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February 28, 2006

Lazy Me

In my previous entry, I wrote:

The next question is, will there be 50-500 million bloggers within another two years?
Of course, I could have taken 15 seconds to visit Technorati and see that it is currently tracking 29.1 million blogs. A year ago, the figure was 7.3 million blogs tracked, and a year before that, it was 2.0 million. A reasonable back-of-the-envelope estimate would be 250-500 million blogs within two years, unless the growth rate tapers off.

Checking Up on the Crystal Ball

In December 2002, I wrote:

It's true that, today, blogging is about writing. The 500,000 (or so) people currently blogging are, for a variety of reasons, heavily biased towards expressing themselves through words. But I don't believe this will remain true for long. Though there will always be a core of bloggers who are passionate about writing (including me), I believe that most of the growth in blogging -- which I expect to be two or three orders of magnitude within five years -- will come through people who blog from mobile devices and who do so mostly through rich media such as pictures, video, and the like.

From a story in today's Business Journal:

Sony Ericsson and Google Inc. said on Tuesday they have signed a deal to make a phone whose owners will be able to easily file to a personal blog.

Sony Ericson said all of its future mobile phones will come with Google's Blogger and Web Search features.

Owners will need a blogger.com account to file stories via their mobile phone.

It is the first time a mobile phone will come with tools for blogging directly from a handset.

The software will first appear on the recently announced K610 UMTS phone and new flagship K800 and K790, available by June.

So far, so good. The next question is, will there be 50-500 million bloggers within another two years?

February 27, 2006

"Too Consumed by the Outermost Circle"

BusinessWeek has a story on the late Gene O'Kelly, CEO of KPMG, who, when diagnosed with inoperable late-stage brain cancer, and with only a few months to live, "worked with his wife and writer Andrew Postman to chronicle his attempt with as much brightness, if not hope, as possible". In the short time he had left, he wrote a book, Chasing Daylight: How My Forthcoming Death Transformed My Life.

I found particularly moving and relevant a sidebar to the story:

One of Eugene O'Kelly's hopes in the last days of his life was to be able, as he would say, "to unwind" relationships of all kinds. He placed his many colleagues, friends, and family in five concentric circles; those closest to him were in the innermost ring. He began to say goodbye through e-mail, phone conversations, walks in Central Park, over a good bottle of wine... Toward the end, he says, he realized that during his previous life as a business leader he might have been "too consumed by the outermost circle." As he puts it: "Perhaps I could have found the time, in the last decade, to have had a weekday lunch with my wife more than...twice?... I realized that being able to count a thousand people in that fifth circle was not something to be proud of. It was something to be wary of."

February 26, 2006

Bill Sardi on Resveratrol

I've blogged recently (here and here) on the latest news about resveratrol, now known to increase lifespan in at least one vertebrate species (a type of fish, courtesy of a just-published study out of Italy). Curious to learn more, I corresponded with Bill Sardi, founder of Longevinex, makers of what is to my mind the best available resveratrol supplement on the market:

Me: Your summary noted that the study used "100% trans resveratrol stored at 4°Centigrade (39° Fahrenheit) in the dark". Is Longevinex 100 percent trans resveratrol? And does this mean that I should store it in my refrigerator?

Bill: 100% trans resveratrol costs a fortune; Longevinex provides trans resveratrol 50% extract from polygonum cuspidatum (Asian giant knotweed) and from red wine grapes (French). Store in cool place. Refrigerator may cause misting.

Me: Does the study offer any information relevant (even vaguely) to dosage information in H. sapiens?

Bill: Maybe... possibly 600 mg per day. Lower doses didn't work. But we know low-dose resveratrol in red wine results in the French having the longest living human population. The resveratrol was placed in a fish tank, possibly destroyed by light, air, etc., before consumption. The resveratrol in red wine is preserved in a dark, airtight bottle and then consumed. This may make a big difference.

Bill: So you know, the FDA is probably going to step in and block any high dose resveratrol pills. We can produce a 250 mg resveratrol pill now, but it would cost $3.00 per day.

Thanks to Bill for permission to reproduce our e-mail exchange here.

February 25, 2006

In My Native State

I'm in the state of my birth for a quick weekend with friends.

Back in the Bay Area

UA 217, IAD-SFO, over San Francisco Bay.

