Free Energy Audit

In most states, the local utility company will come to your house for free, inspect the house, and let you know the best ways to save energy and money. I just did this through Georgia Power (click here or call 1-800-524-2421). It was very helpful, and very non-partisan. Why do they do it? If you reduce or smooth out your energy demand, they can serve more customers better. So it’s saving money, and good PR.

Thoughts After the Pats are 8-0

  • It’s still an hour to go, but congratulations Red Sox. Makes me wish I liked baseball!
  • The NFL needs a mercy rule. That fourth quarter was barely fun to watch. I watched anyhow of course.
  • Forget the Super Bowl, the real Super Bowl is next week. I’ve been drooling for Pats Colts, the only games that matter.
  • Seriously, there’s the Pats and the Colts and a bunch of runner-ups.
  • The NFC is pathetic. The Redskins probably thought they were a pretty good team at 4-2. They were not. They were just another team that isn’t the Pats or Colts.
  • I have a mancrush on Wes Welker. Oh, those blue eyes! And perfect blocks!
  • Maroney is back, Seymour is back. It seems mathematically impossible, but we just keep getting better. Is there an upper limit here?
  • What does it take for teams to defend Vrabel on that same touchdown play we’ve seen again and again? When he’s in on offense, cover him. How hard is that? Looks at his line. 3 sacks, each leading to fumbles, each recovered by the Pats. A touchdown reception. He’s caught 10 passes in his career, and they’ve all been for touchdowns. By the way, he’s a defensive player. I can understand your confusion.

At Least He’s Consistent

In the 2004 election, St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke publicly declared that communion should not be granted to John Kerry. I thought is was an appalling thing to do. For an archbishop to insert himself into the presidential race was unseemly. And his stance was hypocritical. True, Kerry is pro-choice, but the Church and the Pope had also blasted the Iraq war as immoral for the same reasons (loss of human life) and the archbishop didn’t seem too concerned about that.

In the 2008 election cycle, I am vaguely pleased to see that he is being consistent. He also says that he would deny communion to Guliani, for the same reason. I don’t think I’ve seen any coverage of this anywhere, and it’s still an obnoxious thing for a religious figure to do, but at least he’s consistent.

Muttroxia Goes International

I went to Technorati for the first time today. This is the site that technical types use to keep the pulse of the blogosphere. It let’s you see which blogs are popular, rising fast, most linked, etc. It gives a set of stats for any site. Muttroxia is currently going strong at rank 3,915,745. You go girl.

I also found this French site, http://aunizouka.spaces.live.com/ which links to my Aerosmith post. Well, not the post. Actually it’s one of the jerks who linked to one of the .mp3’s I was hosting and created enough traffic to use up my bandwidth, making Muttroxia go dark twice.

Thanks a lot, Jacque!

Update: I just saw that Technorati tracks over 100 million blogs. So I’m at the 97th percentile! Go Muttorixa!

Comedy Central is Serious

Andrew Sullivan today lashed out at Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, printing and adding onto the below:

The problem lies in the role they play in the overall mediasphere, especially among Gen X and Gen Y; namely, the fact that for many of these viewers, Stewart/Colbert have become a surrogate for actually engaging with politics and current events more deeply, or treating it all as anything other than an ongoing joke.

I know this makes me sound like a fuddy-duddy — I’m only 40 — but still… I can’t tell you how many people I know who get their political news exclusively from Stewart/Colbert, and that’s pathetic.

It’s news commentary, after all, not the news itself. Worse, because Stewart and Colbert are so clever, they make their viewers feel clever — or at least smug — as well. But that smugness breeds a kind of complacent cynicism, with the take-away message being something like, “Politicians are just liars and clowns, and politics itself is just a form of kabuki, so let’s just treat it as the joke that it is and leave it at that.”

This is far from the truth. In fact, the two shows are much more serious than most shows. The interviews they do are with more interesting people, and are much more meaty than anything you see on the networks. The interviews always give the guests a chance to speak. They are always back and forth, not just a list of questions.

And more importantly, they are about ideas. An interview with Jennifer Aniston or Kid Rock is much rarer than an interview with Sandy Berger or Salman Rushdie. Oprah has a book group once a month, these guys interview an author a week. Who else is doing that? And even the comedy bits often deal with the substance of issues much more than standard news coverage. The humor often comes from having a larger context, from giving the perspective on the news that the straight news doesn’t.

