February 2009

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Right on

John Derbyshire in The American Conservative: Limbaugh and company certainly entertain. But a steady diet of ideological comfort food is no substitute for hearty intellectual fare.

More:

  Taking the conservative project as a whole — limited government, fiscal prudence, equality under law, personal liberty, patriotism, realism abroad — has talk radio helped or hurt? All those good things are plainly off the table for the next four years at least, a prospect that conservatives can only view with anguish. Did the Limbaughs, Hannitys, Savages, and Ingrahams lead us to this sorry state of affairs?

  They surely did. At the very least, by yoking themselves to the clueless George W. Bush and his free-spending administration, they helped create the great debt bubble that has now burst so spectacularly. The big names, too, were all uncritical of the decade-long (at least) efforts to “build democracy” in no-account nations with politically primitive populations.

I was raised by, and as, a Republican. I moved left of the whole Democratic party in college (’65-’69, during the Vietnam war, which I opposed absolutely), and stayed there for another decade or more. When I moved to California in 1985 I realized that I had become an Independent, and I’ve registered that way ever since. Voted that way too.

But I never lost my interest in the well-being of the Republican party. What Derbyshire outlines as the “conservative project” sounds right to me. Not fighting abortion and immigration. Not bringing religion into government. Not meddling in people’s lives. Not spending out the wazoo. Not military adventures abroad. Not hating “Liberals” as if they were a disease.

Anyway, good piece. Hope it helps.

So our Verizon FiOS home bill has been about $160/month. We were looking to chop that down a bit when I called Verizon this morning.

To put it as simply as possible, it’s complicated.

What I care about most is keeping the 20/20Mbps down/up Internet service. That’s $69.99/mo.

What I don’t care about is POTS, or Plain Old Telephone Service. So I canceled that. We use cell phones, and we’ll find another way to fax, as rarely as we do that.

That leaves TV.

What we still call TV isn’t what it used to be: channels on a dial. They are digital program sources that are organized by “channels”, but that’s a legacy convenience. A few are available over the air, as DTV signals. Those are…

  • WGBH-DT (still called Channel 2, actually on Channel 19). It also has an SD (standard definition) version. These are called 2-1 and 2-2, or WGBG-DT1 and WGBH-DT2. Affiliated with PBS.
  • WBZ-DT (still called Channel 4, actually on Channel 30). Affiliated with CBS.
  • WCVB-DT (Still called Channel 5, actually on Channel 20). Affliiated with ABC.
  • WHDH-HD (still called Channel 7, actually on Channel 40). Also called 7-1, It has a second channel on 7-2 called This TV. It’s SD. Affiliated with NBC.
  • WFXT-DT (still called 25, actually on Channel 31). Affiliated with Fox.
  • WSBK-DT (still called 38, actually on Channel 39). Independent. Owned by CBS.
  • WGBX-DT (still called 44, actually on Channel 43). Four SD channels, labeled 44-1 through 44-2. Called WGBX, World, Create and Kids. Affiliated with PBS.
  • WYDN-DT (still called 48, actually on Channel 47) with a directional signal). The picture is SD. Affiliated with Daystar. Evangelical Christian.
  • WLVI-DT (still called 56, actually on Channel 42 with a directional signal). Affiliated with CW.
  • WMFP-DT (still called 62, actually on Channel 18 with a directional signal). Labeled 61-1 and 62-2. The second is currently dark. Affiliated with Gems TV. Home shopping.
  • WBPX (still called 68, actually on Channel 32, with a directional signal). It’s four channels in one, all SD: WBPX Digital Television, Qubo, Eye on Life and Worship. Identified on the tuner as 68-1, 2, 3 and 4. Affiliated with ION Television.

For what it’s worth, I get all those on my laptop with a little adapter. Meaning that I don’t need cable for them. They’re free. They cost $0.00.

Okay, so Verizon offers two channel lineups in our region: Essentials for $47.99/mo. and Extreme HD for… I can’t find it now. $57.99/mo, I think. Essentials has the about same minimun channel line-up I get for free over the air. Extreme HD has what you want if you watch in HD: all the main cable and sports non-premium channels. Add DVR rental (for which one has no choice) for $12.99 and I’m at $140 or so, if I want the Extreme HD.

TV now is an HD deal. If you want TV, you want HD, because that’s the new screen you’ve got, even if you’re watching on a laptop.

The problem is, HDTV costs you. Unless you want the minimal legacy lineup of local over the air channels.

Anyway, here’s what I want: a la carte. Across the board. I’m glad to do Pay Per View for everything.

And right now I’m thinking hard about cancelling the Extreme HD I just ordered. We like the sports and the movies, but we can go to a bar for the former and get the rest from Netflix or something.

Meanwhile, kudos to Verizon for providing fiber, and the 20/20 connection. Here’s another message: I’d gladly pay more for even more speed. Especially upstream.

