Thursday, January 31, 2008

Eye of the Tiger

Against the advice of this blog, Michelle looked into a laser with one of her remaining eyes today. Fortunately, the laser she looked into was a excimer laser guided by the able hands of surgeon. In other words, she underwent Lasik eye surgery today, and so far, the results are pretty impressive. Even after coming out of surgery doped up on valium and with only one eye corrected (she'll get the other one zapped next week), she was able to see things that she never could have seen without her corrective lenses. We're still unsure exactly how many strokes the surgery is going to take off of her handicap.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Bad Dogs

Deadspin linked to this series of articles in the Seattle Times detailing the litany of felonies committed by the 2000 UW football team. Normally, I wouldn't read a four part series about anything that goes on at the University of Washington, but this is the team that trounced my alma matter in the 2001 Rose Bowl in front of my very eyes, so I figured I'd check it out. I thought I was cynical enough that another story about athletes behaving badly and getting special treatment from the authorities wouldn't surprise me, but these stories are something else. I don't know if I should feel worse that Purdue lost to these reprobates, or if I can at least take some pride in the fact that Purdue didn't have to stoop to such a low level to make it to the Rose Bowl (at least, until the West Lafayette Journal and Courier uncovers evidence that Drew Brees killed a hooker in his dorm room).

I must say that although at least some of the UW players were severely lacking in class and basic human decency, it didn't seem to extend to their fans. I traveled to and from the Rose Bowl that year from my base camp in Long Beach using only my legs and southern California public transit, believe it or not. I was riding a long-distance city bus from Pasadena into downtown LA after the game and it was one of most pleasant bus rides I've ever had. Most of the people on the bus were Purdue and UW fans coming back from the game, but the mood was very civil. I wound up chatting with some UW fans who were sitting near me. Meanwhile, the driver was giving everyone a free tour of LA, pointing out which movies were filmed in front of various sites as we made our way towards downtown.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Pleading the Fifth

Obsessive readers of this blog will remember the dream I had a few years ago where I found myself the newest justice on the United State Supreme Court. Jurisprudence was apparently on my mind last night again, as I dreamt that I was at a grocery store where the Governor of Rhode Island happened to be holding a public bill signing ceremony. I stuck around to watch, but before the ceremony started, a number of people got up and gave speeches. The first speaker began his speech by asking if anyone in the crowd could name the first five amendments in the Bill of Rights. The crowd went silent, until a guy in the crowd chimed in with the first two, said something plausible for the third (I had to look that one up while writing this post and apparently, my subconscious mind had forgotten it too), skipped the fourth, and then said that the fifth amendment gives Americans the right to deal arms. No one corrected him on this statement, but I thought about it some more after I woke up, and there is some logic to his statement. If the government suspects you of dealing arms illegally but they have no evidence against you, they can't compel you to testify against yourself, so in a way, the fifth amendment does give you the right to be an illegal arms dealer, as long as you don't get caught.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Hitchhiker's Guide to Social Networking

I've had hitchhiking on my mind recently. The protagonist in Into the Wild, the book I just finished reading, hitched his way across the country. I talked to some guys at the last Providence Geeks meeting who built software for managing point-to-point transportation networks. Their software wasn't designed for hitchhiking, of course, but it dawned on me that ride sharing is a possible application for online social networks. I'm not all that familiar with online social networking, so it's possible that people are already using it to share rides. I don't think the technology is quite ready, since if you really wanted to approximate hitchhiking on an online social network, you'd need a critical mass of users who are accessing the network from portable, GPS-enabled devices, and I don't think that such devices are common enough these days. Even if that was a reality, I'm not sure how willing people would be to offer rides to or accept rides from virtual friends, never mind virtual friends of virtual friends.

