Later On

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

Archive for June 7th, 2008

Terrific book: The Film Club

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The Film Club: A Memoir, by David Gilmour, is a wonderful book—certainly a book that any father who has a son would do well to read. The eponymous club has two members: David Gilmour and his son Jesse. Jesse was totally disengaged from school as a 15-year-old, failing and unable to get any traction, and his father offers him a deal: drop out of school, don’t have to get a job, no drugs allowed, and watch 3 movies a week with his father. The book follows their lives over the next few years, talking of the movies and the life events that occurred. I literally could not put it down: brought it home from the library, started it, and just now finished it. Absolutely wonderful. It’s also nice that Gilmour and I seem to have much the same taste in movies. We both think Ishtar is superb up until the two protagonists go into the desert, when it pretty much falls apart—but the first is as good a comedy as anything I’ve seen. We both think The Searchers is overrated. (Those two opinions are not all that common, I think.) We agree on other things that are more often recognized: that Marlon Brando, James Dean, Gary Cooper, Steve McQueen, Clint Eastwod, and Cary Grant are all great actors with the sense to be still. The list of movies mentioned in the book is long and makes me want to take a couple of days and just re-watch many films. Great stuff.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 June 2008 at 8:05 pm

Beautiful photos of Africa

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Enjoy.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 June 2008 at 4:25 pm

Posted in Art

Bottom-up and distributed authority

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As is well known, authority can readily be delegated, but responsibility remains with the delegator—which is scary. But companies who use good judgment in delegation and are willing to take the risk can benefit greatly because of the superior flexibility, responsiveness, knowledge, and strength of a cooperative venture vs. the strictly top-down hierarchy: the Bazaar vs. the Cathedral thing again. The cooperative structure showed up in Obama’s campaign and now Meetup (the company) is using it. A BusinessWeek article by Heather Green explains:

The management revolt at Meetup Inc. broke into the open last February. Douglas Atkin, a senior manager, yanked CEO Scott Heiferman into a conference room and showed him a list scrawled on a whiteboard. In bright red letters were all the things Atkin felt were wrong at the New York startup, including “We Aren’t a Creative Company” and “I Hate the Org Chart.” Atkin pressed his boss to change course. “We need to blow this up and start all over again,” he said.

Meetup is a company built on organization. Through its Web site, people can set up local groups for everything from sharing organic gardening tips online to marshaling volunteers for political campaigns. But as the company grew to 52 employees and 5 million members, Meetup’s own organization buckled. It was failing at the very thing that was supposed to be its expertise.

What followed Atkin’s confrontation was a management experiment that shook the company. Heiferman replaced the old org chart with a highly unusual management strategy in which workers set priorities and pick their own projects. Inspired by the people who use its service, Meetup loosened the reins and dispersed power. For some workers, it felt like chaos, and they fled. Others thrived.

The process is still under way, but the results so far are largely positive. Morale is up, and the company is cranking out products. On June 10, Meetup plans to unveil a slew of features, including a site redesign, a new payment system, and a method for translating Meetup into other languages. “We got more done in six weeks than in six months last year,” says Heiferman, who expects the projects to boost revenues tenfold, to $100 million, by 2010.

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Written by LeisureGuy

7 June 2008 at 2:24 pm

Posted in Business

Arbitration: the unfair game

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BusinessWeek has a good article by Robert Berner and Brian Grow on compulsory arbitration, a big business these days (and a topic on which I’ve blogged before: search “arbitration”). Consumers in California, for example, win in arbitration just 0.002% of the time—that is, two-thousandths of 1%. Not very often, eh? The article begins:

What if a judge solicited cases from big corporations by offering them a business-friendly venue in which to pursue consumers who are behind on their bills? What if the judge tried to make this pitch more appealing by teaming up with the corporations’ outside lawyers? And what if the same corporations helped pay the judge’s salary?

It would, of course, amount to a conflict of interest and cast doubt on the fairness of proceedings before the judge.

Yet that’s essentially how one of the country’s largest private arbitration firms operates. The National Arbitration Forum (NAF), a for-profit company based in Minneapolis, specializes in resolving claims by banks, credit-card companies, and major retailers that contend consumers owe them money. Often without knowing it, individuals agree in the fine print of their credit-card applications to arbitrate any disputes over bills rather than have the cases go to court. What consumers also don’t know is that NAF, which dominates credit-card arbitration, operates a system in which it is exceedingly difficult for individuals to prevail.

