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:: Tuesday, April 29 2008 ::

...and we're back! Safely survived five crazy days. Today was our 'people who don't have to give you free stuff' day, as the mold inspector talked me out of doing a mold inspection (not necessary, and expensive), and then the mobile phone guy gave me a free new case for my phone. On the other hand, it was a relief on some level to return to the taciturn north where noone feels the need to have a conversation with you even if they don't know you. Grunting is good.
:: David (23:29 in Michigan, 5:29 in Paris) - Comment

:: Monday, April 28 2008 ::

The Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. is on a mission to be heard. Not snippets, not sound bites, but the whole message. So he's been speaking all over. We had the good fortune to see both his recent speeches on TV (for a real treat, watch some of his speech to the National Press Club versus his speech to the NAACP in Detroit - it is very, VERY clear he is not targeting his words to the same audience). Both the BBC and the New York Times have coverage (I quite enjoyed Fox News' coverage, which was on in the hotel lobby. I'm sure you can guess what it said, more or less). Lessons I learned include: (1) don't talk about his mama; (2) don't try to out-scripture him - he will pwn you; (3) don't stand in front of him and speak - he'll make faces.
:: David (18:22 in Michigan, 0:22 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[1]

Conway is gearing up for Toad Suck Daze, which will be next weekend, and the decorations are priceless. The Log Cabin Democrat (the local paper) has an insert which is full of joke-y headlines ('park in the wrong place, get toad' and the like) and advertisements. On some level I wish we had time to see it, on the other hand, I think it might be overwhelming.
:: David (17:45 in Michigan, 23:45 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[2]

We managed to get an inspection done on the house this morning and afternoon, which brought to our attention (as they always do) some problems with the house. Specifically, it seems a squirrel decided the wiring in the attic made a tasty treat, so all the wires had no covering. This is what is called a 'fire hazard' of the first degree (I actually was curious why the house hadn't already burned down), so we'll be asking that they get that fixed, along with a few other less frightening details. We also managed, because we had the inspection done on such short notice, to meet the homeowner, who is also a college prof. Then we went loan hunting. It's been quite a few days.
:: David (17:29 in Michigan, 23:29 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[2]

:: Sunday, April 27 2008 ::

It seems our offer was accepted, or at least acceptable - they counter-offered to keep their appliances (which is good and bad at the same time - we get to choose ones we like, but it's a lot of cash). You can head over to Arkansas House View for photos inside and out.
:: David (21:16 in Michigan, 3:16 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[8]

Well, there were two offers on the house, so we had... well... we decided to raise our offer to the asking price. Still finding out at 4pm or so.
:: David (14:00 in Michigan, 20:00 in Paris) - Comment

:: Saturday, April 26 2008 ::

We went looking at houses this morning, found a couple we liked, had lunch, and made an offer on one. We're waiting for a response (we should have it by 4pm tomorrow), and then the real work of buying the house begins. If we're lucky, we'll get out of this for less than 200K. Hooray for Arkansas!
:: David (22:56 in Michigan, 4:56 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[3]

:: Thursday, April 24 2008 ::

Some random economics, from the pages of the New York Times and beyond: the times has done two articles on the recent spike in food prices, specifically related to the markets in which food is bought and sold. The first article introduces the problem - there are effectively two different prices for major food commodities, depending on how you buy them. This is not usual. The second article looks at how oddities in the market are impacting the people who grow the crops. I also dug up some reaction to the articles at Condť Nast's Portfolio, which gives a nice explanation of some details glossed over in the second Times article. An interesting treatment of the economic theory related to the stories can be found at Safe Haven, although there's some ideology thrown in.
:: David (0:10 in Michigan, 6:10 in Paris) - Comment

:: Wednesday, April 23 2008 ::

Holy busy at work, Batman! I haven't had time to think, let alone read interesting news, etc. Thank goodness I have Friday off! A four day week is all I could handle.

