Links o’ Interest

Nemesis Wanted [Pic]

I’m probably the last person in the world to see this, but here it is: The Evolution of Dance

Redneck Mansion [Pic]

Best of Craiglists: To the Crazy-bat-shit-lady who picked up the free fridge

Confused by the subprime crisis? Let some stick figures explain it to you.

I loved Nickel & Dimed. This book is a response to it, showing how possible it is to get out of poverty if you are at all determined to do so.

A very interesting call-in discussion about atheism and faith.

Another Buffet interview, from business students. Good questions, great answers.

Can the psychologist beat the mathematicians? An update on the Netflix contest.

Yes, it’s torture. See some new photos.

The effects of bottom trawling, as seen from space.

A Bush Budget

Bush is a conservative, eh? Here’s another typical budget from our small government champion.

If President Bush’s budget for fiscal 2009 is approved in its current form, U.S. government spending will have increased by more than $1.2 trillion since President Clinton left office; adjusted for inflation, that’s a 35% increase. Bush has increased spending at three times the rate Clinton did when he was president, and also has given us the biggest defense budget since World War II — and that’s regularly budgeted defense spending, not counting funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Yet, as in the past, Bush is proud of his fiscal discipline and projects the end of the deficit in 2012.

Paid Time Off

This graph makes you think:
PTO by country

And as I always have to point out, that final bar showing 10 is for Japan, not America. America has no bar, because Americans, alone in the developed world, aren’t guaranteed even one day of paid vacation.

I did not know that.


Almost three years ago Jabley got Vonage. He’s my guinea pig for cool new tech toys, and I’ve wanted it since then. The delay for most of that time has been over the 911 issue. Cel phones are actually tracking you all the time to know where you are, but Vonage doesn’t. The phone number you have may not be related to your geography at all, Jabley cites people using American phone numbers even though they’re based in India. This means that if you dial 911, you might not get the right service.

How smart are we? We finally realized that Vonage is for the house, it won’t replace our cel phone. We can tell Vonage with the right 911 is, and it will always be right. Duh.

So I called and got it. It works perfectly. Reception is clear as a bell, all the features I could ask for, long distance is no distance, etc. I’m especially glad that we kept our old phone number. It will cut our phone bill in half, that’s $300 a year. I even got two months free by putting Jabley as a referral.

But then…

  • Activation, buying the physical unit, shipping it me: $50.
  • I naively pictured that all our existing phones would continue to work. In reality, Vonage is a physical unit that the phones must plug into. That means we had to buy a phone system with a master unit and a few slaves. And these new ones can’t be outside which means our outdoor phone is gone. $99.
  • TiVo: TiVo uses the phone system to update itself. Although there are ways to hook it into Vonage and dial, it makes more sense to connect it to the home network. I broke down and bought the wireless adapter: $65, thank you Circuit City.

After all this saving money, I’m over $200 in the hole!

A Political Analogy for my Vote

When I’m asked who I support, my answer is Hillary but I really like Obama also it’s a close call bla bla as long as it’s a Democrat who wins the whole thing bla bla bla. I finally came up with an analogy I like:

You and the guys are getting some dinner. You have two choices. One is pizza. The other is tofu sandwiches. Of course, you all want pizza. Some people want mushrooms, some want onions on top. The arguments start. You compare the relative merits of both toppings. You question everyones knowledge. You question their motivations. You question their sanity. The more you talk about it, the bigger the differences get. The drug connotations of mushrooms are examined. Breath freshness of the onion lovers is tested. The arguments go on.

But one thing everyone can agree on, no one wants the tofu sandwich. As long as we get pizza instead of tofu, I’m basically happy. I like onion over mushrooms, but either is fine by me.

