Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Reverend Wright Persists in Aiming at Obama's Foot

I am amazed that Reverend Wright keeps on opening his mouth and making trouble for Barack Obama.

As Gene Robinson says, Rev. Wright is an egomaniac. It makes me cringe when I hear him speak. I heard parts of his talk at National Press Club live on C-Span yesterday and he drove me crazy. He is a particular flavor of black preacher who uses flowery words and pithy metaphors to say things that are not logically consistent. It's like listening to an uneducated athlete talking to reporters. It seems that every argument either uses faulty logic or has wrong assumptions and it makes me cringe.

It really saddens me that his second 15 minutes of fame are going to have the effect of making Obama scary to many people.

Soundtrack: Brian Eno (Another Green World), Propellerheads (Decks and Drums and Rock and Roll)

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Vivid Pictures of Information

The Washington Post had an article in the Sunday paper that really did a nice job of laying out some of causes of the current world food crisis. It had an illustration that really works for me:

The Global Grain Trade: The Haves and Have-nots

This image makes it easy to see where the food supply problems are.

Another nice piece is this little interactive about Reasons for Rising Food Prices. It's nice when there is lots of blame to go around.

Note: these pieces aren't as affective as Charles Joseph Minard's graphic of Napoleon's Russian campaign, but they are pretty nice. Minard's illustration is a cold, futile journey across Europe. Just looking at it makes me cold and tired.

Visual designers who use really good information architecture can create graphics that do more than present information. They can tell compelling stories that help us all understand situations or events.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Music Monday: Caravan

Most people are fans of particular groups or of particular genres. I, too have my favorites in these areas, but I also have a favorite song. Not a favorite version of a song, but a song for which I seek out various artists' interpretations. I have bought a few albums simply because the artist does this song.

My favorite song is Caravan, which was composed by Juan Tizol and Duke Ellington. Here is a sampling of Caravan renditions:

Wynton Marsalis (jazz quartet):

11 String Duo (two guitars):

Michel Petrucciani (Solo piano):

And finally, if this version by The Bryan Setzer Orchestra doesn't get you moving, you just might be dead:

It's a real testament to the song that it works so well in so many different modes. The first version I remember is by Wes Montgomery, but I didn't know he was the artist, so when I went looking for it years later, I found various versions of my favorite jazz standard.

Other versions of note:
Love that tune!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Web Stuff Friday: Artists I Know

I work with several really fine artists. Here is a selection of some of their websites (in alpha order by artist's last name):

Dan Boris ( is a Visual Designer with whom I started working at MindQ about 11 years ago, but is now at K12. He used to be a world class speed skater who worked out with Dan Jansen and other Olympic skaters. He created the pimp icon I use for AIM.

Mishka Jaeger ( is a Visual Designer who has worked with me on math stuff for years. She does a lovely holiday card every year. Some day, she will illustrate a kid's book I write about a famous mathematician.

John Moffitt (Moffitt Studios) is an Information Architect who happens to be an artist. He used to live on Liberty Island, so the Statue of Liberty stuff is particularly cool.

Dan Perkins (gdbdp) is a Flash Developer with a great artistic eye. I really like his site.

Tim Saguinson (Rice Cooker Studios) in an Art Director who has done some neat stuff at K12, but also has a comic he draws on the side.

Jason Wolff (wolff illustration) is a Visual Designer and a car nut who always has fun cars. He has illustrated several children's books.

Chris Yates (cmykompany) is an uber-hip Print Designer who has done some really cool work on our textbooks.

Working with artists is really great and I have been lucky enough to work with some tremendous ones. There are others here at work for whom I could not find websites, but if I find more I will post them.

Video Nugget (inspired by today's soundtrack):

Soundtrack: The Beatles (Abbey Road), Various Artists (Pi Soundtrack)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

NC GOP Obama Ad

The North Carolina Republican Party is planning to run an ad that links Obama's Reverend Wright's stupid, inflamatory remarks to Democratic gubernatorial candidates.

