August 31, 2006

Not a pleasant realisation   {Comments: 6}

1. The excellent Raffi Melkonian is back in action at CS (but not at flickr, unfortunately). He's here, concerned about Taco Bell's fourth meal advertising campaign, with its "clever" attempt to widen the market (!) by creating a new dimension for consumption. Or maybe he's not that concerned: "Obviously, I'm not in favor of any restrictions on their advertising, even if I thought it would cause a wave of children asking for fourth meals." Why not, Raffi?

2. This is also quite clever!

3. I got an email earlier today from an online reader of an Italian newspaper. He wanted to let me know that the paper had linked to one of my photographs in a story -- apparently he was concerned that my rights had been violated. Naturally I don't feel that a link (even a framed link) requires prior authorization, regardless of the Creative Commons license; but it's a little disturbing to learn that some people do!

Proof of age   {Comments: 0}

I used to work for the Social Security Administration, and this article took me back to the dark days of verifying the age of Social Security claimants. Lots of little known facts here: Filipino immigrants who retired in the 90s almost always faced year-long waits for their benefits because their proof of birth was destroyed by the Japanese in WW2. The birth records of white and black folks born in Mississippi in the 40s are still stored in separate file cabinets, so that if you call the records office to verify someone's date of birth, the first question you're asked is black or white? In the pecking order date-of-birth-proving documents, one of the best alternatives to a certified birth certificate is a family bible with handwritten inscriptions for family members' birth dates. I wonder if LeBron James's family has one.

The district manager, who in this case was my boss (DM is a great federal job, with lots of autonomy and great pay, probably slightly less than a postmaster), has the responsibility of going out to personally check in with nonagenarians and centenarians (and presumably super centenarians), to make sure they were still alive. It wasn't out of care and concern. The story my boss told was about going out to an address listed for one of the nonagenarians and finding that it was underneath an interstate highway that had been built twenty years earlier. The checks, of course, were going to a PO box, and the owner of that box was a former Social Security employee who was living the high life...

August 25, 2006

A hidden penalty in there somewhere   {Comments: 2}

suttonhoo is here expressing reservations about Creative Commons. In particular, she's concerned that as an amateur she's taking food off the plate of a pro photographer somewhere.

I'm of two minds about this issue, as I hinted in a comment to this post. I appreciate good photography, I appreciate the fine arts in general, I appreciate professional opinions (synthetic journalism?), I appreciate (!) popular music. To the extent that free content reduces the supply of the best of these things by making them harder to sustain as vocations, I am sorry. I'm probably too much of an aesthetic snob to abandon the idea that there is great work out there, and that it takes real time and talent to produce.

But I also see a tremendous value in having the vast majority of that professional world go away. It's not inconceivable now to think about everyone in the entire world having the opportunity to photograph, write, create music, and publish all of it. Surely this possibility for unlimited human expression is more important than the interests of a few professionals whose services aren't valuable enough to really differentiate them in the first place. There will still be professionals; their numbers will just be limited to what the market can support (and yes, there will still be a market) or how much a government is willing to subsidize.

I also find it interesting that there are different cultural responses to different modes of expression on this point; I mentioned pop music before because I seriously doubt that suttonhoo would be conflicted if she were a singer releasing pop songs on her blog for free. What if I posted a novel in this space tomorrow? Nobody would worry about the harm it might inflict on Jonathan Safron Foer's next offering. Maybe the difference is that novels and pop songs are in and of themselves expression, while stock photography is more of a trade, one that often supports other more explicitly creative work. I guess my point is that other trades can support that kind of creativity, as they do for me and apparently for suttonhoo. To be sure, this is an economic point; but I also see it as empowering the vast majority of us, who have historically resided outside that creative elite.

August 24, 2006

To record your life   {Comments: 0}

I have created a Vox blog here -- not a serious blog (at least for now), but just a chance to take the new software for a spin. Things I like about it: well integrated multimedia, built-in tagging, intuitive social functionality, the option to make some content private -- basically everything that's similar to flickr. I also think the name is great. I'm a little less enthusiastic about the buggy interface and the fact and some of the more intrusive design elements (which nevertheless seem necessary to control the functions I mentioned above).

I have invitations if anybody needs one.

August 23, 2006

Someone in the club tonight   {Comments: 2}

1. As a sort of follow up to this post, I wanted to mention that stallio has posted some derivative works on this photo I took in Albany Park a month ago, which was in itself a kind of derivative work. Lots of fun there. UPDATE: More here, and in the comments.