Some current and former NAF arbitrators say they make decisions in haste—sometimes in just a few minutes—based on scant information and rarely with debtor participation. Consumers who have been through the process complain that NAF spews baffling paperwork and fails to provide the hearings that it promises. Corporations seldom lose. In California, the one state where arbitration results are made public, creditors win 99.998% of the time in NAF cases that are decided by arbitrators on the merits, according to a lawsuit filed by the San Francisco city attorney against NAF.

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Written by LeisureGuy

7 June 2008 at 2:16 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life

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Hope for drug-law reform

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Alexander Zaitchik has a very good article on the likely future of drug laws:

You have to hand it to the Republican National Committee: Those guys really know how to pick the wrong fight.

John McCain, already running against the public opinion grain in support of the Iraq War and Bush tax cuts, received no help from headquarters last month when the RNC made medical marijuana a campaign issue. After Barack Obama told an Oregon weekly that he would end federal raids on medical marijuana users and providers in states with compassionate use laws, the RNC pounced. Obama’s position, said an RNC statement, “reveals that (he) doesn’t have the experience necessary to do the job of President (and) lacks the judgment to carry out the most basic functions of the Executive Branch.” Because the Supreme Court has ruled that federal drug laws trump state drug laws, the RNC reasons that halting federal raids would be tantamount to ignoring the law.

They’re right. But the RNC might want to get some new pollsters. What they and their candidates don’t seem to realize is that a steadily shrinking minority of Americans oppose the controlled medicinal use of cannabis — around 20 percent, according to the last Gallup poll. It’s a safe bet that an even smaller number considers paramilitary raids on the homes of peaceful cancer patients to be a “basic function of the Executive Branch.” During the New Hampshire primary, every Democratic candidate recognized this political reality by promising to end federal harassment of state-approved medical marijuana facilities and users. Republican candidates Tom Tancredo and Ron Paul pledged the same.

And John McCain? When pressed by activists from the group Granite Staters for Medical Marijuana, the Arizona senator responded in lockstep with most of his GOP peers, sounding less like a maverick than a Reagan-era after-school special. “I do not support the use of marijuana for medical purposes,” McCain said. “I believe that marijuana is a gateway drug. That is my view, and that’s the view of the federal drug czar and other experts.”

Given current trend lines, it may not be long before it’s possible to count McCain’s “other experts” on two hands. In February, the 125,000-member American College of Physicians, the second-largest physicians group in the country, published a position paper endorsing the merits of medical marijuana and recommending the end of marijuana’s classification as a Schedule 1 drug. “The ACP endorsement is massive,” says Bruce Mirken of the Marijuana Policy Project, a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying group. “It blows to splinters the assertion that the medical community doesn’t support medicinal cannabis.”

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Written by LeisureGuy

7 June 2008 at 1:30 pm

What Blackwater is up to

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Jeremy Scahill, a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at The Nation Institute and author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, has an article on Blackwater that’s well worth reading (and is accompanied by links to other articles on Blackwater). Scahill’s article begins:

This past September, the secretive mercenary company Blackwater USA found its name splashed across front pages throughout the world after the company’s shooters gunned down seventeen Iraqi civilians in Baghdad’s Nisour Square. But by early 2008, Blackwater had largely receded from the headlines save for the occasional blip on the media radar sparked by Congressman Henry Waxman’s ongoing investigations into its activities. Its forces remained deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and business continued to pour in. In the two weeks directly following Nisour Square, Blackwater signed more than $144 million in contracts with the State Department for “protective services” in Iraq and Afghanistan alone and, over the following weeks and months, won millions more in contracts with other federal entities like the Coast Guard, the Navy and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.

Blackwater’s Iraq contract was extended in April, but the company is by no means betting the house on its long-term presence there. While the firm is quietly maintaining its Iraq work, it is aggressively pursuing other business opportunities.

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Written by LeisureGuy

7 June 2008 at 1:22 pm

Phil Tourney, USS Liberty survivor

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Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about "Phil Tourney, USS Liberty survivor", posted with vodpod

Written by LeisureGuy

7 June 2008 at 12:47 pm

Posted in Government

The Michelle rumor

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As was pointed out somewhere, the last several elections have seen the same rumor: the candidate’s wife has been caught on tape (audio or video) saying something scandalous or doing some scandalous. The putative tape never emerges, but the rumor continues. Now the tape is of Michelle Obama supposedly making a remark about “whitey”, only—no tape. Just rumor. Now it seems that the rumor has its origins in fiction. Check this out.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 June 2008 at 12:38 pm

Posted in Democrats, Election, GOP

Steganography

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Encrypting a file is one thing, but hiding the file (say, as part of a BMP file) makes it even safer since the villains will most likely not even suspect its presence. MakeUseOf.com has a good post, providing a program that can do this and a little exercise to show you how it’s done.