McCain Asks NC GOP to Pull Ad Attacking Obama is an NPR article on the controversy. It includes an interview with the NC GOP party head, who claims that this is about the First Amendment and about the judgment of the Democratic candidates.

It's crap. They are trying to make it about race. Pure and simple. They want to get their NASCAR fan constituency out to the polls and the visual of Rev. Wright will get the job done. The idea that this is about judgment just doesn't pass the laugh test.

This is the type of thing that keeps me from wanting to live in (or even visit) the south.

Soundtrack: NRBQ (At Yankee Stadium), Bruce Springsteen (Born to Run)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

My Best-of-Craigslist Favorites, Volume 1

Best-of-craigslist is really great stuff. I check in with it periodically, and am rarely disappointed.
Note that several best-of entries are really, really raunchy. As long as you have a high raunch threshold, you should be OK. None of the links above are particularly raunchy (except for parts of the last one), but if you start looking at other entries, get ready for some nasty stuff.

best-of-craigslist provides me with a window into other places/views/lives that is really enjoyable. It's not always funny, but it's usually interesting. As a child of the suburbs, I need all the help broadening my horizons that I can get.

Soundtrack: Matisyahu (Live at Stubbs), Various Artists (Just Say Da)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Jimmy The Greek and Herschel Walker

Herschel Walker has admitted that he has multiple personalities. Seeing him in the news made me think about Jimmy the Greek and the mess he got himself into back in 1988. Jonathan Rowe's 1988 article from Washington Monthly about the Jimmy the Greek controversy is pretty interesting.

There were two parts to Jimmy's comments. The part that seemed to get the biggest attention at the time was his comments about black people's thighs:
The black is a better athlete to begin with because he's been bred to be that way -- because of his high thighs and big thighs that goes up into his back, and they can jump higher and run faster because of their bigger thighs. This goes back all the way to the Civil War when during the slave trading, the owner -- the slave owner would breed his big black to his big woman so that he could have a big black kid.
This comment really got Jimmy into hot water. Frankly, I'm sure slave owners tried to breed stronger slaves, but in so few generations, it's hard to imagine that they were able to make a change that is reflected in such dominance by black athletes. I'm not contesting that folks tried to breed strength, nor am I doubting a physiological advantage, but I'm doubting the connection Jimmy suggested.

The other side of Jimmy's ramble was a bit more interesting to me. Here is a video of his second comment. The idea that whites were holding on to coaching jobs because that was all they had in sports is an interesting conspiracy theory.

Why did Herschel Walker make me think about this? He was an amazing physical specimen who was arguably the greatest NCAA football player of all time. He had the body of Adonis and never lifted weights; all he did was sit-ups and push-ups. That's a man with amazing God-given physical gifts. I could imagine that seeing Herschel emerge as whites are losing roster spots in professional baseball, basketball, and football (as well as on the US olympic team in various sports) would make you think that whites need to hold on to their spots in coaching. Herschel Walker and Bo Jackson (both of whom were in their primes in 1988) looked like genetically engineered supermen, so I can kinda understand the fear that whites would have little hope of competing in professional sports against these people who seemed to have a genetic leg up.

I feel sorry for the late Jimmy The Greek. All he did was put voice to what was going through the minds of many people in sports at the time. He didn't call blacks stupid or unqualified for managerial jobs (as Al Campanis did in 1987), so I don't think he deserved such derision.

Soundtrack: Jean-Michel Jarre (Equinoxe), Bjork (Post), Boris Kovac & Ladaaba Orchestra (The Last Balkan Tango), Mahavishnu Orchestra (Inner Mounting Flame), Miles Davis (Miles Ahead), and The Crystal Method (Legion of Boom) [it was a long day of reviews at work. no meetings]

Monday, April 21, 2008

Music Monday: My Three Songs, Volume 3

See if you can guess the connection that links the three songs. The answer is at the bottom of this post. Just highlight the text after "Select for answer."