[Later...] Now I’m looking at the Verizon Massachusetts channel lineup and it seems like the only thing extra I get with Extreme HD is some sports channels. Is that right? Sports-wise, all I care about are NESN, ESPN, TNT and other Usual Suspects.

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Says here that sex came along at least 365 billion million years ago.

Magma roots

capitol reef

The problem with “grass roots” as a metaphor is that it reduces its contributors to the miniscopic. Not microscopic, because then you couldn’t see them without a microscope. But miniscopic, meaning they’re small. You have to get down on all fours to eyeball them and say hi.

So I’ve been thinking about alternative meaphors where large movements are involved. For that you have to go deeper. Not into the dirt, because that has connotations of filfth and death. Rock roots is okay, in the sense that serious rock for the most part is solid, or what geologists call “competent”. You can build on it, and with it. The largest slabs of it are “tectonic”.

But maybe we can go deeper than that, below the Earth’s crust. How about “magma roots”? That occurred to me while reading Ron Schott‘s post, Building a Google Earth Geology Layer. Ron is a hard rock geologist who has been a good source of wisdom (and occasional correction) toward my own geology obsessions. What Ron proposes (in both his posts title and its detail) is a great idea — for Google, for the geology field, and for the rest of us.

Ron’s goals are modest in manner and ambitious in scale:

What I’d like to do here, with the help of the geoblogosphere (via the comments to this post, initially), is to set out some goals, examples, and use cases that could guide the development of a Google Earth geology layer. If there’s interest in building on this idea, I’d be happy to set up communications tools, create KML tutorials, or do anything else to facilitate a coordinated effort to develop such a layer. Hopefully, by leveraging the knowledge and efforts of the geoblogospheric community, along with excellent new resources for developing KML, we can make a real start toward building a useful geology resource.

For now, what I’d like to do is to begin to collect best practices/examples of good uses of KML in illustrating geology in Google Earth. I’ll start by pointing out the USGS Earthquake Hazards Program’s collection of Google Earth KML files and another collection of geologic KML resources at San Diego State University. These should give you some idea of the sorts of things that will be possible. Also helpful would be use cases – how would you like to use a geology layer in Google Earth? Suggestions here will offer us guidance as to what the most important elements of a Google Earth geology layer should be.

I’m not a geologist, but I want to do everything I can to help raise this barn. Or, to keep from mixing metaphors, uncork this volcano.

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Between flights in and out of O’Hare last Saturday, I caught this formation of geese flying overhead. Before Flight 1549, this wouldn’t have worried me.

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Window blobs

Form the inside of a de-iced plane, it looks like they poured clear syrup all over it. Or so I was reminded when waiting to take off from O’Hare on Saturday night after a snowstorm. What I found, when I tried to shoot pictures through this rippled ooze, was some fun photographic effects. The shot above is one example among many.

Lights outside were optically exploded into large spongy-looking blobs that resembled models of the universe, cooled meteorites, series of vertebrae, asteroids from old video games…

Anyway, I shot a lot of them.

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The Bank of America and Sun Trust buildings, both called \

Last week I got some nice aerial photos of Atlanta and its surroundings, shooting from a restaurant rather than a plane. Most of the ones in the set above were taken from the revolving Sun Dial restaurant atop the 73-story Westin Peachtree hotel where I stayed. Some were taken from my room on the 54th floor. Above are the Bank of America and Sun Trust buildings, both called “Plazas” — as is the Westin Peachtree, atop which I took this shot.

Here are some shots of a storm as well, shot from a suite on the 67th floor. One sample:

On the left is 191 Peachtree. On the right is the Georgia Pacific building. While there I marveled at the storm coverage on TV. I might put up some of that later.

There was a tornado warning in the midst of all that. This mattered to our hotel, because one last March hit the hotel directly and took out many windows — though no occupants.

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I’m sitting at #ima09, at one of the last panels: “Future of Public Media News: A Vision and A Plan.” Leonard Witt is speaking right now, and has a killer proposal: turn PBS into a “news powerhouse.” His case is brief and right-on.

Newspapers aren’t the only news organizations that are faltering, he says. Local TV news is crapping out too. As with newspapers, advertising is drying up: going away or moving elsewhere. Nobody talks about it much, but your evening news has been brought to you for many years by car dealers, spending co-op money from Chevy, Toyota and the rest of them. Bottom line: the advertising model is failing too.

Meanwhile, public broadcasting is sitting on — or next to — lots of news gathering and sharing organizations, including local and regional public radio stations, and allied listeners and viewers out the wazoo. Lots of those folks are blogging and tweeting. There is a natural sybiosis between these affiliated individuals (whether or not we call them “members”) and stations. Leonard is talking about how even small staffs — one reporter per TV station, for example — can add up. And (this is critical) without the high overhead of newspapers and other commercial media.

