Sunday, November 26, 2006

The most efficacious level

I have a naive trust in the universe......that at some level it all makes sense, and we can get glimpses of that sense if we try.”
......Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (as quoted in the little book of flow)

At which level does the universe make sense? It depends. Different parts make sense at different levels. You don't use particle physics to understand human behavior, the level of complexity would make it impossible to see why certain quarks could explain why I am in a bad mood. But you could use chemistry to explain it- neurotransmitter levels surely appear to be highly correlated to mood. Maybe it's something more circumstantial, like doing the dishes after midnight on a Saturday that provides the most sense making. Or an ethernet switch with an overly noisy fan. Things that make my flow static. Then again, sometimes you really can't point to the circumstances, but the chemistry is still there. Serotonin is low, sadness is high. So is the chemistry the better explanation, or is the universe the circumstance?

Monday, November 06, 2006

Consumed by Consumption

"Most jobs and many leisure
activities—especially those involving the passive
consumption of mass media—are not designed to
make us happy and strong. Their purpose is to
make money for someone else. If we allow them
to, they can suck the marrow out of our lives,
leaving only feeble husks.”
-Andy Hunt?

Well, I don't know if the purpose is to make money for someone else, but I suppose that it is at least one of their purposes.

Even without being passive, browsing the internet often becomes wasting time.

There is no real purpose in the mere accumulation of knowledge. We must apply that accumulation.

Do. Create. Live.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Accept Yourself

Google Wisdom

Today's mantra: Accept Yourself

The Smiths

Dreams have a knack of just not coming true
And time is against me now...

Everything is hard to find
When you will not open your eyes
When will you accept yourself ?

But it's not just for the depressed:

If elephants spent their time wishing they were goldfish, or peacocks spent their time wishing they were crows, they'd live totally useless and disharmonious lives.

Sometime, something simple, repeated, becomes real.


I suggested a few cleverly designed, hypnosis-inspired phrases that were the linguistic equivalent of Kung Fu. They were simple (that’s my specialty), and once you heard these phrases, they made any competing ideas seem frankly stupid. Think of Johnny Cochran’s famous refrain “If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit.” In my opinion, O.J. is a free man largely because of that phrase. My phrases worked the same way.

The people in high places tried my phrases. The phrases became world headlines the next day. I could tune the TV to any news channel and hear my words coming out of pundits’ mouths. The phrases smothered the competing ideas and just maybe changed the course of world events. (One can never know for sure.)

Today's Mantra: Accept Yourself.

This doesn't mean, don't change, don't improve, but understand and admit where you are starting from. How else will you know if you are making progress?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Welcome to School, Commence the Begging

But I will no longer sell, cook, walk, wash cars, run or beg for any school fundraising project. Frankly, I've done my time. I've sold my share of candy bars, wrapping paper, tumblers of tiny jelly beans, cookies and books. I deserve time off for good selling. I'm tired of begging.

That was from a great column in the Washington Post on the begging that children are forced into by their schools. It's really really stupid to waste children's time this way, and teaches them some goofy principles about selling overpriced garbage for a good cause. Why can't they sell something that people want at a fair price? If schools want to go into business- let them...have the students earn money on the mechanical turk so they can learn the true value of their labor.

In the meantime, shouldn't they be wasting their time doing homework? Graded homework sucks- school is about learning, not about proving who can do the most work. If you need two hours of homework to get the test scores you want, then do it. If you don't, then don't! There was nothing worse than sitting there going through hours of problems that were easy but time consuming, making stupid things on poster board, etc. It totally demoralized me in school...but now I am much better at dealing with meaninglessness...

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Asobi Seksu

How out of touch am I? I knew/know nothing about this crew, except that maybe they are from NYC, etc. from their bio. Beautiful music though. I found it with one of those "people who liked this also liked" features when I was grabbing some early 90s Moose ("Honey Bee") on emusic. There is a lot of music out there these days that has evolved from that line of shimmery guitar stuff. I can trace the temporary demise in my interest in guitar music to the ascendancy of plague known as grunge. Loved Nirvana, hated Pearl Jam and there guttural imitators.

