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January 30, 2005

Ranting About Football Announcers

Reviews are more useful when they're accurate. Reviews are more fun when they're negative. Best of all is when they're accurate and negative, in which case they're informative and humorous all at the same time.

Every year, Sports Illustrated's Paul Zimmerman reviews the current crop of NFL television announcing teams. In this year's roundup, he goes for the jugular on ESPN's Sunday night trio. From what I've seen, he absolutely nails them:

ZERO [stars out of five]

Mike Patrick, Joe Theismann and Paul Maguire, ESPN -- How is it earthly possible to drop from half a star to none? Easy. They used to provide a teeny weeny bit of information. Now they provide none. And they contradict themselves, often from one series to the next. I don't think they're really fully aware of what they're saying. Theismann in the early KC-Denver game: "The single most classic rivalry in TV." Hmmm. Does Chicago still play Green Bay? Maguire on Cleveland-Baltimore, Week 9: "Jamal Lewis averages six yards a carry. All you have to do is keep giving it to him, and you'll keep getting in second-and-four situations." My God! Brian Billick must be told immediately! Theismann, Bills-Patriots, Week 10, after Brady throws a pick: "You've got to figure the receiver went where he shouldn't." Absolutely. Great QBs never throw interceptions on their own. And through all this, the slow, half goofy drone of Patrick, with every word emphasized, no matter how meaningless. "And tonight! We have sixty-three! Thousand! Fans!" (Whew). Oh, we get some inside stuff all right. Theismann on his exclusive interview with Pittsburgh defensive coach Dick LeBeau during the Steelers-Jaguars telecast: "I saw Dick LeBeau before the game, and I told him, 'Nice to have you back,' and do you know what he told me?" No, what? "Nice to be back." And of course, there's Suzy Kolber and her sideline essays that run right through the live action, and finally, some serious pregame handicapping -- again from Theismann. This was before the contest in which Oakland upset the Broncos: "They can just forget about throwing the ball to Jerry Porter when Champ Bailey's on him. There's no place to get the ball in." That was the game in which Porter caught touchdowns off Bailey for 42 and 14 yards, plus another 52-yarder off him. But so what? Who remembers what is said? Who cares? Me, your faithful narrator, your TV guide.

Sadly, I'm sure we're due for another season from this trio.

By the way, Joe Theismann is the ex-jock who once famously said:

Nobody in the game of football should be called a genius. A genius is somebody like Norman Einstein.

"Geo-Greens"

From Thomas Friedman's latest column in the Times:

I am a geo-green. The geo-greens believe that, going forward, if we put all our focus on reducing the price of oil -- by conservation, by developing renewable and alternative energies and by expanding nuclear power -- we will force more reform than by any other strategy. You give me $18-a-barrel oil and I will give you political and economic reform from Algeria to Iran. All these regimes have huge population bubbles and too few jobs. They make up the gap with oil revenues. Shrink the oil revenue and they will have to open up their economies and their schools and liberate their women so that their people can compete. It is that simple.

By refusing to rein in U.S. energy consumption, the Bush team is not only depriving itself of the most effective lever for promoting internally driven reform in the Middle East, it is also depriving itself of any military option. As Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, points out, given today's tight oil market and current U.S. consumption patterns, any kind of U.S. strike on Iran, one of the world's major oil producers, would send the price of oil through the roof, causing real problems for our economy. "Our own energy policy has tied our hands," Mr. Haass said.

January 28, 2005

The USS San Francisco

Via Boing Boing, a pair of photos of the bow of the USS San Francisco, showing what happens when a submarine strikes an underwater mountain at 40 knots (46 miles/hour):

USS San Francisco Damage 1

USS San Francisco Damage 2

Click on the images and then click on Flickr's "All Sizes" button to zoom in for a high-resolution view. The pictures are really quite amazing.

In the movie The Abyss, the fictional submarine USS Montana collides with an undersea wall at flank speed and then floods with water, killing all hands. The San Francisco did it for real, losing only one sailor in the process. I have newfound respect for Newport News Shipbuilding.

January 27, 2005

"More Widely and Deeply Disliked in Europe..."

From Thomas Friedman's latest column in the New York Times on President Bush's upcoming trip to Europe:

Let me put this as bluntly as I can: There is nothing that the Europeans want to hear from George Bush, there is nothing that they will listen to from George Bush that will change their minds about him or the Iraq war or U.S. foreign policy. Mr. Bush is more widely and deeply disliked in Europe than any U.S. president in history. Some people here must have a good thing to say about him, but I haven't met them yet...

