned where Cook Country was located (in Illinois, encompassing all of the city of Chicago and some outlying areas, in case anyone wasn't aware) from an episode of Punky Brewster, but I'm not entirely sure. I seem to remember an episode where Punky had to go to the hospital. Before cutting to a shot of Punky in her hospital bed, they showed some stock footage of a hospital in Chicago that had Cook County somewhere in its name. I don't have any other interesting stories for how I came to learn the names of any other counties. By the time The O.C. began its run, I already knew where Orange County, CA was. Of course, I've never actually watched the show, so it wouldn't have helped me anyway.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

US Error Ways

I' m a bit of an armchair aviation analyst, so here's my unsolicited view on the US Airways/America West merger. US Airways is strong on the east coast and almost nonexistent elsewhere. America West is strong in the southwest and almost nonexistent elsewhere. Unfortunately, I think that the new airline is less than the sum of its parts. Neither airline has a significant presense in the center of the country. Without a hub or focus operation somewhere between Pittsburgh and Phoenix, it's going to be hard to cater to business travelers in a large section of the country, except on routes to their hubs in Philadelphia, Charlotte, Las Vegas, and Phoenix (and possibly, Boston, New York, Pittsburgh, and Ft. Lauderdale, current US Airways focus cities).

This leads me to believe that the new airline is going to focus on point-to-point traffic between key markets and their hubs and focus cities on the east coast and in the southwest. Cherry-picking routes that are popular with business and/or leisure travelers is a technique that all of the low-cost carriers have exploited to some extent. While there are probably still some routes that have the potential to make some good money, most of these routes are already covered by Southwest, jetBlue, AirTran, and even the other legacy carriers. This me-too approach is unlikely to pay dividends for US Airways.

In my opinion, US Airways most valuable asset is not their slots at LaGuardia or Reagan National, it's their east coast feeder system. There are numerous small to medium sized towns from Maine to Florida where US is either the only carrier to the dominant carrier. For the most part, these airports do not fit into the low-cost carrier's business models. US Airways can operate in these towns without having to compete airlines like Southwest, who will drive down prices.

Finally, there is the question of what will happen to US Airways international network. The major carriers have been focusing most of their expansion plans on international routes because they have a better chance at making money on them then in the oversaturated domestic market. US Airways hasn't announced any new international flights or destinations, so I would assume that they are planning on maintaining their current routes. Without acquiring any new equipment, their prospects for overseas expansion are very limited, which will prevent them from getting an additional boost from international expansion.

This isn't the first time US Airways has purchased a low-cost carrier based on the west coast. Back in the late 1980s, US Airways, then known as USAir, purchased California-based Pacific Southwest Airlines in the middle of an acquisition binge. Within a few years, they had dismantled almost all of their west coast network. I don't know if this merger is going to work out any better.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Coffee Talk

Remeber back in the late 90s when a lot of people thought that Starbucks and Bill G. were trying to take over the world? Those days are long gone, of course. Old habits die hard, however. Syracuse is not the hippest town on earth, and if you don't believe me, think about this, downtown Syracuse got its first Starbucks coffee shop a couple of months ago. I visited this store yesterday for the first time. I'm not coffee or caffiene addict, but I like to have a cup of coffee a couple times a week. My coffee shop of choice has always been Freedom of Espresso, a local joint right across the street from the new Starbucks. While I have managed to suppress my Starbucks-hating reflex, I never really considered crossing the street. I took the moral high ground by telling myself that I like the coffee at Freedom better, it's cheaper, etc., but really, I had no idea if any of this was true.

Yesterday's visit to Starbucks pretty much confirmed what I already knew. Their coffee tastes good. Of course, I don't think it's too difficult to make a cup of coffee that tastes good. As long as you're make it strong, don't use any stale ingredients, and don't put in any flavored syrups, it's pretty hard to make a bad tasting cup of coffee. My two complaints are the same that I have about every Starbucks I've ever visited; their "small" size is too big and they serve their coffee too hot. Freedom of Espresso's small size is actually small, and the coffee is not so hot that you have to let it cool down for a few minutes before drinking it. Plus it's cheaper.

While I'm on the topic of coffee, I have to say that while I didn't think Kicking and Screaming was that great of a film, it has two redeeming qualities. The first one is the way it used coffee to symbolize of Phil's [ Will Ferrell ] descent into madness. The second was a better than expected acting performance by Mike Ditka. I still wouldn't pay money to see if (I saw it on a flight), but if you do see it, at least you've got coffee and da coach to look forward to.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Take My Wife, Please

One thing that I've always found mildly annoying is the way people refer to members of their family using phrases like: "my wife", "my brother", "my son", etc. in the presense of people who already know the real names of these people. This seems to happen the most in work environments. I once had a boss who always referred to his wife by her name, but always referred to his children chronologically (my oldest, my youngest, etc.) He had more than two kids though, so it often made things kind of clumsy, i.e. "I was at my second-oldest's soccer game last night..." Now that I'm married, I'm trying not to fall into this habit, but it's hard. I've broken this rule at least once on my blog, though I don't know if I everyone who reads this is on a first name basis with my wife (Michelle). So far, I'm one for two today at work.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Hated Music

Paul Flahetry / Chris Corsano Duo
Metropolis Book Shoppe - North Syracuse, NY
Wednesday, September 21st

The sax and drums duo could be considered the string quartet of free jazz. Like the string quartet, the sax and drums duo focuses on the most important instruments in the genre. I'll admit that I am biased in favor of reed instruments, but I think it's fairly obvious that the saxophone is the most important instrument in free jazz. The sax can really tap into a range of sounds, colors, and emotions that can only be topped by the human voice, in my opinion. Free jazz appeals to listeners on such a visceral level that it only makes sense that the saxophone is its sharpest tool.