One of the things that fascinates me about hitchhiking is how it seems to have gone from an fairly common activity to something that few people would ever consider doing almost overnight. At least, that's my impression of it. My impression is probably not entirely correct, hitchhiking probably wasn't all that popular prior to it becoming unthinkable (my best guess is that this inflection occurred between 30 and 40 years ago) and it's probably more common today than I think it is. Still, I wouldn't be surprised if a confluence of factors including, but not limited to, pervasive online social networking, rising energy prices, concerns about pollution, and traffic congestion leads to a greater number of people sharing rides in the not-too-distant future.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Road to the Superbowl

January 26, 2008 | 12:50 pm | Providence, RI

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Wealth of Nations

The guest on Wednesday's Daily Show episode that I commented on yesterday was satirist P.J. O'Rourke. He was talking about his new book, On the Wealth of Nations, which is part of a series called books that changed the world. The series features well-known authors who read famous books and then write about them. As you can probably guess, the famous book that O'Rourke wrote about was Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations. I picked up The Wealth of Nations a couple months ago, but I was unable to get very far. The first problem was the edition that I picked up (Penguin Classics) had a 82 page introduction. No one who feels the need to write an 82 page introduction to any book (Andrew Skinner, in this case) should be in the business of writing introductions. I tried to slog my way through the intro because I was worried that I might find Smith's 230+ year old prose a little bit obtuse, but the actual book is an absolute page turner compared to the intro. Once I started getting into the book and the sheer joy of not trying to read my way through the introduction wore off, it began to get a little bit dry and pedantic, so I decided to cut my losses after about 60 pages. I don't know if I'll be reading O'Rourke's book, but it I don't see myself picking up The Wealth of Nations again anytime soon.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Cool as Ice

The whole "Ugly American" stereotype is unfortunate. It's unfortunate that a lot of people, particularly those in power, often live up to its worst expectations. It's also unfortunate that people in other countries use it as a basis for reflexive anti-American sentiment. For Americans with an ironic sense of humor, however, it can be a comedy goldmine. Check out this clip from last night's Daily Show for a case in point. I nearly lost it when Jason Jones changed the channel on the TV and it went to the Swedish Chef. The rest of the world is so much more familiar with America than we are with the rest of the world that I don't think it would be possible to make jokes like that in other countries.

On a similar note, I'm curious as to whether or not The Daily Show is popular in foreign countries. I visited the booth of an Australian software company at a software development conference that I attended last year. They had created a number of sample users for the application that they were demonstrating, and all of the sample users were past or present Daily Show correspondents. I thought about asking the developer if there were a lot of Daily Show fans in the land down under, but I forgot to. I could kind of see how it might have a loyal following in other English speaking countries, but I can't imagine a similar kind of show from Australia would have any success in the US.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Dutch Master

The Blueprint Project with Han Bennink
AS220 - Providence, RI
Tuesday, January 22nd

I was excited to learn that the legendary Dutch free jazz drummer Han Bennink was coming to town. I've gotten so used to not seeing much decent live music that I had nearly forgotten what it was like to so be excited for a concert. I had never seen Bennink play live before, and as I soon realized, I only have a couple of recordings that even feature his playing (Peter Bröztmann's Machine Gun and Alexander von Schilppenbach's The Living Music). Both of these records are nearly 40 years old, and while I'm sure I've heard examples of his modern work, nothing really sticks out in my mind.

Bennink was playing with a Boston-based group called The Blueprint Project that featured Jared Sims on reeds, Eric Hofbauer on guitar, and Tyson Rogers on keys. I had never heard of this band and wasn't familiar with any of its members. I felt that this group was at its best when it was playing relatively straight ahead. While I'm definitely more a fan of free playing, I didn't feel like they played as well free as they did in a more structured context.

It was hard to get a good read on Bennink's playing most of the night. Since the band played most of their numbers relatively straight, Bennink didn't have that much of an opportunity to really stretch out. He took a number of solos, all of which were pretty amazing. I was very impressed with the lyricism of his solo playing. I was also impressed with the way he was able to jump from loud to soft and/or free to swinging in an instant. His drumming is still as powerful as it was 40 years ago and he looks like he could have played all night.

I've always thought of Bennink as a "special effects" kind of drummer, a drummer who will bang together any two objects that might be able to make an interesting noise. Supposedly, he once set fire to his hi-hat on stage. There were no fires in this show, and other than splitting some drum sticks and playing with his feet a little bit, it was a pretty conventional performance. It was much more of a straight ahead performance than I had expected, but it was still a great joy to see Bennink play live.