Another thing. PBS — and public television in general — desperately needs to move beyond its good but dull and old-hat stuff. The Discovery Channels (there are six), the National Geographic Channel, the History Channel and lots of other cable channels are eating away at PBS’s viewing shares. PBS, once one of the four major TV networks, now just holds down a few notches on a “dial” that isn’t anymore, and has hundreds of other channels. And this doesn’t even count the Net, which will continue to widen in bandwidth. At some point anybody will be able to stream anything to anybody in reasonably high definintion. When that happens, all that will remain of TV “networks”, “stations” and “channels” will be their antique names. These will matter as “brands”, but their content will matter far more. People will watch what they find interesting, relevant, familiar and reliable. And, in the case of news, sometimes necessary.

So here’s an interesting and opportune coincidence: as commercial TV news continues to tank, PBS and its affiliates can leverage their standing strength in news — one substantiated by their colleagues over on the public radio dial.

PBS’ news work can expand beyond the News Hour, Frontline and Bill Moyers. PBS stations can also go into the news business and appeal to the same people who currently spend a buck or more per day on newspapers — and can spend on other news sources.

We’ve seen what’s happened already with public radio. Stations like WNYC, KPCC, WBUR, KQED and WUNC all jacked up their ratings and income by moving from eclectic to “information” programming, built around morning and evening news programs from NPR. Public radio had advantages — a “dial” of finite width, for example (with one wide end  — 88-92Mhz) carved out just for noncommercial use, plus the homogenization and downscaling of commercial competition. So, while PBS was having its lunch eaten by commercial competition, NPR was eating the lunches of its commercial competitors. (The stations listed above are at or near the top in their local markets’ ratings.)

Can PBS and its affiliates get news teeth? I think they have to. Fortunately, commercial TV news has a very soft underbelly.

Now Susanna Capelbuto from Georgia Public Broadcasting is talking about GPB Radio’s Georgia Gazette. The show does video too (on the Net). How big a stretch is it for the network, or its stations, to do that on TV too — especially since ditital TV stations can now transmit up to four program streams (each called a “station”) at the same time. Yes, the costs of production can be high, but so are the benefits.

I’m sure there will be plenty of resistance, but it’s a damn fine idea. Leonard, during the Q&A, addressing the public TV broadcasters: “You have the gravitas, you have the reputation, you have the name. You have everything you need except the will to do it.” Perhaps not quite verbatim, but close enough. That was right after telling them that the idea is too good, and too opportune, to pass up. If public television does pass it up, commercial broadcasters will get the clues. CNN is already on the case.

[later...] Nice follow-up no the whole event, including endorsement of the above, from Robert Paterson.

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Eat wave

That’s what I’d call the rush to the food spread in the hall at a conference.

Remembering where

Napoleon, North Dakota. Mom‘s home town. By J.D. Speltz, for the town’s 125th anniversary. I remember when she when Mom went to the 75th. Not sure if she went to the 100th. But I do remember how she subscribed for many years to the Napoleon Homestead, which still exists.

Manual transmission

Here at the IMA convention, the band just played. Just two songs. First was an excellent Foggy Mountain Breakdown, followed by an equally excellent vocal (familiar, but don’t know the title), featuring Yvonne. She and the other three members, all on acoustic instruments, are here. Anyway, check ‘em out. They’re outstanding.

Paris is cooking

This creeps me out, a bit.

Bye ‘Bai

I’ve been wondering, What happens to Dubai in a worldwide depresion? Smashing Telly says goodbye. Fun writing. A sample:

  Dubai is a place for the shallow and fickle. Tabloid celebrities and worn out sports stars are sponsored by swollen faced, botox injected, perma-tanned European property developers to encourage the type of people who are impressed by fame itself, rather than what originated it, to inhabit pastiche Mediterranean villas on fake islands. Its a grotesquely leveraged version of time-share where people are sold a life in the same way as being peddled a set of steak knives. Funny shaped towers smatter empty neighborhoods, based on designs with unsubtle, eye-catching envelopes but bland floor plans and churned out by the dozen by anonymous minions in brand name architects offices and signed by the boss, unseen, as they fly through the door. This architecture, a three dimensional solidified version of a synthesized musical jingle, consists of ever more preposterous gimmickry – an underwater, revolving, white leather fuck pad or a marina skyscraper with a product placement name that would normally only appeal to teenage boys, such as the preposterous Michael Schumacher World Champion Tower.

Q & Hey

What’s the tweeting protocol? An inquiry at Linux Journal. Lots of good and helpful responses. And thumbs up to Dave’s Where is Twitter’s WordPress?

It’s not like this in Atlanta, but it was like this in Boston a few days ago. So, another photo set of ice on storm windows.

And another.

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On not skiing

Shows here in EdHat that there’s snow on Mount Baldy. That means there’s skiing in Los Angeles. Or close enough. Mt. Baldy is the highest point in the San Gabriel Mountains, which overlook Los Angeles from the North. Imagine a 10,064 mountain on Staten Island and you get the picture.

Skiing on Mt. Baldy is a trip. Mainly, a short one. Ignoring traffic (which you can do if you leave early enough), you can be there in under an hour from most of the L.A. basin. On a clear day you can see it from nearly anywhere there too. Its the big snow-capped one.