Book Recommendations

  • A Walk in the Woods (Bill Bryson): I reread this for the second time. Still the funniest travel book you’ve ever read in your life. Bill Bryson is your average middle-aged person, who decides one day that he wants to hike the Appalachian Trail. After all, he takes good long walks every day, this will be just a lot of them put together, right? Much hilarity ensues. All Bryson books are good, but this one is the best.
  • Since Then (David Crosby): This is David Crobsy’s second autobiography. Since he wrote the first one, enough has happened to make a whole second volume. Having read it, I agree. This guy is amazing. He can’t go ten days without almost dying, almost killing someone, becoming a millionaire, donating sperm for famous lesbians, going bankrupt, going homeless, almost dying again, finding long lost children, forming a band with said children, and so on. The man has lived.
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (J.K. Rowling): Awesome! It’s hard to review without giving away any spoilers, so I can’t say much. I was very impressed how all the plot twists were completely fair. Everything you knew was wrong, but for valid reasons, she never deliberately led you to believe one thing and then set you up for the twists, the twists were natural. I’ll stop there.
  • The Black Swan: (Nick Taleb):This one has gotten a lot of press. Black Swan events are those that are so far outside normal probability we don’t think about them in the normal course of life. Hurricanes are normal events. Katrina destroying New Orleans is very improbable, perhaps a black swan. The transformative power of the Internet, 9/11, these are Black Swan events. Taleb’s got an attitude. You don’t often read a book centered on mathematics that has such a strong point of view. It’s very refreshing. I intended to read his other book, Fooled by Randomess.
  • The Golden Compass (Phillip Pullman):I had intended to make a standalone post about this book. It’s fantastic. I have recently been re-reading some of the kids books I used to love. Some of them stand up, some don’t. The Dark is Rising stinks. As an adult, it’s laughably dumb. Pullman’s stuff is intelligent. The first two books of this trilogy were incredibly well done. They are childrens books, but very readable by adults. If you read just the first book, you will have a hard time understanding why the Right is so mad about this. Once you get into the trilogy, it is very clear. I’ll leave it at that to avoid spoilage. Sadly, the third book is simply ridiculous. It has cool moments here and there, but can’t deliver on the promise of the first two books.
  • Empire Falls (Richard Russo): I love Richard Russo. I first learned about him from the movie Nobody’s Fool (with Paul Newman), which had such an interesting style and feel to it, unlike any other movie I’d seen. I finished Empire Falls last night, I was up until 1:00 am finishing it out. It won the Pulitzer Prize, and deservedly so. This is what got me thinking about Pulitzer Prize books.
  • Soon I Shall be Invincible (Austin Grossman): Actually, I haven’t read this yet, but it will be on top of my next Amazon order. Most of you know I used to be very tight with Austin, and I can confidently say, if he wrote it, it’s good. (The other reviewers are all saying the same thing by the way, not just me.) Update: Yes, it’s very very good!
  • Sacred Games (Vikram Chandra): This is another one of those books where talking about the plot doesn’t tell you much about the book. A policeman in India successfully captures/kills the local mafia chief. Chapters alternate between the stories of the policeman and the gangster, and of course more is revealed. Whatever. It’s a wonderful book to read. Full of life and atmosphere, all kinds of interesting characters brewing in an enormous soup of life. I’ve never been to India, and yet I feel like I took a long trip there.

Links o’ Interest

Sauron’s Kingdom – Moscow

The world’s greatest hacker

I must say I’m quite upset… A very clueless thief.

The anonymity experiment: Can you live for a week without leaving any traces?

This is not a bad rendition of Hey Jude, considering.

Water Balloon not exploding in slow motion

Music with just MS operating system sounds.

The evolution of car logos

A well-deserved takedown of a supposedly professional comic book artist. Devastating.

See all the movie parts that actors/actresses turned down. Brad Pitt as Neo?

Buffet Lines

Meat McBeef said:

Here’s a related question for you, Muttrox. I’m in a buffet line, which starts out with the salad section, followed by the hot dishes. I’m not eating any salad, so do I need to wait for the person ahead of me to pile up his plate with salad, or can I leap ahead to the hot dishes — judging that I will be well out of his way when he is ready for hot grub?