The rest of the band put on a pretty good show as well. It wasn't an amazing show, but it wasn't bad either. One of my favorites tunes of the evening was a tribute to Herbie Nichols (called, surprisingly enough, Herbie Nichols). They played a really energetic Afro-Caribbean sounding number towards the end of the second set that really got the crowd going and included one of Bennink's best solos of the night. I was sure that they were going out on that note, until they went into another song. They definitely should have called it a night after that piece since there was nowhere to go from there, but all in all, it was a good show.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Whitest. Candidate. Ever.

I haven't said anything about the 2008 election yet, but after seeing this clip (courtesy of The Dose), I can no longer remain silent. It's a video of a Mitt Romney photo-op in Jacksonville where he, in an attempt to relate to the black urban youth of America, drops some lyrics from "Who Let the Dogs Out". Romney was definitely kicking it old school, since the oldest kids in the video couldn't have been more than 10 years old when the Baha Men were enjoying their 15 minutes of fame. Not to mention that I have serious doubts as to whether "Who Let the Dogs Out" was ever a very popular tune in the inner cities of America. In all seriousness though, it is mildly refreshing to see a Republican addressing a predominantly black audience.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Into the Wild

I finished reading Into the Wild today. It was a quick read and while it didn't shake me as much as Into Thin Air (also by Jon Krakauer), it was still a very moving story. Into the Wild is the story of Chis McCandless, a young man who turns his back on his family, friends, and society to live simple, nomadic life. His travels take him across the Western United States and finally, into the Alaskan interior, where he meets his demise. While I didn't necessarily identify with McCandless, I felt like I understood enough about where he was coming from and I think that most men (and perhaps most women) will find at least a few things in McCandless' story that will remind them of themselves at a certain age. I certainly shared his fascination with the American West and I too made my own solo trek across the country, albeit in a much more conventional manner. While I never sought out the ascetic lifestyle that he cultivated, I managed to approximate it on several occasions when my frequent moves between work, home, and school made the accumulation of basic home furnishings more trouble than it was worth.

I think that the book is a good read regardless of where you stand on McCandless' lifestyle, beliefs, or how you feel about his aptitude as an outdoorsman. I get upset by people who write angry letters to the editor after a publication does a feature about someone who has either gotten in trouble due to a string of bad decisions or has recently straightened their life back out after a string of bad choices. You have to have an astonishingly simple mind to believe that any writer who fails to condemn a man who has made some obviously bad choices is tacitly endorsing those choices. Furthermore, as Krakauer points out in the book, people take unreasonable risks all of the time, especially out in Alaska. It's only the ones who have the misfortune of dying that face the scrutiny of the public.

If you're illiterate or reading just isn't your thing, a film adaptation of the book came out last year. I haven't seen it yet, but it sounds like it came out pretty well.

Sunday, January 20, 2008


We watched Zodiac last night. I happen to be a big fan of true crime stories, period dramas, and the city of San Francisco, so I knew that I was going to enjoy this film even if it wasn't all that good. Since I've already disclosed my biases, I'll rely on Michelle's surprisingly positive assessment of the movie to confirm that it is, in fact, a great film. If I have anything bad to say about the movie, it's that I found all of the main characters so likable. All true crime dramas have a fairly obvious villain, but I felt that there was an unrealistic lack of tension between the "good guys", which made it hard to play favorites. Of course, it's possible that this was a realistic portrayal of the three main characters.

Robert Graysmith (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) is a political cartoonist who becomes obsessed with trying to find the killer. Graysmith is bookish and socially awkward and appears at first much too naive to be a political cartoonist, but his intelligence and earnestness prove to be valuable assets as he investigates the killings. Robert Downey Jr. plays Paul Avery, a crime reporter at the same newspaper as Greysmith who is as cynical and flamboyant as Greysmith is earnest and austere. The two men, however, form an unlikely bond over their search for the killer. The third character is David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo), the San Francisco homicide detective who is investigating the case. He frequently crosses swords with Avery and Graysmith during the investigation, but the dust always settles pretty quickly.