I will note that Hillary Clinton won in PA, but after her crazy psycho 'we will bury you' announcement to Iran on the eve of the vote, we're not so keen on her anymore.
:: David (16:52 in Michigan, 22:52 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[4]

:: Monday, April 21 2008 ::

I think the best way to post this next story is to put up the chat with the person who pointed me to it:

(2:59:15 PM) Jason: go to cnn.com
(2:59:27 PM) odoketa: kk
(2:59:31 PM) Jason: are you there?
(2:59:37 PM) odoketa: yah
(3:00:04 PM) Jason: Do you see the little icon beside the video camera icon on some of the stories?
(3:00:17 PM) odoketa: is that a tshirt?
(3:00:23 PM) Jason: yes, yes it is...
(3:00:24 PM) Jason: click it
(3:00:40 PM) odoketa: WTF?!?!?!?!?!?!
If you follow his instructions, you will see that you can now purchase, apparently, a t-shirt with CNN headlines on them. You can go to the CNN Shirt FAQ to read all about it.
:: David (15:12 in Michigan, 21:12 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[3]

Slashdot has pointed out that PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) is offering a one million dollar prize to promote research into vat-grown meat which doesn't require any animals to be killed in order to provide steaks for all.
:: David (14:36 in Michigan, 20:36 in Paris) - Comment

I geeked out at the weekend, heading over to a Magic: the Gathering pre-release tournament in Detroit. It was actually amusing to do again. It's been well-nigh on a decade since I participated in the tournaments, and the rules have changed a bit, but mostly it was just the same. Our opponents, sadly, wiped the floor with us, and we left after our chances of winning were reduced to zero.
:: David (9:58 in Michigan, 15:58 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[2]

:: Sunday, April 20 2008 ::

I would love to believe the technology will keep us all safe from mobile phones on planes (doesn't that sound like a Samuel L. Jackson film?), as the initial reviews seem to indicate ("'Iím not hearing you very well,' the assistant yelled when he got through. 'It sounds like Iím talking to a small robot.'"), but frankly I know they'll eventually work this out. And then I will have to be even more careful about which airline I fly. (via Gizmodo
:: David (7:44 in Michigan, 13:44 in Paris) - Comment

:: Saturday, April 19 2008 ::

An amusing connection was brought to my attention on Friday, as NPR covered the story of Barack Obama's connection to a former terrorist. Yes, it seems some guy named William Ayers was once a mad bomber in the '60s. Now, of course, he's a professor of education at the University of Illinois-Chicago, a moderately wealthy liberal, etc (check out the earring on his faculty web page). The Washington Post does a good job of presenting an overview of the story. I love American politics. It's full of funny.
:: David (20:00 in Michigan, 2:00 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[2]

:: Friday, April 18 2008 ::

What's that you say? A conference in World of Warcraft? That sounds like a crazy good time!
:: David (14:35 in Michigan, 20:35 in Paris) - Comment

:: Thursday, April 17 2008 ::

The consumerist has been following an interesting trend among retail stores in the US. First Sears (a department store), and now Kroger (a food store), have announced a ten percent bonus for converting your economic stimulus check into a gift card (i.e. a bonus if you spend the entire 300-600 dollars at their store, and nowhere else). As the second story notes, "We expect this sort of promotion to become annoyingly ubiquitous in the next few weeks, don't you?"
:: David (11:36 in Michigan, 17:36 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[7]

:: Wednesday, April 16 2008 ::

Bisphenol-a (B.P.A.) - is it dangerous or not? It appears to depend if you live in the US or Canada.
:: David (11:52 in Michigan, 17:52 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[1]

:: Tuesday, April 15 2008 ::

Rice (the food crop) is in a bad way. Indonesia has announced they will only export if they have a large enough stockpile, India is considering an export ban, the Phillipine president had to make an announcement reassuring people there was enough rice to go around. On the Chicago Board of Trade, rice futures hit an all-time high. And it isn't set to stop. A new report was recently released by the UN. "The UN body describes the need for action as urgent, warning that staple food prices are likely to continue to rise because of increased demand from countries like China and India, and the alternative use of maize and soya beans for biofuels."
:: David (14:51 in Michigan, 20:51 in Paris) - Comment

Just in case you had any doubt that airport security in the US was a failed process, now they've outsourced it even further. Clear promises to get you through security faster, with a swanky chip card that clearly indicates you aren't a terrorist.
:: David (13:29 in Michigan, 19:29 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[2]

Jimmy Carter is in the Middle East, and depending on whether you read the BBC or Al Jazeera, the big news is either his denunciation of rocket attacks on Israel, or his meeting with the leaders of Hamas.
:: David (7:55 in Michigan, 13:55 in Paris) - Comment