There's something nice too about not having to understand any of the lyrics that are in Japanese. It's always a worry when there is a band you like, but the lyrics are exceedingly vapid. I prefer to just hear total nonsense, or something that I just have no hope of understanding. Of course, there is the danger that they are saying totally idiotic things and you are singing along. A tough guy Russian cab driver that took me from the airport in Moscow to my hotel while singing along to the Backstreet Boys comes to mind. Fortunately I can't sing, so there's little danger of that particular embarassment.

Anyway, this Asobi Seksu album, Citrus, is more structured than a lot of the shoegazy stuff. The rhythmic underbelly of the band is a lot more modern sounding than the 90s stuff was. It gives the vocals and the guitar effects something to ride on, really a lot more pleasant to listen to.

I'll have to give it a few more listens before I drop my final rating on it, but it's got some definite 5 star tracks and few real clunkers.

iTunes Music Store = Garbage

The iTunes Music Store is for the short-sighted. Speaking as recently cured member of this sect, I have to say...stop buying AAC files now! What's an AAC file you might ask? Why, it's a file that only plays on your iPod and in your licensed copy of iTunes. Unless you burn it to a CD and burn it back to a nice format, like OGG or MP3- losing all track metadata (artist, title, album, etc.) unless you burn the CDs whole, which doesn't work if you're only buying the good songs, as is my wont.

You may not have been burned by this yet, but as more non-Apple options for entertainment become prevalent- you will be, you will be.

The alternatives- if you like independent music, is great. If you like buying from dodgy Russians, is even better. And now, MySpace is letting artists make money more or less directly from downloads on their pages.

Prediction: Fox will be one the biggest "record labels" in five years, if the others don't adapt, they could just go away.

I am interested to see what Universal's Spiral Frog thing turns out to be, but if it doesn't output MP3, I am not interested.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006


The Dilbert Blog: Yay! Both Sides Won!

If you want to win the Nobel Peace Prize, figure out a way to trade land for pride.

I don't think it's all about pride in the mid-east, but I do think we need to approach the negotiations from a different perspective. We can't give the same land to everyone: people can't seem to share. Getting back to pride though, it's unfortunate that pride often means dominance over an other. That's the cheapest way to get respect.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Lock down the cell phone networks

Another disturbing story- buying prepaid cell phones for resale is a pre-terrorist act. I think it is ridiculous that people sell consumer electronics with features disabled. In this case, they are doing it so they can sucker people in for a low initial price, but the major US cell phone networks frequently turn off features to try to force you to use their services. Rather than create all of these unbalanced markets, it is better to keep the hardware and the services sectors separate...supposedly too complicated for the American consumer. That's ridiculous, if there is one thing the US is good at, it's shopping.

Sunday, August 13, 2006


I am sure there are going to be a few articles about a statistical analysis that showed up in Science [non free content - see ArsTechnica for coverage]. Basically, only 39% of Americans think the theory of evolutions is correct, and a slightly greater number think it is false. The correlation between religous belief and acceptance of evolution is much higher than it is in other countries- mostly because the Republican party has been using Christian belief as a differentiating feature, divisive issue. The abuse of religion for political gain has likely damaged the thinking of around 1/5 of Americans, amongst the 40% or so that believe evolution to be a false claim. How can the USA expect to compete in a century where genomic science is going to become a competitive international technological field? It can't. It really can't. Not if we can't even look at the data for fear of offending the gods.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Liquid Stupidity

This is ridiculous BS. No liquids at the security checkpoints- so we'll pour them out. Because they might contain explosives. Which will...explode? But put whatever you want in your checked bags- since they can't explode. Or something.