Well, Biff McMeat, it is all about the context. In general, I think you have to wait your turn here more than at the drink line. Why? Because most buffets are places where you can’t afford to look like a jackhole. Work gatherings, professional meetings, family reunions, these are your typical buffet settings. In addition, unlike the drink line, your action could conceivably lose time for the cuttee. Suppose they go to the hot dishes two seconds after you cut them, then they have to wait for you. That isn’t fair to them. The key factors are, (1) Do you know the people there? (2) Is there room for multiple people at the station, (3) is it crowded?

I am not exactly an authority on good etiquette. And I know my commenters, you’re a bunch of uncouth dolts also. So I went to someone who knows something. Mrs. Muttrox (who has more manners in her extended pinkie finger than any of us) says, “I think it’s okay to do, but you’d better be prepared for some dirty looks.”

The Shaq Trade

Direct questions usually get answers:

what’s your take on the Shaq trade? I think it’s a worthwhile risk. I don’t think the Suns were going to win it all with their roster/style. Nash is getting old (though he doesn’t show it yet) and their window is within the next 2 years. It’s wholly dependent on whether Shaq has been underperforming because of health (in which case they’re in trouble) or motivation. What better motivation than getting a chance to beat Kobe in the playoffs?

First, the disclaimer. I haven’t followed the NBA for a couple years. Now that my beloved Celtics are (a) pretty good, (b) relevant, (c) on TV a lot, and (d) really, really good – I’m following again. I haven’t watched the Suns much, and I haven’t watched the Heat much. With that said, I think it’s a crazy trade. (1) Phoenix is the best team in the West, why do you make any trade? When you’re top, you stand pat. (2) Trading young for old is always risky. The Celtics pulled it off with Garnett, but that’s after we blew with several lesser stars. Gugliotta, Vin whats-his-name the alcoholic, Gary Payton, etc. It’s a big gamble. Why would the Suns gamble? (3) Shaq just ain’t that good anymore. He doesn’t play much, and when he does he isn’t particularly effective. (4) Marion is very good. Frankly, I don’t see any arguments at all in favor of it.

Oh, wait the Kobe thing. (i) Motivation is overrated. All pros are motivated. It’s not as if Shaq’s been playing in neutral the whole time. (ii) I think the Kobe vs. Shaq tiff has been blown out of proportion. I’m sure Shaq isn’t Kobe’s biggest fan, but I doubt they’re arch-enemies. (iii) He can get as pissed as he wants, but he’s over the hill. 14 pts, 8 rebounds a game? That’s not bad, but it ain’t great. And he’s only playing 30 minutes a game, and that’s not going to magically improve no matter how motivated he is. (iv) The time to be motivated was in the off-season. He could have gotten in shape and been truly ready for the season. It’s too late now.

Next question?

Update: Baker. Vin Baker. Uuch!

Fountain Drink Lines

You’re at a restaurant. They give you a drink cup and you walk over to the drink area. It’s a drink dispenser where you put your cup under the particular soda you want and press the button to fill the cup.

You wouldn’t think it takes long to press the right button, fill the cup for six seconds, and move on with life. But for some people, it is. I am often surprised by how hard this technology must be.

Now you are at the fountain dispenser. The person in front of you is filling from the slot on the far right. The soda you want is on the far left. The question is: Is it acceptable for you to come around and start filling your cup before that person is done? I say yes, and I do it. Why not? You’re not slowing them down. You’re a few slots away, you’re not invading their personal space. There’s no formal line or system. Why not, it saves everyone time? On the other hand, something about it seems wrong. There’s some ill-defined social convention that I’m breaking.

This will somehow end up on Curb Your Enthusiasm.

My letter to JRR Tolkien’s lawyer

If you hadn’t heard about the Tolkien Trust’s lawsuit against New Line, read here first.

Dear Ms. Eskenazi,

I read on about the lawsuit you’ve filed against New Line on behalf of the Tolkien Trust for gross points that were never paid on the LORD OF THE RINGS films. It’s a typical tragedy in this town of ours that the only way one gets paid what they’re owed is to sue for it.

I think you and your clients are in a unique position with this lawsuit to make a big difference in the way Hollywood studios do business. Everyone knows that the accounting systems at the studios are completely fraudulent, designed to cheat everyone but the studios out of any profits from projects. We all hear the stories day after day of how people were routinely screwed out of points and residuals. But the system won’t change until the burden of keeping it in place is too onerous for the studios. So far, no lawsuit has impelled them to change their ways because everyone has settled, from Art Buchwald to Peter Jackson. I think one of the big reasons they settle is that they’re afraid of being blacklisted. But the Tolkien Trust doesn’t need to fear being blacklisted. Their primary property has already been exploited; there’s not much left to sell to Hollywood. Furthermore, they’re a charity. It would be a great charitable gift to the hardworking creative artists of Hollywood if the Trust would see this suit all the way through to the very bitter end. Fully expose New Line’s bookkeeping schemes in the sunlight of open court, and then show the court how this is standard operating practice in the industry. Set a precedent of massive financial risk for any studio that does business this way. Make it impossible for them to keep doing this to their creative partners.

Good luck in your suit. I hope you will see it all the way through and make a real difference for us.

My New New Years Resolution

I’ve decided to trade in one of my New Years Resolutions for this one. I like it much better.

I, Muttrox, declare that by the end of 2008, I will read 10 fiction and 10 non-fiction Pulitzer prize winning books. The lists of winners are here (fiction and non-fiction).

What started this?
I recently read Empire Falls, and just finished The Yiddish Policeman’s Union (by Michael Chabon, who wrote The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay). They’re both fantastic books, as was Guns, Germs, and Steel. I want more of that. I thought about the Nobel prize winners, but they’re so… um… well, foreign. I’ve read a few and liked them, but I don’t want to spend a whole year reading other cultures. I only like to do that once in a while. The Pulitzer prize winners seem closer to my tastes.

Here’s what I’ve read so far:

2002: Empire Falls by Richard Russo
2001: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
1981: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
1980: The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer (overrated)
1961: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
1953: The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
(I also started Beloved by Toni Morrison, but hated it. I read the first of Updike’s Rabbit books and only thought it was so-so.)

1998: Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond
1992: The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power by Daniel Yergin (I didn’t finish reading this, but I still intend to and I did read the incredibly dense follow-up, The Commanding Heights, so I’m giving myself credit)
1988: The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes (very good)
1980: Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas R. Hofstadter (I’ve read this about thirty times)
1962: The Making of the President 1960 by Theodore White

Links o’ Interest

Trench Warfare (pic)

The top 10 strange Bible stories.

Another ”duh”

One for the guys.

Sarah Silverman is really funny. So is Matt Damon.

Holy cow – swimming at the top of Victoria Falls.

Home library rules. I don’t fully agree, but it may easily turn into a blog post of my own version.

I thought I was obsessed with pizza, but no. This is obsession.

Real life Beavis.

Deaf boy instantly regains hearing. Find out how.

”I am not living – just existing”

Warren Buffet explains trade deficits. As usual, he cuts through the clutter so it’s easy to understand. Written in 2003, more relevant every year.

Edwards Post-Mortem

Here’s a good interview with Joe Trippi. Trippi was Edwards’ campaign manager and Howard Dean’s back in 2004. It’s all very good. Here’s a quote that fits my view of the race.

Were you surprised that, after the Philly debate, where Edwards really wailed on Hillary, that seemed to be the start of the Obama surge?

It happened every time. Go back and look. We take her on on lobbyist money, the next day’s headlines are “Obama-Hillary clash on campaign finance.” The press just wanted to just see everything through the Hillary-Barack lens. Particularly the South Carolina debate, where he called her a Wal-Mart board-member and she said, “slumlord.” I think by all accounts we won that one. There were definitely three people in that debate–we really engaged hard in that thing. The next day, every single headline was “Clinton-Obama.” On television in particular, “Clinton-Obama.” We weren’t even at that debate.

A Unified Democratic Party?

