Monday, July 30, 2012

Lions of Kandahar by Rusty Bradley

Lions of Kandahar, co-authored by Maj. Rusty Bradley and Kevin Maurer, is a first-person account of "the greatest battle no one ever heard of," the taking of Sperwan Ghar by 30 Green Berets and 50 ANA soldiers. Sperwan Ghar is a key geographical high point that was a Taliban stronghold and staging based for a planned Taliban offensive to control Kandahar City. During this battle Maj. Bradley's team and their close air support killed or wounded 800 Taliban including several commanders.

There's not much more to say than that. When you read as much military fiction as I do, it's important to read a non-fiction account just to remain grounded in what real soldiers do and think, their efforts, their struggles, and their sacrifices. It's quite a tale.

I purchased a hardcover version of Lions of Kandahar signed by the author at Texas A&M's MSC Bookstore.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Liebster Blog Award

Proving yet again that even a blind squirrel finds a nut every once in a while (even if it is dropped upon his head), I happily report that this blog has been nominated for The Liebster Blog Award.

What exactly is the Liebster? It's for the little guys, blogs with fewer than 200 followers. And it comes with baggage. You have to answer 11 questions of your nominator's choosing. Then you have to come up with your own list of 11 questions and "pay them forward" to your Liebster nominees.

I was nominated by So So Poems who asked the following questions.

Star Wars or Star Trek?

I was never a huge fan of Wagon Train, least of all when Seth Adams was shagging every squaw they encountered along the way.  So when you make a show unintentionally campy (unlike the Batman TV series which exhibits camp in its best light) and give the squaws green skin and foil miniskirts I'm still not impressed. I say this having watched A LOT of Star Trek in my day. So I'll say Star Wars. Actually, if they were all on TV at the same time and I had my clicker I'd watch Space 1999 or UFO. (And don't even bother pointing out the inconveniently inconsistent fact that the girls in UFO had purple hair and foil miniskirts.)
Do you always finish a book, regardless of whether you like it or not?

Mostly, but not always. Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species got put down prematurely.  There are just so many chapters on pigeon breeding that I can handle. (Cross a 1970s pr0n soundtrack with Woody the Woodpecker's call.) There was a book by Edward Tufte's mother on sentence structure as art (egads) that just lost me and an audiobook destroyed by Patrick Macnee's sheer incompetence as a voice actor.
Top Five Books of All Time (or of the moment)?
  1. The Sound and The Fury by William Faulkner (IMO, the best English language novel ever written)
  2. A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr. (great post-apocalyptic tale)
  3. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (as relevant today as ever)
  4. If on a winters night a traveler by Italo Calvino (fun in a writerly way)
  5. The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy (thus began for me decades of pleasure in the espionage, military, techno-thriller genre)
What 3 celebrities, artists, musicians, writers, etc. would you nominate to run a country?

NONE. I want artists to paint, writers to write, celebrities to celebrate. Are you thinking like maybe Bono as president of the USofA? Ain't happenin'. We really need to find leaders who can lead. 

OK, so maybe what I really really want is to put Posh Spice in charge of the UK and run for cover. Better yet, maybe we can turn national leadership into reality TV. Oh wait - it already is.
What is your writing atmosphere? Complete silence, noise, secluded?

Like the moon, my writing has no atmosphere and only one sixth the gravity of normal writing. Fortunately for my writing, no one can hear you yawn. Like the moon, I am pockmarked and made of (or at least smell like) cheese. Men have walked on me (although I swear I paid the extra $20 for the geisha). What was the question again?
What teacher has had the most impact–negative or positive–on you?
  • My high school English teacher senior year, Mrs. Betty Gretar, nurtured my appreciation for literature. 
  • My college professor, Dr. John LaGraff, showed me the difference between facts, knowledge, and wisdom.
What animal do you look like?

A cross between a skink, the left side of a mandrill, and a chupacabra. With a heart two sizes too small.
Would you rather be supernatural or a superhero?

Superhero. And my super power would be the ability to withdraw my hair into my head at will. See - I'm doing it now! (This is the only question I had to think long and hard about.)
What is the worst television show you love to watch?

Certainly nothing involving Honey Boo Boo Child, I'll tell you that. Probably Say Yes to the Dress. (I have great fashion sense.) P.S. The purple tie was a big hit.
What authors, dead or alive, would you love to have a drink with?