My Three Songs, Volume 3

Dave Berry: The Crying Game

The Yardbirds: Train Kept A-Rollin'

Tom Jones: It's Not Unusual

That's it. If you need a hint, just let me know.
Select for answer: Jimmy Page (of Led Zeppelin fame) plays guitar on all three songs

Friday, April 18, 2008

Web Stuff Friday: White People and Demotivation

Stuff White People Like is very insightful. It's like having an instruction book for all my white friends, coworkers, and spouses (OK, I have just one spouse, but the sentence seemed to work better with everything plural.)

Stuff Educated Black People Like is actually pretty good as well. As an EBP, I must say that the accuracy is pretty decent. is incredibly cynical, tongue in cheek, and fun. Their demotivators are so much better than Successories motivational posters. Some of my favorites:
Actually, the list of my favorites is too long. Just check them out.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Capital Punishment Is Wrong and Expensive

Here is an article from the Washington Post about a recent Supreme Court ruling on lethal injection. This got me thinking that I hadn't discussed the death penalty yet.

I am against the death penalty for various reasons. Here are a few of my thoughts:

Racial/class injustice: Black people are disproportionately represented on death row. Much of this bias might boil down to class rather than race, but biases are there and that's not a good thing. Above all else, our justice system should be fair.

Government should not kill: Morally, having government kill is reprehensible to me. Capital punishment is not about justice or deterrence (it's deterrent nature is hotly debated); capital punishment is about vengeance. When just about all civilized countries and the Dalai Lama think that it's wrong, and I agree.

Mistakes can be made: Our judicial system is setup to give defendants every chance. As Blackstone said, "Better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer." The article n Guilty Men is really fun, but on a more serious note, any time people find flaws in the capital punishment system, i find it very, very disturbing.

It's expensive: It's ironic when someone suggests that they don't want to pay taxes to keep some killer alive for years. It costs way more money to execute someone than to keep them in maximum security for the rest of their lives. I'd rather pay to keep someone eating crappy food and sleeping on an uncomfortable bed and living a lonely and/or scary life than pay multiples of that cost for lawyers.

In summary, it galls me that I have to pay more taxes (or our schools have to deal with fewer resources) so that some people's thirst for vengeance can be satisfied at the expense of some innocent lives and our country's moral integrity.

Soundtrack: New Order (Low-Life)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Milt Show: A Man's Song and a Woman's Poem

As a follow-up to yesterday's post about polygamy, do you think Milt could handle two wives?

The Man Song

The Woman's Poem

Soundtrack: Lee Morgan (Sidewinder), Maynard Ferguson Orchestra (Expo 1967)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Defending People with Two Wives: It's Big of Me (Get It?)

What's the big deal with polygamy?

Personally, I think it's the ultimate in hubris for any man to imagine that he could actually deal with more than one wife. For most of us, trying to keep one woman happy is at least a bit beyond our capabilities, so the idea of more than one wife is really crazy. Still, I don't see where it is the government's business. To me, it's like gay marriage. It's not my cup of tea, but if it's someone else's and it doesn't hurt anyone, then why should the government care? As far as I'm concerned, the government should get out of the marriage business and just endorse civil unions. It's reasonable to make polygamists pay on a per-spouse basis for health insurance and other things for which they'd be getting more than their fair share, but so what?

All I'm saying is that I'm not sure why polygamy is such a big deal. The only thing I can think of is that it's like limiting the number of hours people work. In France, they limit the hours each person can work and have long vacations so that more people can be employed. Similarly, those who think polygamy is bad are probably just ensuring that more of us can find wives. If polygamy were legal and accepted, then Tiger Woods would have a dozen wives and that would mean 11 more single men out there wearing clothes that don't match, drinking beer and playing video games to all hours of the night, and just generally being uncouth.

Anyway, if bigamy is good enough for Groucho Marx, then...