Flaherty definitely draws his inspiration from the first generation of free jazz saxophonists. He alternated between the alto and tenor horns tonight. He played both with a big sound and a lot of vibrato, but not a lot of resonance. His notes didn't hang around. He played most of the night at full steam, but showed an impressive amount of lyricsm the few times that he explored more placid sonic terrain.

Corsano's drumming was even more aggressive than Flaherty's playing. He too showed his softer side with some really interesting effects, including a lot of bowed cymbals and something similar to the metal "bowls" that I've seen guys like Tatsuya Nakatani use, which brought some eastern influence into some of the music.

While I enjoyed the show, I wouldn't rate it as one of the better concerts I've ever seen. The free improv sax and drums duo is probably one of the more challenging musical contexts you can work in. If the players are not on the same page, it's going to be pretty obvious. To make matters worse, everyone in the audience is going to be comparing your stuff to the classics of the genre while they listen. These guys put on a great show, but the music was a little bit too one-dimensional and the communication between them wasn't always as strong as it could have been.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Honeymoon('s Over) in Vegas

My wife was out in Las Vegas this weekend. She saw a lot of newly married couples, as one would expect. One of couples that she saw was actually two couples, twin sisters who got married at the same time. She didn't find this incredibly shocking, but I can't stop thinking about it. How do you think that they managed to pull it off? I guess it's possible that it was a big coincidence; twin sisters happened to get engaged at about the same time and decided to get married together. I guess that is possible, but it doesn't seem too likely. I wonder how their husbands (who did not appear to be twins) felt about the whole thing. When the first guy proposed, did his girlfriend accept his proposal but tell him that they were going to have to wait for her sister to fall in love and get engaged before they could start planning their wedding? I guess I will never know, but I wish all four of them the best.

The other newlywed story that she told me involved a couple who, while still in their wedding attire, got into a profanity-laced argument in front of a hotel/casino on the strip. Arguments are part of any healthy relationship, of course, but you would hope that a newly married couple could manage to make it at least a couple of days before dropping f-bombs on each other in public.

I would love to see a study of couples who tie the knot in Vegas and see how their divorce rates compare to couples who get married in more traditional venues. My guess is that it would probably be about the same, but who knows.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Taxpayer Pride

All this talk about the estate tax has made me think that maybe what this country needs is a little bit more taxpayer pride. I'm not joking (entirely), so hear me out. For as long as I can remember, we've been listening to politicians tell us how stupid the government is and how taxes are for suckers. I can't help but think that this has something to do with all of the negative sentiment against the estate tax harbored by people who have little to no chance of ever being affected by it. Americans have shown that they overwhelmingly favor some of the trappings of a welfare state, as long as they don't have to pay for it. Who knows where we would stand if we knew the true cost/benefit breakdown? Maybe some taxpayer pride can help us figure that out.

I remember visiting a friend in Washington, DC several years ago. We visited several of the Smithsonian Museums (or should I say, Smithsonians Museum?). As we were leaving the National Air and Space Museum, I made a quip about our tax dollars at work. In this case, I didn't mean it in the usual pejorative sense. I meant this is a great museum and I'm glad that our some of our tax dollars are used to fund it and all visitors can enjoy it free of charge. My friend, who has no conservative leanings whatsoever, didn't pick up the taxpayer pride that I was exuding and accused me of being a Republican or perhaps something even worse. If dyed-in-the-wool liberals can't appreciate taxpayer pride, I don't know who can. Still, there may be hope. P.J. O'Rourke, America's best (only?) conservative satirist had a good idea during a public radio pledge drive a few years back. He suggested that liberal listeners (and what other kind of public radio listeners are there?) look at their pledge as a tax on intelligence. They are obviously more intelligent than other people because they listen to public radio and they obviously love taxes because they are liberals, so its a win-win situation. Politicians love to appeal to our vanity, and while there are a lot of people who will probably never be receptive to a taxpayer pride message, there are plenty of voting demographic du jours (indoor soccer moms?) waiting to be told how to think about any number of issues.