Bill and Bill (Faulkner and Shakespeare). Are you picking up the tab? Cuz if so, I'll bring along Hemingway for grins.
  1. What are your three favorite movies and what about each got them on this list?
  2. Of the visual arts, are you more a fan of painting, photography, or sculpture? Why? If you have a favorite artist, list their name.
  3. If you had to give up one sense (sight, smell, hearing, taste - let's keep touch) which would it be and why?
  4. Purple, 42, or the Roman Legion? (Don't think about it - just answer.)
  5. You win an expense-paid 3-week vacation to an isolated retreat up in the mountains on the shore of a pristine lake. What books do you take and why?
  6. Shampoo and conditioner? Or shampoo and conditioner in one? (If you use more than 2 hair care products, leave your answer blank.)
  7. Why do you blog? (I reserve the right to start using your answer if it's better than my own.)
  8. What non-human, non-plant living creature would you rid the world of? And why?
  9. Sunrise or sunset?
  10. Music. How frequently do you listen? To whom? And via what media? List 3 musicians you're listening to right now.
  11. This quiz goes to eleven. Is the internet really making us stupid?

Saturday, July 28, 2012

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

When I tell people that I've never read Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird their first reaction is to question my public school education. Having now read it, I can see why it's a staple of high school English lit.

Part Faulkner, part Dickens, Mockingbird tells from a child's eyes the Depression-era trial in Alabama of a black man for a rape he did not commit. The innocence of the 8 year old's retelling of the tale and the staid almost cinematic black & whiteness of the townspeople make the undercurrent of racism that much uglier when it bubbles to the surface.

It's an excellent novel that I still can't literally say I've read because I listened to Sissy Spacek's virtually perfect reading in audiobook format. And since I'm apparently the last person to read this tale, I'll leave it to you to recall why it's a sin To Kill a Mockingbird.

It takes a government to raise a business?

You've likely heard news or commentary about President Obama's remarks made during a campaign event in Roanoke, Virginia on 13 July 2012. The uproar centers around his statement "If you've got a business -- you didn't build that."

What did the President actually say? The following two paragraphs were cut and pasted directly off No content has been changed. (I did change some of the HTML to remove spaces and improve paragraph formatting.)
There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me -- because they want to give something back.  They know they didn’t -- look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own.  You didn’t get there on your own.  I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart.  There are a lot of smart people out there.  It must be because I worked harder than everybody else.  Let me tell you something -- there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.  (Applause.)

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help.  There was a great teacher somewhere in your life.  Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive.  Somebody invested in roads and bridges.  If you’ve got a business -- you didn’t build that.  Somebody else made that happen.  The Internet didn’t get invented on its own.  Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.
Let's defuse a few things first.

I don't believe the President's intent was to insult business owners. I can't imagine him planning that speech and thinking "Geez, I really gotta put those uppity business owners in their place."

Nor do I disagree in general with his premise that "someone along the line gave you some help." Teachers, professors, partners, co-workers, friends, trusted advisers, book authors - they all helped me along the way with knowledge, advice, or motivation.

What does piss me off, however, is his dismissal of individual aptitude and effort in the building of a business. He implies that just about anyone can start and maintain a business. After all, there are a lot of smart and hardworking people out there1. He makes it sound like you pretty much have to just show up each day at your business and the money starts rolling in. (Let's just skip over things like assumption of risk, team building, product and service innovation.)

"It takes a government to raise a business" is the equivalent of "it takes a village to raise a child", a platitude that I find equally appalling as it pertains to parental responsibility.

Obama's thoughts on business remind me of a particularly clueless AT&T representative whose entire sales pitch was that we should buy their business phone system because AT&T invented the phone. Needless to say, he didn't get the sale. The President is using the same lame argument - the government invented the internet and built the interstate highway system. Therefore, we should giddily open our wallets because Uncle Sam is the key component of our success (remember, it's not smarts or hard work).

With business income rolling in, the question is what to do with it. He cites wealthy Americans who want to "give something back", presumably to the federal government and presumably for inventing the internet. Who are these people? Cuz I certainly don't know any of them. Every business owner I know - in fact every person I know - tries to minimize their taxes by every legal means. I don't need to pay even more money to Uncle Sam for super highways, information or asphalt, especially since my taxes (and my business' taxes) have paid for them already. And the notion that the government created the internet "so that all the companies could make money off the Internet" is completely ludicrous.