There’s a reason that the viewers are the most informed. They may not cover it fairly, but the cover news for what it is, not what they want it to be. And they interview the interesting people of the world, clearly because Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are themselves intellectually curious people who want to know more about the world they live in.

Gotcha “Journalism”

If you watch 60 Minutes and many other shows of the same type you’ll see a common interviewing technique. Ask a strong question. Wait for the answer. If it’s a short one, don’t respond to the answer. Don’t show any real reaction at all, just look at them, as if waiting for the rest. Many subjects, unable to stand the silence, will instinctively start filling it in, expounding more on their short answer. This increases the odds they’ll say something interesting. I’ve tried this at random times, and if the person isn’t ready for it, it nearly always works.

Of course, public figures are ready for it. They become adept at being equally blank after their answer has been given. So you see footage like George Bush saying “no”, and then 10 seconds of his face with nothing happening, while the viewer fills in their own interpretation of what they think George Bush is thinking. So there’s no way to win. Either you keep talking, which you don’t want to do, or your non-reaction becomes the focus. Why do I bring this up?

In Sundays New York Times, we were treated to this gem in a piece on Howard Dean.

So a string of questions are answered with a fresh, yet telling, caution:

Should Al Gore get into the race? “I’ve never discussed that with him, and I don’t plan to. My bailiwick is to stay out of that stuff.” (Mr. Gore, of course, endorsed Mr. Dean four years ago.) After 26 seconds of silence, he changes the subject and asks his lunch guests, “Coffee, strawberry shortcake, anybody?”

After 26 seconds of silence? Why is the interviewer (Jeff Zeleny) just sitting there for 26 seconds? What is it that Mr. Dean was supposed to do? Jeff tried an old trick, and it failed. Strangely, instead of just moving on, he wrote up his failure on the front page, and spun it as a new caution. There’s just no way to win.

Here’s Your Housing Crisis

The Times today has an article about speculators picking up foreclosed property for cheap. Nothing wrong with that, right?

“The market’s really low right now, so you can get a good price,” said Lori Crook, a food server at Keys Cafe who said she was looking for a place she could fix up and sell. “Even if you can’t sell it right away, if you just sit on it and sit on it, it will go up.”

You have to wonder how much spare captial a food server has. You got to think this is a pretty huge gamble for Lori. Lori believes that the market will go up. End of story, no qualifiers, this is money in the bank. Now where have I heard that attitude before… oh yes, from every bubble ever.

Representatives from two big lenders that have been hit hard by the collapse of the subprime mortgage market, Countrywide Financial and Bear Stearns, were on hand to provide mortgages — fixed, adjustable, jumbo or interest-only. Both have been criticized for giving loans too freely, leading to a wave of delinquencies and a rush to sell debt securities backed by those loans.

Hmm… easy access to seemingly cheap money… now where have I heard that before… oh yes, now I remember, that’s what started the housing bubble! These two particular companies even! What a coincidence.

Some, including Bryan Kihle and Jim Casha, who bought a four-bedroom house for $145,000, bid without seeing the properties. “I just looked at the picture and thought if we got it cheap enough, we could rent it for a year, then sell it when the market goes back up,” said Mr. Kihle, a building contractor.

Again, no qualifiers, no risk assessment. They didn’t even look in the house! By the way, real estate is going for $7/month in Detroit. By their logic, you should be buying up whole blocks there.

I’m sure there are plenty of savvy investors out there. This guy seems reasonable:

Nathan Harris, 23, bought lot 8A, a four-bedroom house near the University of Minnesota, for $80,000. He had been willing to bid as high as $150,000… Mr. Harris chose an interest-only mortgage…But he said he was not worried: in five years, when his mortgage adjusts, it will still be on a principal of only $80,000.

But there are clearly a large proportion of gamblers who just think they are getting in on this wave of a sure thing. “The reality is, half the reason 300 homes are being auctioned off is that speculators tried to make a killing and failed to do so.”

Falling a couple percentage points of record highs does not mean buying low.

Links o’ Interest

Lots o’ links, plenty of good ones!