Eventually, taxpayers are going to have to face the facts. Tax dollars aren't just funding the Cadillacs for welfare moms initiative, 24-hour abortion clinics, and other much-derided social programs. They actually fund some things that a majority of Americans support. I'm not expecting any taxpayer pride to show itself until some of these more acceptable and vital uses or tax dollars are put in jeopardy. Our current economic situation makes it very likely that we're going to be faced with a temporary refund adjustment sometime in the not-too-distant future. When that day comes, we'll see how much taxpayer pride we truly have.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Death and Taxes

I read an op-ed piece written by Bill Gates Sr. and Chuck Collins about the proposed repeal of the estate tax. The debate about the estate tax is very interesting. Pro-estate tax people, like Gates Sr., often cite statistics about how most Americans will never accumulate enough wealth to be subjected to the estate tax. This is true, but I think it's missing the point. The point is, should the government be taxing the estates of the wealthy? Should I manage to amass a significant fortune, I don't plan on leaving my heirs with a big pile of cash so they can sit around and do nothing. I think a lot of people share this sentiment, but I don't know if this is something that the government should try and legislate. Besides, the wealthy can always manage to find ways around the tax code and unless the tax rate is raised to 100%, people with large enough fortunes will still be able to leave significant sums of money to their heirs.

Gates Sr.'s claim that the repeal of the estate tax would cripple our nation's charitable sector strikes me as somewhat alarmist. It may be true that some people donate large sums of money to charities to avoid paying estate taxes, but I think the majority of wealthy donors would donate their money even if there was no estate tax. Gates Sr.'s saves his best point for the end. I agree that there are far too many successful people who say "only in America" out of one side of their mouth while bristling at the suggestion of paying taxes to cover the expenses that it takes to make keep our economic engine running. Which brings me to my final point, I hate debates about taxation. We've gotten to the point where candidates can promise to slash taxes and maintain or increase the level of government services with impunity. I'm no fan of excessive taxation, but it does take money to keep this place running smoothly. In the estate tax debate as with all tax debates, I will that there were more people in the government and in society looking at the big picture so we might be able to reach an informed decision.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Student Athlete

Say what you will about Skip Bayless, but he does make some good points in this piece about Bob Stoops' threat to bench star running back Adrian Peterson for violations of the OU student athlete class attendance policy. I don't really agree with Bayless' argument that the academic success of his players should be of no concern to Stoops or any other football coach, but it is nice to hear someone who is not afraid to call major college football what it really is, a farm system for the NFL.

Personally, I commend Stoops for taking a harder line with his players regarding classroom attendance and enforcing it uniformly. Most of the players on even the top college football teams will never play football professionally. Even college football superstars like Peterson don't always pan out once they reach the big leagues. By flaunting the rules that his coach laid down for the team, Peterson is showing NFL teams that he may be lacking in maturity and/or good judgement. Perhaps this disciplinary action or the threat of it will teach him a valuable lesson.

Bayless seems to imply that Stoops is already on shaky ground with the OU faithful and he should be more worried about his job security than his student athletes. Like any other coach at a football mad school, Stoops could get fired for anything from having a losing season to making the wrong decision about a two-point conversion. If OU cans him for taking academics too seriously, it will only reinforce Bayless' argument and make university presidents look even more hypocritical. I think that a lot of schools realize that coaches who actually care about their players are better in the long run, even if that means they will make decisions that sometimes enrage the faithful.

Thursday, September 15, 2005


Andrew Sullivan linked to this article about Germany's economic woes from today's Guardian. It's an interesting piece, especially when you contrast it with the cover story from the August 18th issue of the Economist, entitled Germany's Surprising Economy. It's not that the two stories totally contradict each other, the Economist is comparing Germany's current economic situation with where it has been over the past five years, while the Guardian is comparing Germany's post-reunification economic situation with the heyday of the Wirtschaftswunder. Both articles do a good job identifying the challenges that the economies of Western Europe, and to a lesser extent, the US are or will soon be facing. The Guardian piece is summed up nicely by a comment from German journalist Arno Widmann:
...the generation of '68 had begun their political careers hating the bourgeois complacency of the old West Germany; then, just when they realised it was one of the nearest things to a workers' paradise the world has ever seen, it was over.

Radio Days

In case you weren't aware, there is a company like AC Nielson that surveys the radio listening habits of Americans. That company, Arbitron, contacted me about a month ago and asked me if I would be interested in participating in the survey. As it turns out, I happen to be a bigger fan of radio than most people under the age of 87, so I was thrilled. They sent me a log book to keep track of everything I listened to on the radio for a week. My week ended yesterday, and I have to say that keeping track of everything you listen to on the radio is a total pain. Heisenberg noted that you can't observe any physical phenomenon without affecting it in some way, and what's true for quantum physics is true for radio surveys.

The biggest problem is that I, like most people, do most of my radio listening in the car. It's very difficult, not to mention dangerous, to try and write down which radio stations you've been listening to while driving, especially if you frequently change the station. I don't tend to do much signal surfing while driving, but I completely abstained from it this past week since it would've been a bookkeeping nightmare. In a couple of cases, I just turned off the radio since I didn't want to have to bother trying to remember what I was listening to and when I listened to it.

Based on the multiple phone calls I received from Arbitron before and during the survey, I have a feeling that they have trouble getting people to complete the surveys. They kept calling me and asking if I had any questions and if they could count on me to finish my survey and send it back to them in a timely manner.