The movie made me think about how the phenomenon of serial killing is a creation of mass media. Serial killers have probably been around forever, but without mass media to spread the news of their exploits, they don't really exist in the minds of the populace. It also made me think about how no serial killers that I know of have used new media to publicize themselves. A modern zodiac killer could have posted his ciphers to the internet directly instead of sending them to newspapers. All of this makes me think that our notion of how serial killers operate may be somewhat obsolete. In a world of blogging, camera phones, DNA forensics, and 24 hour news, can a killer really commit a string of murders while taunting the public with a string of threats, clues, and missives without getting captured fairly quickly?

The soundtrack was unremarkable, except for the opening scene which employed Donovan's Hurdy Gurdy Man in a way that will change forever the way I hear that song.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Get Out of Jail Free

They sent us home from work this afternoon due to this. Pretty freaky, and it could have been even more so had the projectile landed on a pedestrian or motorist. It hit the roof almost directly above me, and that was a little too close for my tastes, thank you very much. Note to self: Don't hire Cumberland Piping for next home improvement project.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

More Great Moments in Blog Commenting History

When I saw that MDS wrote a post about the 20th anniversary of Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder's moronic statements about black athletes, I knew that some top-notch comments were going to come in. This post didn't generate the flood of comments that other posts that mention race, religion, or Heismann trophy voting have generated, but it did produce some comments that made Snyder's remarks look rational by comparison. You can check out the comments on the post if you want to get a better idea of the kind of bigotry and ignorance a post like this one attracts (warning: reading the comments may hurt your brain). Just as there are people who are quick to level the charge of racism against anyone who brings up the subject of race, there seems to be another group of people who are just as quick to dismiss any charges of racism regardless of how obviously racist the statements are. In general, intelligent discourse on anonymous blogs and message boards is the exception, not the rule, but even by those very low standards, the comments on this post were pretty bad.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A Streetcar Named Conspiracy

I was talking to a guy at tonight's Providence Geeks dinner who mentioned that he had pitched a project to General Motors a few years back that involved GM getting into the trolley business. The idea was that it would be a way for GM to show how innovative they are and how they can adapt and react to the changing world around them. Needless to say, GM didn't buy into this plan, but the person I was talking to said something that really caught my attention. He said that GM, in conjunction with Firestone and the Greyhound bus company, conspired to dismantle America's system of electric streetcars starting in the 1920s by buying the companies that operated streetcar lines, tearing up the tracks, and replacing them with dirty, unreliable bus service. This sounded a bit conspiracy-theoryish to me, so I did a little research when I got home. There's a fair number of lefty & environmentalists websites promoting this theory. Most of them seem to get their information from a PBS documentary from 1996 entitled Taken for a Ride.

I'd like to watch the documentary, but I'm fairly skeptical about the premise. For starters, streetcars really aren't a particularly great form of intra-city transportation. Boston still has several streetcar lines linked into its public transit system and everyone I've ever met who had to rely on one of those lines to get around town has had nothing but awful things to say about them. A streetcar is little more than a bus with a dedicated lane. There's no doubt that the arrival of affordable, mass-produced automobiles decreased American's desires to use public transit. We can debate whether or not that's a good thing, but it hardly represents a conspiracy. The most damning evidence I was able to find to counter this thesis comes from Cecil Adams.

While doing my crack online research, I also learned that the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit draws on this conspiracy theory. I saw the movie when it came out 20 years ago, but I had forgotten that part of the the story involved an unscrupulous highway company buying out a streetcar operator. I'm not surprised that I didn't pick up on this subplot as an 11 year old. Perhaps I should watch the movie again and see if there's anything else I missed.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Demetrius Ypsilanti

We've recently started playing pub quiz on Tuesday nights Ri Ra. There was a question about Michigan tonight, perhaps in honor of Michigan's presidential primary. The question was which Michigan city is named after a hero from Greece's war for independence against the Turks. We didn't get it, unfortunately. The answer, of course, is Ypsilanti, named for Demetrius Ypsilanti, which incidentally is one of the coolest names I've ever heard. I'm somewhat ashamed to admit that we guessed Okemos, since it sounds kind of like a Greek name (it's actually Native American). I'm also ashamed to admit that I translated Turks into Trojans while thinking about the question, since I assume that all trivia about Greece refers to ancient Greece, so I wasn't even thinking in the right time period.

