Paul Murray's weblog, with news you may have missed and my $0.02 worth on a number of topics.
"You can't make up anything anymore. The world itself is a satire. All you're doing is recording it."
I bet you don't have a friend who's an acupuncturist
E-mail me: pmurray [at] despammed.com
Tuesday, December 28, 2004
Bye-bye, time. Another signpost along the march of technology: After 75 years, SBC is eliminating its time service in Michigan. You know: "At the tone the time will be ..."
Wisdom for the ages. You know, Claire Booth Luce really was right.
Monday, December 27, 2004
Grasping the terror. It's hard to grasp the magnitude of the earthquake-caused tsunamis that struck Southern Asia and Africa. As I write this, news reports are estimating 14,000+ deaths. But I found this first-hand account by a Washington Post reporter helps to conceptualize it.
A380 vs. 7E7. There's an interesting discussion at Metafilter about the Airbus plans to build the world's largest passenger plane, a double-decker behemoth that won't fit in most airports. Some interesting links and arguments there, especially if you keep reading down the page; I'm as skeptical as "eriko" (though nowhere near as knowledgeable).
Sunday, December 26, 2004
Two ... one ... two. Today's newspapers are full of "best of" stories looking back at arts and culture in 2004. None of them has struck me as particularly noteworthy, until this entry at the very end of a Washington Post article on classical music:
The comeback of the year belonged to 76-year-old Leon Fleisher, who lost the use of his right hand back in the early 1960s to dystonia, a neurological movement disorder, and recovered it only now, through (of all things!) experimental Botox therapy at the National Institutes of Health. He produced a radiant new album -- entitled, appropriately, "Two Hands" -- on Vanguard Classics, with miniatures by Bach, Domenico Scarlatti, Chopin and Debussy, followed by the massive Sonata in B-flat by Franz Schubert. Fleisher described his return to playing with two hands as "a state of grace." "It's a state of ecstasy," he said. "It's wonderful." His listeners will surely agree.
It turns out that the opening sentence is overly simplified -- Fleischer successfully started regaining use of his right hand in the mid-1990s, and a massage technique called "Rolfing" also played a role -- but it's nevertheless an interesting story. This Newsweek Web interview explains much more, and here's an audio interview (Real format) from Minnesota Public Radio.
Wednesday, December 22, 2004
What we may not know about gravity. The Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 spacecraft, launched in 1972 and 1973, were the first man-made objects to cross the asteroid belt, and held the distance record for years until surpassed by Voyager 1 in 1998. (They also held a famous plaque co-designed by Carl Sagan that attempted to communicate with any life forms that might find it. Voyager took this idea a step further by including audio recordings.)
The two Pioneers slowed over a period of roughly 25-30 years and billions of miles, and no one can explain why:
In October, a European Space Agency panel recommended a space mission to determine whether Anderson had found something that could rewrite physics textbooks. Some cosmologists even speculate the Pioneer Anomaly might help unravel some of the thorniest problems in theoretical physics, such as the existence of "dark matter" or mysterious extra-dimensional forces predicted by string theory.
It's a great story about a quietly determined physicist who noticed a minor anomaly and wants to know the explanation. More about the Pioneer anamoly.
And they can kiss my ... Another business wants its hand in your wallet every month: downloadable music. Rather than sell you a recording, they want to rent it to you for a monthly fee:
After the presentation, [Apple's] rivals weren't appeased. They argued that in the long run, for-sale downloads were doomed.
It's nice to see that the new players in the music business show the same respect for customers that the traditional players have.
Tuesday, December 21, 2004
The Accidental Guru. I have previously linked (1, 2) to articles written by Malcolm Gladwell, and mentioned that I'd like to read more of his stuff. Now he's the cover story of the January issue of Fast Company:
Gladwell's real gift is packaging these ideas in a way that makes them palatable. "[He] acts almost like a translator between the scholarly world and the practical world," says Frank Flynn, an associate professor of organizational behavior at Columbia Business School, who uses many of Gladwell's articles in his MBA classes. Gladwell deflects the charge that he's just a savvy marketer of ideas, standing by his earnest intentions to help frame people's thinking. "When I was writing The Tipping Point , I realized that in order for people to talk about something . . . they need some way to describe and name things," he says. "So I always like to try to come up with simple, sort of catchy ways of capturing complex ideas."
A Festivus for the rest of us. NYT reports on the true origins and increasing popularity of Festivus.
Monday, December 20, 2004
It was the night before Christmas. For your holiday reading pleasure, "A Visit from Saint Nicholas (In the Ernest Hemingway Manner)", written by James Thurber in 1927. (via Metafilter)
Thursday, December 16, 2004
What you don't know about "Beyond the Sea." The song, that is. Bobby Darin had a big hit with it in 1960, but its origins date back more than 20 years earlier. The public radio program "The World" explains. You can read the story, but given the subject matter it's much better to listen to it; it's in Windows Media Audio format.
When I heard the clip of the original version contained within the story, I thought, "I know this. I've heard this before." And I was right. It only took me a couple of minutes to figure out where.
Government as sucker. The deal to move the Montreal Expos to Washington, D.C., and rechristen them the Nationals appears to be falling apart. The city council is declining to pay for the entire stadium, but it's willing to split the cost. Naturally, MLB says that's not good enough.