Here’s a photo set that gathers a few of my shots of Baldy, both from the ground and from airplanes.

And here’s a post I put up after a day of not-very-good skiing there. The snow wasn’t too bad, considering. The main problem was rookie snowboarders who crashed into the kid and I when they weren’t sitting on their butts like a bunch of traffic cones. From that post…

Rules for snowboarding on Mt. Baldy:

1. Fall on your ass.
2. Sit on your ass, for as long as possible.
3. Wait for your friends to come and fall on their asses next to your ass.
4. Sit on your ass with your friends on their asses, for as long as possilbe.
5. Do all this in the middle of a trail. The narrower the trail, the better.
6. If possible, fall on your ass in the path of somebody else.
7. Have no skills. Other than falling on your ass.
8. When actually snowboarding, run into people.
9. When running into people, fall on your ass again.
10. Bonus: get the people you run into to fall on their asses too.

Anyway, the kid is skiing this weekend in the Sierras somewhere, while I work in Atlanta. That’ll be fun too, but not quite the same.

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Ars: Canadian judge: No warrant needed to see ISP logs? Specifically, “The judge said that there’s ‘no reasonable expectation of privacy’ when it comes to logs kept by ISPs. Canadians, watch out, because everything you do online could soon be turned into legal fodder, even without a warrant.”

Well, it certainly is, with a warrant. No shortage of those. But still, it’s one more click in the ratchet by which freedom gets squeezed and .

As does the flat Earth

Great mind-opening post by David Reed:

  …the policy issue is that such systems for multiplexing such EM fields don’t fit the “law of the land” regarding sharing the medium. So, like UWB and spread spectrum underlay, and white spaces, all that capacity will evaporate in attempting to fit the technology into the procrustean bed of the FCC’s “property rights in spectrum” legal framework.

  The “property rights” model of spectrum allocation and radio regulation is based on physics-by-analogy, ignoring the reality of propagation. It’s time to end the ignorance of economists and lawyers, and replace physics-by-analogy with better physical analysis.

My concern is that it will be, like the Net as well, analogous to nothing we know — and in the meantime we’ll be stuck with the notion of spectrum as property, for the simple reason that most of us understand the model, and it works.

Bonus link.

I suggest Gitmo

In the NYTimes: Judges Plead Guilty in Scheme to Jail Youths for Profit. Specifically, for $2.6 million. The sentencing judge has routed five thousand kids to the centers since 2003. The story says the judges are headed for federal prisons. I wonder which ones?

Stimulus Bill Qs

I am confused beyond endurance by whatever-the-hell is going on (or went on) with the “final Stimulus Bill”. So maybe some of ya’ll can provide some A’s to the following Qs:

  – Where can one see a copy of the final bill? How about in .html, rather than .pdf form? Earth to Newspapers (and hell, bloggers): Give us some links to some goddam hard facts on this thing. Even the @#$% New York Times story on the Plan’s passage offers no links at all to the bill. Or whatever got passed.

  – What the hell is the NTIA, really, and how is it different from the FCC? I ask because I see it all over the place, and hardly heard about it before this. I’ve read what it says at that last link, and I get the feeling I’m missing a lot. Especially politically.

  – Are there “open network provisions” in there, like Public Knowledge said yesterday? Where? What?

  – Is “open” defined in the bill?

  – How about “broadband”? Here’s a search for “broadband” at ReadTheStimulus.org; but I’m not even sure if it’s for the “final” plan. Or wtf it says, really. Take this, for example. Okay, I just found this. Not sure what to think about it, though.

  – Is the Internet treated as infrastructure in any serious way by this thing? I look up “Internet” at ReadTheStimulus.org and find eleven results. Over half say something like “The secretary shall post on the Internet…”

I like this Washington Post graphic, even though it looks like a map of a boondoggle to me.

My big concern, of course, is with the Internet, which desperately needs to be liberated from the telecom Regulatorium. This “package” isn’t the right place to do that, I’m sure. But liberation needs to be done. Far more economic prosperity will arise form Internet build-out that’s free from regulatory encumberances that date back to the railroad age.

Which brings me to another question.

  – How would you deregulate the Internet? I know lots of folks (myself included, in some ways) who would like to see the Net’s virtues (openness, neutrality, whatever) protected one way or another. My question here is about what we’d get rid of. And not just at the federal level. I mean at the state, county and municipal level as well. What I’d like to see is a wide open field where anybody can get into building out the Net’s physical and wireless infrastructure in any way that does not make our varioius commons tragic.

My short answer to that one is to get rid of the whole concept of “telecom services” and “information services” — and even of “services”, in the laws that govern how we connect.

Which brings me to Freedom to Connect next month in Washington. I’ve been to most of them, and I wouldn’t miss it. The theme this year is “The Emerging Internet Economy”. I submit that more will emerge with less regulation than with more of it — especially if “more” is done inside the old telecom regime.

Bonus link. Comments included.