Monday, January 14, 2008


I finally got around to viewing the latest installment of the never-ending saga of teenage outcasts trying to score at the last big party before the end of high school, also known as last summer's box office hit Superbad. There's a lot to like about it. For one, it features Michael Cera playing essentially the same character that he did in Arrested Development. I don't know if he's being typecast, but even if he is, I think it will still be a while before I'm sick of George Michael Bluth. Like all of Judd Apatow's work, there's some great dialog. A good rule of thumb that I have for measuring the quality of dialog-driven comedy is the number of scenes where characters are having a conversation about something that I've never heard anyone discuss before but as soon the conversation starts, I want to jump into the scene and start discussing it with them. Great dialog-drive humor is constructed out of observations that seem incorrect or ridiculous at first glance but unearth a truth about some part of human existence, preferably in the most juvenile or profane way possible. I can't think of any great examples of this technique from Superbad off the top of my head. I would like to memorize the monologue that Jonah Hill's character rattles off to his home ec teacher in the beginning of the movie and try it out at a local open mic night, however.

Hill had some great lines and pulled off some good physical comedy, but I thought his character was a just a bit to manic. That's a fairly minor detail, but the thing that really bothered me about the movie was how much time was devoted to the police officers and McLovin subplot. The concept was excellent but it wound up being a distraction after a while. It didn't help that the cops were completely nuts from the start. The movie mined most of the humor out of their unorthodox approach to law enforcement early, so it wasn't too hard to be shocked as they upped the ante as the night went on. If you can only see one of Apatow's films from last summer, I'd recommend Knocked Up, but either one will easily satisfy any juvenile humor fix you might be craving.

Sunday, January 13, 2008


I've been using OpenOffice for a number of years to handle what little MS Word and Excel document editing and creation I've had to do at home. I installed it when I switched to Mac just over a year ago, and while the applications work fine, they aren't native Mac applications so they don't have the standard Mac OS look & feel and don't work with standard Mac OS keyboard shortcuts. I recently heard rumors that OpenOffice had finally been ported to Mac OS, but I found no evidence of this on OpenOffice's somewhat confusing website. I did, however, find another open source project called NeoOffice that delivers on this promise. I've been using NeoOffice for a month or so. I'm by no means an MS Office power user, but NeoOffice has done everything I've needed it to do and it's so much nicer to use than OpenOffice since it feels like a native Mac application. If you're a Mac user whose frustrated with the current selection of commercially available office suites, you should check it out.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Boredoms

I've always thought that Japanese experimental music might be a good fit for my musical tastes, but I've never really been able to get into it. Japan's a pretty weird place, and their experimental musicians tend to be even weirder. I heard some really cool stuff from a band out of Osaka called The Boredoms last night on WRIU. It was a 20+ minute long jam called Seadrum that featured a lot of throat singing on top of droning jazz/rock beat. It was so cool that I altered my route home so I could hear the end of the song. They're on the Warner Music label in Japan, so I don't know if this can really be considered Japanese experimental music, but their #2 myspace friend is Sun Ra, so that definitely gives them some good experimental music virtual street cred.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Top of the World

As you have probably heard, Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to successfully summit Mt. Everest, had passed away. Anyone care to make a wager on who the subject of next week's Economist obituary is going to be? You can read some remembrances of the man here and here,. I never really gave Hillary or Everest much thought until a couple months ago, when I read Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer. The book is a first person account of a 1996 Mt. Everest expedition that went horribly wrong and resulted in the deaths of eight of the climbers. The story really got to me in a way that few stories ever have. I'm still not really sure why. It's easy to get drawn into any well-written story, but there's more to it than just that. It also changed my perception of Mt. Everest. Before reading the book, I was of the opinion that while Hillary's ascent of the mountain was an incredible feat, nowadays, anyone with enough money and time on their hands could hire enough Sherpas and guides to get them to the top and back down again. While it's true that people who probably have no business climbing Everest are able to reach the top with the help of the guides and outfitters who lead expeditions to the top each year, they are still putting their lives at risk with every step they take at high altitude and as the book clearly illustrates, only a few things have to go wrong before a "leisurely" hike to the summit becomes a disaster. I'd say that the book has convinced me that climbing Mt. Everest isn't worth the risk, but I never really had any desire to climb it or any other stupendously tall mountain before reading it. Still, I can't help but admire the people like Hillary who threw caution to the wind and climbed to the top of the world.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Death of a Salaryman

At the rate I've been going, I should probably rename this blog "I read the Economist so you don't have to", but I couldn't resist sharing this tidbit from last week's article about the demise of the Japanese salaryman. I always knew that Japanese male office workers were expected to sacrifice their free time, families, ambition, and what little individuality Japanese society tolerates in exchange for a job and pension for life, but I had no idea how firmly entrenched this system was in Japan. According to the article, Japanese firms own resort properties across Japan where their employees receive generous discounts in an attempt to encourage them to spend what little vacation they actually take at the company resorts.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Good Old Smithy

I can't believe I missed this while writing my ode to Economist obituaries a couple days ago. Ian Smith, the former Prime Minister of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), passed away at the end of November. In case you've never heard of him, he was most famous (or infamous) for declaring independence from the crown in 1965 and turning his nation into a pariah state in an attempt to maintain white minority rule. I knew that Smith was getting up there in years and I was positive that he'd be memorialized in Economist upon his passing. I was correct, and his obituary is a masterpiece. Smith was one of the last remaining vestiges of the old British Empire, and his obituary pays homage to that while still condemning his misrule.

The obituary does not delve into speculation, nor should it, but it is interesting to think about how Zimbabwe would be today had it dismantled its de facto apartheid regime in 1965 as Britain wanted instead of waging a disastrous war in defense of a lost cause. Would it be like today's South Africa but with a one generation head start on democracy and racial and tribal reconciliation? Would it still be the basket case that it is today? The history of governance in post-colonial Africa is bleak enough that it's foolish to assume that Zimbabwe would definitely be in better shape today had Smith been willing to dismantle minority rule, but at the same time, it's hard to imagine how Zimbabwe could be in worse shape than it is today.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Bowling (for) Green

As I've mentioned before, I enter a friendly little college football bowl game betting pool every year. In my best finish in about 10 years, I managed to place third this year. I finished with an overall record of 26-6. I lost a 6 on UCLA and a 5 on Connecticut, two of my upset picks. My other four loses were on some relatively heavy favorites, a 28 on Boise State, a 16 on South Florida, a 26 on Florida and an 18 on Oklahoma. Still, that was good enough for 429 points overall, which actually put me in tie for second place that I lost due to the tiebreaker. I drastically underestimated the total number of points scored in the Rose Bowl. I actually computer my tiebreaker incorrectly, which I realized shortly after submitting my bracket. I thought that it was supposed to be the total points scored in the BCS championship game, not the Rose Bowl. As it turns out, my number (48) was way off the final scores of both games. Still, I think I would have put in a higher number had I read the instructions correctly. I figured it wouldn't matter since it had been so long since I finished in the money and I put very little effort into my picks this year that I was sure they couldn't be very good.

I'd spent the past few years trying to create some kind of formula that I could use to easily and accurately predict the outcomes of the bowl games. This year, I decided that I didn't want to put much effort into my picks, so I just went through the list of games and picked which team I thought would win based on my gut feeling. I then took that list and compared it to the current betting lines and adjusted some of my upset picks based on what the oddsmakers and ESPN had to say. I then put each pick into one of four groups based on my confidence and divided up the numbers. It probably took me an hour start to finish. I'll try the same thing next year and probably finish nowhere near the top 10, but for now, I can say it's a winning strategy.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Bug Off

Open source software is a concept that people have start getting familiar with over the past few years. Open source hardware is admittedly a more difficult proposition, but I've recently come across a couple of groups that are doing things with computer hardware that captures the spirit of open source software. The first is a local company called Modern Device Company, the brainchild of a RISD professor. They provide a simple and cheap microcontroller and development environment. I was unable to attend the recent Providence Geeks dinner where this technology was demoed, so I don't know much more about it. There's a short interview with the creator here as well as some links to related projects.