For the past two weeks, the sysadmin at work has been off training, which has left me to try to cover for him. I have learned more about running a Microsoft shop in two weeks than (1) I ever thought I would, and (2) I ever wanted to. Thankfully, I believe he is back today.
:: David (7:32 in Michigan, 13:32 in Paris) - Comment

Just when you thought air travel in the US could get no worse, two major airlines, Northwest and Delta, have announced a merger. I guess losing money hand over fist made them decide competition was bad. According to the NY Times, one possible consolidation measure would be to close hubs that are close to one another, which could include hubs Sasha and I were counting on to make life easier. Sigh. We'll just have to see. By the way, please note the deal is worth either 5 billion (according to the BBC) or 3 billion (according to the times).
:: David (7:02 in Michigan, 13:02 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[1]

:: Monday, April 14 2008 ::

Lonely Planet, the guidebook series many budget travellers use to get around many countries around the world, is defending its reputation after a former writer reveals he made it all up, and didn't even go to the country in question.
:: David (10:12 in Michigan, 16:12 in Paris) - Comment

The NY Times looks at what happens when a gift to a college or university which has strings tied to it gets out of control:

A $10,000 gift from Dartmouthís class of 1879 was directed to pay for trumpeters at graduation. The trumpets still blare in June. But the endowment, now valued at more than a quarter of a million dollars, also pays for the music director.
There's also the story of the railroad engineering gift that couldn't be used for more than 70 years, until the subject became interesting again.
:: David (7:55 in Michigan, 13:55 in Paris) - Comment

As you may or may not know, wi-fi has spent the past year or so upgrading. If you have a new computer, it may have a card that supports 802.11n, which is the very helpful name of the newer, faster system, which clearly comes after 802.11g (since 'n' follows 'g' in the alphabet (?!)). If you do have one of these faster machines, you may want to upgrade to a router that supports the new speed, in which case this Small Net Builder roundup of cheap 'N' routers might be useful. Skip to the last page to avoid lots of technical detail in the middle.
:: David (7:28 in Michigan, 13:28 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[2]

:: Friday, April 11 2008 ::

The brother of a friend got to speak at TED recently, and they've now posted the video of his talk. He has done some simply mind-blowing things using low budget technology in innovative ways. It's also interesting the way he has publicized his work, posting videos such as this one on youtube.
:: David (23:42 in Michigan, 5:42 in Paris) - Comment

I don't understand how this happened, but apparently all the footage from security cams in wal-mart over the past 30 years was not owned by them, but rather by a different company. Wal-Mart wouldn't pay enough to the company to own the stuff, so it has been made available to everyone.
:: David (15:32 in Michigan, 21:32 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[2]

Hi all! I have 3 free itunes songs for the first poster (or 2 songs for the 1st, 1 for the second, or 1 song each for the first three, or 3/4 a song for each of the 1st four or...) to say they want them. Let me know!
:: David (13:21 in Michigan, 19:21 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[7]

France certainly has chosen an interesting president this time around. Divorce, remarriage (to a former model), and now the auction of a nude portrait of the first lady. Are we missing anything? Mind, he's no Silvio Berlusconi, asserting that the opposition is full of ugly women, but then, that's sort of the difference one might expect from Italy and France, isn't it?
:: David (9:28 in Michigan, 15:28 in Paris) - Comment

:: Thursday, April 10 2008 ::

I was checking out the rules on auto insurance in Arkansas, and google served me up this ad: "Nationwide customers recommend us to 9 out of 10 of their friends!" But that tenth friend? They didn't tell him.
:: David (14:06 in Michigan, 20:06 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[1]

Hooray! Now every day can be take your gun to work day, at least if you live in Florida.
:: David (8:00 in Michigan, 14:00 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[1]

Oh New York Times, great font of knowledge, give me a sign that colleges have decided that their students need to be spoiled even more than many of them are. Show me the ways in which tuition is inflated through spending on absurdities.