Oft-rode vehicles

Back in the summer of ’05, I put up a post that ran down a list of all the cars I’ve owned. Since then I’ve added one more car to that list. Since it’s giving me trouble lately I thought I’d copy over and update the original vehicular C.V. and add a few more words of woe. Here goes…

On my 58th birthday, I find myself thinking, for no reason other than sleeplessness (it’s 12:30am), about all the cars I’ve owned. In rough order, the are:

  1. Black 1963 Volkswagen ragtop beetle. Rolled it in the Summer of ’66, when I was turning 19. That one had a 1200cc engine. A friend had a new ’66 with a 1300cc engine, and we were out doing time trials to see the difference. Mine lost, of course, but I didn’t roll it while racing, or anything close. Instead it was when we were just driving around the North Carolina countryside. Right after I realized that I couldn’t keep up with my buddy’s car, I slowed down, closed the cloth (actually, vinyl) sunroof, and entered a curve that bent right where a dirt road came in from the left. Gravel had migrated onto the pavement, and when the car hit the curve, the rear end spun out. As Consumer Reports said of the car (as best I recall), “slight understeer changes abruptly and unexpectedly to unstable oversteer, to the limits of tire adhesion.” The pavement came up to my window and disappeared overhead three times before the car came to a rest, right side up, I was a bit banged up, but okay. Oddly, both shoes were next to each other on the road, also right side up, also facing the forward direction, looking like I had just stepped out of them — about 80 feet behind where the car had come to rest.
  2. Black 1961 English Ford Consul II sedan. Piece of crap. Leaked oil from everywhere.
  3. Midnight blue 1958 Mercedes 220S sedan. Fast and solid. Had seats that reclined to make the whole interior a bed. Had a bizarre “Hydrack” transmission: four on the column, no clutch on the floor. Sold it after the Hydrack died.
  4. Blue 1963 Chevy Bel-Air 4-door sedan. 283 V8. Automatic. Great car. Sold it when the transmission began failing.
  5. Yellow 1966 Volvo 122s sedan. Straight 4. Stick. Solid car. Sold it because I needed a wagon.
  6. Dark green 1966 Peugeot 404 wagon. Stick. Would hold anything. Had screw-on hubcaps, among other design oddities. Rusted to death.
  7. Snot-green 1969 Chevy Biscayne sedan. 287 V8. Automatic. Looked like an unmarked cop car. Drove it into the ground. It was this Chevy, more than any other car I’ve owned, that made me a shadetree mechanic of GM V8 cars.
  8. White 1970 Austin America, with a black stripe down its middle. Belonged to my sister, then my father, then me, then my father. Brilliant design, front wheel drive, transverse 4-cylinder engine, manual-automatic transmission, quirky and way ahead of its time.
  9. White 1970 Pontiac Catalina sedan. 327 V8. 4 door. Automatic. Leaked water into the trunk. Failed often without reason. Real beast of a car.
  10. Dark red 1974 Datsun pickup. Straight 4. Stick. Father’s car. Had use of it for a year or so. Seat was so bouncy your head hit the roof. Had two sets of points in the distributor: a vintage Datsun “feature.”
  11. Sky blue 1974 Ford Pinto wagon. Straight 4 that was flat on one side and looked like half an engine. Stick. Piece of shit. Moved kind of crabwise, due to an earlier accident, before I got the car.
  12. Blue 1980 Chevy Citation fastback. V6. Automatic. Bought it from my aunt after her stroke. Like the Pinto, but more comfortable.
  13. Sky blue 1970-something Volkswagen squareback. Had to crawl under the back of it with a hammer to hit the starter. Parked on hills so I could start it by rolling a ways and then popping the clutch. Was found burned to the metal on a side road a few months after I sold it.
  14. Blue 1978 Honda Accord fastback. Straight four. One of the first “good” Hondas. Though this one wasn’t, turned out. Bought it from a dishonest mechanic, which I didn’t find out unti the engine failed after I sold it. The new owner came after me, however. I was then in California and they were in North Carolina. We settled, but both felt burned.
  15. Dark red 1985 Toyota Camry. Straight 4. Stick. First and only new car I ever bought. Also the best, by far. Towed everything I owned in a U-Haul to California in August ’85. All but failproof. Eventually gave it to my daughter, who finished driving it to past 300,000 miles, I think. Only car I ever had where the AC actually worked.
  16. Sand-colored 1992 Infiniti Q45a. Wife’s car. Got it almost new in 1994. Best-performing, most enjoyable car I’ve ever driven. More about it here.
  17. Dark red 1988 Subaru wagon. Transverse 4. Stick. Front wheel drive that goes to 4WD, which requires four tires of identical circumference, so it has never worked quite right. Bought it from Buck Krawczyk in ’94. Handy for hauling stuff. I beat the crap out of it, but it won’t die. If I need a nice car I rent one or drive my wife’s 1995 Infiniti Q45a, which is a good car but not the equal of her 1992 Q45a, which it replaced and I still miss.
  18. Black 2000 Volkswagen Passat wagon. 1.8 Turbo engine. Tiptronic automatic transmission. Comfortable. Outstanding handling. Great for hauling stuff around, too. Got this in 2006, I think. Bought it from a friend who was leaving the country. Cost me $5k. Had 111,000 miles on it, and needed a bit of work. I put about $3k into it before taking it across the country to Boston in September 2007. Since then It has had about another $10k of work.

Anyway, the Passat lately has not been turning off when I take the key out. The engine keeps running. Weird. For that I had the ignition switch replaced. That helped for less than a day. Meanwhile it often thinks I’m breaking into it when I’m not, going into honking no-start mode.

I’ll be leaving it with the mechanic while I head to Atlanta next week. Hope they can figure it out.

I don’t think I’ve ever had a car that was so completely well-made and trouble-prone. My old ’85 Camry was a thin-metal plastic-filled thing, and all but failproof. This Passat has great fit & finish, it’s tight mechanically, and drives like new. But man, it costs a pile to run.

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This Onion Video may be the best thing that ever happened to Sony.

Just asking

Has President Obama made a single appointment that says “change”?

Here’s his latest.

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Not long ago as geology goes — nine, ten, twelve millennia — one of the world’s largest lakes covered most of Minnesota, plus much of North Dakota, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Ontario and a corner of South Dakota. It’s called Lake Agassiz, named after the scientist Louis Agassiz, who figured out the Ice Age (continental glaciation, basically), and whose statue dropped head-first into the concrete in the 1906 earthquake.

Evidence of the late lake s not obvious unless you look in winter, from altitude. I did that while flying west the week before last. Here’s the photo set I shot. Those lines you see in the farmland are old shorelines of the lake. Since it was a glacial lake — a large puddle left by the effect of global warming on the ice cap — these lines I suppose also qualify as glacial moraine. Anyway, interesting shit. To me, at least.

By the way, the straight lines in the shot above are wind breaks made of trees or hedges. (Not sure.). The larger square or rectangular dark areas are woodlots. The setting is a spot almost exactly where South Dakota, North Dakota and Minnesota meet. I believe it is in South Dakota.

By the way, what remains of Lake Agassiz is Lake Winnepeg, Minnesota’s ten thousand lakes (See this comment below for the correction, and a larger number scattered around three provinces of Canada.

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Great memories

Ruth Dwyer was married long and happily to my father‘s cousin Jack Dwyer. Even though she was Pop’s cousin-in-law, we still called her Aunt Ruth. Jack was Uncle Jack too, as was his father, who was married to my grandma Searls’ sister Florence.

I pulled this picture of Ruth from this family shot here. She’s in this one too. (So are both Uncle Jacks. The younger is on the far right, shot before he grew his signature handlebar mustache). I’m sure I have a few shots from a family gathering a few years ago at Big Brook, my Aunt Grace’s place in New Jersey.

Ruth died two days ago, surrounded by her family, at age 85. (More details in her obituary.) I haven’t seen her, or any of her kids (my second cousins) much since the years I was growing up in New Jersey. Looking at these pictures, and remembering the good times, I regret the distance that grows as families fan out acrosss time and generations. (Ruth and Jack had six kids and ten grandkids.) I’m also glad that we’ve at least been able to catch up and hang out with Aunt Grace (now in Maine and going strong at 96) and other East Coast Searls-side family, since coming to live (at least during the school year) in Boston.

Tom Brokaw called Ruth and Jack’s “The Greatest Generation”. It might be a stretch to lay that label on any generation, but I agree with it. And now most of them are gone. My generation –  boomers the Greatest produced in abundance — are aging to become the next round of geezers walking the plank of life.

Life is short. That’s why it’s important to pause in the midst to remember those who live it well.

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Gotcha!

Barack Snowbama.

Another.

Via JY.

Quote du jour

To my amazement, the hashtag had been established by the governor’s staff — who were tweeting major points of Granholm’s speech as she made them.Dave Poulson in Poynter E-Media Tidbits. Via @JoeTrippi

I don’t write much about war, mostly because I’d rather write about stuff I can do something about. As a young man I opposed the Vietnam war, wrote about it, protested against it. If I hadn’t lucked into a medical deferment, I would have been a conscientious objector, like some of my good friends.

Stephen Lewis was a fellow student at the same Quaker college, a good friend and a fellow protestor. We met when we crashed the same Ku Klux Klan rally, near the ironically named Liberty, NC. I believe we even joined the same picket lines outside one of Ed Cone’s family’s textile plants. (I’m not sure if Ed was even born back then. We’re talking about the ’60s here.)

With A Gingerly Step Middle-East-Wards, Steve treads lightly on territory I’ve been reluctant to write about — but about which I’ve been glad to learn more. At that Steve helps a lot. The post is short, sobering, and linkful.

There are no easy answers. But we can improve on the questions. This post does that.

Dine on, whoever you are

The Identity Community is getting together for dinner, the invite says. This coming Monday, at Mifune, an Asian fusion cuisine place on Mass Ave, about 2 miles north of Harvard Square. (Easy on the #77 bus.) I just signed up.

