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I don’t get this: we get to see photos and video of the Fukushima Dai-ichi reactor in Japan, and we get to see pictures of the drone that took them, and listen to its pilot compare the mission to Afghanistan. (Though this is not a plane-like drone — it’s a pod that looks not unlike the probe droid in Empire Strikes Back, powered by a lawnmower engine.) Yet: “The cone of secrecy around Fukushima extends far and wide. We don’t get to know where they launched from or what their camera targets were. He couldn’t discuss whether their operations center had a roof over it or not, or whether it was a tent. We don’t even know how many flights they made, though he confirmed it was ‘a bunch.’”



Fleetwood Mac vs. Aerosmith

A co-worker was telling me about the time she went to a big “rock superbowl” (or something. whatever) at some point in the past that featured, among other things, Fleetwood Mac and Aerosmith. I asked her which band headlined. Fleetwood Mac. This pretty well traces the date of the show to pre-1987; in that year, Aerosmith released Permanent Vacation, which propelled them to pop/rock superstardom (where they, annoyingly, spent the next two decades and counting). In the same year, Fleetwood Mac released Tango in the Night, a transition to oldies-act status signaled by desperate attempts at relevance via “cutting edge” production values. For extra fun, we then looked the album up on Robert Christgau’s site, where he has this to say:

Tango in the Night [Warner Bros., 1987] Fifteen years ago, when their secret weapon was someone named Bob Welch, they made slick, spacy, steady-bottomed pop that was a little ahead of the times commercially. Now, when their secret weapon is their public, they make slick, spacy, steady-bottomed pop that’s a little behind the times commercially. This is pleasant stuff, nothing to get exercised about either way—no Rumours orFleetwood Mac, but better than Bare Trees or Mystery to Me, not to mention Mirage. Marginally better, anyway. In a style where margins are all. And all ain’t all that much any more. B+

I remember the album from when I was a kid. I liked it then, maybe because I “didn’t know any better.” I don’t know what happened to Fleetwood Mac after that. I think that, unlike Aerosmith, they lost their drive. They went into semi-retirement, and only got back together to tour and record a little when their bank accounts dipped down into the 7-digit range. Bummer. But not nearly as much of a bummer as what happened to Aerosmith.

Posted: Friday April 22, 2011 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment [1]


Infographic: 10 charts about sex from the always interesting OK Cupid blog.



Is sugar a toxin?

A pretty convincing lecture by Robert Lustig that sugar — both high-fructose corn syrup and regular refined sugar — is harmful to the human body in a way that’s utterly separate from the calories it contains. A NYTimes article covers all the same points and gives some background on the video. No more cake!

Posted: Wednesday April 20, 2011 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment [5]


Infographic: easy, medium, and hard languages to learn for an English speaker. Spanish is easiest, Arabic and Oriental languages the hardest.



Two bikes down on MacArthur

two bikes down on the macarthur causeway

Traffic to the beach was crazy backed up late this morning, with rumors flying around Twitter that a cyclist was killed. When I reached the Fisher Island ferry terminal, there was a lane blocked, and two mangled bikes down just at the spot where traffic for the terminal cuts through the bike lane. A little way up, a lightly mangled silver Mazda 3 sat, the position of its wheels marked by Miami Beach police.

While I don’t yet have confirmation about whether the accident was fatal, it’s not difficult to reconstruct what happened. A jerk motorist heading for the ferry changed lanes to turn, cutting through the bike lane without looking. Maybe we need to rethink having those lane markers suddenly turn dashed there. But what we really need to do is not convict this driver of negligence or reckless driving or something. If there’s a fatality here, the crime is simple vehicular manslaughter. And until we start to loudly and consistently enforce the law this way, cyclists will continue to be an afterthought in the minds of drivers. A couple more photos after the jump.

Update: Both the cyclists survived, tho one is in critical condition.


Posted: Sunday April 17, 2011 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment [2]


Directly, each charter city would allow millions of people to better their lives by integration with the world economy. While critics often belittle this achievement as mere “cream-skimming,” the sad truth is that much if not most of the world’s cream now curdles in backwards farms and dysfunctional slums. If the native entrepreneurs who built Hong Kong had been trapped in mainland China, most would have wasted their lives in dead-end jobs on Maoist communes or joined the Communist elite. Hong Kong gave them opportunities to use talents that otherwise would have gone to waste.

The case for charter cities as a effective way to fight third-world poverty (based on the example of Hong Kong). Interesting? From this list of “40 things I’ve learned” by Bryan Kaplan, which is actually mostly right-wing free-market dogma. (E.g., here is the republican strategy for reducing the size of government laid out as nakedly as you’re likely to find.)



A fantastic review of The Clock by Christian Marclay, a 24-hour film of movie excerpts of clocks, each lining up exactly with the actual time. The more I hear about this the more desperately I want to see it, and this essay by Zadie Smith is the best thing on it I’ve read yet. (Note that there are some skeptics, though.)



Yet another example of how people have no idea what’s happening inside their brains. You “prefer” an uncluttered store, but you buy more in a cluttered one.