Q & A about the original Gore/Bush Supreme Court decision. Athough I’m not a lawyer, this squares with other legal accounts I’ve read. Worth reading all the way through.

Enter your position on the issue, find the candidate who you should be supporting.
Of the major candidates, I do indeed support Edwards, which I really do. However, he is not my number one choice. Read this insightful commentary on the results. Who is the front-runner that no one has heard of?

I assume this is real. Practice your vocabulary while doing free charity. Every word you get right sends 10 grains of rice to the poor. (I’m at vocab level 41 by the way. Anyone doing better?)

Find out about your zip code!

Life for a professional gamer

How to hug a baby properly (for dogs)

A day without government. What does it look like? (You hear the GOP complaining that healthcare proposals are socialized medicine. You don’t hear them complaining about socialized water, or socialized traffic, or any of the social goods our government attends to.)

The cutest pictures on the internet. (Even with the repeats, I gotta admit. Thems cute pictures.)

I love websites like this. Animated .gifs of The Lord of the Rings, Boromir plotting out better ways to destroy the one ring. Ninja Wizards baby!

Watch the bat on this baseball play. Statistics in action!

See how much you earn, in real time. Fun! Or depressing… kind of depends on how much you make.

The Vinegar boy saga. (One of those ”how customers suck” stories)

Drew Carey explains how traffic works (or doesn’t).

How many of you are there? (The 4-yr old is honestly worried about how people know that he is really him with all these other hims around.)

Thoughts After the First Six Patriots Games of the Year

Pretty much the same as before.

# Our offensive line is amazing.
# I can’t believe they let us have Randy Moss.
# I’m looking forward to the rest of this year.

And I can’t wait until November 4th (the Colts game, probably the biggest game of the year until we meet in the AFC championship game to decide the Superbowl winner.)

Oh, and by the way, what’s the earliest you can mathematically clinch a division? Here are the standings right now.
Pats, 6-0
Bills, 1-4
Jets, 1-6
Dolphins, 0-6

Yeesh!

Oh, Those Darn Trying Liberals

Here’s another New York Times gem, “Liberal Base Proves Trying to Democrats”

The first thing that comes to mind is where’s the other article? The one talking about how the complete nutjobs on the right are such a pain to the GOP? Anyhow, so most of the article is about liberal idiots who think Barney Frank isn’t gay enough, or don’t like Pelosi’s alleged hypocrisy about the farm bill.

And then they slide this little nugget in:

The tension between Democratic lawmakers and their base has been most visible on the Iraq war, where the insistence by some of the most outspoken antiwar groups on setting hard deadlines for the withdrawal of American troops has often handcuffed Senate Democrats trying to reach a bipartisan deal on legislation to change the war strategy.

The majority of the country wants to end the Iraq war, and get us out. A pretty big majority. The majority want hard deadlines. This is what’s “trying” to the Democrats? That implies carrying out the wishes of the country is an annoyance.

This is where the pressure comes from. Not the liberal base, the entire frickin’ country! Honestly, how hard is this to figure out?

Fun with Craigslist

I didn’t get one bite on my old TiVo. Not one inquiry about a DVD player in perfect working condition. So when I needed to get rid of some flagstones that have been laying around the house for years, I put them in the free section.

In less the 24 hours, I have had 46 people write about these. I guess I should have charged for them!

Update: In the 3 minutes it took me to write this, there have been two more inquiries. Wow.

The Torture Machine

This machine is evil. This whole article just scared the living bejeezus out of me.

A square transmitter as big as a plasma TV screen is mounted on the back of a Jeep.

When turned on, it emits an invisible, focused beam of radiation – similar to the microwaves in a domestic cooker – that are tuned to a precise frequency to stimulate human nerve endings.

It can throw a wave of agony nearly half a mile.

The agony the Raytheon gun inflicts is probably equal to anything in a torture chamber – these waves are tuned to a frequency exactly designed to stimulate the pain nerves.

I couldn’t hold my finger next to the device for more than a fraction of a second. I could make the pain stop, but what if my finger had been strapped to the machine?

Dr John Wood, a biologist at UCL and an expert in the way the brain perceives pain, is horrified by the new pain weapons.