Europeans love to make fun of naïve American optimism, but deep down, they envy it and they want America to be that open, foreigner-embracing, carefree, goofily enthusiastic place that cynical old Europe can never be. Many young Europeans blame Mr. Bush for making America, since 9/11, into a strange new land that exports fear more than hope, and has become dark and brooding -- a place whose greeting to visitors has gone from "Give me your tired, your poor" to "Give me your fingerprints." They look at Mr. Bush as someone who stole something precious from them.

Tim Kreutzfeldt, the [owner of a bar in Berlin], said to me: "Bush took away our America. I mean we love America. We are very sad about America. We believe in America and American values, but not in Bush. And it makes us angry that he distorted our image of the country which is so important to us. It is not what America stands for -- and this makes us angry and it should make every American angry, because America lost so much in its reputation worldwide." The Bush team, he added, is giving everyone in the world the impression that "somebody is coming to kill you."

Stefan Elfenbein, a food critic nursing a beer at our table, added: "I know many people who don't want to travel to America anymore. ... People are afraid to be hassled at the border. ... We all discuss it, when somebody goes to America [we now ask:] 'Are you sure?' We had hope that Kerry would win and would make a statement, 'America is back to what it was four years ago.' We hoped that he would be the symbol, the figure who would say, '[America] is the country that welcomes everybody again.' [But] now we have to wait four more years, hopefully for somebody to give us back the country we knew and liked."

I'm headed to France and the Netherlands for 12 days in March -- my second-longest trip to Europe ever. I'm sure I'll be in for a certain level of abuse as the token American in various settings. And right now, I have no idea what to say. "It's not my fault?" That would be a cop-out. "He took away my America too?" Another cop-out. I suppose I'm going to have to try to explain the viewpoint of the red states as fairly as I can.

January 24, 2005

"The Jewel Box [Is] Out on the Front Lawn"

From an entry on DefenseTech.org:

In Confessions of a Master Jewel Thief, diamond-nabber Bill Mason notes notes a strange security trend: people will spend big bucks to have a whole host ultra-sophisticated locks on their front doors -- but they'll put something flimsy on the back door, or leave the windows unlocked altogether.

That's what came to mind as I read James Fallows' homeland defense story in the current Atlantic Monthly. The Transportation Security Administration is spending $4 billion -- 80 percent of its budget -- on airport screening. Making sure grandma takes off her Mary Janes before she gets on the plane. That leaves, Fallows notes, "well under $1 billion for everything except airlines: roads, bridges, subways, tunnels, railroads, ports, and other facilities through which most of the nation's people and commerce move."

Kinda reminds you of Mason's back door, hunh? Except the analogy doesn't quite hold together. It'd probably be more accurate to say that, while the Bush administration is making sure America's front door is tripled-locked, it has left the jewel box out on the front lawn.

From President Bush to Senator Kerry to just about every homeland security guru in between, all these guys agree that "loose nukes" -- the 30,000 atomic warheads from the former Soviet arsenal -- are the worst threat to our nation imaginable. But, as Fallows notes, the U.S. seems to be "in no apparent hurry" to make sure these weapons are "safely locked away."

I would never have guessed that the TSA is spending 80 percent of its budget on airport screening. No wonder John Kerry kept talking about unscreened cargo containers during the debates.

January 23, 2005

The iPod as Fad

In a News.com story, Dell CEO Kevin Rollins tags the iPod as a fad:

"It's interesting the iPod has been out for three years and it's only this past year it's become a raging success," said Rollins, who is also Dell's president. "Well, those things that become fads rage, and then they drop off. When I was growing up there was a product made by Sony called the Sony Walkman -- a rage, everyone had to have one. Well, you don't hear about the Walkman anymore. I believe that one-product wonders come and go. You have to have sustainable business models, sustainable strategy."
Two obvious follow-up questions for Mr. Rollins:
  • You talk about the iPod as a "fad". If Dell's own portable digital digital audio players had the overwhelming market share of the iPod, would you be giving interviews to the press and talking about portable digital audio players as fads?
  • You imply strongly that the Sony Walkman was a "one-product wonder". Yet Sony sold, by one calculation, 340 million of them over the years, and the Walkman was so successful that the word itself was placed in the Oxford English Dictionary. Are you saying that Dell wouldn't like to have a Walkman-like business?

Pardon Me?

