Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A Different Kind of Politician

Senator Tom Coburn has been causing trouble on Capitol Hill. I really admire his willingness to subvert the dominant political paradigm. His fiscal perspective is admirable.

Too bad the rest of his thoughts about the role of government are messed up: He is anti-choice, pro-death penalty, anti-gay, and pro-censorship. Just about all of his political positions are anathema to me, but his fiscal conservatism is laudable.

At the other end of the Republican spectrum is Ted Stevens, who was indicted today on corruption charges. Couldn't happen to a better person. Stevens is a prolific font of the worst pork ever seen on Capitol Hill. His love of pork has put Stevens in direct opposition to Coburn and the fireworks are fun to watch.

Anyway, this is just a quick post to point out the nice coincidence about these two gentlemen hitting headlines in the same week.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Music Monday: A Tribute to Harris Wulfson

A friend of mine's brother passed away last week, so this week's Music Monday is a tribute.

I never met Harris Wulfson, but I heard about him from his sister and have been looking around for information. Harris was a musician and composer. You can check out some of his music at his website [www.wulfson.com] and learn more about him at his Wikipedia page or at this person's blog post.

In addition to composing and performing music, Harris was also a software engineer. One really cool thing he did was coming up with the The Hidden Chair. At Jazz Central Station (a really good music BBS I used to visit), there was a drawing of a chair that was part of the graphic in the left nav without any indication that it was a link of any sort. It totally just blended into a larger graphic. Clicking this chair took you to a hidden discussion board that became an integral part of the core of the community. As somebody on a bulletin board said upon learning of Harris' passing:
I was thinking about The Chair yesterday, I really was. That was a cool concept that was pulled off so successfully. Harris didn't tell anyone about it, he just let users find it and have fun. Well it was a gift he gave us.
Anyway, here are some other gifts Harris gave us--his music. These are pieces he composed, so they really give you an idea of his innovation.

Az Meshiach Vet Kumen

hifuleanictins (an improvisation)

Finally, we have LiveScore. Harris didn't really compose this. He invented the system by which a computer turns data created by audience members turning knobs into sheet music that is sight-read and performed by classical musicians live. Harris described the piece:
... an interactive network piece with live generated music notation for sight reading musicians. The music is generated algorithmically, and sculpted in real time by participants in the gallery using a MIDI knob box.

Harris was a polymath who saw and made really cool connections between forms of music, between music and technology, and even between people. I'm sure that life wasn't always easy for him, but he was really a special person.

My deepest sympathies go out to his friends and family. We are all poorer for his passing.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Web Stuff Friday: Star Trek, a Game, and Larry Miller

Star Trek Inspirational Posters are awesome. They are kinda spoofs of Demotivators (which i have blogged before), which are spoofs of inspirational posters like these. Note that there are four pages of the Star Trek posters, all filled with tons of Trekkie inside jokes. If you didn't watch the old Star Treks, or at least the movies, don't even bother with this. If you have seen the original shows several times, then this site will make you laugh out loud.

Here is a cool game. Everything is in Japanese, but see how you do. I think I scored 22 on my first time through.

Here is one of my favorite comedy bits of all time. Larry Miller's "Five Levels of Drinking."

Here is a routine about the difference between men and women. You can skip forward to about 4:00 in this:

Great stuff. This is where I get lines like "it's like the difference between shooting a bullet and throwing it" and "God's flashlight," both of which are regular parts of my lexicon.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Drives and Walks of Shame

Network World has an article Doing the Laptop Drive of Shame. This is one of my minor fears. It would be a big fear if I lived far from the office or worked at a job that couldn't generally be done remotely. The chances of me doing this is really quite high.

When I lived in an apartment as a single guy, it often took me three tries to get away from home.
  1. First, I would lock the apartment door, then realize "dang, forgot my _____" (insert critical thing like my briefcase.) Back on in.
  2. Second, I would lock my apartment door, walk down the stairs and just to the door to exit the building. At that point, I would realize that I forgot my wallet (or something similarly important.) Back up the stairs and into the apartment.
  3. Finally, after getting my wallet, I would make it to the car and realize that I forgot one more thing (perhaps even my car keys.) Time to walk back across the parking lot, into the building, up the stairs, and into my apartment.
I sometimes imagined that someone watching my routine would have thought me a really dim or crazy person, but chances are that nobody really noticed or cared, so my shame was mostly internal. It wasn't a public walk of shame that anybody ever noticed.

Now that I live in a house with an attached garage, the trip from briefcase/wallet/keys to car is a short one, so round trips at home are quick ones. At the office, it often takes me one or two attempts to leave, but those trips are generally between the door to my office (which I share with ten co-workers) and my desk. Not much shame there. I'm a doofus, but that is not news to my co-workers.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Feeling Dirty About Deleting a Comment

For the first time, I deleted a comment that was left on this blog. It bothers me that I deleted the comment, so here it is in the main blog.