So while I don't believe the President intended to insult business owners, I believe he did so in practice. According to Obama, business owners as individuals are nothing special - just about anyone can start and run a business, as though the USA were the Lake Wobegon of entrepreneurship where everyone is above average and successful. Business success, according to Obama, is possible because of the beneficence of the government. Therefore, paying more taxes in return is virtually a duty. And when he says "you didn't build that" I agree but point out that my business and I have certainly paid the taxes that funded "that."

Someone else wrote that the core issue here is a chicken and egg perspective. Does the government exist to tolerate business? Or do businesses exist to tolerate government? I'll vote for the latter.

1This is just a politician's avoidance of telling people that some of them just aren't suited for business success. It's just like the housing market. Sure, everyone can own a home. We saw how well that worked out. But God forbid that you tell people that they probably can't have something. Let's keep in mind that all we're promised is the pursuit of happiness, not its achievement.

A good marriage...

By now you've heard of the passing of Stephen Covey, the author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (named the most influential business book of the 20th century).  7 Habits was perhaps the first of that genre that I ever read when someone (thanks Rick) loaned me the cassette tapes to listen to on my daily commute. The habit that sticks with me most clearly is "sharpening the saw." Covey tells the story of a fellow coming upon another fellow furiously sawing logs with a dull saw and making little progress. He advises the wood chopper to stop and sharpen the saw to make things easier and more productive. Without stopping the chopper replies, "Can't. Don't you see all this wood I have to chop?" In other words, sharpening the saw means having a plan for self renewal in the physical, social/emotional, mental, and spiritual aspects of your life. (Note that although this has stuck with me in theory, it doesn't mean I'm necessarily a good practitioner.)
A simple but effective way to visualize the 2011-2012 NFL playoffs from The Champions Ring.
Science. Doing the important things. Like making transparent animals.

Do this now. If you're a fan of good music go to Pledge Music and help Stick Men (Tony Levin, Pat Mastelotto, Markus Reuter) produce their next album, Deep. The site has a video from Tony Levin explaining what they're trying to do, a few tunes you can listen to, and a list of the pledge levels (from $10 for being able to download the album to $100 for a deluxe CD/DVD edition with a t-shirt and signed card to $3,000 for the executive producer bundle.) They're at 64% of their target with 53 days left. Spread the word.

Aviation pr0n from 1942: GE's "Hush-Hush Boys" gather around their project - the 1-A jet engine, America's first and based on the UK's Whittle Engine.
I thought something titled 10 Crazy Things People Say to Entrepreneurs would be interesting. (Note: the list does not include "You didn't build that.") The craziest thing said to me was "I think you're crazy." (Yes, it's all kinda circular.) But the list itself is lame. And it's from a publication called YFS Magazine where the YFS stands for young, fabulous, and self-employed. That's downright embarrassing.

Are there good Pilsners? As it turns out, yes. Start with Heavy Seas' Small Craft Warning.

I can't remember where I saw it but there are only three factors in a job interview: can you do the work, will you enjoy the work, will we enjoy working with you. Another way to look at the interview is there are technical skills (including theoretical, practical and experience) and non-technical skills (passion, communication, culture). In part 1 of How to Ace a Startup Engineering Interview (a bit misleading cuz it's less about engineering than programming and is true for any company and not just startups) the technical skills are covered. Must read if you're job hunting.

Next time you want to know whether your computer/network is screwed up or whether Google Talk and Google Mail (or Facebook or LinkedIn or...) are really down (like earlier this week) check out

Science. Observing the disgusting. The science of decay. (Hour and a half video. Worth watching, especially the bit about slime mold and trains. Really.)

This news story both supports and dispels conventional wisdom about college football players. First, it supports the notion that they're not that bright. Second, it dispels the notion that they entertain a non-stop parade of college coeds. You see, an SMU linebacker didn't pay a hooker, left her in his apartment when he went out, and she robbed him blind. Kids, the lesson here is always pay your bills.

From the Things I Didn't Think You Could See department, a short film of Claude Monet painting in 1915.

While on the topic of artists, back in 1964 Miles Davis gave a few albums a blind listen and doled out some comments. "That's some old shit, man. Sounds like Steve Allen's TV band."