2. The Chicago foie gras ban has finally taken effect, and principled diners throught Chicago are engaged in civil disobedience. Meanwhile, according to this article, Rick Tramonto has stolen my idea to start a specialty foie gras restaurant just outside city limits. Too bad it will be in Evanston and not Oak Park.

August 19, 2006

Concentric   {Comments: 4}

August 18, 2006

Radical historicism about judgments of value   {Comments: 0}

Caleb McDaniel has a provocative critique of the Bush's appeals to history as a judge of his policies (the latest of which is mentioned in this article). I find the analysis (and the questions it eventually poses) refreshing, and it makes me wish I'd taken even a single history class while in college. Alas...

August 17, 2006

Maybe our very existence isn't threatened   {Comments: 9}

Since watching An Inconvenient Truth, I've had conversations with several people about it, and one of them emailed this morning to point out that Al Gore has eight bathrooms in his house. This certainly sounds grim. It turns out the eight bathrooms factoid is a bit of a meme in the conservative blogosphere right now, apparently originating with this column by Peter Schweizer (the author of this book, naturally).

I don't have any great love for Gore (although I was impressed with An Inconvenient Truth and highly recommend it to anyone who hasn't seen it yet, eight bathrooms or eighty), but I was seriously disturbed by the way Schweizer, upon savaging Gore for his liberal hypocrisy, concludes that the environment must not be in crisis. The logic seems to be that if Gore really believed what he was preaching, then he would act on it, monk-like and decisive; so if not Q then not P.

But P doesn't imply Q here. Even if Gore believes the environment is in crisis, he still doesn't have any incentive to act as an individual to reduce his consumption, because any action he takes as an individual will have a negligible impact on the crisis. Global warming is the collective action problem to end all collective action problems; it's simply not going to be solved by waiting for individuals to fix it, because there's no payoff at the individual level. For this to be fixed, I'm sorry to say, we'll have to enact laws of some kind.

Insofar as the bathrooms damage Gore's ability to get the message out and effect the kind of vast political change we'll need to address this problem, I am disappointed. But on an issue as important as this, we shouldn't confuse the messenger with the message.

A demo for Iran   {Comments: 1}

This longish article by Seymour Hersh on the coordination between the US and Israel on the recently concluded (?) war is a must read, particularly because of the possibility that we will be in a similar war with Iran soon. I guess the "lessons" of Iraq haven't really sunk in.

August 16, 2006

We're all planets now   {Comments: 0}

So Pluto is a planet, along with Ceres and Charon and a rock called UB313. I didn't have a horse in this race, but I find the new definition a little unsatisfying, unscientifically speaking -- which, by the way, seems to be the accepted way speaking when you're defining planets. Apparently it took all manner of taxonomical acrobatics to wedge Pluto into the definition, all so that our cultural sensibilities wouldn't be offended. Hmmm.

One cool thing, though, about the new definition is that Pluto and Charon's relationship makes them officially a double planet (unless they change the definition of that too).

UPDATE: Never mind.

August 14, 2006

A major part in engine cycle control   {Comments: 2769}

1. After having several discussions recently about my decision to use an attribution/share-alike creative commons license on the pictures I post over at flickr, I found out yesterday that one of my shots is being used as an illustration on Wikipedia. Quite possibly the coolest thing that's ever happened to me, and I'm certain it wouldn't have happened at all without the license.

2. Here are several photographs of some pie I made this weekend, per this post from a couple weeks ago. If there happen to be any angel investors out there who'd like to fund a pie shop in the Chicago area, I'm listening...

August 11, 2006

Reactive   {Comments: 2}

Just a quick comment on the foiled terror plot: it seems to me that the authorities are a good deal more taken by surprise than they should be by this idea of liquid explosives. I don't have any problem with banning soaps and other liquids from airplane flights if that's what's necessary to keep travellers safe. But if that's really what it takes, why weren't they doing it before? Isn't their job to be proactive about these sorts of things -- ie to think about what's possible and not simply react to what they've been warned about? (It's especially troubling because this is a plot that has been considered before.) The whole incident seems to suggest that there is a serious imagination shortage at the DHS... for me it's a bit reminiscent of what we saw a year ago over at FEMA.

August 9, 2006

Assorted underdogs   {Comments: 6}

Maybe I should catch up on current events:

1. Israel is sending more troops into Lebanon? Thus far they've completely failed to achieve a military victory, stirred up international sympathy for Hezbollah, and made Sheik Hassan Nasrallah the darling of the Arab world. I am very sympathetic to the Israelis -- they are, after all, being held to a much higher standard when it comes to civilian casualties, and can hardly be expected to stomach this incessant rocket lobbing from folks who want to see them wiped off the face of the planet. But the chances that they'll land a "crushing blow" seem infinitessimal, and even if they do it will be a Pyrrhic victory, given that the real battlefield is not on the battlefield at all. They've lost already, and they need an exit strategy... this kind of military thinking is so 2002.