Overthrow the banks? “If America can reform its banking sector, it has a fighting chance at a prosperous future. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.” Umair Haque argues for the bottom-up ‘overthrow’ of the biggest banks. “Banks are highly leveraged institutions. Were a relatively small percentage of deposits to shift to, for example, community banks or credit unions, megabanks would find it very difficult indeed to sustain the profit margins or market power they currently enjoy.”



My mind’s made up: I’m buying a Mac mini. Apple has a serious problem with their lineup: their middle of the road computers, the iMacs, only come with monitors built in. I already own a monitor, so I’m forced to choose between the underpowered minis and the outrageously expensive Pros. (I’ve never felt the need to own a laptop.) Well, it’s settled; with the next update, I’m going to get a mini.



Richard Prince finally looses a lawsuit


Richard Prince, famous for re-photographing Marlboro cigarette ads and selling them as high-concept artwork, recently lost a lawsuit about yet more flagrant appropriation. He took photos made by Patrick Cariou of Rastafarians, and manipulated them and painted over them and just generally had a grand time. In court records, Prince was incredulous, claiming fair use and citing the history of appropriation in contemporary art.

Defendants [Prince et al.] assert that Cariou’s Photos are mere compilations of facts concerning Rastafarians and the Jamaican landscape, arranged with minimum creativity in a manner typical of their genre, and that the Photos are therefore not protectable as a matter of law, despite Plaintiff’s extensive testimony about the creative choices he made in taking, processing, developing, and selecting them.

It’s tough to know how serious Prince was with all this. The man is a prankster. He’s said of himself, “I am a liar. And I cheat too. I make things up and I can’t be trusted. It’s not my fault.” Obviously taking the work of another artist, and taking multiple pieces from the same body of work, is a new level of appropriation (and plenty of people were pretty pissed off about that). But given the way the ruling is worded, it by extension implicates a whole tradition of appropriation-based work.

I note all this mainly for its amusement value. Prince is out a lot of money, but it seems that everyone involved benefits from the notoriety, including collectors who bought the paintings which can now “not be legally displayed.” If anything, we can take it as another signal of how screwed up our copyright/fair-use law is: that sampling/appropriation, so widely practiced in so many different practices, can be so curtailed by one aggrieved party.

Posted: Wednesday April 6, 2011 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment [1]


Google has added recipe search. Should food fans rejoice? Not so fast.

Other biases – these having to do with Google’s idea of what people should be cooking and eating – are also at work. In setting up parameters for refining results based on cooking time and calories, Google explicitly, if subtly, gives privilege to low-calorie recipes that can be cooked quickly, as shown in the options it allows for refining a recipe search:



I have been enjoying a series of articles about using off-camera flash at the Strobist blog, although I’m not sure that investing in multiple flashes is the way to go; you get a lot more light and more control with a real lighting system. Luckily, most of the information applies to both systems.



Gizmodo article on how differently-shaped glasses aid the enjoyment of various drinks:

Because each glass practices a kind of liquid manipulation, a mismatched pair can go really wrong. Take, for instance, the case of the Chardonnay in a Riesling glass, which has a classic white wine glass shape. Because both are whites, we tend to pour them in the same holder. But, says Claus’ grandson Maximilian Riedel, “drinking Chardonnay from the Riesling glass dilutes the Chardonnay’s fruit, bringing forward far too much vanilla.” The best bet for Chardonnay is a bigger bulb, which exposes more of the liquid to the air and avoids the intense smell shot.



The Amazon tablet

John Grubber recently speculated that Amazon might well be working on an Android-powered tablet. And why not—everybody seems to be working on one right about now. More speculation, and a mockup picture, at Gizmodo.

This seems promising—Amazon has lots of experience with reading devices, Android for tablets HAS to become good at some point, and the Amazon app store seems like a good step. But i dont think they need have even gone quite this far. Two years ago I described what I wanted in a slate computer. It wasn’t far from what the iPad eventually became, except that it came with this orientation towards apps. Which is great, sort of. But it sure is leading us away from the open internet and onto walled gardens. “But apps do lots of things that websites can’t,” you say. True, but were it not for appland, development of protocolls for doing that stuff on the web would be all the more robust.

Still, I’m sticking to what I said two years ago: all i need to make me happy on a tablet computer is a decent web browser (yes, it has to run Flash*) and some local storage (which, btw, the iPad in many important respects does not have—try downloading a file from the web, editing it, and uploading it to a web from it and see how you do**).

So, yeah, i’ve had an iPad from day one, and I love it. But I’m not married to it. It’s genius, for now, is that it’s the only reasonable game going. If the iPad Kindle app gets shafted by Apple’s 30% subscription and disapears from the iPad, it’ll be a huge blow. (I read Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom almost entirely on the Kindle app despite having the hardcover handy, and it was fantastic.) An Amazon tablet could be just the thing.

* And mark my word—within two years TOPS the iPad will have Flash.
** I’ve recently figure out a way to do this using iCabMobile and Dropbox, but it’s basically a world of hurt.

Posted: Friday April 1, 2011 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment