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:: Tuesday, March 31 2009 ::

Well, I finally got around to writing up my impressions of Starbucks' new instant coffee, VIA. The short form: surprisingly OK.
:: David (23:08 in Arkansas, 6:08 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[1]

Ah, the joys of home ownership. There's a random leak in the roof, or at least in the ceiling, sending water down into the dining room. We've a sneaky suspicion it may be the plumbing, rather than the roof, which is exciting and expensive sounding. Joy!
:: David (7:34 in Arkansas, 14:34 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[2]

:: Sunday, March 29 2009 ::

Apropos of nothing, while we were grilling last week I took a long exposure shot of Orion. I was really veery pleased with how it came out, though it turns out getting your tripod to point straight up is tougher than you might think...
:: David (23:42 in Arkansas, 6:42 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[2]

:: Saturday, March 28 2009 ::

Quick: name that fund:

The fund promised high and unwavering annual returns, but you had to know someone to get in on it. And that was really all it took to attract credulous investors, that and the sterling reputation of the banker behind it, a financier revered in privileged circles as "the Man of the Age."

"Iíve looked into it," is how one investor reassured a friend who wondered what would happen if the fund should fail. "Name up everywhere, immense resources, high connections, government influence ó canít be done."

The fund, of course, is fictitious - crafted in the mind of Charles Dickens. One "Mr. Merdle, the legendary London banker who brings masses of wealthy, well-meaning people to ruin" in "Little Dorrit." The Times has a review of an upcoming PBS series (do I have to have a disclaimer here, now that I work for PBS?) which I'm quite interested in seeing, given how astonishing the parallels are.
:: David (12:46 in Arkansas, 19:46 in Paris) - Comment

:: Friday, March 27 2009 ::

I hadn't realized that Starbucks' new line of instant coffee hasn't been released to the world at large yet. I got my free sample a couple weeks ago - I guess I'll have to write up a review at some point (I guess I'll have to drink it at some point!)
:: David (10:18 in Arkansas, 17:18 in Paris) - Comment

This is about the best 'review' of a product I've ever seen. For whatever reason, Pepsi decided the best way to showcase their environmental cred (and their new, environmentally friendly (well, friendlier than before) water bottles) was "by proactively shipping, via Fedex overnight, 5 lb boxes of the water to press around the country. And then sending a second batch either in error or to reinforce the message." TechCrunch was not impressed. So they chose a very special reviewer for the product:

Laguna, my 105 lb chocolate lab, loves bottled water. And she loves to chew on stuff. So we brought her in for a special assignment to test Aquafinaís new Eco-fina water in the TechCrunch Lab. She reluctantly agreed.
Not to worry - there are also pics to go along with the review!
:: David (8:34 in Arkansas, 15:34 in Paris) - Comment

:: Thursday, March 26 2009 ::

I know that 50K is too much to pay for a car. I know that. But the new Tesla S makes me want to buy it anyway. Jalopnik has more details, and notes that the car is a hand-built concept, which makes me sad, as that means lots can go wrong before it hits the road.
:: David (12:30 in Arkansas, 19:30 in Paris) - Comment

If it's Thursday, it must be Somali Pirates! Yarrr!
:: David (12:23 in Arkansas, 19:23 in Paris) - Comment

:: Tuesday, March 24 2009 ::

It's either a bad sign or a good one - I was one of very few people who attended a city council meeting last night. The Log Cabin Democrat has an article on the meeting, which revolved around the consultants the city has hired to develop a plan for the city. It was interesting to know how much (or how little, depending on your perspective) a bus costs to run each year. It makes me wonder what places with much higher taxes than ours (which is everyone, basically) are doing with all that cash.

I can't tell if it's just my impression, but I feel like, down here, all official meetings are announced the day before they happen (as opposed to, say, weeks before). It may be that I'm not looking in the right places, but I feel like some of them are scheduled on rather short notice.
:: David (12:16 in Arkansas, 19:16 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[1]

:: Monday, March 23 2009 ::

Saw a vocal trio this evening at Hendrix, called Trio Mediaeval. They do medieval music and norwegian folk tunes. They were amazing, and it's no surprise they were nominated for a grammy. The New York Times did a review late last year, and noted "these three voices blended with a supernatural clarity and beauty that might cause even a confirmed agnostic to contemplate a spark of divinity". The show was made amusing courtesy of the trains which passed a little too loudly, occasionally causing them to pause, and the entire room to share in the joke of trying to find your pitch over a train whistle.
:: David (23:32 in Arkansas, 6:32 in Paris) - Comment

Had a little difficulty with the tools I use to make web pages, so it took me a while, but here's the pics from the Little Rock Zoo.
:: David (23:06 in Arkansas, 6:06 in Paris) - Comment

:: Sunday, March 22 2009 ::