In response to Reverend Wright Persists in Aiming at Obama's Foot, some anonymous person commented:
Maybe You Are The Racist Reston Kid, Obviously You Did Not Hear His Sermon Or Press Speach From Start To Finish. Maybe You Should Clean Your Ears Out, And Open Your Eyes More So You Will Know What The Hell Is Going On, Turkey!
What should I do with this sort of thing? My inclination is to delete any anonymous comments that don't contribute some new information or an opinion. If this person actually informed the discussion with some information or an opinion, I wouldn't have such a problem with the comment. Instead, he has tossed this comment in here and has probably moved on--never to be heard from again.

I have kept comments from people with whom I disagree. For instance, I had a back-and-forth about the use of torture with someone who commented in response to my post Mixed Feelings About Omar Khadr's Gitmo Interrogation. When a comment is signed, the conversation can continue. When a comment is anonymous, it can be a dialectic dead end.

The bottom line is that nasty, unsigned comments will probably be deleted. Comments that are interesting, informative, or signed (not necessarily all of these) will survive.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Music Monday: Herby Hancock's Cantaloupe Island

Herbie Hancock wrote Cantaloupe Island back in 1964 (here is the original) and it has stood the test of time. I like this song and have really liked many renditions by many groups (including Us3's version called Cantaloop), but all of the groups I am including here have Herbie in them. Each group has different composition, so you can certainly see some different takes on the song.

Herbie Hancock, Freddy Hubbard, et al:

Herbie Hancock Trio

Herbie Solo and Then With Herbie (it's cool to watch him jamming with himself)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Dr. Bill and Barack

As the Jesse Jackson/Barack Obama tiff erupted recently, it made me think back to Bill Cosby's comments that got him into hot water with some of the black political establishment. I found the full text of Bill Cosby's speech at the 50th Anniversary of Brown vs Board of Education.

Really interesting stuff.
Now look, I’m telling you. It’s not what they’re doing to us. It’s what we’re not doing. 50 percent drop out. These people are fighting hard to be ignorant. There’s no English being spoken, and they’re walking and they’re angry. Oh God, they’re angry and they have pistols and they shoot and they do stupid things.
Here is Obama's Father's Day speech. One of my favorite snippets is:
Yes, we need more money for our schools, and more outstanding teachers in the classroom, and more after school programs for our children. Yes, we need more jobs and more job training and more opportunity in our communities.

But we also need families to raise our children. We need fathers to realize that responsibility does not end at conception. We need them to realize that what makes you a man is not the ability to have a child – it's the courage to raise one.
As I read the transcripts of these two speeches, it struck me that Dr. Bill was full of passion, but he did not really put together the best oratory. Obama delivers on the oratory. Both men can claim early hardship (Cosby grew up on the mean streets of Philly, while Obama's father left when he was 2,) but Obama's delivery really works. His status as an outsider helps him see and speak more clearly about what ails us.

Both men make some good points, but Obama's discourse is more balanced. He is all about shared responsibility: the government has responsibility, but so do individuals. Obama wants all of us to get out and push. We can't just sit back and let the government solve our problems.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Jesse and Barack

Jesse Jackson's recent comments about Barack Obama made me re-read one of my posts from a while ago. Here is a video showing Jesse's comments and some commentary by Juan Williams and some other guy.

Here is a comment from Juan Williams:
This is all about Jesse Jackson wanting Barack Obama to fit into his old time mold of what a black leader is....
No doubt. The nice thing about this conflict is that it helps to bring these issues out into the open. Note that one of the more interesting comments Jackson made was after his comment about Obama "talking down to black people." Jackson said:
I want to cut his nuts out.
OK. So this is a much more base comment. Now to act like a former Psychology major: Does Jackson want to emasculate Obama because he sees Obama's success as indicating his own impotence? These comments whispered when he thought the microphones were off tell us quite a bit about Jackson just as Obama's reaction tells us quite a bit about him. In a speech to the NAACP, Obama shows no signs of backing down:
Now, I know there are some who are saying I've been too tough talking about responsibility. NAACP, I'm here to report I'm not going to stop talking about it.
Fun stuff. Going into my opinions about Obama's discussion is for another post (and yes, when I talk about that, I will refer to Bill Cosby as well), but for now, my point is that I think the dynamic of old guard versus ascending power is interesting.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Mixed Feelings About Omar Khadr's Gitmo Interrogation

Omar Khadr's lawyers have released video of his interrogation at Guantanamo Bay and this makes me feel a bit conflicted.

First of all, I don't like what the Bush administration is doing at Gitmo. They are playing loose with civil rights and that's a bad thing. Also, torture is a very bad thing and is a bad way to interrogate. I don't think that many people have a good feel for how poor a strategy it is. Often, the situation is sold as "if lives are at stake, what is it worth to get the information?" In reality, if interrogators use torture, there is little chance of getting good information. Torture has no place in any sound interrogation.