I hate these stupid little terrorists and the stupid reactions of the DHS/TSA/etc. (They better end this policy very, very soon.) And when the hell are the exploding people going to realize that we don't give one crap about them? Anyone who thinks that bombing an airplane (or dropping bombs from airplanes for that matter) is going to get them into heaven should just kill themselves now and save us the trouble.

From Boing Boing:

If the liquid could be explosive, why are you dumping it in a crowd?: "Mark Frauenfelder: xopl asks a fair question:

So CNN is reporting: 'Because the plot involved taking liquid explosives aboard planes in carry-ons, passengers at all U.S. and British airports, and those boarding U.S.-bound flights at other international airports, are banned from taking any liquids onto planes.'

And then they have the photo of the TSA guy dumping a tub of confiscated possibly explosive liquids into a garbage can in a crowd of people.

Figure that shit out for me.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Testing for Dummies

I really wish the Freakonomics guys would make this their issue:

Schools around the country are now being forced by the immoral "No Child Left Behind" program to judge themselves by the quality of the students they are given. The primary method of judging a school is this- compare how this year's 3rd grade students score to how last year's 3rd grade students score. Given that a school doesn't really control its population, and the result of failing evaluations under nclb is that more good students leave, you basically create a false appearance of schools getting worse year after year.

What should be measured is how much students improve from the beginning of the year to the end (pre-test, post-test). The measure of a non-selective school should not be the quality of the student body, but how well it educates the students it has. We shouldn't confuse good students with good schools. That said, measuring the quality the student body is a good criteria for choosing which neighborhood to live in, you want your child to be with students that are on their level or above, but it has nothing to do with the quality of the teachers, the curriculum, or anything that anyone can do anything about.

Here's what's happening in DC-
They switched tests, so now it looks like schools are getting worse, when really they may not have changed at all.

The next time you hear some idiot complaining about the quality of schools, make sure they aren't complaining about the quality of the students...

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Arab Strap

"Stink" by Arab Strap is a sick song. I love it. These guys are for real. It's also some kind of thing that Belle and Sebastian have a song called "the boy from the arab strap". It would make you think that this is some kind of twee-fest, but it's not. As I intimated, it's serious stuff. If you've had it with music for suckers, you should listen to this truth. Forget about the music, just listen to that boy from the arab strap talk. I'd love to hear a tape of him just telling stupid people to shut the hell up.

Drug Prices Down

I find this piece by Gladwell amazing. I find it amazing that the Times did not publish what would be the logically more attention grabbing headline: "Drug Prices Down". It's criminal that our health costs are skyrocketing because people are demanding brand name drugs. If you're reading this in the USA and are on Prozac and have health insurance- I demand you switch to generic fluoxetine. Look, you'll still be happy either way, only this way, I'll be happier too. It's a win-win-lose, but we'll be the winners!

The Times' Drug Problem: "The New York Times led its business section today with the headline: “Drug Prices Up Sharply.” The subject of the piece was a study by AARP showing that prices of prescription drugs rose 3.9 percent in the first three months of this year, four times the rate of inflation. Outrageous!

But wait: it isn’t until you read a little closer that you realize that the price increase just refers to brand-name pharmaceutical prices. And what the article never mentions at all is that the AARP released a second study yesterday, showing that generic drug costs in the

United States were unchanged in the first quarter and fell 0.1 percent over the past year. Here is the key paragraph from the AARP report, which—unbelievably—never made it into the Times piece:

'The rate of increase in average annual change in manufacturer’s list price for generic prescription drugs most widely used by older Americans was about one quarter the rate of general inflation for 2005.” "

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

"No child left behind" is wrong (and evil)

No child left behind is based on a serious misuse of statistics. It claims to measure the quality of the school by measuring the scores of the students that attend the school. Unfortunately, this only measures the quality of the students. In order to measure the quality of the school, one must measure the improvement in individual student performance year to year. For example, student A scores 56 in May 2005, and 65 in May 2006. The school helped him make that improvement. Meanwhile at student B scores 71 in May 2005 and 72 in May 2006. If the cutoff score is 70, a school full of students like student A fails. A school full of students like student B is golden.