From a story in last week's issue of Business Week on how Firefox (my browser of choice, incidentally) is gaining ground on Microsoft's Internet Explorer:

Microsoft's Internet Explorer has slipped 4.9 percentage points over the past six months, to 90.6%, the lowest in three years. "It's an emotional number. When Microsoft drops to 90%, it's big news," says Jeffrey W. Lunsford, WebSideStory's chairman.

Microsoft is hardly on the run. It has an overwhelming lead, and most corporations have adopted its browser for their employees, so it should have staying power. But many of the 16 million consumers who have switched to Firefox view the upstart program as safer from viruses and packed with innovations. Those include a "tabbed browsing" feature that makes it easier to move quickly from one Web site to another, in part by firing up a series of favorite sites all at once.

But Microsoft has been working hard to clamp down on security and vows to make other improvements. "These features, along with Microsoft's world-class customer support, continue to make IE a compelling choice for consumers and enterprise customers," says a spokesman.

"Microsoft's world-class customer support"? Pardon me? What are they talking about? Seriously?

First, I can't remember the last time I called Microsoft for customer support. I think it was perhaps four or five years ago, and I seem to remember I was offered paid support as my only option, which I declined. Ask yourself: when was the last time you called Microsoft for support? Really? Ever?

Second, calling Microsoft for support on Internet Explorer? Do people really do that? And does Microsoft answer when they call? And do they support it for free? I'd like to know.

January 22, 2005

Heard over Dessert

Over dessert with my kids at Borders today:

Kelsey: If only they had let Hitler into art school.

Me: But he was a bad artist.

Kelsey: Yeah, but then he wouldn't have joined the army and wouldn't have ended up killing all those people.

Me: Are you suggesting that we let all bad artists into art school so that they don't become mass murderers?

Kelsey: No, just all bad German artists.

January 17, 2005

Papers at TESI 2005

I'm going to be presenting two papers at TESI (Training, Education, and Simulation International) 2005 in Maastricht, Netherlands this March. They are:

Game Technology in Security Training

Training military and civilian personnel alike in security procedures has become a major challenge in today's challenging threat environment. How can public and private organizations effectively train their personnel in often complex and sometimes ambiguous security procedures? Can content for such training be developed in a cost-effective and timely manner? What can be learned from modern entertainment software in the development of security training tools? Are there particular types of game titles that suggest especially useful approaches to this problem? How can security training tools be made engaging and replayable to a generation of personnel who have grown up with Nintendo and PlayStation consoles? Answers to these questions do exist and will be explored in depth in this presentation.

...and:

Open Source Software and Simulation Learning

The open source movement has spread rapidly across products, markets, and geographies. The simulation learning industry is working hard to create and use a variety of standards to mix and match learning content from different vendors. As more standards for learning-focused data representation and interchange are adopted, the value of vendor-created content will continue to increase as a result of its increased usefulness, not only for the customer, but for vendors as well. This is an essential insight into the popularity of open standards: as they enable the creation of progressively more valuable content, and as customers recognized this increased value, vendors stand to gain through increased sales. As more and more customers require the use and development of open source software by vendors, the simulation learning community will create an ever-growing body of tools and technologies, available for all to build upon, fueling ever-faster growth in capabilities and applications.

As soon as they're ready, I'll post them here, and with Creative Commons licensing if at all possible. Now, without further ado, back to trying to finish them on my day off...

January 15, 2005

Could You Be on the Other Side?

This was scrawled in magic marker on the back of a truck ahead of me in a drive-through the other day (reproduced verbatim):

SomeWhere in Texas
A Village is missing there idiot
Okay, whoever you are, could you be on the other side? Thanks.

I Look Like I Know What I'm Doing

Well, until an expert skier sees this and points out a dozen flaws in my form. But until then, I'm going to enjoy the temporary illusion of competence.

Skiing at Snowmass

January 13, 2005

Back from Colorado

I'm just back from Colorado, where I spent the weekend skiing with my son at Buttermilk and Snowmass before spending three days working in Boulder. Back to blogging now...

January 07, 2005

Off to Colorado

I'm off to Colorado for the next few days. I have partner meetings in Boulder next week, and I'm heading out early with my oldest son Duncan (he's 17) for a weekend of skiing (me) and snowboarding (him) in Aspen.

It has been four years since I've skied, so I'm hoping the neuromechanics are similar to bicycle riding -- that once you learn, you never forget. Otherwise, I'm in trouble.

January 06, 2005

Striking a Nerve

I had no idea that my blog entry comparing tsunami relief funds pledged by the US government with the cost of the war in Iraq would become the most popular entry I've ever written -- 23 TrackBacks to date, and traffic on my site yesterday was up 15-fold compared to a typical recent day.