FSM

An innocuous car ahead of me in traffic... but check out the badge on the back.

FSM Close-Up

It's the Flying Spaghetti Monster! Now I know I'm in California again. I see the occasional Darwin badge in North Carolina, but if Pastafarians live there, they don't advertise themselves -- but there are lots of pro-Bush bumper stickers. Now that I think about it, I didn't notice a single pro-Bush bumper sticker while driving yesterday. So far in the Bay Area, it's Pastafarians 1, Bush 0.

Half-Marathon Photos

A couple of photos I just uploaded from my trip to Myrtle Beach to run in my first half-marathon last weekend:

After My Half-Marathon

At the hotel after the race.

With Cameron in Myrtle Beach

Out for lunch with my son Cameron later that day.

The results were posted and my official chip time was one second slower than the watch time I posted earlier -- 2:19:38.

February 24, 2006

Quote for the Day

From Eleanor Roosevelt:

Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.
I'm slightly embarrassed to say I found this on a plaque in a SkyMall catalog. What can I say? I was temporarily burned out on sudoku, didn't want to watch another episode of Futurama on the iPod, and had hit my 50-pages-at-a-time limit on The Confusion (that's about as much as I can read at a stretch of Neal Stephenson's more recent works -- there are too many ideas to assimilate and process to go much longer).

Off to California

I'm off to California this morning for a quick weekend with friends. I spent a long weekend in San Diego last fall, but this will be my first time in the Bay Area since October 2003 -- it's hard to believe it has been that long. My time is completely spoken for at this point, but thankfully, I'm headed out again next month for the Game Developers Conference, and so will have many more opportunities to catch up with friends.

February 23, 2006

Please Update Your Feed

If you subscribe to a feed from this site, please update it to my atom.xml feed. I'm trying to find a way to be backwards-compatible with the old index.rdf feed that some of my subscribers use, but I haven't figured it out yet. If you haven't seen an update to my news feed since last week, this is why -- you're subscribed to index.rdf. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Things I Wish I Had Known a Week Ago

If only I had known all of this a week ago...

  • Six Apart advertises Yahoo Small Business Web Hosting as their "spotlight partner." However, Yahoo launched its Movable Type hosting program on 12 December with a known bug that would affect Yahoo users but that had already been fixed.
  • Yahoo promises "automatic upgrades to new versions of Movable Type". However, 10 weeks after launching their Movable Type hosting program, they have yet to upgrade users to a version of Movable Type available to them before they launched. Apparently upgrades will be automatic, but very, very slow in coming.
  • Yahoo promises "FastCGI to help you speed up blog posting and updates", but running on their servers, Movable Type is sometimes extremely slow, and occasionally completely unavailable. (I've had the slowness confirmed for me by Six Apart employees experiencing the same problem.)
  • Yahoo promises "24-hour toll-free support" to its Web Hosting customers. Their support, however, does not include support for Movable Type (this is disclosed in the fine print).
  • Also on the topic of Yahoo's support, if you're having problems with mySQL -- entirely possible given that Movable Type relies on it -- they don't support that over the phone. That's not disclosed in any fine print I saw before joining. In my case, the support representative gave me an e-mail address to use instead, but that bounced. When I submitted my question via their support form, it was ignored.
  • Need command-line access to your account? No, Yahoo doesn't offer it, and again, I didn't see that disclosed in any fine print before joining -- in fact, I only found out when I called Yahoo support to find out how to log in to my site. (In my case, I wanted to use ln to create a dynamic link from my new XML feed to a file named the same as my old XML feed. Yes, I could use theoretically accomplish the same effect by editing my Movable Type templates, but the bug referenced above is caused by template editing, and at this point, more than anything, I want my blog to keep working.)
I should point out that the Six Apart people have been as helpful as they could be throughout this. Their hands are tied by Yahoo, because Yahoo obviously controls its own servers.

In any case, it's clear to me now that, as much as I may like Yahoo as a company -- and I do -- their Small Business Web Hosting program is, at least for Movable Type users, something of a disaster. This presents an obvious dilemma: after a week of my blog being mostly down, and having spent far too many hours to count trying to get it back up, do I now take the chance of moving it to a hopefully more reliable hosting service? Or do I leave it where it is, avoid doing anything unusual to it, and hope that Yahoo gets their act together? On the one hand, I really don't want to be stuck with Yahoo Small Business... but right now, the thought of spending even one more hour just trying to keep my blog running is too much to bear. So I'll stay where I am, for the moment. Malheureusement.