Soundtrack: Led Zeppelin (Houses of the Holy)

Monday, April 14, 2008

Music Monday: Unexpected Beastie Boys

I really like The Beastie Boys. They have done some really interesting music, but more importantly, they have put together some great albums. One I particularly like is Ill Communication. Its mix of rap, rock, and really cool groovy music makes it a really great musical journey.

Here are three of the more mellow songs from the album. This is not the same Beastie Boys you remember from You've Got to Fight For Your Right (To Party).

Sabrosa (sounds like an early-seventies movie soundtrack)

Ricky's Theme (nice little mellow groove about hanging out with friends in the summertime)

My favorite groove from the album: Shambala

Friday, April 11, 2008

Web Stuff Friday: BumWine, Bubblewrap, Escapa

bumwine is most excellent. If you have ever tried MD 20/20 or Cisco or any other bum wine, you will appreciate the descriptions of all these fine vintages. If you have never tried a bum wine, then I'm not sure if the descriptions will persuade you to try or avoid them. Here are some of my favorite quotes from the site:
As majestic as the cascading waters of a drain pipe...
Something in this syrupy hooch seems to have a synapse-blasting effect not unlike low-grade cocaine.
The night train runs only one route: sober to stupid with no roundtrip tickets available, and a strong likelihood of a train wreck along the way.
bubblewrap is pretty good. you need to have audio for it and don't forget to try Manic Mode.

escapa is an incredibly simple, yet oddly addictive game.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Picasso Versus Cezanne

The keynote at this year's NCTM conference in Salt Lake City was a talk by Malcolm Gladwell who was really good. His big theme was about the dichotomy between explosive genius (as personified by Pablo Picasso) and long-term, patient genius (as personified by Cezanne). Picasso did his most valuable work in his mid-twenties while Cezanne didn't peak until his 50's or 60's. It's not really a matter of being a late bloomer. It's about a different approach. One way is a flash of brilliance that is a great, fully-formed idea (Picasso-esque), while the other is achieved by slow, persistent change over a great deal of time (Cezanne-esque). In this talk, Gladwell has borrowed and expanded a bit on an idea by economist David Galenson (here is a synopsis of Galenson's findings.)

Gladwell has given this talk other times, so has a synopsis and review of an earlier iteration of the talk. Here is the list of Picasso vs. Cezanne types I wrote down during the talk:

  • Melville (wrote Moby Dick in a year when he was 32, then not much else of note)
  • The Eagles (their fifth album was the huge hit Hotel California, after which they only put out one more)
  • GM/Ford/Chrysler (many innovations, but rarely persistent)
  • American math (students give up when answers don't come easily)
  • Mark Twain (wrote Huck Finn when 49. It took him over seven years to write it.)
  • Fleetwood Mac (Rumours was their 16th album!)
  • Japanese automakers (persisted for 20 years in engineering hybrids)
  • Asian math (persistent test takers)
Some things I took from the NCTM version of Gladwell's talk:
  • The folks who give the big international math test on which Western students get crushed by the Asian students (TIMMS) decided to put a questionaire at the beginning. There were a ton of questions and many students simply gave up. When you rank countries by how many questions their students answered in the pre-test (ungraded) questionaire, it turns out to look almost exactly like the list of how the countries did on the actual test. Implication: It's all about persistence. Asian students don't give up, but American and other western students do.
  • The implication with the artists is that they stopped being any good after their popular successes. Rather, I think some of the great ones (e.g., Picasso and Melville) simply became advanced.
Anyway, it was an interesting talk and many of the ideas are worth exploring.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Planes and a City of White People

I went to Salt Lake City this week (I am writing this on Sunday after returning, but let's all pretend that I actually wrote last week.)

My four flights featured a 450-pound man in a seat next to me, a missed connection, a couple smelly 17 year-olds who were taking their first ever plane trip to a Megadeth concert, and a red-eye spent next to the only person on the flight with his light on. The plane trips were not ideal. They really made me miss the days when I was a frequent flier and could hang out in the Red Carpet Club and get lots of free upgrades.