Look at this footnote :

…Neither Obama’s unfavorables among Clinton voters (now 30%) nor Clinton’s unfavorables among Obama voters (now 31%) have been rising noticeably . So it looks as if (so far) the bitterness of the battle is largely restricted to the political junkies who read and write blogs.

It’s easy to overlook that Obama and Hillary have pretty much the same position on pretty much everything. And despite some media narratives, neither of them has attacked the other very hard at all. Come the general election, you’ll find the whole party unified behind their candidate, whichever one it is. There is no doubt that the Democrats are energized for the 2008 election.

By contrast, although McCain has a lot of support, there are huge wings of the party that hate his guts, and the Republicans seem to be tearing themselves apart searching for the anointed one.

Ann Coulter has said she’ll vote for Hillary over McCain, Ann Coulter!
Rush Limbaugh has said he’ll vote for a Democrat over McCain, Rush Limbaugh!

The GOP has a better media machine than the Democrats, but will they be unified enough to use it? Will they have already gnawed off their own foot?

Muttrox’s Primary Vote

I’ve been on the fence with Hillary vs. Obama. They’re both great candidates, either of them will be immensely better than any of the GOP candidates. I toyed with the idea of sitting the primary out. I toyed with voting for Edwards anyhow, even though he has already withdrawn. But in the end, I went with Hillary.

My commenters in the other Edwards post have said it better than me. Obama’s policies are mostly air and rhetoric. When it’s not, it’s copied from other candidates with small changes to make it worse. I am most discouraged by his willingness to accept Republican talking points about Social Security. That is unfathomable.

Hillary brings some huge negatives, but she is the only candidate who has experience in the executive and legislative branch and knows how to work the levers of power on Day One. To whatever degree there is a “Billary”, that is a good thing. Bill Clinton was the best president we’ve had in my lifetime, and I’m delighted at the idea of four more years of those policies.

I also got a call from an impassioned Hillary supporter I know who took the time to personally walk me through some of my thinking and make the case. Tip O’Neill was right, people do like to be asked.

Thoughts After the Pats go 19-0 18-1

Oh, that hurt. It hurt so very much. ESPN had it right, I am going through the stages of grieving. I can’t stand to do a full analysis of this travesty, I’ll just mention a few points.

* Our offensive line was not very good. They’ve been incredible the whole year, this game they were overwhelmed. Three false starts even!
* Partially as a result of that, Tom Brady wasn’t very good. Over the course of the season, he has become less and less accurate. (Tennessee game excepted.) There was quite a few times where the receiver was wide open, Brady had time, and he just threw a bad throw.
* The reffing was generally good. There were only two BS calls. There was an offensive pass interference where Burress(?) pushed Ellis Hobbs off to get open for a sideline catch. There was also a fumble recovery, where the Giants recovered the ball in the scrum. Is this play reviewable? It was obvious the Pats had possession, what are the rules here? Would it have mattered? I can’t bear to watch the tape, so I don’t know what yard line we were on.
* Our defense was fine. Holding the Giants to 17 points is doing your job. It was the offense that let us down.
* What was with the going for it on 4th and 13 instead of trying for a long field goal. On the play, Tom Brady passed it well out of bounds. Oh, by the way, we lost by three points.
* In the fourth quarter, we started throwing to Randy Moss. And we looked good. Why weren’t we throwing to him before? Even if he’s a decoy to draw a double-team, you have to test it once in a while. By my memory, we were 3 out of 4 throwing to him, excluding the garbage time Hail Marys.
* There’s no doubt we got outplayed. On the other hand, I honestly think if we played that game 7 times, the Pats would win 5 of them.
* Could you still give the Pats the best single season team ever? On the one hand, the Dolphins ’72 season was against pathetic competition (only two opponents had winning records.) The Pats set just about every offensive record there is. 18 wins is still more than anyone has ever done. On the other hand, without the Super Bowl, is it all meaningless?
* Next season will be rough. Even if the Pats are incredibly dominant again, no one will give them a second look. Brady is human and a choker. The mythology has been destroyed.

I’ll stop there. It hurts to type.