Back Up at Last

I can't remember ever being so frustrated with software or a software service as I have been with the combination of Movable Type 3.2 and Yahoo Small Business over the last week. There's a long, long story, and I may tell it at some point, but right now, I'm just happy to have my blog back up. I only hope it stays up.

February 19, 2006

Shiny vs. Useful

I've been meaning to blog about this for... well, forever. It's one of my favorite things from the late, great Suck.com: the Shiny vs. Useful chart.

BIG IDEA OF THE MILLENIUM

People like shiny things.

SHINY VS. USEFUL

It's the Big Idea to end all Big Ideas: Each and every person, place, or thing in the universe can be judged based on its location on this one little scale!

g

February 18, 2006

2:19:37

This morning I ran the Dasani Myrtle Beach Half-Marathon, my first half-marathon (and long race of any kind) ever. I wrote that my goal was to finish in 2:20:00, but that I'd be happy finishing in 2:25:00. Not having run more than 10.1 miles at a stretch since late December, I found myself slowing down fairly dramatically near the end -- I ran the first six miles at a 10:01 pace, and I'd estimate that I ran the next four miles at an 11:00 pace, but after that, I was down to something like an 11:40 pace. My legs were fairly sore -- I was having ankle, knee, and iliotibial band problems. I tried to power through the last mile, but just couldn't, and with about 0.6 mile to go, did the math in my head to figure out I could take a 30-second walking break -- any more than that, and I'd be over my goal time. But after that, it was the home stretch, with crowds and cheering and the final turns in sight, and the excitement and my determination to hit my goal time carried me over in 2:19:37 (unofficial, self-timed).

Having so little experience with races, I didn't know what to expect, but this race seemed extremely well-run. There were markers each mile, many with timers (though they displayed gun time, not chip time, and so weren't useful to me, but that was unavoidable) and refreshment stands every two miles, many with electrolyte drinks. After the finish line, there were people to untie runners' shoelaces after the race, extract their chips, and retie them again (which seemed quite beyond me immediately after finishing); people to hang medals around runner's necks; and people to hand out more drinks. It all felt quite efficient to this neophyte.

I'm still thinking about how I feel about the experience, but I know I want to find a way to keep running, and I want to run a full marathon -- but I also want to make sure I'm properly trained and completely ready for it. I can say this: if you have any interest at all in a marathon, half or full, read up on Jeff Galloway's program, follow it, and go for it. It's not as hard as you might imagine, but it's hard enough that you'll feel proud of yourself, and you'll have achieved something that can never be taken away.

February 17, 2006

Half-Marathon Tomorrow

This afternoon, I'm off to Myrtle Beach, SC to run in the Dasani Myrtle Beach Half-Marathon tomorrow morning. A half-marathon is 13.1 miles, which should be well within my range -- I ran 14.0 miles in early January late December, and then 10.1 miles a week and a half ago. But I still have a small case of butterflies in my stomach -- it's only my second race at any distance, and my first long-distance race ever.

On this blog, I generally write about challenges I face after I've accomplished them, rather than before -- I don't like the idea of using my blog as some sort of public self-motivation tool. Nevertheless, I'll go out on a limb here and say that while I'll be satisfied finishing in 2:30:00, and happy if I finish in 2:25:00 or less, my goal is actually to finish in 2:20:00. We'll see what happens.

February 16, 2006

Well, That Was a Bad Idea

Long ago, I gave up on trying to upgrade my copy of Movable Type -- my hosting provider, WestHost, didn't make it easy. I was having problems with spam -- first comment spam, then trackback spam -- but I couldn't install MT-Blacklist and I couldn't upgrade to a newer version of Movable Type that would include anti-spam features. I thought of switching hosting providers, but in the end simply turned on TypeKey authentication for comments (effectively ending comments on my site) and completely disabled trackbacks.

Yesterday, I wrote this blog entry in response to an entry by Andrew Sullivan, my favorite political blogger. Andrew wrote back saying that he'd link to my entry today. I woke up this morning thinking of the hordes of people who would shortly be visiting my site, and thought it would be a great idea if I reenabled trackbacks. "No problem," I thought. "I'll turn them back on and just deal with the spam problem as it happens." Er, not so fast there, Sparky. Within minutes, I was being flooded with trackback spam -- a new entry every 20-30 seconds or so. I couldn't keep up. I once again disabled trackbacks and sat licking my wounds.