I read about a start-up called Bug Labs in the latest issue of Technology Review. They are doing a very similar thing, albeit in a more polished (and expensive) form. Their vision is a world where people are free to create their own purpose-built high-tech gadgets by stacking together a set of components and wiring them up using their software tools or by writing their own code.

It's all pretty interesting stuff. I don't have any insights to offer into what the first open source hardware killer app might by, but I think that this is something that is going to get bigger and I wouldn't be surprised if some forward-thinking gadget manufacturers start releasing versions of their products over the next few years that allow for end-user customization via a mixture of open source hardware and software components.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

On Thin Ice

We went ice skating in Newport last night. It's been a couple years since I've last skated. It's good exercise and a fun time for a little while. After a half hour or so, skating around in circles get kind of boring. I think ice skating would be an ideal form of short-distance personal winter transportation, however. I'd definitely venture outside in the cold more often if I could glide to my destination. I believe that this was a fairly common practice in Amsterdam at some point in the past, but I'm not sure how common it is today. Perhaps I should go check it out.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Economist Obit Interview

Sorry to keep talking about the Economist, but I heard this piece on the radio yesterday morning and couldn't resist passing it along. It's an interview with Ann Wroe, the Economist's current obituary writer. It can be a real challenge to read an entire issue of the Economist cover-to-cover each week, but I always make sure I at least flip to the back and read the obituary. I find the form and subjects of the Economist's obits much more compelling than obituaries in other publications. They are long, at least by obituary standards, and they always manage to profile people who lived profoundly interesting lives. This week's subject is obviously Benazir Bhutto, but in weeks where no one's death is at the top of international headlines, they usually manage to find people who, to reuse a compliment from the world of art, were much more influential than well-known. Often times, I've either never heard of the person they are remembering or I have heard of the person but had no idea that he or she had passed away. Aviation pioneer Freddie Laker and avant garde composer Karlheinz Stockhausen are two relatively recent examples of the latter. The Economist's obituary page is neither afraid to talk about the flaws of those who have passed away, nor is it afraid to eulogize people whose passing has probably made the world a better place. Non-subscribers can read the past year's worth of obits for free online. Check it out sometime.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Chairman Bill

Last week's issue of the Economist featured a picture of Chairman Mao in a santa hat on its cover. Last week's issue of Sports Illustrated featured a picture of Bill Belichick in a santa hat on its cover. Coincidence?

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Crossing the Bridge

December 26, 2007 | 4:46 pm | Detroit, MI (from level 5 of the MGM Grand Casino parking garage)

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Mall Rats

The Economist's year-end issue has an interesting story about the history (and future) of shopping malls in America. I don't know if I agree with their assessment that the film Mallrats was a seminal testament to America's growing angst towards indoor shopping centers, but it's a good read nonetheless. According to the story, none of the scheduled new shopping center construction in the US in 2008 includes an indoor mall. I don't know if this has more to do with the uncertain economic outlook or American's distaste for enclosed shopping malls, but it's a surprising statistic either way.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

The Year of Living Simply

I'm not big on New Year's resolutions. I usually make a couple generic ones, like exercise more or read more books. I never really give much though to how I might achieve my goals and often don't even write them down or tell anyone else about them, so it should come as no surprise that I don't really make good on my resolutions. Things were looking the same this year until I stumbled upon what I think is a good resolution. My resolution is to simplify. I tend to make a lot of things more difficult than they need to be and I'm also reluctant to invest any time in learning how to use things more efficiently. For example, most people would balk at having to use 10 keystrokes to save a file in a word processing program and search out some kind of shortcut. I would probably use the 10 keystroke method (while cursing it) for months before investing a couple of minutes to try and find a new way. My goal is to identify situations where I am wasting effort and see if I can find an easy way to make things easier. My first success came yesterday, when I finally decided to unsubscribe from all of the stupid e-mail lists that I've landed on by virtue of purchasing goods and services online. Instead of just deleting these unwanted e-mails, I spend the extra 30 seconds to click on the unsubscribe link. My biggest regrets at the end of each year are always the things that I never managed to get around to. By simplifying mundane, everyday tasks where possible, I should have more time and energy to devote to the things I really want to do.