Terry Gilliam's daughter is sorting through her father's archives and finding some real gems. Original script from The Meaning of Life, hand-drawn cutouts for the opening titles of Flying Circus.

From the Things You Wish You Could Say at Work department, "I'm already visualizing the duct tape over your mouth."

David Lynch's answers to these 20 odd questions are very down-to-earth. Most delicious food? Eggs, bacon, hashbrowns.

Take a Fomula 1 lap via a camera at driver's eye level. It's more impressive because the track is wet and the driver is driving with only one eye because the camera was blocking his other eye.

Yep, I'm going to hell. source
Must have this: a shotgun that shoots a pinch of salt at bugs. The BugASalt Shotgun.

I don't know about you, but I need this now. the quiet place

...resembles friendship more than love. ~Michel de Montaigne (paraphrased)

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Democracy is the art and science of...

"I do remain convinced that life without reading and the personal thinking it provokes would be a greatly diminished thing." So begins an article about neuroscience and Shakespeare that ends up showing that reading the Bard's work takes your brain to a higher level. What's interesting here is that verbs and nouns are processed in different parts of your melon. Shakespeare's habit of nouning verbs and verbing nouns (for example - Her eye discourses; I will answer it. / I am too bold, 'tis not to me she speaks - from Romeo and Juliet) causes some very interesting neurochemistry to resolve that ambiguity thereby changing neuro pathways and allowing you to think in new and different ways. You can read the full post if you're interested in P600 parietal modulations.

LinkedIn. A mystery (to me) in the social media world. As popular as Google+, as beautiful as Myspace. Yet with 100 million members they are the top-rated social media platform for B2B. So maybe I should read and act upon these tips for Getting The Most out of LinkedIn.

For my beer drinking buddies:
  • Clean up the kitchen because you're going to be making some genuine Tudor Buttered Beere using a recipe from 1588. 
  • IKEA (yes, the furniture store) introduced Ol Mork Lager. (I'm too tired to do the umlauts.)
  • The family tree of beer styles.
The world's oldest bra (15th century) was recently unearthed in a castle's trash heap in Austria. Hell, I've got tighty whities almost as old.
From the things you've already seen department:
I've read precisely two books on the list of the 100 greatest works of fiction since 1990. There's a lot of Philip Roth and J.K. Rowling on here. I guess this is what retirement is for.

The infamous Chad Ochocinco has managed to steer clear of the jurisprudence columns of your local sports pages. What are the secrets of his success? AFC and NFC.
  • Alcohol: Party at home.
  • Firearms: Get a bodyguard if you're that paranoid.
  • Crews: Not needed, roll solo.
  • No man: Keep around a friend who'll tell you what you don't want to hear.
  • Fallback: Turn the other cheek.
  • Consent: Be careful of chicks and groupies.
For my Star Wars friends. source
Would you pay a buck a minute to snuggle? Are you an advocate of the benefits of non-sexual touch? Then The Snuggery is for you.

It's hard to imagine teeth without cavities but scientists have devised a molecule called Keep 32 that kills within 60 seconds all the streptococcus mutans, the bacteria in your mouth that causes cavities.The effect lasts for several hours.

For those of you with testicles (and the women who love them):
  • Seems obvious, but why does getting hit in the nuts hurt so much? It has something to do with the spermatic plexus.
  • Skinny jeans are not good for the family jewels. Of male wearers of tight denim 50% experience groin discomfort, 25% have bladder troubles, and 20% get a twisted testicle (OUCH).
It's been 20 years since the last episode of Twin Peaks aired. (I had to stop watching before the end. It was too creepy.) Here are some photographs from that last day of filming.
Things for which teh interwebs is perfect: a collection of transistor radios.

From the psychedelic art department:
What does the detonation of an atomic bomb sound like? Listen in as the Operation Upshot-Knothole 16 kt Annie detonation is set off on 17 March 1953.

Take a tour of the moon courtesy of NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.

This is science-like: a website full of animated engines

It's what's for dinner. source

...running a circus from inside the monkey cage. ~H.L. Mencken

Sunday, July 15, 2012

New Music: Harold Budd & Clive Wright and Naked Truth

A Song for Lost Blossoms by Harold Budd and Clive Wright

When standing in front of an abstract painting, especially something abstract expressionist, the question to ask isn't "What is it?" but rather "How does it make you feel?" The same sense of evocation is true for ambient music.