"I know," I said. "I'll upgrade to the latest version of Movable Type. It's supposed to be easy -- just upload the files, run, and go." I downloaded Movable Type and read through the installation instructions. Fairly straightforward -- just copy some settings over, upload everything, check permissions, and go. It didn't take me long and I was ready to activate my shiny new Movable Type 3.2-powered blog. I entered the URL and... a series of errors. Not good. I Googled the error text and found that I wasn't the only one to have the same problem. Far more worringly, other WestHost users had reported the same problem months ago, with no word of a fix.

At this point, the main page of my blog was still up, but all functionality was dead, both for users and for me. No comments, no trackbacks, and no new posts. Nothing. About this time, Andrew linked to my blog entry. How much better could my timing get? I decided to switch to a Movable Type-friendly hosting provider, and fairly soon was up and running with Yahoo -- chosen for no other reason than they were the only such hosting provider with 24-hour, toll-free technical support.

It took a few tries to get everything put right again, but now my blog is up and running once more, and hopefully e-mail to me is no longer bouncing as it was a couple of hours ago. And blog readers no longer have to register with TypeKey to be able to comment, and trackbacks are once again enabled. But for the first few hours after Andrew's link to me, my blog was down, save for a static, non-interactive home page.

What did I learn from this? That upgrading to a new version of my blogging software just as one of the world's more popular bloggers was linking to me probably wasn't the best idea I've ever had.

Resveratrol in Mice

In my blog entry on resveratrol yesterday, I mentioned a forthcoming study of its effectiveness on mice. It's being done at the Harvard Medical School by David Sinclair, associate professor of pathology and co-founder of Sirtris Pharmaceuticals.

In an interview on NewsHour in January 2005, Dr. Sinclair discussed his approach to the mouse study:

DAVID SINCLAIR: Right, so we're at the point where we need to test this first of all in mice and those studies are just beginning now. And then if that works, we really want to go either into humans if it's safe, or to try it in primates as well. But we're at the point where we are in mammals and we'll know within a year or two if we're right about this.

TOM BEARDEN: That soon?

DAVID SINCLAIR: Sure, I mean a mouse's lifespan is about two years. We're going to be feeding our molecules out, so-called calorie restriction, the medic molecules that we call them, we're feeding these to elderly mice that are halfway through their life and we'll know within a year or less if we're having an effect.

Presuming the study started at about the time of the interview, the control mice should be dying right about now. As for the mice on resveratrol, we'll just have to wait for the research to be published. We could know sometime this year.

February 15, 2006

The Founding Fathers and Blasphemy

Andrew Sullivan writes:

The Concerned Women for America are now publishing articles by writers whose primary identification is with Christian Reconstructionists. The writer is clearly a follower of R.J. Rushdoony, a central figure in Reconstructionism. He backs anti-blasphemy laws. Reconstructionists are people who want to abandon the Constitution and institute Old Testament Biblical law -- stoning adulterers, executing homosexuals, etc. We're often told that the religious right are not theocrats. But CWFA is a mainstream part of the religious right. And if the reconstructionists are not theocrats, who on earth is?
Following this link from above leads us to this anti-blasphemy article:
When the Constitution was adopted, complete with the First Amendment guaranteeing free speech, laws against blasphemy were in force in every state. In some states today -- including Massachusetts, if you can believe it -- blasphemy is still against the law, even though there haven't been any prosecutions for decades. At any rate, it's obvious that our country's founders, at least, never intended free speech to include a right to blasphemy.
This is so easily disprovable it's laughable. First, here's John Adams on the topic, from an 1825 letter to Thomas Jefferson:
We think ourselves possessed, or, at least, we boast that we are so, of liberty of conscience on all subjects, and of the right of free inquiry and private judgment in all cases, and yet how far are we from these exalted privileges in fact! There exists, I believe, throughout the whole Christian world, a law which makes it blasphemy to deny or doubt the divine inspiration of all the books of the Old and New Testaments, from Genesis to Revelations. In most countries of Europe it is punished by fire at the stake, or the rack, or the wheel. In England itself it is punished by boring through the tongue with a red-hot poker. In America it is not better; even in our own Massachusetts, which I believe, upon the whole, is as temperate and moderate in religious zeal as most of the States, a law was made in the latter end of the last century, repealing the cruel punishments of the former laws, but substituting fine and imprisonment upon all those blasphemers upon any book of the Old Testament or New. Now, what free inquiry, when a writer must surely encounter the risk of fine or imprisonment for adducing any argument for investigating into the divine authority of those books? Who would run the risk of translating Dupuis? But I cannot enlarge upon this subject, though I have it much at heart. I think such laws a great embarrassment, great obstructions to the improvement of the human mind. Books that cannot bear examination, certainly ought not to be established as divine inspiration by penal laws. It is true, few persons appear desirous to put such laws in execution, and it is also true that some few persons are hardy enough to venture to depart from them. But as long as they continue in force as laws, the human mind must make an awkward and clumsy progress in its investigations. I wish they were repealed.
And here's Jefferson, from an 1814 letter to a bookseller who had been prosecuted for selling a book that Jefferson himself had bought:
I am really mortified to be told that, in the United States of America, a fact like this can become a subject of inquiry, and of criminal inquiry too, as an offence against religion; that a question about the sale of a book can be carried before the civil magistrate. Is this then our freedom of religion? and are we to have a censor whose imprimatur shall say what books may be sold, and what we may buy? And who is thus to dogmatize religious opinions for our citizens? Whose foot is to be the measure to which ours are all to be cut or stretched? Is a priest to be our inquisitor, or shall a layman, simple as ourselves, set up his reason as the rule for what we are to read, and what we must believe? It is an insult to our citizens to question whether they are rational beings or not, and blasphemy against religion to suppose it cannot stand the test of truth and reason.

More Evidence for Resveratrol

I've blogged about resveratrol before (here and here). It has already been shown to increase lifespan in yeast, fruit flies, and worms. Now we have the first evidence (via Fight Aging!) that it increases lifespan in vertebrates:

A new study shows an ingredient found in red wine, which has previously shown to prolong the life of worms and fruit flies, may extend the lifespan of vertebrate animals like fish and possibly humans.

Researchers found adding resveratrol, an organic compound found in grapes and particularly in red wine, to the daily diet of short-lived fish prolonged their lifespan and delayed the onset of age-related memory and other problems...

In this study, published in Current Biology, researchers examined the effects of resveratrol on a small type of fish that lives only three months in captivity.

The results showed that adding the red wine ingredient to the daily diet of the fish prolonged their expected life span and slowed the progression of age-related memory and muscular problems.

Researchers found fish fed the lower dose of resveratrol lived an average of 33% longer than fish fed their normal diets, while those fed the higher dose of the red wine ingredient lived more than 50% longer.

An abstract of the original article can be found here, but it doesn't mention the specific statistics quoted above (which admittedly sound conveniently fractional).

I've been taking resveratrol for about a year now. Not that I'm an expert, but Longevinex seems like the best brand out there. Interestingly, they have a good bit of detail on the study -- more than in any of the news stories I found:

Researchers continue to demonstrate, in higher life forms, that lifespan is increased with the feeding or resveratrol, widely known as a red wine molecule. The most recent report, involving killfish, the highest life form yet to be tested, reveals increases in lifespan ranging from 27-59% when research-grade resveratrol was added to fish food. Lifespan was increased in a dose-dependent manner in this species of fish that has the shortest median lifespan of any vertebrate, about 9 weeks.

Equally remarkable was the impact resveratrol had on the quality of life of killfish. After 50 passes through a shuttle-box learning test, 73% of the time young fish navigated the test compared to just 42% success rate among old fish and a remarkable 74% success rate among old fish fed resveratrol! Researchers in Italy who conducted the study said "resveratrol-fed fish showed remarkable preservation of learning and prevention of age-related brain degeneration."

The jury is still out, obviously. A study of resveratrol's effects on mice will provide the first look at its effectiveness on mammals. But so far, to the best of my knowledge, every species studied has shown significant lifespan gains with resveratrol. That's good enough for me, for now, at least.

February 14, 2006

Hunting in a "Post-9-11 World"

As usual with any given news event, The Daily Show has the best take on the Cheney hunting accident (courtesy of The Wall Street Journal):

Jon Stewart: I'm joined now by our own vice-presidential firearms mishap analyst, Rob Corddry. Rob, obviously a very unfortunate situation. How is the vice president handling it?

Rob Corddry: Jon, tonight the vice president is standing by his decision to shoot Harry Wittington. According to the best intelligence available, there were quail hidden in the brush. Everyone believed at the time there were quail in the brush. And while the quail turned out to be a 78-year-old man, even knowing that today, Mr. Cheney insists he still would have shot Mr. Whittington in the face. He believes the world is a better place for his spreading buckshot throughout the entire region of Mr. Whittington's face.

Jon Stewart: But why, Rob? If he had known Mr. Whittington was not a bird, why would he still have shot him?

Rob Corddry: Jon, in a post-9-11 world, the American people expect their leaders to be decisive. To not have shot his friend in the face would have sent a message to the quail that America is weak.

Jon Stewart: That's horrible.

Rob Corddry: Look, the mere fact that we're even talking about how the vice president drives up with his rich friends in cars to shoot farm-raised wingless quail-tards is letting the quail know 'how' we're hunting them. I'm sure right now those birds are laughing at us in that little 'covey' of theirs.

Jon Stewart: I'm not sure birds can laugh, Rob.

Rob Corddry: Well, whatever it is they do... coo... they're cooing at us right now, Jon, because here we are talking openly about our plans to hunt them. Jig is up. Quails one, America zero.

February 13, 2006

I Don't Play the Old Golf, Either

My friend and all-around great guy Joi Ito is profiled for the 1UP article, "Is World of Warcraft the New Golf?":

Overheard, at brunch: two tech entrepreneur types discussing World of Warcraft. What server are you on? What guild? Oh yeah, me too, I heard it's a good way to schmooze.

Is that true? Has logging in to the world's most popular massively multiplayer online game replaced a few rounds on the links as the way to make the right business connections in a tech-driven culture?

The particular Guild discussed by the brunchers above was started by Joi Ito, who became a WoW fan after embarking on the game to do some research on social networks. Joi, the money-and-idea guy behind internet companies PSINet, Digital Garage, Infoseek Japan, and social software like Moveable Type, Technorati, and Socialtext, has quite a few hangers-on who hit him up for advice, money, or access to his Rolodex.

Joi evangelized WoW to me in chat the other day, telling me I should transfer my old character to his server. When I was playing last year, I made it to Level 32, which, for those of you who don't play World of Warcraft, is most definitely not 16/30 of the distance from Level 1 to Level 60 (the game's highest) -- it's much less than that, given how much more difficult it is to attain higher levels.

But at Level 32, I gave it up. Why? I had long-since burned out on the game's basic play mechanic. I was only playing because I had made a few friends there with whom I mostly -- or only -- interacted on WoW, and it was fun to hang out with them. When they moved on, my last motivation for sticking around was gone, and so I stopped playing.

Of course, now Joi is playing, and so I could hang out with him and other friends on his server. But I'm not going to. It's nothing about Joi, to be sure -- he's a great person with whom I truly enjoy spending time. It's just that I'm not going to start playing the new golf.

I don't play the old golf, either.

February 11, 2006

Cirque du Soleil for 2010

After watching what seemed to me a muddled and meandering opening ceremonies at Torino, I have this to say to Canada:

2010 opening and closing ceremonies? Cirque du Soleil.

But my daughter and I did like the disco music played during the parade of athletes. In her words, "'YMCA' just never gets old."

Imagine We Keep the Lyrics in Mind

A lyrics refresher for all those athletes dressed in their national costumes and waving flags as Peter Gabriel sang "Imagine" during the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics:

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace...
I think the costumes are great, actually. And I have no problem with flags. But I have trouble believing that was what John Lennon had in mind when he wrote "Imagine there's no countries / It isn't hard to do."

February 07, 2006

Amy Sedaris' Makeup

The NPR show This American Life did an episode titled "I Enjoy Being a Girl, Sort Of". David Sedaris contributed a piece on his sister, the actress Amy Sedaris. He closed with a story of Amy's photo shoot for a magazine article. The end of the story is one of the funniest, most awful things I've heard in a long, long time.

My father called me late one recent Sunday evening, excited with the news that my sister Amy was scheduled to appear in a magazine article on young New York women.