Salt Lake City is probably a great place for anyone who is Mormon or who is out there to ski or hike. I am not Mormon and only wish I had the time to ski or hike, so the city is not much fun for me. It's a clean city with lots of views of beautiful mountains, but it lacks anything I normally associate with a city. There is little diversity. No interesting neighborhoods. No regional food or non-religious culture to speak of. No interesting architecture. Maybe I missed it all, but downtown Salt Lake City isn't much.

It's a visually lovely setting and the hotel was amazing, but it really made me miss the days when I used to take business trips to San Francisco and New York City.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Most Boring Business Trip Ever

Tomorrow I will head out for a business trip. Some friends of mine get "business trips" to Cancun, San Francisco, Florida, or Tuscon. Many of these trips involve drinking, golf, and all sorts of debauchery. Now for my turn. I am heading to the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) conference in the whitest city in America: Salt Lake City, Utah.

This is the week when the strippers and hookers make 80% of their annual revenue. Alcohol will flow freely. The booth babes are unequaled. In short, let's just say that what happens in Salt Lake stays in Salt Lake.

Anyway, as a result of these three days of hedonism, my posts might lag a bit. I'll be either drunk or hungover constantly, so cut me some slack.

Now to go check the batteries on my TI-83 Plus.

Monday, April 7, 2008

My Life in Music: Grad School

It's been a long time since my earlier My Life in Music posts. I started with Undergrad, Take 1, then went on to Undergrad, Take 2. Now for grad school.

Grad School went from the end of 1986 to May of 1988. These are the albums that defined that time for me:

The Pretty in Pink soundtrack helps define some of the music we listened to at the college radio station where I was the Program Director at the beginning of grad school. WGMU (motto: The Only Station That Matters) was lots of fun. We had an incredibly small audience, but had a really great time.

New Order's Substance is the music that I think of when I think of the (now defunct) Tracks nightclub in southeast DC. I will have to create an entry on Tracks sometime. It was a truly incredible place.

Fishbone's eponymous EP was a fun sing along album. Tunes like Party at Ground Zero and U.G.L.Y were fun, but when girls were causing us grief, we liked to yell along with Lyin' Ass Bitch.

Beelzebubba (by The Dead Milkmen), Aliens Ate My Buick (by Thomas Dolby), and Album (by Public Image Limited) were just really fun albums I listened to many, many times. Tracks like Bleach Boys, My Brain Is Like a Sieve, and Rise were common accompaniments to my studies.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Web Stuff Friday: Hillary Is Mom Jeans

HillaryIsMomJeans is absolutely awesome. I could keep clicking for hours. Now to come up with some more new entries...

BarackObamaIsYourNewBicycle is the flip side, but is far, far less fun.

GreenMoney is a great site for anyone who is into organic farming and stopping hunger around the world. If you check out that GreenMoney link, you will understand why rickrolling is such fun. On April 1, all featured videos on YouTube's main page linked to the same Rick Astley video. Great stuff.

Video Nugget: Frozen in Grand Central Station

Thursday, April 3, 2008

I Am a Blade of Grass

Now to let my inner cynic loose.

Many down-trodden people think that The Man is out to get them. These oppressed souls imagine that The Man conspires to hold the [insert downtrodden racial or gender group] people down.

Frankly, I generally think that most people who comprise The Man don't care about me any more than I care about a blade of grass on which I walk on my way to my mailbox. When Richard Williams claims that The White Man hates him, I imagine that The Man collectively says "Richard who?" The Man is generally greedy. When He makes millions while others go hungry, it's not because He hates Them. It's because He can get away with it. He lives in a world where His worth is judged by a free market and He feels that He deserves what He gets. If he is making 1000 times what his employees make, it's just because that's what the market indicates he is worth.

Anyway, I know that racism exists, but I generally think that in America greed is a more powerful force. Many times, what people see as racism is more greed or classism. For instance, nobody wants to invest in inner cities, but it isn't because black people are there. It's because of the risks involved with opening business in a high-crime area and the small reward (because the residents don't have deep suburban pockets) make it a risky idea.