This idea is succinctly summed up by Pensive Aphrodite, the opening, 32-minute track on the 2008 album A Song for Lost Blossoms by pianist Harold Budd and guitarist Clive Wright. Aphrodite is the Greek goddess of love and pleasure yet this embodiment of passion is cast contemplative. We ourselves are given over a half hour to ponder the nature of beauty within the soundscape created by Budd's soft piano work and Wright's pulsing guitar. Recorded partly in Joshua Tree, California where the two artists met, Pensive Aphrodite creates a sense of nightfall in that Mojave Desert. Budd sonically creates the desert landscape and sky and Wright provides accents and lighting from the setting sun.

At least, that's how it makes me feel. You might feel differently. Which is part of the fun, if you will, of ambient music - the listener is an integral part of the experience. In fact, I find that a lot of Budd's music gives me a very strong seasonal sense of the outdoors - Winter Garden, In the Mist, Lovely Thunder. Alas, like most amateurish attempts to divine meaning from something abstract, this concept breaks down for works like The Room and La Bella Vista. But I digress.

The title track of A Song for Lost Blossoms is built around a poem of the same name by Wright's former bandmate with Cock Robin, Anna LaCazio. Based on the little biographical information about Budd that I have been able to find, his retirement in the mid 2000s was a self-imposed exile based on trauma in his personal life that he was able to work through and then re-emerge from with collaborations like this one with Wright. In that light, LaCazio's spoken word lyrics are insightful.
Look at what's happened
while the world fell asleep
gliding like west
kneeling to the east in search
my chest just beneath
where blood runs deep
and heart is an organ
which pumps for sound
bent red in deep deep pain
I'll remember
I'll remember what I've seen
and become awake
from the sun rising
There is a wonderful sense of renewal in those words and in the music, full of Budd's rising and falling keyboard runs.

Forever Hold My Breath, reminiscent of one part of Budd's 2-CD album from 2005, Avalon Sutra/As Long As I Can Hold My Breath, is carried by Wright's guitar work which provides a great framework of long runs that I liken to vocal phrases done with one breath. Going back to the theme of renewal, you can play word games with the relative meaning of As Long As I Can Hold my Breath from before Budd's retirement to Forever Hold My Breath after: uncertainty before, certainty after. I write this knowing that Budd often disclaims any embedded meaning in his work.

At This Moment, the fourth track, is available on YouTube for you to enjoy. This one is titled aptly because I get the impression that Budd's work is mostly about creating a sense of time and place. The version on the album was recorded live, adding to this spatial fixedness.

Other reviewers have compared the Budd-Wright collaborations to Eno and Fripp but I just don't see that beyond the obvious surface similarities. In particular, I find Fripp's work to be virtually inimitable, a fact which in no way detracts from Wright's abilities.

A Song for Lost Blossoms is a great addition to my collection of Budd's music and my first that includes Wright. If you're a fan of ambience, you'll enjoy it too.

Shizaru by Naked Truth

I don't remember exactly where or when I first heard about Naked Truth's album Shizaru but I expect it was some King Crimson related online forum or blog because of Pat Mastelotto's (drums and percussion) involvement. Also, my recent discovery of Jon Hassell's trumpet-based post-modern work (e.g. Last night the moon came dropping its clothes in the street) made me more receptive to other trumpet-based work, this time by Cuong Vu (Pat Metheny, etc.). The group is rounded out by Roy Powell on keyboards and Lorenzo Feliciati (the group's leader) on bass and guitar.

This is a jazz album. But that doesn't tell you much. Feliciati's goal was supposedly to create a group where all voices are equal. And he succeeded. You should not infer any commonality with the Budd-Wright work reviewed above. The two are quite different sonically. Shizaru presents a richly detailed wall of sound, packed with the interplay of the four musicians. Feliciati's bass work is especially strong and his interplay with Mastelotto provides Vu and Powell with a great framework. Each voice rises up and falls back, weaves in and out. Budd & Wright create music that's very spacious and open sonically while Naked Truth delivers a dense matrix of sound.

I especially like the title track. A sonorous beat crescendos into a pounding guitar riff that then segues into Vu's almost vocal trumpet lines. Powell then takes over with what might be considered classical jazz while the other three players surge beneath him. And then the whole thing just ends. It left me wishing it went on and on.