"Can you imagine?" he asked. "My God, put a camera in front of that girl and she'll shine like a diamond! Between the single men and the job opportunities, her phone is gonna be ringin' right off the hook!" ...

When my father called asking about the photo shoot, I feigned ignorance. I didn't tell him that at the scheduled time, my sister arrived at the studio with unwashed hair and took her place beside a half-dozen women carefully dressed in flattering outfits. She waited while the others had their hair styled into the current fashion. One by one, their brows were trained while makeup artists made the most of their lips and cheekbones. When called forth to the styling table, Amy said only, "I want to look like someone has beaten me up really, really bad."

The makeup artist did a fine job. The black eyes and purple jaw were accentuated by a series of scratch marks on her forehead. Pus-yellow pools surrounded her blistered nose, and her swollen lips were fenced with mean rows of brackish stitches. Amy was enchanted with her new look.

Following the shoot, she wore her bruises to the dry cleaner and grocery store. Most people nervously looked away, but on the rare occasion someone asked what had happened, my sister smiled as brightly as possible, saying, "I'm in love, can you believe it? I'm finally, totally in love, and you know what? It feels great."

February 06, 2006

Congratulations, Pittsburgh

Last night's Super Bowl was a no-lose proposition for me: the winner would be either the team of my adopted hometown (Seattle) or a team that had done much to deserve it, both over the playoffs and the last decade (Pittsburgh). As it was, the Steelers won, and congratulations to them and their fans. To Seahawks fans, I wouldn't worry: they'll be back soon enough.

I know the score was close for most of the game -- as late as five minutes into the fourth quarter, Pittsburgh was only up by four points -- but it seemed a dull affair, not worthy of the big game. Neither offense played spectacularly well, but it wasn't because the defenses were great -- it just appeared that neither team could really get itself together.

Ah, well. Such is how most Super Bowls go. But just often enough, there's a great Super Bowl, a game for the ages -- like New England versus Carolina two years ago -- to keep us all watching. And so we'll all be there again next year.

February 05, 2006

Prince on SNL

If you recorded Saturday Night Live on your DVR last night (the only way to watch it anymore), but haven't taken a look, or did but skipped over the music, go back and watch it now. Prince performed "Fury" from his new album, 3121, and he was smoking.

In this age of sampling, it's nice to listen to a musician who still knows how to write original melodies. Or maybe I'm just old-fashioned.

"Science Is Respected and Protected and Highly Valued..."

This is from a New York Times story on openness at NASA:

In October... George Deutsch, a presidential appointee in NASA headquarters, told a Web designer working for the agency to add the word "theory" after every mention of the Big Bang, according to an e-mail message from Mr. Deutsch that another NASA employee forwarded to The Times...

The Big Bang memo came from Mr. Deutsch, a 24-year-old presidential appointee in the press office at NASA headquarters whose résumé says he was an intern in the "war room" of the 2004 Bush-Cheney re-election campaign [and who was a] 2003 journalism graduate of Texas A&M.

In October 2005, Mr. Deutsch sent an e-mail message to Flint Wild, a NASA contractor working on a set of Web presentations about Einstein for middle-school students. The message said the word "theory" needed to be added after every mention of the Big Bang.

The Big Bang is "not proven fact; it is opinion," Mr. Deutsch wrote, adding, "It is not NASA's place, nor should it be to make a declaration such as this about the existence of the universe that discounts intelligent design by a creator."

It continued: "This is more than a science issue, it is a religious issue. And I would hate to think that young people would only be getting one-half of this debate from NASA. That would mean we had failed to properly educate the very people who rely on us for factual information the most." ...

The Deutsch memo was provided by an official at NASA headquarters who said he was upset with the effort to justify changes to descriptions of science by referring to politically charged issues like intelligent design. Senior NASA officials did not dispute the message's authenticity.

Mr. Wild declined to be interviewed; Mr. Deutsch did not respond to e-mail or phone messages. On Friday evening, repeated queries were made to the White House about how a young presidential appointee with no science background came to be supervising Web presentations on cosmology and interview requests to senior NASA scientists.

The only response came from Donald Tighe of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. "Science is respected and protected and highly valued by the administration," he said.

The wrongheadedness of this is difficult to measure. In fact, it's exactly NASA's place "to make a declaration such as this about the existence of the universe," given that such a declaration is supported by overwhelming scientific evidence and has the support of the vast majority of the scientific community. Were NASA to do anything else, it would in fact be making this a religious issue.

