Later On

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

Archive for January 9th, 2008

Election rigging

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Written by Leisureguy

9 January 2008 at 7:04 pm

Posted in Election, Video

And let’s not forget the beauty of life

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Written by Leisureguy

9 January 2008 at 3:50 pm

Posted in Daily life, Video

More on urban gangs/tribes

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I got one response to a query:

Well, I don’t know whether public officials are listening, but Sudhir Venkatesh is a sociologist who has written some great books about gang culture. My favorite is American Project.

So I emailed Sudhir Venkatesh  and got this answer:

There is a wonderful researcher– an anthropologist– named ELANA ZILBERG who writes about Salvadoran gangs. Philippe Bourgois, another anthropologist, wrote a fascinating book about NYC/Harlem gangs called In Search of Respect — a bit more accessible.

Anthropologists have not studied the US as much as other countries — esp. the UK, South Africa, Thailand, China…

When I looked up Bourgois’s book, I found that he wrote the foreward to another book, Engaged Observer: Anthropology, Advocacy, And Activism, which sounds right to the point, putting knowledge to use. And Applying Cultural Anthropology: An Introductory Reader looks extremely interesting and useful as well.

Written by Leisureguy

9 January 2008 at 3:34 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life

Extremely cool Windows add-in for Outlook

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I just downloaded it after reading this article. Note that it’s free.

Currently Xobni is in a closed beta, but the first 50 readers to head to the download page and enter the code “lifehacker” can download.

Written by Leisureguy

9 January 2008 at 3:21 pm

Posted in Software

Biodiesel from algae

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From I don’t especially like the sound of cutting down hundreds of acres of rain forest to grow algae, though.

UPDATE: Corrections posted as a comment. They are not cutting down rain forest.

Matt Pushkin was hanging around the Dell ReGeneration booth at CES 2008, and we got to talking about alternative energy. Turns out, he works for Aquatic Energy, who are harvesting algae in Lousiana and turning it into BioDiesel. I asked him to share what he’s doing with us, and he gladly agreed.

Matt’s company is taking CO2 from local industry and pumping it into specially built algae ponds which are harvested every three to five days. While one acre of soy can produce about a barrel of biodiesel a in a year, the same land dedicated to this unique process produces between 1500-2000 barrels of B100 a year, depending on how sunny it is. Talk about solar power!

Check out Aquatic Energy’s Website for more info.

Written by Leisureguy

9 January 2008 at 2:59 pm

TSA: Keystone Kops of Security

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From Boing Boing. Not so funny for the five-year old, and even less funny as the public becomes conditioned to authoritarian arbitrariness.

A five-year-old boy was taken into custody and thoroughly searched at Sea-Tac because his name is similar to a possible terrorist alias. As the Consumerist reports, “When his mother went to pick him up and hug him and comfort him during the proceedings, she was told not to touch him because he was a national security risk. They also had to frisk her again to make sure the little Dillinger hadn’t passed anything dangerous weapons or materials to his mother when she hugged him.”

It’s a case of a mistaken identity for a 5-year-old boy from Normandy Park. He had trouble boarding a plane because someone with the same name is wanted by the federal government. Mimi Jung reports from Sea-Tac Airport.

You know, if you wanted to systematically discredit the idea of a Department of Homeland Security, if you wanted to make an utter mockery of aviation safety, you could not do a better job than this. Link (via Consumerist)

Written by Leisureguy

9 January 2008 at 2:52 pm

Opinion leaders are in fact followers

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So it goes:

Sometimes an idea spreads through society like a newly-mutated cold virus zooming through a class of first-graders. Other times, a good idea never seems to take hold. What makes the difference? Scientists want to know, and marketers want to know even more, since they make their living spreading ideas about their products.

A key reason some ideas are so successful, conventional wisdom has held, is that a few highly influential people espouse them. In his book The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell wrote that what he calls “social epidemics” are “driven by the efforts of a handful of exceptional people.” Those exceptional people tend to be experts on a subject who love to talk. Such people can convince dozens of others of their opinions. An excellent sales strategy, then, would be to find those few critical people, persuade them of the value of your product, and leave it to them to convince others.