The algebra analogy is that if a train leaves new york going 100 km per hour and train leaves washington dc at 100 km per hour, it's the km per hour that counts, not which one is closer to richmond in an hour. You can't magically make these kids learn faster or "catch up"- the best you can hope for is for them to learn at the same rate as the kids that started ahead.

Okay, so that's why it's wrong- here's why it's evil:

"McNair has not met the federal requirements for three years now, and under the law, students are given the right to transfer to a higher achieving school."

"Gibson said the school system is spending tens of thousands of dollars to send to a nearby school the high-achieving students who opted to transfer out of McNair. He said that most struggling students are choosing to stay put and that the money would be better spent on help for those children."

"Under the law, schools that don't meet the mark for two years must allow students to transfer to higher-performing schools. Schools that fail to make progress for three years must offer private tutoring to low-income children."

See- it's evil! If a school fails- the parents of good students get to send them wherever they want! Hurray- they don't have to go to school with the bad kids! And's even harder for the school to meet the criteria, even if all of the students are getting better even faster, because the loss of the good students brings the average down. I can't believe people think this is good public policy- or do "they" want the public schools to fail so that I can pay for their kids to go to private or religous school...maybe I'm the evil one.

But here's the real rub- the assumption is that you can allow kids to leave school X because it's failing- it's not doing something that some other school Y is doing. If there really was something better about what school Y was doing, why not make school X do that? Maybe it's because it's not about the school at all- it's about the students. If you send the bad students to the good schools, you can hide them there- statistically, because a sufficient percentage of the students will still get the right scores! No matter is school Y is worse, the kids are smarter, they had a head start or they care about school alot, so they're going still pass the test.

All no child left behind is about is diluting the poor students amongst many schools, rather than leaving them concentrated in one school, but the actual effect is that only the parents of good students really want them to get out, so only the poor students get left behind. Still, nothing has been done to improve the quality of the education, only changes in the distribution of the students. This will make NCLB look good using the statistics it created, but will do nothing to help kids learn more and faster.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Ferry Corsten: Fire

Why isn't "fire" by ferry corsten called "serious" (ferry corsten mix) by duran duran?


Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Less blind rule-following

From the rapidly growing comments on Rushkoff's faith=illness post...part of Rushkoff's own comment:

"At times like these, when the operating systems have become too corrupted, religions really do need to be rebooted. (That's largely what Christ attempted to do with Judaism - elevate it from a set of static laws into a more internalized and felt way of being. Less blind rule-following, and more spontaneous ethics.) "

This really rings true, and connects with my "Catholic" background- I felt kind of cheated that all of the thinking was done. There was really no need for a person to think about what the right thing to do was. People had already produced whole books of answers for the questions you might have. It was all about rules, not about thinking.

Where in my nature did I become so distrustful of being told what to do? Maybe because I was told so many wrong things? In any has served me well.

I can't believe people are calling Rushkoff insensitive...we can't get people to protect this world if they don't believe it's important.


Tuesday, May 02, 2006

rushkoff is right.

I have had it with this myth being treated as truth. Why can't people take the great themes of the bible about how to treat others without it having to be "truth"?

Thursday, April 27, 2006

VC to USA: Who's paying for this?

General Motors- the future of the US?

The analogy between the US and General Motors is pretty clear- competitiveness challenged by labor costs, pensions, and health benefits. We've signed up for a quite a social contract. We need to universally accept the fact that the best health care cannot be available to all. If it costs $10M to save (prolong) a life- is it worth it? In my mind- it doesn't matter if you don't have $10M...

...and then there is the massive consumption of financial and human capital called the US-Iraq war. All of the hawks out there should at least try to find us wars where we don't lose so much money.

I want to limit the ability of the government to borrow money. I am not sure if there is a political party associated with this or not, but there should be.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Commuter Love

Is a wonderful song by the Divine Comedy. Buy it now!