Oh! Thank you!
:: David (7:49 in Michigan, 13:49 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[2]

:: Wednesday, April 9 2008 ::

I heard on the radio that Foreigner, the band that sang, for example, "Feels Like the First Time" and "Cold as Ice", is going on tour again. "OK", you say, "old folks on tour - so what?" Well, here's the fun part - it seems their tour is being put on by the AARP - the American Association of Retired Persons. The jokes the on air personalities made involving their song titles were, understandably perhaps, not right.
:: David (15:40 in Michigan, 21:40 in Paris) - Comment

:: Monday, April 7 2008 ::

As you may remember, we headed to a friend's wedding a couple of months ago. The groom was British, but the bride was from South Africa, which led to a couple of moments where I knew I was missing something. One of those moments was on the dance floor, when a song called 'Mama Tembu's Wedding' came on, and half the people on the dance floor went crazy. Later I asked what I had missed and had it explained that this was one of those traditions that happens. You can listen to the song, if you'd like, or read more about the musical it is from, Ipi 'NTombi (which is apparently Zulu for 'where are the girls?').
:: David (10:54 in Michigan, 16:54 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[3]

It's been a weekend of good books - I read Guy Gavriel Kay's Ysabel, which departs from his usual amazing historical novels to do a story set in the modern age. It reminded me in many ways of American Gods, although I think I caught a higher percentage of the references in this book (or perhaps Kay just explained them better). I then followed that up with Robin McKinley's Sunshine, which gets bonus points for being the most interesting post WWIII book I've read, despite the fact that it has nothing to do with WWIII and everything to do with vampires. Go figure. (disclosure - I get paid if you use the links to buy something)
:: David (10:06 in Michigan, 16:06 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[1]

An article in the NY Times looks at the economic situation of rural Michigan with a story on two towns and their relationship to globalization. One town has managed to roll with the punches. The other, not so much.
:: David (7:37 in Michigan, 13:37 in Paris) - Comment

:: Sunday, April 6 2008 ::

Sasha had never been to the Detroit zoo, so for her birthday (in advance) we headed over there on Saturday. I took a host of pictures, and have put a selection of them up. Since the last time I was there the zoo put in a massive underwater viewing area, and I shot a low quality video of a seal entertaining himself by swimming into the water jets.
:: David (22:00 in Michigan, 4:00 in Paris) - Comment

I have a warm, weird spot in my heart for the town of Melton Mowbray, in the UK. When I did my trip around the world back in 2001 it was the first place I went on my journey across the UK on a bike. I hadn't intended to go there - I got lost. But whatever. Anyway, the town is famous for being the home of pork pies, and today the BBC is reporting that they have been granted Protected Geographical Status, so now, just like champagne, only folks in the area can produce Melton Mowbray pork pies. The world is a very strange place.
:: David (12:10 in Michigan, 18:10 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[1]

:: Friday, April 4 2008 ::

Yarrr! Pirates!
:: David (19:38 in Michigan, 1:38 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[2]

Confession: I really enjoyed the styling of the 1st generation Scion xB. This year they offered a redesign, which seems to serve up a laundry list of why I don't buy American cars (or, apparently, cars designed for the American market). I think this NY Times review says it best: "The old xB was like a newly arrived Japanese exchange student who dresses like Max Headroom and pulls live sea urchins out of his lunch bag, blissfully naÔve about his lack of assimilation."
:: David (7:59 in Michigan, 13:59 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[2]

I don't care for polls. As a general rule I find that even the headline questions are open to interpretation, and everything I've seen seems to indicate when you put a pollster and a reporter in the same room, things get done to basic statistical rules that would make your stats teacher cry. That said, the raw data can be interesting. So today's NY Times poll headline which says "81 percent of respondents said they believed 'things have pretty seriously gotten off on the wrong track'" is a nice rough view of where the US is at right now. For those wondering what the heck 'the wrong track' is intended to refer to, another result - "Seventy-eight percent of respondents said the country was worse off than five years ago; just 4 percent said it was better off" - offers some clarification, or at least a nice variation on the same theme.
:: David (7:26 in Michigan, 13:26 in Paris) - Comment

:: Wednesday, April 2 2008 ::

I read on slashdot about a website called skewz, that I thought might be an interesting take on news reporting, where the bias of the story is recognized and measured. Sadly, the site is crap. But that doesn't mean the idea isn't interesting. My thought had simply been that for each story, two links would be displayed, biased to the left and right. I might have found that interesting.
:: David (13:50 in Michigan, 19:50 in Paris) - Comment

:: Tuesday, April 1 2008 ::

This morning as I was reaching for my first cup of coffee I saw a purple fireball out the window. It was accompanied by the sound of a high voltage discharge. It seems the neighbour's light on their garage blew out, but of course, I didn't find this out until much later. At the time, due to high winds in the area, I expected a downed power wire. Very creepy way to start the day.
:: David (17:45 in Michigan, 23:45 in Paris) - Comment

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