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7 June 2008 at 12:23 pm

Posted in Software

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Make a nice painting

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And send it for Father’s day. Here’s your set-up.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 June 2008 at 12:14 pm

Posted in Art, Daily life

Blast from the past: George Bush & oil prices

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From the NY Times, June 28, 2000:

Gov. George W. Bush of Texas said today that if he was president, he would bring down gasoline prices through sheer force of personality, by creating enough political good will with oil-producing nations that they would increase their supply of crude.

“I would work with our friends in OPEC to convince them to open up the spigot, to increase the supply,” Mr. Bush, the presumptive Republican candidate for president, told reporters here today. “Use the capital that my administration will earn, with the Kuwaitis or the Saudis, and convince them to open up the spigot.”

Implicit in his comments was a criticism of the Clinton administration as failing to take advantage of the good will that the United States built with Kuwait and Saudi Arabia during the Persian Gulf war in 1991. Also implicit was that as the son of the president who built the coalition that drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait, Mr. Bush would be able to establish ties on a personal level that would persuade oil-producing nations that they owed the United States something in return.

“Ours is a nation that helped Kuwait and the Saudis, and you’d think we’d have the capital necessary to convince them to increase the crude supplies,” he said.

Asked why the Clinton administration had not been able to use the power of personal persuasion, Mr. Bush said: “The fundamental question is, ‘Will I be a successful president when it comes to foreign policy?’ ”

He went on to suggest, as he did in answer to other questions, that voters should simply trust him.

“I will be,” he said in answer to his own question about whether he would be a successful president. “But until I’m the president, it’s going to be hard for me to verify that I think I’ll be more effective.”

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Written by LeisureGuy

7 June 2008 at 12:13 pm

Busily wiping out species

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Where’s the Endangered Species Act? Take a look at this story by Jaymes Song:

Federal officials have confirmed what biologists have long thought: The Caribbean monk seal has gone the way of the dodo.

Humans hunting the docile creatures for research, food and blubber left the population unsustainable, say biologists who warn that Hawaiian and Mediterranean monk seals could be the next to go.

The last confirmed sighting of a Caribbean monk seal was in 1952 between Jamaica and Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Service confirmed Friday that the species is extinct.

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Written by LeisureGuy

7 June 2008 at 12:06 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

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What exactly is an electron?

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Written by LeisureGuy

7 June 2008 at 12:02 pm

Posted in Science

Taut thriller: Thirteen Days

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Last night I watched Thirteen Days, the movie made about the Cuban missile crisis. It’s long, but it’s extremely well made and totally absorbed me. It’s done as a thriller, and it indeed addresses a time of great crisis—and no one knew how it would end.

The book Groupthink details how the Bay of Pigs campaign came to be. The author explains that he analyzed this particular manifestation of groupthink not because it was famous as an example of things gone wrong so much as because the recordkeeping requirements of the Federal government, particularly in the Executive office, meant that he had a complete record of meetings and a complete analysis of outcomes. He noted that examples of groupthink abound in business, but when the failure occurs, there are few records and much careful covering up and shifting of responsibility so that it becomes impossible to get the true story.

As a result of that experience, President Kennedy (and those around him) learned that he could not simply trust the experts—he had to somehow use their expertise without delivering himself into their hands, and he applied those lessons in the Cuban missile crisis.

I was 22 at the time, working in Cleveland, and I remember one day at lunchtime, we came out on the street and looked up to see whether missiles were coming. We knew we wouldn’t see them, but everyone was expecting them. It was an incredibly trying time: poised on the brink of thermonuclear war, not knowing what would happen.

The movie captures that tension and in taking you along through the internal process of decision-making, amplifies it. This is definitely a movie to see. And because of the detailed records that were kept, you see something very close to what actually happened. Highly recommended.

And, I should note, you can’t help but contrast the methods of handling that crisis with the way Bush has handled subsequent crises. But Bush need fear no such movies, since his Executive office has been careful to destroy the records that the law requires be kept.

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Written by LeisureGuy

7 June 2008 at 8:59 am

Posted in Government, Movies & TV

QED Bay Rum

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I’m on a Bay Rum run. The QED Bay Rum this morning had a stronger fragrance than the Em’s Place Bay Rum, and a very fine lather, worked up by the Simpsons Harvard 3 Best brush. I picked up a Gillette NEW with a Polsilver blade and got a smooth, pleasant shave. The orange fragrance of the Rituals Shaving oil seemed a good choice for the oil pass, and then Taylor of Old Bond Street Bay Rum aftershave. Most pleasant.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 June 2008 at 8:47 am

Posted in Shaving

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