However, I don't love commuting much. Here was my plan:
drive two miles to the park and ride, (wair for) and take bus to metro, (wait briefly for) and take metro to work. It takes about 45 minutes- faster and cheaper than driving when the HOV restrictions are in effect on I-66.

Coming home is a different story- the metro is often so full I have to wait for multiple trains to pass before I can squeeze in. And there often aren't enough buses, so I have to wait 15 minutes for a standing room only bus. It only takes about 20-25 minutes longer than the morning, but it is much worse. Coincidentally, it's also usually worse driving home that driving in, because there are very few ways to get on to the westbound routes I need- huge choke points.

This guy did a whole statistical analysis of his travels- two way anova. And commutes average 26 minutes! That's nothing! I wouldn't waste my time with that.

So, I guess I am supposed to move closer to work. But work moves more than I do- I could be working right down the street next year- and then I'd have a miserable reverse commute.

In response to all this- I have made a game changing move- buying a Prius!

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Bubbly bubbles of bubbles

Lockboxes outside a condo near Dunn Loring metro- investors are bailing out!

It's popping. I had the fortune of making a deposit on a new townhome in May 2002. It was finally completed in September 2003. By that time there had been 10-15% appreciation in the value. In spring 2005, the market value was up almost 60% from the price I paid. Of course, at that time, we were still in the two year window where there are no free tax profits, so we couldn't sell. We were seriously thinking about moving up in fall 2005, but a few things held us back. I was still getting on firm ground with my business, so getting a loan might have been tricky. (Not to mention affecting the financing we did for my company.) We also didn't have anywhere we really wanted to go that we could afford.

Fast forward to the present and the neighbors on either side of me are trying to sell their places for what would have been great prices last spring, but are decidedly overpriced for this spring. My neighborhood was heavily subscribed by investors, who drove the prices up dramatically even before I locked in mine. There were hundreds of people waiting in line on the first day to make deposits...

All of these silly investors are really annoying to me. As my wife said today, it's just like the day traders who didn't know what they were doing in the internet stock bubble of the late 90's. As long as prices were generally going up, anyone could make money. But at some point, prices were only going up because people were taking advantage of the fact that everything was going up. A lot of dollars were flowing into the market, but very little of it was based on the fundamental reasons for owning stock. As soon as that kind of market changes direction- it tends to drops quickly. If you were only holding the stock because you thought a bigger idiot was going to buy it, you wanted to dump it as quickly as possible.

What generally has kept residential real estate more stable than the stock market is that the ration of owner-occupants to investors was pretty high. You can't live in a stock certificate, but you can keep a house that's a bad investment. If you're under water on your mortgage, you might not have much of a choice. However, when the ratio of investors soars, as it has in recent years in the DC region, the market can easily get distorted. There is a false demand for property. And the investors are willing to take losses. And they're mostly getting out now. It's going to be an ugly couple of years for people that want to sell their homes around here- supply is way up, and false demand is gone.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Start life blog

Based on some much-needed constructive criticism from my amazing wife, I have decided to create a non-work blog, for those things that a non-technical person might actually be interested in reading about. I am not sure who might be interested in reading these particular things, but I do have a fair number of thoughts that could use a place to live.

Hopefully this can be a little taste of production to go along with the consumption of which I am so fond.

Currently reading: "Snow Crash" by Neal Stephenson
Currently listening: "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head" Manic Street Preachers
Currently watching: My wee daughter on the video baby monitor. It's after 11PM- this kid doesn't want to sleep. Very naughty. And we're supposed to get up at 630AM tomorrow morning...

Who does want to sleep? Sleep is a waste of time...from a logical point of view. From a practical point of view, too little sleep can reduce the quality of life when you're awake. The massive line everymorning that snakes through the parking lot at the Starbucks drive-thru by my little house is an example of...something. Is it a sign of mass sleep deprivation? Caffeine addiction? Boring DC area govt related jobs where productivity is measured in abstractions of abstractions?