Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for June 19th, 2007

Do NOT play poker with this guy

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Via Steve from SW Florida:

Written by LeisureGuy

19 June 2007 at 3:31 pm

Posted in Video

Out of step

with 2 comments

Via DesignVerb: “Three countries use non-metric measurement systems: Liberia, Myanmar, and the United States.” ..the rest of the world uses the metrics system. via Wikipedia

Written by LeisureGuy

19 June 2007 at 11:36 am

Posted in Daily life, Government

Interesting differences among search engines

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James Fallows points out something intriguing:

Via Network World, a report that appears to validate something I have long suspected: what you find, when you’re searching the web, depends very heavily on which search engine you use. That is, rather than Google, Yahoo, Microsoft Live, Alta Vista, Ask, etc providing overlapping views of the central data repository that is the World Wide Web, each returns a particular sampling of that data, which can differ to a startling degree from the other samples.

For instance, the study compared the first-page searches from major engines and found that on average:

  • 69.6% of Google’s [first page results] were unique to Google.
  • 79.4% of Yahoo’s were unique to Yahoo.
  • 80.1% of Live’s were unique to Live.
  • 75.0% Ask’s were unique to Ask.

All in all, according to the survey, only 1% of results appeared on the front page of all four search engines.

Now, the study was commissioned by Dogpile, a “metasearch” engine that combines results from many different engines — and therefore has an obvious self-interested stake in the idea that no single engine produces a balanced view. But it was conducted by real academics, at Penn State and Queensland University of Technology in Australia, and it appears to be on the up-and-up. It involves comparisons of results on more than 19,000 separate search queries. (Oddly, the Network World article has no link to the study itself; via Dogpile, I found a summary of it here and the full text, in PDF format, here.)

Let’s allow the possibility that, because of Dogpile’s commercial interest in exactly this research finding, some other study will come to a different conclusion. Still the general topic of how computerized “intelligence” — in this case, the reliance on search engines to produce data people used to have to remember or look up in books — affects “real” intelligence will only become more interesting. The implications of this report, about the separate realms of knowledge we discover via internet search, will be worth coming back to.

If you use Firefox, you can add Dogpile to the Search Engine list at the upper right.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 June 2007 at 8:53 am

Posted in Software, Technology

More media stupidity from the NY Times

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Jack Shafer in Slate dissects an excessively stupid page-one piece in the NY Times. Question: why did the editors let this piece of steaming tripe go to print? Here it is:

Nothing lives up to our expectations. My parents. Your children. Television season finales. Yesterday (June 17), the New York Times located its disappointment in Web-based retailing in a 1,200-word, Page One piece titled “Some Buyers Grow Web-Weary, and Online Sales Lose Steam.”

The lede of the article asks, “Has online retailing entered the Dot Calm era?” The story answers resoundingly, “Yes.”

The Times finds consternation in the fact that since the Web commerce got started, annual online retail sales have grown at about 25 percent. But those overall rates are slowing, the paper reports, and market-research firms project further slowing. The Times quotes a Jupiter Research finding that online retailing’s growth rate has peaked and will slow to 9 percent a year by the end of the decade.

The Times presents a few bogus anecdotes to explain the slippage, including “Internet fatigue” on the part of consumers who are “changing their buying habits.” A shopper tells the Times that he now prefers real stores to online ones because of better lighting and better service. His example: Book Passage in downtown San Francisco. The shopper’s wife—who just happens to be an executive at the brick-and-mortar department store Macy’s—says shopping online is “much more of a task.” What else would she say?

The piece provides additional evidence to account for online’s decline. Dell now sells computers at Wal-Mart, it reports. Gone unmentioned is the fact that Dell sold PCs at Best Buy, Costco, and Sam’s Club as recently as 1994, according to this Times article from one year ago. Another anecdote: Expedia.com has “almost tripled” its number of ticketing kiosks in hotels and other touristy spots. It could be a terrific supporting statistic if the story included the base number of kiosks that have been almost tripled, which it doesn’t. The most bogus anecdote claims that “Borders … recently revamped its Web site to allow users to reserve books online and pick them up in the store.” There’s nothing “recent” about that service. Borders spokeswoman Anne Roman says via e-mail that the book chain has given customers the option to reserve books online and retrieve them in stores since November 2002.

One hallmark of a bogus trend story is the “to be sure” passage that undercuts the story’s entire thesis. This piece has two. In the fourth paragraph, the Times reports that Internet sales are projected to top $116 billion this year, “making it harder to maintain the same high growth rates.” In other words, Web retailing is totally huge, it’s still growing by leaps and bounds, but the bigger a fast-growing thing becomes—online sales, giant squid, or an algae bloom—the harder time the thing has sustaining 25 percent annual growth. If no industry can sustain 25 percent annual growth forever, why is it Page One news that the very healthy business of online retailing can’t either?