It’s a compelling idea, but does it really work? Social network theorists Duncan J. Watts of Columbia University and Peter Sheridan Dodds of the University of Vermont in Burlington decided to put the notion to a test. What they found is a disappointment for “viral marketers” who specialize in selling products by influencing influential people.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

9 January 2008 at 2:48 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

China ahead of US in at least one area

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Take a look. (Wonder if it would have worked to wait around for a free-market solution to the problem.) Full disclosure: I use cloth shopping bags, and Whole Foods in Monterey has discontinued plastic bags because of the environmental problems such bags cause for marine life: either bring your own bag or get paper bags.

The Chinese government says it is banning shops from handing out free plastic bags from June this year, in a bid to curb pollution.  Production of ultra-thin plastic bags will also be banned, the State Council said in a statement. Instead, people will be encouraged to use baskets or reusable cloth bags for their shopping, the council said.

The move comes amid growing concern about pollution and environmental degradation in China.

China was using huge quantities of plastic bags each year, the State Council, China’s cabinet, said in its directive, posted on the main government website. “Plastic shopping bags, due to reasons such as excessive use and inefficient recycling, have caused serious energy and resources waste and environment pollution,” it said.

Of particular concern were cheap, flimsy bags that many shopkeepers routinely handed out to customers. “The super-thin bags have especially become a main source of plastic pollution as they are easy to break and thus disposed of carelessly,” the statement said.

Shops that violated the new rules could be fined or have their goods confiscated, it said. The council also called for greater recycling efforts from rubbish collectors, and suggested financial authorities should consider higher taxes on the production and sale of plastic bags.

In recent years, China’s rapid development has triggered concerns over pollution and use of resources. But correspondents say that there is a growing awareness that more needs to be done to protect the environment.

Written by Leisureguy

9 January 2008 at 2:23 pm

Strange article

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This article criticizes German and French textbooks for their criticism of free-market capitalism. The author is Stefan Theil, Newsweek’s European economics editor. He studied American, French, and German textbooks and curricula, though the article mentions nothing of whatever he learned about American textbooks and curricula.

As an example of the bad things he discovered in German education:

Textbooks teach the minutiae of employer-employee relations, workplace conflict, collective bargaining, unions, strikes, and worker protection.

Hmm. This actually seems very good information to impart to students, most of whom will inevitably be employees rather than business owners.

At any rate, I thought the article was odd enough to be worth mentioning. The author seems totally oblivious to the problems the US is experiencing as the Bush Administration has relaxed regulations and put industry officials and lobbyists in charge of regulating industries.

Written by Leisureguy

9 January 2008 at 2:15 pm

Being a criminal has drawbacks

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Via The Wife, who says that the guy turned himself in to get treatment for his dislocated knee. Narration added after the fact by the shop owner.

Written by Leisureguy

9 January 2008 at 1:57 pm

Posted in Daily life, Video

Professional pundits: predictions worse than chance

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As pointed out below, a chimp throwing darts would have beat them:

Needless to say, the political pundits were hilariously wrong about the New Hampshire primary. I won’t hypothesize about what actually happened, other than to say that I think many voters here wanted a longer primary. They went meta on the race and decided that they didn’t want to coronate Obama in the beginning of January. This says less about Obama and Clinton and more about the over-hyped press coverage and shortened primary schedule. I voted for Obama, but I’m looking forward to a drawn out race for the Democratic nomination. This whole democracy thing is pretty entertaining.

