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Concerts at the White House

Stevie Wonder performed at the White House. Cool enough. I say let’s do a concert a week, and let’s move them outside. Here’s a few folks I’d like to see performing in the rose garden (in addition to the obvious choice of George Clinton):

More suggestions?

Posted: Saturday February 28, 2009 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment [1]


Blackburn Neuro bicycle computer instruction manuals. I bought one of these last year after my cheapo cateye let me down for the last time. Not a bad product. Blackburn doesn’t include a printed manual in the box, which wouldn’t be so bad, except that the PDF’s aren’t available on their website. I just came across the CD, so I’m uploading them here in expectation of loosing it sometime in the future, and for the benefit of those who have already lost theirs (and hopefully will to find their way here by the miracles of web search).



Mac vs. Windows part 1

So, we got an iMac at work. I’ve used Macs before, but I was particularly interested in whether I could get it to talk to our Windows network, and how much prodding it would take. Our network is a little squirrely, and getting a new Windows machine to talk to it is always a bit of a hassle (and occasionally brings seasoned IT pros close to tears). Well, I plugged in a cable, turned on the iMac, clicked the hard drive, and there it was: all the computers on the network just showed up in the sidebar. I clicked on one, entered a password, and from then on everything worked seamlessly. It hasn’t asked for the password again since.

So, screw you, Microsoft. On other thing. 5 years passed between Windows XP and Windows Vista. You employ like 100,000 people, right? And like a third or something are working on Windows? Well, I see where Vista is an improvement and everything (frankly, it’s got tons of things wrong with it, too), but aside from the cosmetic stuff the changes are really pretty modest. What the hell have you people been doing all this time?

Posted: Wednesday February 25, 2009 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment [4]


What’s up with Dubai? I have been reading a lot about the financial crisis over the last couple of weeks. Surprise: it’s not that interesting or even particularly complicated. But yesterday I heard someone mention that India has been experiencing a relatively small slowdown, on account of not being nearly as leveraged in the banking/speculation domain. If the USA has been living large off irrational exuberance, and Iceland has been living X-Large … well, I couldn’t help but think of Dubai. Wouldn’t their completely absurd growth over the last five years or so be well explained by their XX-Large dose of the medicine of confidence-leveraging. And if that were so, they’d be going into an extra-steep nosedive right about now, right? Yep (via).



Wow, Dr. Jack Kevorkian was radicalized by his time in jail — he gave a talk at Nova a couple of weeks ago, and got the crowd riled up, at one point breaking out a US flag modified with a Swastika. So, it turns out uVu, South Florida’s odd little video service, has an archive of the talk: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5. There’s also an interview.



Davie Shipbuilding, Unruffled Under All Circumstances

Wikipedia names your band, a clever band name/album title/cover art randomizer, with some gorgeous results. It’s worth sifting through all the submissions. (I have a few in there.)



Oddly topical in light of the S.E.C.‘s recent and spectacular ball-droppage is Michael Lewis’ spectacular story Jonathan Lebed’s Extracurricular Activities, about the agency’s case against a 14-year old day trader. It’s the opener of The New Kings of Nonfiction. The editor, Ira Glass, raves about the story and plugs the book on this episode of The Sound of Young America, of which this to be via.



Infographic outlining Obama’s housing plan (article). Mark Thoma rounds up reaction from the internet, and Tyler Cowen has some thoughts.



Scenes from Pakistan

Scenes from Pakistan. What strikes me is the vast overwhelming number of these photos show street scenes, without a single woman in sight. Of the photos that show men and women together, there is a scene of refugees fleeing from an area overrun by war, a husband and wife in hiding because they married without their families’ permission and so risk death, and a group of Christians in prayer.



Red, yellow, and blue are NOT the primary colors


I was inspired by Liz Elliot’s Magenta Ain’t a Color (via) article to write out my favorite color theory rant: art teachers are lying when they say that red, yellow, and blue are “the primary colors.”

There are two ways that color is created in the real world: in the additive model, used by light-based devices such as your computer monitor, uses red, green, and blue. When all three are combined in full strength, they create white in other combination, they create all the other colors you see on your screen.

The subtractive model comes into play when physical pigments are mixed. The primary colors there are the slightly less familiar cyan, magenta, and yellow. Again, they can be combined to create all the color you see on the printed page of a magazine (actually, the printing process also uses black, because combining the three dyes makes a muddy, unsatisfying black).

What makes these color models so obviously correct is how they interact — combining any two colors from one model creates one of the primary colors of the other model! Check out my graphic above, or open your favorite graphics program and create one for yourself.

So what the heck is “red, yellow, and blue”? It’s a lie, plain and simple. It started when people didn’t know any better, and it’s perpetuated by art teachers everywhere who for some reason believe that it makes color easier to understand than the truth.