The second “to be sure” passage comes in the final paragraph, where a Berkeley economics professor turns the piece upside down as he raves about the growth potential of online retailing. Online commerce constitutes less than 1 percent of the overall economy.

“There’s still a lot of head room for people to grow,” says John Morgan of Berkeley’s Hass School of Business.

Addendum: My “financial adviser” offers these observations: The economy grows about 3 percent in real terms per year, or about 5.5 percent to 6 percent in nominal terms. So, anything that’s growing faster than that is growing faster than the economy as a whole. Online sales, even if their growth rate would fall to 9 percent, would still be growing much faster than the economy (and hence other retailers as a whole). Wal-Mart has sales of a few hundred billion dollars (i.e., about three times the size of the Internet retailing space). Its same-store sales are basically flat, rising about 1.5 percent to 2 percent—in real terms, they’re shrinking. Online sales are continuing to grow impressively in both absolute and real terms. Even if they grow only 6 percent a year, they will still grow nicely and take market share from bricks-and-mortar outlets.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 June 2007 at 8:39 am

Posted in Business, Media, NY Times

The perfect media motto

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Glenn Greenwald today:

Richard Cohen’s Washington Post column this morning is a true tour de force in explaining the function of our Beltway media stars. Cohen’s column — which grieves over the grave and tragic injustice brought down upon Lewis “Scooter” Libby — should be immediately laminated and placed into the Smithsonian History Museum as an exhibit which, standing alone, will explain so much about what happened to our country over the last six years. It is really that good.

One could write media criticisms for the next several years and not come close to capturing the essence of our Beltway media the way Cohen did in this single paragraph:

With the sentencing of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Fitzgerald has apparently finished his work, which was, not to put too fine a point on it, to make a mountain out of a molehill. At the urging of the liberal press (especially the New York Times), he was appointed to look into a run-of-the-mill leak and wound up prosecuting not the leaker — Richard Armitage of the State Department — but Libby, convicted in the end of lying. This is not an entirely trivial matter since government officials should not lie to grand juries, but neither should they be called to account for practicing the dark art of politics. As with sex or real estate, it is often best to keep the lights off.

That really is the central belief of our Beltway press, captured so brilliantly by Cohen in this perfect nutshell. When it comes to the behavior of our highest and most powerful government officials, our Beltway media preaches, “it is often best to keep the lights off.” If that isn’t the perfect motto for our bold, intrepid, hard-nosed political press, then nothing is. That is the motto that should be inscribed at the top of Fred Hiatt’s Editorial Page in pretty calligraphy. And let us acknowledge what a truly superb job they have been doing in keeping the lights off.

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Written by LeisureGuy

19 June 2007 at 8:33 am

Posted in Government, Media

Does the Army support the troops?

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Apparently not. See this:

U.S. commanders in Iraq are rejecting a recommendation by Army mental health experts that troops receive a one-month break for every three months in a combat zone, despite unprecedented levels of continuous fighting and worsening risks of mental stress.

Instead, commanders are trying to give troops two to three days inside heavily fortified bases after about eight days in the field, said Brig. Gen. Joseph Anderson, chief aide to the ground forces commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno. “We would never get the job done of securing (of Baghdad) if we went out for three months and came back” for one, Anderson said.

U.S. forces in Iraq spend more time in combat without a break than those who fought in Vietnam or World War II, according to Army psychologists who studied troops in Iraq.

U.S. commanders can’t match the World War II policy, Odierno said in a news conference late last month. “Even in World War II and other times … we would pull forces off the line and bring them back on. Here we don’t do that,” Odierno said. “They (U.S. troops) are out there consistently every single day. So you have to be mentally and physically tough.”

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Written by LeisureGuy

19 June 2007 at 8:09 am

It’s going to be an almond week

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I realized when I used the D.R. Harris Almond shaving cream this morning, that I have enough almond soaps and shaving creams to make the week easily. The Harris Almond cream has a much stronger almond fragrance than the soap, and the lather was quite rich—I used the Rooney Style 2 and it did its usual magnificent job.

The shave was with the Gillette Sheraton, an open-comb TTO razor. It came out as the Chevrolet to the Aristocrat’s TTO open-comb Buick, as it were. The blade’s edge rests directly on the comb again, after all the hoopla of the NEW IMPROVED (1921) and the NEW (1930) using a drop-shoulder design to get the blade’s age above the comb. The Sheraton’s comb is, like one of the NEWs I have, turned down at the end.  Its handle, after using thick-handled razors for a few days (the Hoffritz, the HD, the Aristocrat), felt as though it were the same diameter as a soda straw.

I used a new Wilkinson blade and had a fine shave—BBS. The aftershave this morning was the Proraso splash, and I’ve got my coffee now beside me.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 June 2007 at 6:32 am

Posted in Shaving

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