Modern Marketing:

  A few years ago I saw Doc Searls make a presentation in which he noted, ‘In networked environments, the demand side supplies itself’. It’s a statement that sums up nicely what is happening in today’s TV industry – all beyond the legislators’ gaze.

I heard recently that a station in a big market was taking over one in a smaller market just for the purpose of taking the smaller one down. Why? My guess is, once over-the-air goes digital, transmitters are just pro formalities. Nobody will be watching “TV” anyway. “Stations” will just be branded sources still wedged inside the old cable TV “must-carry” regulatorium. So if an ABC station goes off the air in City B, and there’s still an NBC station in City A nearby, cable must carry the NBC station from City A. Something like that. In any case, the motives are also economic. Running transmitters pushing a million watts of signal (the maximum allowed on UHF) toward the horizon isn’t cheap.

Pretty soon the “TV” you buy will be an Internet file and stream tuner and recorder, with “must-carry” set-top-box features, so it can still get cable, satellite and over-the-air TV “channels.” In the world that makes, old-fashioned TV will look as antique as the telegraph.

Just noticed Blogrunner, which looks like a mash of Technorati and Google News. The brief About:

  Blogrunner is a news aggregator from The New York Times that monitors articles and blog posts and tracks news stories as they develop across the Web.

Below that is a link to its blog. Here’s the FAQ.

In a meeting yesterday, somebody on the IRC shared links to “Re-identification of home addresses from spatial locations anonymized by Gaussian skew” and “Bregman divergences in the (m x k)-partitioning problem“, from Science Digest. Sez the abstract of the latter,

A method of fixed cardinality partition is examined. This methodology can be applied on many problems, such as the confidentiality protection, in which the protection of confidential information has to be ensured, while preserving the information content of the data. The basic feature of the technique is to aggregate the data into m groups of small fixed size k, by minimizing Bregman divergences. It is shown that, in the case of non-uniform probability measures the groups of the optimal solution are not necessarily separated by hyperplanes, while with uniform they are. After the creation of an initial partition on a real data-set, an algorithm, based on two different Bregman divergences, is proposed and applied. This methodology provides us with a very fast and efficient tool to construct a near-optimum partition for the (m×k)-partitioning problem.

Keywords: Confidentiality; Data masking; Fixed cardinality partitioning; Fixed size micro-aggregation; Bregman divergences; Pythagorean property; Convex partition

What’s extra wacky is that I actually spent time diving into this stuff, even though it’s about forty thousand leagues over my head. Still, it was fun trying to remember all that math I barely learned too long ago.

As I recall, the highest grade I ever got in high school math was a C. That was in Geometry. (Hey, I’m a visual guy.) The only math course I took in college was Statistics. The teacher and I couldn’t stand each other, and I dropped out, or thought I did. Turns out I was too late doing that and the guy gave me an F.

But I kept the book, which served me well years later when I was studying Arbitron’s ratings for radio stations. To my surprise, I actually liked the subject, and used what I learned from the book to develop algorithms for factoring out seasonal variations in station AQH (average quarter hour) shares, to aid in predicting which stations would do what in the next “book”. In addition to racking up billable hours for my company, and helping our client station sell advertising, I was able to win bets with friends in the radio business.

The biggest bet of all was that WFXC, the station with the weakest signal in the Raleigh-Durham metro, would kick ass in the first book after its programming went “urban” (that’s radio talk for “black”). The math was easy. The market was about 40% black, and no other FM stations addressed that population.

I won. Foxy was #1 in its first book. (And it’s still doing well, 2+ decades later.)

As it happens, WFXC “Foxy 107″ (a name I suggested to the owners before they picked the call letters, though I don’t know if I was the first to come up with that) was consulted at the time by Dean Landsman, whom I didn’t know at the time. We became good friends years later when we both haunted the late Compuserve’s late Broadcast Professionals Forum, which was run by Mary Lu Wehmeier, now a friend as well. She was the “Sysop” for that forum, where I occasionally came off the bench to help. Running the Sysop Forum was Jonathan Zittrain, who later helped found the Berkman Center, and now stars as a professor at Harvard Law School. Making things even more circular, Dean is now a valuable and diligent contributor to ProjectVRM. Dean, a closet math whiz, made a living for many years doing in-depth work around radio station ratings. I’ll be he knows, or could puzzle out, the quoted text at the top of this post.

By the way, my nickname is the fossil remnant of a radio persona called “Doctor Dave”, featured on WDBS, the prior incarnation of WFXC, which is still around (now with a somewhat better transmitter, and a second and much larger signal on another channel, covering the east side of the market). When I was there, in the mid-’70s, WDBS was owned by Duke University and had awful ratings to go with its awful signal. But it was a great little station. Still friends with folks from those days too.

Ah, I found the picture I was looking for, now at the top of this post. That was the WDBS staff in 1975, I’m guessing. I’m the guy with the wide tie and the narrow shoulders in the back row. There are many missing folks too. I’d love to follow this digressive path, but have too much work to do. At least I’ve left plenty of link and tag bait. :-)

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Reading David Armano from Marcus Brown.

Wicked, but funny.

Wish I could embed videos here, but I haven’t mastered that yet.

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Lay-on

That would be the opposite of a lay-off, no? Anyway, my friend Brian Benz is one of the too many people recently laid off from IBM. He tells the story here. What matters:

  I have until February 23 to find another position at IBM, so if any one knows of an opportunity inside IBM that I would be a good fit for, please let me know. Otherwise, I’m open to opportunities outside of IBM as well.

Testimony: Brian is one of those people who not only knows a load of tech, and has piles of constructive experience, but who gets what’s going on. Meaning he sees the big picture, in four dimensions — including beyond the horizon. Somebody should hire him soon.

Smaller print

I love the Onion Mobile ad here. Great headline: “The Onion Just Got Smaller and More Difficult to Read.” Perfect.

Hypeless hyperlocal

Keith Hopper started a good thread with A Brief History of Hyperlocal News, written to focus attention on the category, separate from the hype around it. Good observations, questions, answers and more questions, both in the post and the comments. And lots of helpful links throughout.

continues to pop. The money ‘graphs:

  Market research company eMarketer recently cut its estimate of advertising spending on the social networking sites, including Facebook, MySpace and Bebo, this year by $455 million to $1.3 billion. It said US advertising spending on Facebook will fall by 20 percent to $602 million.

  IDC said advertisers are turning their backs on social networking sites because they have a lower “click-through rate” than traditional online ads. Only 57 percent of social network site users clicked on an advertisement and made a purchase last year, compared to 79 percent on the internet at large.

  Experts at Deloitte said Facebook is suffering from the double-whammy of collapsing advertising revenue and the soaring cost of electronic data storage. Deloitte estimates that the cost of storing photos and videos on sites like Facebook has increased by more than $100 million a year.

  “The book value of some social networks may be written down and some companies may fail altogether if funding dries up,” said Paul Lee, Deloitte director of research for technology and telecommunications. “Average revenue per user for some of the largest new media sites is measured in just cents per month.”

I gave thumbs down to every ad I saw on Facebook until it quit showing me ads. Meanwhile, I’d be glad to track my use of facebook and pay something for the value I get from it.

Me too. Which brings up the subject of this post here.

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This LA Times editorial says,

…when many of Santa Barbara’s most determined anti-drilling activists teamed up to back a deal that would allow an oil company to drill under state waters off the city’s coast, it was a jaw-dropping moment.
Just as surprising, given the deal’s powerful backing, was its collapse Thursday, when the State Lands Commission rejected it on a 2-1 vote. The failure shows that, despite high oil prices that turned “Drill, baby, drill” into a Republican mantra last year, it remains phenomenally difficult to expand drilling in California...
Under the publicly disclosed terms of the deal, Plains Exploration & Production Co., which owns a platform in federal waters just beyond the three-mile limit controlled by the state, would have drilled several wells from the platform into oil reserves on state property. In return, it would have closed that platform, three others it operates off Santa Barbara and two onshore processing facilities by 2022 and donated 4,000 acres of land for preservation. Over the life of the project, the state would have collected up to $5 billion in tax revenues.
Bizarrely, the company and the environmental groups that were parties to the bargain kept the rest of its terms confidential. It is not unheard of for environmentalists to sell out the public interest for political or financial reasons, and no elected official should ever approve a secret deal that affects public resources. The company finally announced that it would disclose the full agreement during Thursday’s Lands Commission hearing, but that was months too late.

To this Santa Barbarian, who loves views of the sea, the oil platforms have their charms. They protrude from the planar Pacific like little square islands with christmas lights. And, as infrastructural studies, they’re rather interesting. It turns out that they’re also welcome offshore habitats, as are scuttled or wrecked metal boats.

Which are worse — oil platforms, or the hills of Los Angeles prickling with pump jacks? Pick your poison. Both bargains are Faustian.

The environmental damage risked, much less caused, by offshore drilling, is not a large part of the whole. Lost in most arguments about drilling in Southern California is the fact that up to hundreds of barrels of crude seep into the ocean constantly there, most of it right by UCSB. It stains the water with long streaks of gray-blue oil, much of it spreading from methane — natural gas — bubblings, some of which are trapped and captured by underwater contraptions. Also lost is the fact that offshore drilling on the West Coast contributes a trivial sum to U.S. energy independence.

Civilization is an open laboratory of trade-offs, with a time horizon that is never geological — and human only to the degree that it considers the wants of the living.

I think the best energy bargains are ones involving sun and wind. But there’s not enough of either to satisfy the energy appetites of a human population that has swelled to many billions. So we must continue to eat the Earth until its dead stuffings fail to sustain us.

After that? Who cares? We’ll all be dead by then too. Maybe some successor species will mine our cemeteries.

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