2. Speaking of 2002, remember how good things were in Iraq back then? I am dumbfounded every time I hear someone say that things are "moving toward civil war" there. There are far more people dying each day in "sectarian violence" in Iraq than in Israel and Lebanon combined, but somehow the latter gets more cable news coverage and garners the prestigious "war" classification. Go figure. Seriously, the biggest loser in the Israel-Hezbollah conflict is the Iraqi people, who are now hovering out of sight, out of mind in relation to the American voter, who nevertheless gets to thoughtfully decide their fate in November. Democracy in action!

3. And then of course we have Ned Lamont, who landed his own crushing blow against Joseph Lieberman yesterday in what folks are calling a referendum on Iraq. I'm no friend of Lieberman and I'm not particularly concerned about the psychic reverberations this will have through the Democratic party establishment, but I am fascinated by the way influence is moving through the dark corners of the internet and just a little concerned about what this means for the the question of whether small-d democracy is viable or even coherent anymore. The players: a millionaire candidate who paid of much of his campaign out of pocket; a distributed (ie outside of CT) angry left that agitated and paid to see the incumbent senator of another state ousted; the venerable residents of CT; and millions of Iraqis whose country was invaded three years ago and whose future is somehow tied to the election result. Can somebody draw me an influence map, or maybe explain where in this mess I can find the concept of one person, one vote?

August 6, 2006

Ventilation   {Comments: 0}

August 4, 2006

Powerful, muscular prose   {Comments: 2}

The passive voice is being discussed over here by Mark Liberman. Personally, I've always been told that the passive voice should not be used in writing, at least where it can be avoided, for precisely the reasons described (in a rather negative light, it should be noted) by Mark. Of course, I probably haven't been deterred from its use altogether, and truth be told, when I'm confronted by those green squigglies underneath my sentences in Microsoft Word, I'm usually a little excited by the notion that a line has been crossed, and the possibility that some frothing grammarian somewhere will be offended by what's been written!

Unfortunately, this feeling of thrilling transgression has been somewhat neutralized now by Mark's convincing argument that such rules shouldn't even be applied in the first place. But perhaps you won't be so easily convinced as I?

August 3, 2006

The dimensions of pie   {Comments: 0}

Will Baude blogs about the top crust on a pie he ate recently, although it's not entirely clear whether it had a pastry top (suggested by his use of the term flaky) or a crumb top (as possibly indicated in the update at the bottom of the post). I don't usually use crumb toppings on fruit pies, partly because I prefer pastry, but also because it doesn't allow me to pile the fruit any higher than the rim of the pie plate. I'm guessing that Baude's problem when his pies "collapse into the central fruity morass" is that there isn't enough fruit to start with -- which may be happening because most pie recipes out there lowball the volume of fruit appropriate for a fruit pie.

My own method is to pile fruit as high as possible, at least 1.5 or 2 inches higher than the pie plate's rim. This way, assuming the fruit doesn't completely disintegrate, the top crust will have that classic fruit pie shape. Of course, it's crucial to seal the edges properly, because otherwise that fruity morass will end up at the bottom of your oven. The other potential pitfall with this approach is that the top crust can harden if it cooks before the fruit has reduced a little bit, leaving a big pocket of air between the cooked fruit and the crust dome. I use a piece of aluminum foil to cover the pie until about the last 20 minutes of cooking so this doesn't happen.

Unfortunately I haven't made too many pies this summer, but as I mentioned in the previous post we have a new electric oven, so perhaps I will have pictures to post soon...

August 1, 2006

Irrational escalation of commitment   {Comments: 3}

1. If you can stick with it Sean Carroll has a fascinating discussion about the anthropic principle and the direction of time.

2. Tyler Cowen links to a Wikipedia entry about a crazy dollar auction that for some reason seems apropos of my post below.

3. We just got a new stove, and this recipe for fried chicken looks awfully good. I'll report back...

Any transaction in a tax haven is a sham   {Comments: 0}

From a New York Times article about tax cheats, who apparently bilk the government of $70 billion a year:

"The universe of offshore tax cheating has become so large that no one, not even the United States government, could go after all of it," said Senator Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat whose staff ran the investigation.
Let's not get carried away here -- it should be obvious that we could spend as much as $70 billion (and possibly more if we consider enforcement and equity to have value in and of themselves) a year going after these folks and it would still be worth it. I guess that wouldn't be enough to invade and occupy Iraq, but it would sure fund a state-of-the-art auditing division for the IRS.