There is an improvisational quality to Shizaru that gives the work of these accomplished musicians a spontaneity. Other than that, I lack the musical vocabulary to describe what, for me, was a unique musical experience. (I dare not offer Mile Davis/King Crimson or Return to Forever/Liquid Tension Experiment analogies.)  Three tracks from Shizaru are available on Soundcloud for you judge for yourself.

The name Shizaru is the name of the oft-omitted fourth monkey in the See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil trio. Shizaru symbolizes Do No Evil. Defined by a quadruple negative, presented as an all-star quartet, Naked Truth exceeds their mandate and does something really good.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The two enemies of human happiness are...

OK, let's get started.

I haven't seen Brave yet so you'll have to judge how true this Pixar storyboard artist's tips on narrative development are. #19. Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

Must watch video of the week - Grand Finale 2010-11 is a composite video of all Space Shuttle launches.
Just like the toy in a box of cereal, swag from tradeshows was always a pleasant surprise for me. I still have a box full of swag from computer maker SGI (from back in the day when they were kings of the graphics workstation market). That has carried over to the present day where we try to give away fun stuff (pilsner glasses, Rubik's cubes, telescoping pointers). This article rates as good or bad the latest in event swag. Mobile charger? Looks good. Pens? Underrated. Large items? Definitely troublesome. Once got a Snuggie at a show and had to cram it into my suitcase. Umbrellas are good? I don't get that one.

Reason #38D that it's great to be a scientist - Predictors of Three-Dimensional Breast Kinematics during Bare-Breasted Running. (Reminds of that scene in Monthy Python's Meaning of Life. You know the one.) Their radical conclusion? Wait for it.  Bigger boobs jiggle more. (Insert joke about "hands on" research here.)
 More Tumblr juiceness:
If you have an hour to invest, this two-part podcast with musician Harold Budd is worth the effort. Budd is also a fan of painter Mark Rothko and describes meeting with him as well as other luminaries like John Cage and Morton Feldman. Part 1. Part 2. (Caveat: the amateurish interviewer was almost enough to make me turn this off. Suffer through it for Budd's sake. It's worth it to hear him shoot down attempts to infer specific meaning or messages in his music.)

Do you speak a lot publicly? Give presentations? This video pretty much sums up Every. Presentation. Ever.

Science pr0n - world's first image of an atom's shadow. source
 More books that I'll never find time to read.
  • books that changed science forever (All the classics are here, from Copernicus in 1543 to Maxwell in 1873.)
  • 88 books that changed America (I really am gonna have to read The Great Gatsby soon. Who was it that said it might be the most perfect novel ever written? Also, glad to see The Sound and The Fury included on this list. I've said it before and I'll say it again - it may be the best example of written English ever.)
  • Carl Sagan's reading list (Outline of Abnormal Psychology?)
What do Joe DiMaggio and JFK have in common? Read about it in this list of the 10 most incredible JFK assassination theories.

Reason #6 why I'm going to hell - Cool Jesus. source
Forbes brings us this list of the most miserable cities in the U.S. (Hey Detroit, at least Miami is #1.) Cleveland comes in at #12. It was down before and then up again and now down again. Let's hope for another upswing. For better or worse, what hurt CLE is lousy weather and sports teams. If I read the list correctly it consists of cities in CA, FL, and Rust Belt states.

The history of art? "Abstract art" totally wrong. Action painting looks like a Franz Kline. source
I am going to reproduce this list entirely as text (the linked page is just an image) because it's priceless. Reasons to Fear Canada by Sean Carman.
  1. Ninety percent of population is massed within 100 miles of northern American border.
  2. Seems not to mind that one of its provinces has turned almost entirely French.
  3. Excessive politeness only makes sense as a cover for something truly sinister. But what?
  4. Citizens seem strangely impervious to cold.
  5. Decriminalization of marijuana and acceptance of gay marriage without corresponding collapse of social institutions indicate Canada may, in fact, be indestructable.
  6. Has infiltrated entertainment industry with singers, actors, and comedians practically indistinguishable from their American counterparts.
  7. Consistently stays just below cultural radar yet never quite disappears.
  8. Parliamentary government and common-law judiciary appear to function acceptably yet remain completely inscruitable.
  9. Never had a "disco phase."
  10. Seemingly endless supply of timber, donuts, and Scotch-plaid hats with earflaps.
  11. Keeps insisting it has "no designs on America" and "only wants peace."
NASA's Mars Rover, Opportunity, took this 360 degree panoramic photo of the Martian surface.
Best of the visualization web for June 2012: Part 1, Part 2.