What's next? NASA press releases giving equal space to the Big Bang, Intelligent Design, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster?

(Now that I think about it, though, were the scientists at JPL to give their press briefings in pirate regalia (FSM adherents find it offensive to teach their beliefs while dressed any other way), it would probably increase their viewing audience.)

February 04, 2006

My First Race

A week ago today, I participated in my first race ever. I was visiting my friend Tina in Massachusetts who, knowing I'd want to run that weekend, found the perfect (i.e., short) race for me: the Greenfield Winter Carnival Sleigh Bell Road Race, just four miles long.

My goal was to finish in 40:00, or 10:00/mile. I told Tina that I'd be happy with 40:00 and stunned if I ran it in 38:00 (or 9:30/mile).

The first mile was a long shallow downhill followed by a really steep hill at the end, and I ran that in 9:05. That was good by my standards, but it was the start of the race and I was excited. The second mile was flat to uphill, and I was already really tired from the hill at the beginning, so I ran that in 8:55. At that point, I was just thinking, "hold on to where I'm at and finish in 40:00." The third mile was downhill and then flat, and I ran that in 9:22. I worked out the time in my head and realized that if I kept to my overall pace, I would beat 38:00 -- about 37:49 or so. The last mile was a steep downhill and then a shallow uphill, and I was really tired over the last few hundred yards, but I was psyched and so was running okay. I ran it in 8:51, even faster than the first mile, and so I finished in 37:13 for the race, or 9:18/mile.

By anyone else's standards, 9:18/mile over four miles is pretty slow. But for me, it was a glorious thing. During the race, on one of the downhills, when I had the chance to think, I wondered to myself if relative effort is all that matters. If I push myself to my limit -- if I give it everything I have -- and run 9:18/mile, is that just as much a personal victory as anything done by a more accomplished athlete?

Grandpa Munster

Via Boing Boing comes word that Al Lewis, best known for playing Grandpa on The Munsters, has died at 95.

In the early 1990s, while Adobe Acrobat (then Carousel) was under development, I made numerous trips around the country to brief key accounts. On one of my trips to New York, my fellow employee Wes and his wife Susan took me to Grandpa's restaurant in New York. We were sitting at a table when Grandpa passed by.

Wes: Grandpa! This is my friend Frank. He's visiting here from California.

Grandpa (warmly): Thanks for coming. It's nice to have you here.

Me: Thank you. It's my pleasure to be here.

(Grandpa wanders off.)

Me (to Wes): Oh, so you've been here before and met him?

Wes: No.

As he said, "No," the look on Wes' face was priceless. Why would he have to know someone to introduce me to them? It was a great New York moment.

February 03, 2006

Fungibility and the Lesser of Two Evils

A recent e-mail of the day from one of Andrew Sullivan's readers:

President Bush worked in the oil industry for years. So did his father. So did many of his close friends. He obviously knows (I hope) that if new technologies were to reduce our total oil consumption by something like 5 million barrels a day by 2025 that no one can simply choose, on a country by country basis, where that savings is going to come from. Yet clearly this is what he implied; that the decrease would all come out of our Middle East imports. If anything, we're liable to get a greater proportion of our oil from the Middle East. Simple economics tells us that if we reduce our demand for oil imports the country that is likely to suffer most is Canada, as they have the highest costs of production. The cheapest oil comes from the Middle East.

So we're left with yet another 'lesser of two evils' conclusion here: either President Bush spent years in the oil industry (not to mention Harvard Business School) and yet failed to absorb even the most basic knowledge about that industry, or that he knows full well that what he's saying isn't true, but is willing to say it anyway if he believes it benefits him politically.

I've written about this before. Oil is a fungible resource. The only way to "replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025," as the President promised in his State of the Union address, would be to raise the cost of Middle East oil relative to other oil, either by imposing taxes on Middle East oil or by subsidizing oil not from the Middle East. I'm no trade expert, but I'm pretty sure that either would be a glaring violation of our WTO obligations. So this is a ridiculous assertion, and like Sullivan's reader, I'm left wondering: is Bush uninformed about his supposed area of expertise, or is he lying?

So Much to Catch Up On...

...yet so little time.

Lots of entries to come. Stay tuned.