On the other hand, this kid doesn't strike me as someone who is worthy of much pity. His family has been involved with al-Qaida including financing them.
Khadr, who is a Canadian citizen but was raised in Afghanistan, was questioned about his family, which has a long history of alleged involvement with radical Islamic causes. His Egyptian-born father, Ahmed Said Khadr, and some of his brothers fought for al-Qaida and had stayed with Osama bin Laden.
This does not look like a naive US college student toying with extremism. This seems to be a family that has actively supported a very nasty cause. If this kid were let go, perhaps he would foment more nastiness against the US. This might be even more true now that he thinks he has been so poorly treated, but it quite possibly would have been true regardless.

It seems that when someone pleads convincingly, people can fall for it and come to their side. When I see someone pleading convincingly, I think to myself: What would this person do if he were guilty? Nothing different. This kid quite possibly wants to get out of Gitmo so he can head back to Afghanistan. Just because he cries when interrogated doesn't mean he's a good kid, so I'm not willing to exonorate him based on his tears any more than I am willing to convict him without solid evidence.

I have seen nothing that indicates he has been tortured, but the US better keep it that way. If this kid is who he seems to be, the US needs to find a way to de-fang him and keep him from motivating more extremism. Only when this is done in a way that avoids all torture and provides a good chance of a fair justicial process can the US feel good about what was done.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The New Yorker cover

I know this should be Music Monday, but there is too much going on. I have posts stacked up like jets circling O'Hare, so here goes.

The New Yorker's cover titled Scare Tactic has made quite the splash. I like Joel Achenbach's comments on the cover.
Anyone with a brain and even a modicum of a sense of humor should be able to tell it's satire. Moreover, everyone knows that The New Yorker is editorially liberal. There's no serious issue here about intent -- any Obama supporter calling this a smear needs to take a deep breath.
The best response from the Obama camp would be to say, "We recognize that it was meant as satire, but must confess that we didn't get a single chuckle out of it. Better luck next time."
Oh well. Instead, the Obama campaign seems to be up in arms. The cover was not particularly funny and could have really used a caption to help make the point.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

A Silver Lining off in the Distance?

I have mentioned before that a silver lining of these high gas prices could be real progress toward more renewable fuels. Here are some signs that the silver lining could be in view:
  • Mercedes to cut petroleum out of lineup by 2015 is an article that gives me some hope. I don't drive a Mercedes, but if they can make it work, so can other auto manufacturers.
  • Technology Review's May/June issue had an article [available here once you complete their free, quick registration] about a company called A123 Systems that is developing some really interesting batteries. This is the type of progress we need to see more of.
  • John McCain is proposing a $300 million prize for big progress in electric battery technology. I like the idea of creating incentives to get private industry to make big progress, but I think that the challenge should be extended to progress in hydrogen fuel cell progress.
I know these aren't necessarily imminent breakthroughs, but they give me hope.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Music Monday: Haircuts and Heaven

One of my favorite mix tapes from college had some songs that I need to get (from Amazon's MP3 store) so I can enjoy them on a nice, sunny day. The tape was filled with fun songs that really sounded like some of the best of 80's new wave.

Here are a couple of nice ones from that mix. It took me a while to find these since the artists aren't exactly household names, but ...

Haircut 100 "Favourite Shirts (Boy Meets Girl)"

Heaven 17 "Let Me Go"

Once I get these songs as well as some Marshall Crenshaw and Camper Van Beethoven, I will re-create the mix tape and crank the tunes with the sunroof open and the kids in the backseat.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Web Stuff Friday: Custom Time

Custom Time is a new feature for GMail. The rules of the space-time continuum no longer apply to my email. Pretty groovy.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Watching Weight: Supply and Demand

A bunch of women at the office are doing Weight Watchers. I am impressed by their willingness and ability to allow such structure to guide their daily eating habits. I could never do it.

Over the past year and a half or so, I have worked the supply (food) and demand (exercise) sides of my body's metabolism to become healthier than I was. I'm in decent, but not great shape and I have lost about four inches off my waist, but still have a gut. Still, I am healthier than I was a couple years ago and that's a good thing.

Here are some tips culled from WebMD:
If you are trying to lose weight or get into shape, I wish you luck. Big, short-lived change is easy--anyone can lose a few pounds in a couple weeks. Lasting change isn't easy. Keeping weight off and keeping an exercise regimen going are not easy tasks. If you can work the supply and the demand sides of your metabolism, I think you will make a holistic change for better health.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Blogging for My Health

A Scientific American article: Blogging--It's Good for You reinforces what I have said about this blog's therapeutic nature.
Research shows that it [blogging] improves memory and sleep, boosts immune cell activity and reduces viral load in AIDS patients, and even speeds healing after surgery. A study in the February issue of the Oncologist reports that cancer patients who engaged in expressive writing just before treatment felt markedly better, mentally and physically, as compared with patients who did not.
They're not sure why, but blogging (like any expressive writing) seems to be good for you.