“They are so obviously useful as torture instruments,” he says.

“It is ethically dubious to say they are useful for crowd control when they will obviously be used by unscrupulous people for torture.”

We use the word “medieval” as shorthand for brutality. The truth is that new technology makes racks look benign.

The World Series of Poker

Wow. What a fantastic tournament. Something like 20 hours of TV coverage, and I enjoyed every minute of it. If you enjoy poker at all, there’s nothing like the big one. What other tournament requires you to beat over 6,000 other players to win? Where you can win over $8,000,000? Where the qualification for entry isn’t your track record, the draft, or qualifying rounds; all it takes is $10,000. I’m still not sure if pokers a sport, but in it’s own way, the WSOP is greater than NCAA finals, the Superbowl, or the World Cup.

Now we finally know the winner. (Actually, we’ve known the winner for month, I’ve just been in a self-imposed poker media blackout so I could see it happen on TV.) Jerry Yang. Frickin’ amateurs! Now Jerry Yang is obviously a better player than Chris Moneymaker. But he’s also obviously worse than Raymer, Haschem, or Gold. I have to give him a lot of credit for this feat, but at the same time you can’t ignore the role of luck. Once at the final table, he went from one of the pack to building an astronomical chip lead mainly by getting great cards four or five hands in a row. He did not play particularly well at the final table. He read his opponent successfully about 50% of the time, in other words he didn’t read his opponent at all. But with that chip advantage it didn’t matter. Kravchenko beat him four all-ins in a row, but Yang only needed to win one. When he finally did, he got all his money back and then some. That’s how it goes.

I just found the hand-by-hand replay. On TV, it looks like heads-up play is decided after the first hand, but it was actually hand 36.

Best reason to be athiest:
Yang and Rahme are all-in, waiting for the last cards that will decide their fate. Rahme’s wife is shrieking to god praising his name hoping for the right cards, while Yang is babbling about the miracles and proving his faith for you O Lord. It must have been working, because my reaction was “Jesus Christ!”. The sight of the two of them praying as hard as they could was sickening. First of all, it’s idiotic. Clearly the Lord can’t answer both their prayers, do you really think he’s deciding whether the next card will be a queen by who prays the best, by which player is most worthy? Second, it’s gambling. Last I checked, this was a sin. Third, the odds were 19 to 1 at that point. God doesn’t really need to intervene at that point. Fourth, the loser gets over $3,000,000 at that point. C’mon!

Best reason to invite all the amateurs:
The two finalists were both refugees, one from Cambodia, one from Laos. Both of them were going to use a good deal of their winnings to help out their native countries. No getting around it, that’s nice, that’s refreshing. Pros don’t have that mentality, or they don’t talk about it during tourney time.

Links o’ Interest

Pete Townshend: Dancing Machine!

This guy thought his chi or something would protect him when he sliced himself with a sword. He was wrong.

Other People…

The Republican Party, known since the late 19th century as the party of business, is losing its lock on that title. Their irresponsible fiscal policies is driving big business away.

Rice Paddy Art (growing and harvesting)

A Beautiful Gold-digger gets an Honest Reply from Wall Street

Peter Sellers gives a primer on British accents.

Funny and clever math test answers

Jon Stewart Misses the Point

Jon Stewart had Chris Matthews on the other day to talk about his new book, “Life’s a Campaign”, and it got a little heated.

The Daily Show billed the clip (click to watch it)as “Jon Stewart gives Chris Matthews the worst interview of his life”. Andrew Sullivan referred to it as a savaging. It was #4 on Reddit. It got callouts from Tapped and others. Ha, watch Chris Matthews finally get taken down!

Only, it seems all of them missed the point. Stewart’s main criticism is that life is not a campaign. Campaigns are about lying and artifice, life is not. Matthews book is about using campaign techniques to achieve your goals. Whether your goals are good or bad is your own problem, he’s just showing you some tools to help. Objectives and tactics are completely different things.

Countless authors have written books in the same style. Stewart mentioned The Prince. I thought of How to Win Friends & Influence People. Or any of the hundreds of books on negotiation, The 7 Successful habits etc. etc. etc. ad nauseum. At worst, these books are amoral (not immoral), they will not make your life sad and depressed, as Jon said.