This guy really likes Google's Nexus 7 tablet.

Draw your own conclusions from this research study of Pursuing the American Dream: Economic Mobility Across Generations.

On the other hand I'll tell you exactly what I think of the widely published and commented on UCLA study Life at Home in the 21st Century in which researchers spent four years studying 32 Los Angeles-area families: its conclusions are complete and utter nonsense. While purporting to dig deeply literally and figuratively into these families' possessions, the sample size is so small and skewed as to make any generalized conclusions farcical.  The article is littered with psuedo-scholarly lingo like "normative expectation of hyperconsumerism," "high object density," "child-centered society" much like the homes in the study are littered with junk.

Mmmm, clam like salt.
...pain and boredom. ~ Arthur Schopenhauer

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Shadow Patrol by Alex Berenson

I've come late to the party as far as Alex Berenson's series of books featuring CIA operative John Wells is concerned. The Shadow Patrol is the sixth and latest in that series.

In this episode Wells has to operate as a problem solver when it becomes clear that there's a leak inside the CIA office in Kabul and information is getting to the Taliban. Equally troubling, it appears that someone in the U.S. military is involved in the heroin trade.

What struck me about The Shadow Patrol is that it's the first post-9/11 espionage thriller that I've read that focused on misbehaving U.S. troops. I suppose that was inevitable and echoes both reality and prior wars (i.e. Vietnam). That's not to say that I expect every U.S. soldier to be an eagle scout. It's just notable from a my personal standpoint.

The Shadow Patrol suffered in my opinion from two plot flaws. First, the antagonist gets only the lightest treatment. Rather than being mysterious, he's simply absent from virtually the entire plot once it's set in motion. For better or worse, I figured him out about 1/2 to 1/3 of the way through. Maybe I'm just slow and Berenson figured it was so obvious that it didn't need additional treatment. Second, the manner in which the antagonist's plot line is resolved, as well as the resolution of the entire novel left me wanting. I don't necessarily need everything tied up with a big red bow, but I do prefer the protagonist to be actively involved.

I'll certainly read more of Berenson's John Wells series. The teaser for the first in the series, The Faithful Spy, is enticing - "The only American ever to crack al Qaeda, John Wells has been undercover so long that the CIA is no longer sure he’s loyal – or even alive." Did I mention that Wells is a convert to Islam?

Berenson's website is

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Personal MBA by Josh Kaufman

As a business owner with only an engineering degree I sometimes wonder whether things would be easier if I had formal business education - in other words an MBA. While there's nothing wrong with flying by the seat of your pants, I often feel as though I've worn through too many pairs of britches. In the late 90s I even considered enrolling in a part-time MBA program only to have common sense tell me that homework and exams were well in my past.

Jumping right to the end of The Personal MBA, I'll quote author Josh Kaufman: "Self education is a never-ending process." And he's right. Kaufman's book is the latest in a long string of books I've read in the hopes of bringing some formalism to the business half of my everyday work.

The Personal MBA is comprised of twelve chapters covering topics from sales & marketing, to finance, working with people, and working with systems. In each chapter, Kaufman introduces the various principles and concepts that you'd learn about in the coursework that comprises an MBA. Keep in mind that Kaufman's basis for writing this book (and the website and consulting that goes with it) is his opinion that going to school for an MBA is just not worth the cost and time. Instead of paying $100,000 in tuition and investing two years, there are fundamental ideas that you can learn on your own. For example, the chapter on  sales covers finding common ground, four pricing methods, education-based selling, the three dimensions of negotiation, and more. Each section is rather short and can be read in probably 10 minutes or less. In fact, each section ends with a URL that's convenient for tweeting.

One section that struck a chord with me was The Paradox of Automation which states that the more efficient an automated system is, the more crucial is the contribution of the human operators of that system. My interest in this quote really has nothing to do with business but rather the technical half of my day job. The dictionary definition of automatic is "without human intervention" but letting automated software run wild is a recipe for disaster.