Interestingly, though my friends at Boing Boing linked to my entry, that didn't drive as much traffic to my site as did a mention on USA Today's Website. I wouldn't have predicted that.

Reading through the TrackBacks to my post, only a small number of linking blogs criticize my entry. I'll revisit them and their logic in the near future.

January 04, 2005

"...I Didn't Have Lunch Today"

From an editorial in today's New York Times:

The foremost challenge now is to ensure that the money pledged in the glow of the media spotlight gets to the people who need it. That is the job of the United Nations, which has a chance to redeem itself after the oil-for-food scandal. It must make sure that the money is not diverted into the hands of corrupt government officials or used as a political weapon by armies waging counterinsurgency campaigns in some of the most stricken areas.

Right now in Indonesia, cartons of food, water and medical supplies are stacking up in airports, not getting to the villages that were hit the hardest. Part of the problem is the Indonesian military. Complaints have already arisen about soldiers siphoning off supplies for their relatives and friends. But Indonesian government officials bear some blame. Take, for example, the remarkably callous dismissal of reports of hungry families in leveled towns made by Alwi Shihab, the country's senior disaster response coordinator: "I can guarantee you there is no starvation, except for me, because I didn't have lunch today."

When Does $350 Million Equal 42 Hours?

According to this story in the Chicago Sun-Times, the war in Iraq has cost $130 billion to date (per the Office of Management and Budget). Given that we invaded Iraq 20 March 2003, that comes to 656 days since the invasion, which in turn equals $198,730,732 per day.

In other words, the total amount committed by the US government to date for tsunami relief -- $350,000,000 -- equals 42.27 hours of the cost of the war in Iraq. Just to put things in perspective.

January 02, 2005

Against All Odds

A couple of days ago, I blogged about a sequence of images which appeared to show a mother running to her children in the face of certain death from the tsunami on a beach in Thailand. Now the story is out. Yes, it was a mother. Yes, she was running to her children. Yes, the tsunami overtook them. But somehow they managed to survive -- not that I can imagine how. From an article in the Sydney Morning Herald (click the picture for the full-size version):

Hat Rai Lay Beach Revisited

A wrenching series of photos showing a mother dashing into the tsunami in a desperate attempt to save her family was sent around the world last week.

But the family's fate remained unknown until the weekend, when the Swedish mother came forward to say they had all survived.

"I was yelling at them to run, but they couldn't hear me," Karin Svaerd told Sweden's Expressen, describing her desperation as her three sons, brother and brother-in-law snorkelled in the water, unaware of the pending danger.

The three pictures showed confused holidaymakers on Ray Leh Beach in Krabi, Thailand, looking at the water receding before the tsunami hit the beach. Another shot showed swimmers running in to shore once they saw the wall of water approaching.

But Ms Svaerd, unlike everyone else, was running towards the wave to reach her family. Her sons Anton, 14, Filip, 11 and Viktor, 10, could not see the wave. Witnesses heard her scream: "Oh my God, not my children." She told the paper: "I yelled, 'Run, run.'" But her voice was drowned out by the roar of the water. "I got 150 meters out before they started to run. By then they'd also seen the wave."

All were caught in the tsunami and tossed around underwater. But one by one they managed to get to their feet and make it to higher ground. An hour after the first wave hit, the family members, including Ms Svaerd's husband and sister, who were sunbathing on the beach, had managed to locate each other.

"We all survived," Ms Svaerd said. "That feeling is hard to describe."

The original article in Expressen can be found here.

January 01, 2005

The Meaning of Life, the Universe, and Everything

Today I turn 42. I'm hoping that the number 42 really does have special properties -- even if only because I expect it to -- and so as a result I'll be especially wise for the next 365 days.

I don't feel any wiser, but who knows? Maybe I am. Anything's possible.

While on vacation for Thanksgiving, over dinner a earlier that week, one of the people at the table posed the following question:

What's the most important thing you've learned from the relationships you've been in?
I thought it was an excellent question. We took turns going around the table. The answers surprised me. Some of them were inspiring, but others were sad. When it was my turn, I thought about it, then said:
The most important thing I think I've learned from the relationships I've been in is that no matter what the other person is saying or doing -- no matter foolish or silly or wrong it may seem -- to that person, it's absolutely reasonable and logical.
Is that wise, or just obvious? Am I smart, or just catching up with everyone else 20 years on? I can't tell.