It’s a shame, too, since the RGB/CMY color models are strikingly obvious and beautiful, but a little tricky to understand and remember if in the back of your mind you’re tending to revert to RYB. If art teachers could get with the program, we’d have a much easier time understanding how color actually works.

Posted: Wednesday February 18, 2009 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment [14]


I Support Random Pixels! Apparently Babalu Blog, who I normally sympathize with, is suing Random Pixels for some questionable comments. Which is bullshit. But I’m awaiting clarification on just what the hell is going on.




How many megapixels do you need? Well, for most people, as I said in my camera buying guide, the answer is 6. But what if you’re an artist, and you’re making big prints and trying to approximate the effect of using a medium or large format camera? How many megapixels of digital resolution would you need? This has always been a moot point, because the answer was “much more then any digital camera has.” But with the introduction of the Canon 5d Mark II and the Nikon D3X (21 and 24 megapixels, respectively), it deserves to be revisited.

Online photographer takes an analytical approach, attempting to determine what, for an 8 × 10 inch print, constitutes the highest theoretically possible resolution. The answer: 100 megapixels. Maybe. (It might also be 400.) Ken Rockwell compares the D3x to 35mm film and determines them to be very close in resolution. But we’re not interested in an 8 × 10 inch print, and we’re not interested in matching 35mm film. We’re interested in matching big prints made from medium and large format cameras.

I’ve spent a lot of time looking at these big prints (recommend visiting the Margulies for a near-lethal dose). It seems to me that in the best of the 30 × 40 inch prints, the resolution on an per-square-inch basis nears that seen magazines images. Since magazines typically consider 300 dpi to be the minimum resolution for print, it’s easy to calculate 30 × 40 × 3002 = 108,000,000 — 108 megapixels.

But looking at real-world results belies the mathematical precision that is suggested by talk of dots per inch, etc., and the fact is that the actual resolution of those large format print-based prints also varies greatly. This has everything to do with the subject matter, and in what an artist considers acceptable. A 6 megapixel image printed 16 × 24 inches is 120 dpi, yet looks surprisingly good. (A print from the D3x at the same resolution would be 34 × 50 inches.) It’s imperative for each person interested in this to familiarize themselves with what 100 dpi, 150 dpi, etc. looks like for their subject matter, and with today’s technology it’s trivially easy to do this.

Just for fun, check out the picture above. It’s a tiny crop from a picture off my Canon pocket camera, scaled up by 150%. Not fantastic, but at this resolution (assuming a 100 dpi monitor), a print of the whole picture would be 50 inches across.

Posted: Friday February 13, 2009 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment


According to a not completely serious analysis, rock bands will die out around 2026 (via). This month’s Atlantic: Can Guitar Hero Save Rock.



The Eleventh Circuit Court has said that the Miami-Dade School Board was legally allowed (via) to remove a book (“Vamos a Cuba” — see here for some background) from school libraries.



Let’s invade Zimbabwe: Christopher Hitchens makes a darn good case for invading Zimbabwe and deposing president Robert Mugabe. Haven’t we leaned anything? Well, do me a thought experiment. Everybody talks about the Bush Administration’s catastrophic bungling of the Iraq invasion, right? And while some of their mistakes are 20/20-obvious, many were things they were warned about in advance, and in real-time, and/or just simple refusal to adequately plan or face up to facts that were obvious to gosh-near everyone.

So what if there’s a way to do this right? With the support and consultation of the surrounding countries and the world, with a half-African US president in command, and with the right motivations? What if you could go in quickly, depose Mugabe, hold the elections that the people of Zimbabwe so clearly want, and get out?



A brand new wave of street art has hit Miami, and Scenic Sidewalk has lots of great images (via).




The world internet is abuzz with talk about this weeks’ Time cover story advocating micropayments for online content. Rex Sorgatz even put together a really smart model of how they might work.

The problem, for those not following along, is that newspapers and some magazines are dying, loosing revenue from their print editions (because they didn’t play nice with the internet early on), and they think this (i.e. not playing nice with the internet now) is going to be their salvation.

It’s not going to work, and Clay Shirky has done a great job of explaining why (via). Essentially, because people pony up on micropayments only when they have no other alternative. The only way for this to succeed is for the New York Times (or whoever) to convince all similar content providers to implement a micropayment system system at the same time.

For those following along at home, I’ve made two of my own proposals for saving the newspaper industry over the years: the non-profit model, and the break it up and rebuild it model (see comment #2).