On the other hand, I do see bias in the way we treat each other as individuals. When a teacher interacts with students or a boss interacts with employees, biases can affect the quality of the interactions. Race isn't the only bias in these situations (gender, age, attractiveness, and social skills are other biggies), so it's really hard to tell what someone has against you. Do they not like you because you are skinny or German or because of your shrill personality? It's hard to say.

We are self-centered, but when it comes right down to it, not everyone cares about you as much as you imagine. People are selfish and your issues don't always matter as much to them as they do to you. Ours is not a society without biases, but these biases are not always the whole story.

Soundtrack: Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins & Sonny Stitt (Sonny Side Up), Fleetwood Mac (Rumours)

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Richard Williams Is Racist, Plus a Great Haiku

Here is a link to Richard Williams' interview with India's Deccan Herald newspaper. Here is the first part of the big quote from this interview:
Tennis is a prejudice game. Well, I'm Black and I'm prejudiced, very prejudiced. I'll be always prejudiced as the White man. The White man hated me all my life and I hate him. That's no secret. I'm not even an American, it just so happens that I was born in America.
Richard's honesty is somewhat refreshing. He's prejudiced and fine with it. Richard imagines that the white man doesn't like him because the white man is prejudiced. Maybe the white man just doesn't like Richard Williams because Richard has other character flaws. It's like Hillary Clinton defenders who insist that anyone who doesn't like Hillary is a sexist pig. On the contrary, I think that many people dislike Hillary for her politics and who she is in general. Next up, Richard claims his girls are outsiders:
People are prejudiced in tennis. I don't think Venus or Serena was ever accepted by tennis. They never will be.
What does it mean to be "accepted by tennis," anyway? I wonder if the girls have ever accepted tennis? If they have any of their daddy's prejudice, I would imagine that it would be hard for them to accept the non-black culture of tennis.

Finally, he trashes a former young star and an icon of tennis.
... if you get some little White no good trasher in America like Tracy Austin or Chris Evert who cannot hit the ball, they will claim this is great.
Tracey became a star at too young an age and then burned out too quickly. Hers is a cautionary tale for any young star. On the other hand, Chris was a huge star. She is one of a very small number of women (along with Billie Jean King and Marina Navratilova) responsible for the popularity of tennis in the 70's and 80's. Without Chris, there would be no Venus or Serena. Trashing her was incredibly classless.

Do I think that the tennis culture is without racism? No. I'm sure there are racists in tennis. Unfortunately, one of the few black men to whom they are exposed is Richard Williams. If the only white man I knew were a racist jerk, I might have a pretty poor opinion of white people. Richard's attitude is a nice example of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The Greatest Haiku Ever
On a totally unrelated topic: I was listening to Mr. Tony's show this morning and heard the greatest haiku of all time. It was written by Murray Robb (a Mr. Tony listener from Ottowa):
Haikus are easy
But sometimes they don't make sense

Soundtrack: The Pretenders (The Singles), The Crystal Method (Community Service), Wes Montgomery (Ultimate Wes Montgomery)

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

My Gut's a Problem, but I Can't Remember Why

Here is an article about a link between middle-aged belly fat and dementia. The idea is that people who have big guts when in their early to mid 40's had dramatically increased probability of developing Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia. Here is an excerpt:
The researchers used a complicated method for measuring fat known as sagittal abdominal diameter (SAD). Those with a SAD score above 25 -- roughly equivalent to a waist of at least 39 inches -- had the biggest bellies and the greatest risk [of developing dementia].
This is scary for me. My gut is where I carry my weight. I have lost some weight over the past year or so. My face, neck, legs, and even waist are a bit more slender, but I still have a gut. I have lost about 4 inches off my waist, but the gut persists.

Another worrisome fact is that my maternal grandmother developed dementia. Watching her struggle with her condition was really a challenge. It didn't steal her memories, but it stole her present.

Time to go do some crunches....

Soundtrack: Marvin Gaye (What's Going On)