On the down side, The Personal MBA has a tendency to read like one long glossary of business terms. There's nothing truly actionable. But it does accomplish Kaufman's goal of identifying, raising your awareness of, and briefly explaining the significance of business concepts.

Kaufman's website is

Men who are unhappy...

I'm not certain exactly what the Hypnotoad is but he wants all the glory. says it will help me "channel surf the music web." But I just get overwhelmed by it and can't figure out exactly what it does or how to make it do it. But if I was a music blogger, perhaps...

I didn't think I could like Pink Floyd more. But now I do. source
Science hit a home run this week. No, not that Higgs Boson nonsense. Science proved that men prefer women with big boobs.

How well do you understand health care reform? Me, not too much. Only scored 60% on this ten question health reform quiz (including 2 don't knows).

The Russian military was never known for elegance and that's why this report about missile silos containing a sledge hammer in case the safes won't unlock is plausible. Of course, Russian sledge hammers probably don't cost $6,000 and come with 200 pages of documentation.

What's with all the Formula 1 stuff this week?
  1. Take a lap at the Monaco Grand Prix with Sebastian Vettel. My god, his reflexes are fast. I have a hard time controlling YouTube but the way he handles that car is amazing.
  2. To illustrate exactly how fast a Formula 1 car is driven, watch this video overlay showing GT cars and Formula 1 cars over the same section of track. Seems impossibly fast.
  3. Enjoy this animated evolution of the F1 Car.
Dubstep Dispute shows what happens when droids drop the bass.

Is it solid or liquid? Is it at rest or in motion? The sculptures of Eyal Gever.
Obligatory beer post, this time about a gold-laced brew from the Czech Republic.

Speaking of metals, enjoy this video of a drop of mercury being vibrated from 120 Hz to 10 Hz and marvel at how its shape changes with the frequency.

Four reasons why George Orwell wrote:
  1. Sheer egoism. "Writers share this characteristic with... the whole top crust of humanity."
  2. Aesthetic enthusiasm. "Desire to share an experience which one feels is valuable and ought not to be missed."
  3. Historical impulse. " find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity."
  4. Political purpose. "Desire to push the world in a certain direction..."
Was anyone else aware that the original Asia lineup released a new CD, XXX, this week?

At first glance, Eaton's map-based online power outage tracker seems like a good idea. When you start using it you realize it's really clunky and virtually indecipherable.

This has been making the rounds but it's kinda nice and well made and worth reposting. Here's a video of a guy conversing with his 12-year-old self. What would I tell me at 12?
  1. Try to be likable, not liked.
  2. Don't drop the upper-level math course.
  3. Barb Armstrong will never date you so just give it up.
This list is over ten years old but worth revisiting - Terry Gilliam's all-time best animated films.

A sea squirt is a non-moving, invertebrate, filter-feeder that's apparently also delicious. Despite looking like a cross between a bloody nose and a geode.
Collaborative painting with a twist - The Paintshop is an online multi-user paint application that also includes a commerce component. Once someone signs a painting, it's theirs and goes into the gallery for sale, printing, and delivery. Edition of 1. Read more about it in this interview with creator Jonas Lund.

With the Olympics only a few weeks away every professor with at least one grad student is going to be publishing some sports-related science. In this particular case, it's how to deliver a wickedly curving corner kick in soccer (football for you people who don't have real football).

Where do people hang out on teh interwebs? YouTube has more unique visitors than Facebook. And look at tiny Pinterest.
The 'Busy' Trap is an interesting read from the NYT. I personally hate (not quite as much as ringtones) the "I'm so busy" statement simply because it's so vague and unquantified. The author opines "Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness." The implication is that most peoples' busyness is actually self-imposed. The author goes on to promote idleness - "The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done."

Forget the Kinect and check out the Leap. Three cubic feet of interaction with accuracy to 0.01 mm, knows all ten of your fingers and the pencil you're holding. The only problem I have with devices like this is the lack of haptic feedback. I have the same problem with the touch screens on the bridge of Star Trek's Enterprise.

Speaking of Star Trek geekery, the Galileo shuttlecraft from the original series sold at auction for $70,000.

I show you my Pikachu collection so you know I'm 4 r33lz when I say I'd totally drive the Pi-Car-Chu.
The last page of teh interwebs. Now go outside. men who sleep badly, are always proud of the fact. ~Bertrand Russell