It amazes me that metropolitan areas are so desperate to attract professional sports teams that they will build facilities for them ... despite repeated studies suggesting that there is no economic benefit:
In stark contrast to the results claimed by most prospective economic impact studies commissioned by teams or stadium advocates, the consensus in the academic literature has been that the overall sports environment has no measurable effect on the level of real income in metropolitan areas. Our own research suggests that professional sports may be a drain on local economies rather than an engine of economic growth. ("The Stadium Gambit and Local Economic Development" - PDF)
Talk about corporate welfare. Of course, our current president -- who thinks tax cuts are the solution to every problem -- didn't think that way in the 1980s when he convinced Arlington, Texas to build a new baseball stadium.
Tuesday, December 14, 2004
Makes me want to revisit Washington, D.C. The Smithsonian's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center needed a better draw to attract more visitors to its location near Dulles Airport. The IMAX film 'Fighter Pilot: Operation Red Flag' sounds like it. I so want to see it.
Tight deadlines = death. Or the risk of it, at least:
Staff working hard to get a task completed on time were six times more likely to have an attack in the next 24 hours than co-workers, a study said.
Say it ain't so, Tom. I've previously noted winners of the London-based Literary Review's "Bad Sex in Fiction" Award. (2001, 2002, 2003 results via BBC) Most of the winners and entrants are unknown to me. But this year (alternate source) ... oh my, it's Tom Wolfe for his new novel "Charlotte Simmons."
I can't bring myself to include any excerpts here, but you'll find them, along with some from his competition, in the linked Reuters article (here's a BBC account as well). I can't help but think that Wolfe won in part for dropping a word like "otorhinolaryngological" into the scene. This from the man who wrote "The Bonfire of the Vanities"?
Monday, December 13, 2004
Insert fashion statement joke here. This just in from CNET News: "tight pants break more phones than dogs, children, rain, snow, acts of forgetfulness and throwing phones to the ground in a rage, according to a report on the survey by cell-phone news Web site Cellular News."
Friday, December 10, 2004
Targeting bombs and mammography. As disparate as they may seem, Malcolm Gladwell finds parallels in his New Yorker article The Picture Problem.
Gladwell is an interesting writer. I really need to check out his books.
Marketing. A new movie version of Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice" comes out later this month. I see that the trailer wisely includes all the characters and dialogue that people are vaguely familiar with:
It looks interesting...
Thursday, December 09, 2004
Heh, heh. A few days ago my boss forwarded me a picture from a 1954 issue of Popular Mechanics predicting what a home computer might look like. Except that it really wasn't; it was an entry in a Photoshop contest. I knew that because it was posted at Metafilter back in September, and the people there figured it out. (Snopes added the picture to their collection of urban legends in late November.) I e-mailed my boss back that it was a hoax. So many forwarded things are wrong that I try to correct people about them when I can.
It turns out now that he's in good company. Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy used it in a speech yesterday. Lotus founder Mitch Kapor also fell for it a few days earlier. And Popular Mechanics has been getting requests for copies of the original article.
Wednesday, December 08, 2004
Lazy link hunting. Yesterday was December 7, and apparently a number of people went looking for Pearl Harbor information to post to their blogs. Here are a few interesting links I stumbled across today:
Tuesday, December 07, 2004
Who do you trust? Talk about timing! It was only yesterday that I was venting about groups hiding behind other organizations. And now the Washington Post documents how they're hiding behind media organizations.
The Madison County Record, an Illinois weekly newspaper launched in September that bills itself as the county's legal journal, reports on one subject: the state courts in southern Illinois. A recent front page carried an assortment of stories about lawsuits against businesses. In one, a woman sought $15,000 in damages for breaking her nose at a haunted house. In another, a woman sued a restaurant for $50,000 after she hurt her teeth on a chicken breast.
How will we know which media organizations we can trust? It's bad enough already, but from the sounds of it, things will only get worse.
Monday, December 06, 2004
The surprise witness. Following yesterday's Steve Martin op/ed, here's Woody Allen in the New Yorker, wiring about a surprise witness in the Disney shareholder trial.
Sunday, December 05, 2004
And now for some levity. Every now and then the New York Times publishes an op/ed piece with entertainment as its only goal. This piece by Steve Martin -- yes, that Steve Martin -- is an excellent example.
I distinctly remember watching the Saturday Night Live where he first performed this (script, video that may or may not work). It was hilarious, largely due to the absurdly large production that Lorne Michaels had arranged for it.
When "reform" isn't. An organization called Common Good says it's about "restoring common sense to American law."
Teresa Nielsen Hayden begs to differ:
Common Good is a corporate-funded organization whose entire purpose is deception and the spread of disinformation.
There's also a good explanation about the infamous McDonald's hot coffee award, which makes a lot more sense than most people believe. (via Daypop)
Note for future use: How to research front groups.
But what a cast! This is a pretty entertaining read: The 10 Least Successful Holiday Specials of All Time.
(What, no Star Wars Holiday Special?) (via Metafilter)
Thursday, December 02, 2004
Someone to watch. Jay Greenberg has composed five symphonies. His teacher at Juilliard compares him to Mozart, Mendelssohn and Saint-Saens.
Jay Greenberg is 12 years old.
Based upon this 60 Minutes story that aired Sunday, it will be interesting to see how he turns out.
Wednesday, December 01, 2004
Up in the air. That's the fate of the Chrysler PT Cruiser, according to AutoWeek:
The Chrysler group is debating whether there will be a next-generation PT Cruiser, and, if so, how strong the retro styling will be.
I will be quite disappointed if Chrysler ultimately kills off the PT. I absolutely love mine.