Posted: Tuesday February 10, 2009 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment [1]


Taking a photo of something as it's happening

Whirling Dervishes

There is a whole body of literature, going back at least to Susan Sontag, that argues against photography. The process of making a photograph distracts you from experiencing the thing itself, distorts the relationship between subject and the viewer, and creates a visual record that is inevitably later perceived as somehow more real than memory. To be honest, I’ve always found these sorts of arguments to be overblown. I let instinct be my guide about when to bring a camera with me (almost all the time) and when to use it. And I couldn’t honestly tell you of a time when I regretted making a photo because of the imposition it created on the experience.

Until this weekend. The Whirling Dervishes of Rumi performed (actually I’m not sure that’s the right verb) at the Arsht Center, and I had a relatively great box seat. The way this works is that the evening is over two hours long, opening with a musical performance, explanations of the meanings of the dance, a movie, more music, then the solemn entrance of the Mevlevi themselves, followed by the actual ceremony. The point is that there is a major buildup of a particular type of a solemn mood, which elevates the already daunting trance-like spiritual weight of the event.

So I wasn’t going to take a picture. And then all these other idiots started in. Now, photography is “strictly prohibited” at the Arsht Center, and having worked around the performing arts I know that the two primary concerns are (1) your photographing distracts the person next to you, and (2) the flash, stupid, which distracts everybody, most especially the performers (which in the case of dance is actually dangerous). Needless to say that there were at least a dozen camera flashes from around the audience. So first of all, you people are stupid. You haven’t read your manual, you don’t know how to control the camera, you have no regard for anyone else but yourself, and you did not get a photograph, because your flash covers approximately three meters (10 feet), and you weren’t sitting in the first few rows (thank Jesus).

But so somehow these idiots made me think that my taking a picture the right way (ISO set to maximum, exposure compensation -2 stops, flash off, autofocus assist light off, sound disabled, continuous shutter on) was somehow permissible. I held my shutter down for about a second, got three frames, and put the camera away. And yes, the moment was destroyed. But you know what? It came back. The thing is that if you’re discreet about this (my friend sitting two seats down didn’t know I took a picture until I showed her later afterward) it’s really not that big of a deal.

There is something to be said here about the trade-off between imposition of technology and quality of photograph (contrast the ubiquity of the cell phone with a 4×5 camera), but mostly a pocket camera is a decent trade off.

The thing that it comes down to for me is that looking at a photograph years later brings back the memory of an event more vividly than anything else. There are many reasons for making a photo, but the marking of something as worthy of vivid memory is perhaps the best.

Posted: Monday February 9, 2009 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment [12]


HOLY CRAP: They canceled Langerado. You BASTARDS.



British Mandate of Palestine

map of Israel (click for larger) Palestinians are enraged by Israel’s brutal invasion of the Gaza Strip, in the months before Barack Obama’s inauguration. However, this was a reaction to epic increases in rockets fired from the Gaza Strip at Israeli citizens every year since Hamas was elected to lead Gaza. In response, it is pointed out that during the period of the 2008 ceasefire, the rocket attacks were cut to practically zero, while the Israelis did not stop the blockades of food and supplies to the Gaza Strip as they had promised. To that, Israel responds that ten (give or take) rocket and mortar attacks per month is hardly a ceasefire, and furthermore that Hamas has still not backed off from its claims that Israel is an illegitimate state that must not be allowed to survive. However, most Gaza citizens support Hamas not because they agree with its extreme anti-Israel position, but because of the corruption of their previous leadership. This leads us to a long series of conflicts that dotted the second half of the 20th century, resulting in a dramatic sequence of border changes, the 1967 border we often hear about being just one example.

How far back can these conflicts really be traced? Well, my initial research took me to the British Mandate of Palestine. Aha, I said, British colonization of the 19th and early 20th Century — here’s one other ongoing world problem we can attribute to it (hence the original title of this post). In 1948, Israel was established as a nation following the Holocaust. But in some sense this merely formalized what had already taken place. The Zionist movement began in the late 19th century, and between 1880 and 1914, the number of Jews living in Palestine doubled to about 60,000. Around this time anti-Semitism in Europe began to escalate, and the floodgates really opened.

While they were moving to the area peacefully and purchasing land to live on legally, the Jews attracted increasing hostility from the existing Arab population as their ambitions at political independence became increasingly apparent. This resulted in ongoing conflict, including a violent series of incidents in 1929.

So, when the Zionists talk about “returning” to Israel, what are they talking about? Well, we have Jewish Diaspora, an exodus from Israel in the first and second centuries during an occupation by the Romans. Before that, the 8th, 7th, and 6th centuries BC (!) saw a mass exodus with the destruction of the First Temple and the conquests of the ancient Jewish kingdoms. And, yeah, you’re pretty much back to the Biblical accounts, with all the clarity that brings.

Please note that this is just the result of some preliminary reading.

Posted: Thursday February 5, 2009 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink ·


Mysterious ways in which the lord works, a list from McSweeneys.