But back to the failures of the political pundits. Nobody should be surprised. In 1984, the Berkeley psychologist Philip Tetlock began an epic research project: He picked two hundred and eighty-four people who made their living “commenting or offering advice on political and economic trends” – they were professional pundits – and began asking them to make predictions about future events. He had a long list of pertinent questions. Would George Bush be re-elected? Would there be a peaceful end to apartheid in South Africa? Would Quebec secede from Canada? Would the dot-com bubble burst? In each case, the experts were asked to rate the probability of several different possible outcomes. Tetlock then interrogated the experts about their thought process, so that he could better understand how they made up their mind. By the end of the study, Tetlock had quantified 82,361 different predictions.

After Tetlock tallied up the data, the predictive failures of most experts became painfully obvious. When asked to forecast the probability of a specific event happening, pundits tended to perform worse than random chance. A dart throwing chimp would have beaten the majority of well-informed experts. Tetlock also found that academic specialists – say, an expert in Middle Eastern affairs or a specialist on the New Hampshire primary – weren’t any better than the-man-on-the-street at predicting the future. “We reach the point of diminishing marginal predictive returns for knowledge disconcertingly quickly,” Tetlock writes in Expert Political Judgment. “There is no reason for supposing that contributors to top journals—distinguished political scientists, area study specialists, economists, and so on—are any better than journalists or attentive readers of The New York Times in ‘reading’ emerging situations.” Furthermore, the most famous experts in Tetlock’s study tended to be the least accurate, consistently churning out overblown and overconfident forecasts. Eminence was a handicap.

So think about that the next time you watch those talking heads on CNN.

Written by Leisureguy

9 January 2008 at 10:17 am

Posted in Media

Like playing stickball or street hockey…

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Written by Leisureguy

9 January 2008 at 8:51 am

Posted in Daily life, Video

Our incompetent, weak, biased media

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Glenn Greenwald today:

If there’s a more revealing (though unsurprising) illustration of our modern press corps than this exchange last night between Chris Matthews and Tom Brokaw, I don’t know what it is:

MATTHEWS: Tom, we’re going to have to go back and figure out the methodology, I think, on some of these [polls]. BROKAW: You know what I think we’re going to have to do?

MATTHEWS: Yes sir?

BROKAW: Wait for the voters to make their judgment.

MATTHEWS: Well what do we do then in the days before the ballot? We must stay home, I guess.

BROKAW: No, no we don’t stay home. There are reasons to analyze what they’re saying. We know from how the people voted today, what moved them to vote. You can take a look at that. There are a lot of issues that have not been fully explored during all this.

But we don’t have to get in the business of making judgments before the polls have closed. And trying to stampede in effect the process.

Look, I’m not just picking on us, it’s part of the culture in which we live these days. I think that the people out there are going to begin to make judgments about us if we don’t begin to temper that temptation to constantly try to get ahead of what the voters are deciding.

All of the points Brokaw made would have been just as valid even if their Wicked Witch had been crushed last night by 15 points, just as they were all hoping, predicting, and (therefore) trying to bring about. The endless attempts to predict the future and thus determine the outcome of the elections — to the exclusion of anything meaningful — is a completely inappropriate role for journalists to play, independent of the fact that they are chronically wrong, ill-informed, and humiliated when they do it. It would all be just as inappropriate and corrupt even if they knew what they were talking about, even if they were able to convert their wishes into outcomes. But Matthews’ response to Brokaw is perfect in several ways.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

9 January 2008 at 8:33 am

Posted in Election, Media

Why Congress gets little respect

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Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed an ethics complaint against Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) with federal prosecutors yesterday, accusing her of violating federal bribery law by obtaining a $2 million earmark for Voyager Expanded Learning just days after receiving $30,000 in campaign contributions from company executives and their relatives.

$2 million in return for $30,000: a very good deal for the company, bad deal for taxpayers. Really, I hope she goes to jail for this.

UPDATE: From TPMmuckraker:

You might say there’s an art, a finesse to earmarking. And Sen. Mary Landrieu’s (D-LA) $2 million earmark in 2001 to the Voyager literacy program was bad art.The Washington Post laid it all out in a big piece late last year: four days after getting a heap of campaign contributions from Voyager executives and relatives, Landrieu delivered the earmark, which provided the money to city school officials in Washington, D.C. on the condition that it be used on Voyager.

Now the D.C. watchdog Citizens for Responsibility for Ethics in Washington says the feds should investigate whether Landrieu was bribed. The group filed complaints today with the Justice Department, two U.S. attorneys offices, and the Senate Ethics Committee based on the earmark.

The basic facts aren’t pretty. Voyager’s founder Randy Best is a Texan and Bush supporter (he signed up to be a Bush Pioneer in 2000, but apparently didn’t raise enough money to qualify). He only approached Landrieu in 2001 after striking out on the Republican side of the aisle; when he hired a second lobbyist for help, they approached Landrieu. After an apparently positive meeting between Best and Landrieu, someone from her office approached Best to see if he would host a fundraiser for her. Voyager executives and relatives delivered $30,000 in contributions for Landrieu, and “most had never before given to a Democrat running for Congress.” Four days later, Landrieu followed through for Voyager. Over the years, Voyager execs and relatives gave her almost $80,000.

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Written by Leisureguy

9 January 2008 at 8:27 am

Free converter: PDF file to Word doc (Windows only)

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This little converter works, after a fashion. Quite a bit of clean-up work required after conversion, but it does produce a Word doc. Quite feasible for small PDF files.

Written by Leisureguy

9 January 2008 at 8:11 am

Posted in Software

Diversity in the workplace

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As companies either undertake or accept that the workplace will become more diverse, it’s important (in my opinion) that they also take steps to ensure that they realize the benefits and not the drawbacks of diversity.

One thing that diversity delivers is many ways of viewing a problem or situation. That’s a strength, in that the more ways of looking for a solution, the more likely an optimal solution will be found. But there’s also a drawback: members of the group will feel that some views are simply wrong. Different views will get this label, since the group is diverse, and inevitably some will find themselves at loggerheads.

So to prepare for diversity, the company should train its employees in skills such as conflict resolution, negotiation, listening, and suspending judgment while brainstorming.  Such training should continue as new employees are hired.

Those skills will definitely be needed, and opportunities to exercise them will arise daily as diversity and empowerment of the workers increase. (Empowerment because a diverse group under a rigid hierarchical structure with the boss doing all the deciding and telling workers the opinions they are allowed to have means that diverse views will not arise—those the uniform view is likely to be that the company is a crappy place to work.)

With empowerment, workers feel free to contribute, and this means that the diversity of views will be visible and require harmonious resolution.

Written by Leisureguy

9 January 2008 at 7:30 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

An approach to gangs

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Gangs are a problem in much of the US, and increasingly also in the military as meeting recruiting goals has lowered standards. Last night I was thinking about gangs, and it occurred to me that they are simply tribes of another name. Unlike the “gangs” of the 30’s, which were purely criminal associations, the gangs of today involve both men and women and constitute an entire microculture, going beyond the commission of crimes.

So I got to wondering whether police and city governments who are facing gang problems have called on the expertise and insights of tribal anthropologists—and whether tribal anthropologists have done any studies of modern urban gangs.

I just now (in writing this) Googled “gangs tribes” and found this interesting post. It seems from that post that cities haven’t considered the full range of possibilities in finding constructive ways to interact with urban gangs/tribes, nor have they thought much about why gangs have arisen—the social/psychological needs that urban gangs fulfill.

Written by Leisureguy

9 January 2008 at 7:20 am

Posted in Daily life

Another great shave

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I do like the Rivivage shaving soap. I see that it’s still on back-order at, but it’s certainly a soap worth trying. This morning I used the Rooney Style 3 Size 1 Super to produce the lather, and the soap was highly cooperative, as always. Then the Merkur Classic 1904, with a blade already in it: a very smooth and pleasant shave, topped off with Taylor of Old Bond Street No. 74 Aftershave.

Written by Leisureguy

9 January 2008 at 7:11 am

Posted in Shaving

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