OK - the Battlestar Galactica conversation can happen here, in the comments. Don't read them until you've seen the finale - we wouldn't want to give anything away!
:: David (22:55 in Arkansas, 5:55 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[4]

You know, I wish I had the space and the time to express how unimpressed I am with Microsoft's phone operating system. Not just the operating system, Windows Mobile 6.1, although it is rather slow and clunky (but does offer multitasking! Suck it, Macheads!), but more importantly the sync function. Here's a place where Microsoft has gone head to head with Mac - they make the OS of the computer, they make the OS of the phone, the whole shebang. So why, oh why, does it suck so very much? I mean, suck in ways that are not only irritating, but downright dangerous to your data (I once managed to erase not only my phone, but the backup on my computer, all in one fell swoop). The Palm Pre cannot arrive quickly enough for me, and God help me if it is FAIL I shall have to consider an iPhone. And I don't want to be that guy.
:: David (22:25 in Arkansas, 5:25 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[1]

It's interesting, on those rare occasions when theoretical concerns become real, to note what is going on. A while back, a number of people noted that one danger of some people making lots of money while others make very little is the danger of the more numerous group taking matters into their own hands to do some rebalancing. Generally we think of this in terms of countries where the rule of law is tenuous. But now it's happening here. The Consumerist directed me to an AIG internal document published by gawker which suggests employees not let people know they work for AIG, due to increased concerns of violence. The New York Times has also published an article on the subject, which notes

several security companies in New York credited the financial crisis with a noticeable increase in some areas of their business, from protecting executives to dispatching bomb-sniffing dogs to check for trouble. "There is certainly anger among people about the economy and fear among corporate executives themselves," said Patrick Timlin, the president of Michael Stapleton Associates, which provides bomb-dog teams.
The article lists several large companies which have had to deal with increased security concerns.

The funny thing, of course, is how few of these points will be remembered when we do this all again in 50 years. I hope I remember to reference this when that happens.
:: David (18:32 in Arkansas, 1:32 in Paris) - Comment

:: Friday, March 20 2009 ::

To celebrate the first day of spring, Sasha and I grilled this evening on the back patio. It was lovely out, and for some reason there weren't a billion mosquitoes. It's nights like these that make it all OK, despite the heat I know is coming. We had halloumi and vegetables, along with some tasty potatoes based on a recipe from Cafe Zola in Ann Arbor. We also had champagne, to celebrate Sasha's winning a pretty major award. She has been selected to participate in an NEH funded project which examines disease in the middle ages. If that doesn't sound like fun, how does six weeks in London sound? With weekly field trips to cool old stuff? Yeah. So she's pretty excited (as am I - six weeks of Team Fortress 2, with maybe some Left for Dead thrown in! Too bad I'll end up looking like Cartman in the WoW episode of South Park) So a celebration seemed in order. And, of course, it's Friday - and that's always a reason to celebrate!
:: David (22:56 in Arkansas, 5:56 in Paris) - Comment

Oh, I think you saw this one coming: last night, on the Tonight Show, Obama talked about his bowling performance during the campaign:

Mr Obama made the remark after telling Mr Leno that he had been practising his bowling in the wake of a much-lampooned performance on the campaign trail in 2008.

On that occasion he managed to score just 37 points, a tally that was filmed and widely highlighted during the campaign.

He had improved his score since then, he said, but was still unhappy with his most recent tally of 129 points: "It was like the Special Olympics or something," the president told Mr Leno.

Give you a hint: today Obama did something that rhymes with smapologizing. It can't even be put in the Tiger Woods didn't know it was offensive in the UK category - American president, American audience. Doh!
:: David (15:44 in Arkansas, 22:44 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[2]

:: Thursday, March 19 2009 ::

You go through all the work to plan a jewel heist, and then someone robs you just after you pull it off. Times are tough for everyone, I guess.
:: David (17:39 in Arkansas, 0:39 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[1]

The Economist sat down to breakfast with Barney Frank (audio), on the subject of systemic risk. Apparently a plan being touted in Washington is to have a person who is responsible for watching for systemic risk, and in theory, heads it off. So he discussed the whole meltdown, and how the Fed had injured itself vis-a-vis the AIG scandal.

I'm not worried about the interference with monetary policy; it's two trillion dollars too late to worry about the Fed's virginity in terms of this mess.
The idea of another regulator seems a bit off - it seems like somewhere in there the existing structures should have the power and responsibility to deal with those sorts of things. For example, the Fed tries to cool overheated economies, and there are anti-trust laws to break up companies with too much market power (which, as much as anything, this is - power in this case over the government, which must bail them out or risk the whole system). A (forgive me) regulation czar, which it seems is another angle on this issue might make more sense - but I sort of thought that's what congress was. But we've all seen how well that works out.
:: David (17:29 in Arkansas, 0:29 in Paris) - Comment

:: Wednesday, March 18 2009 ::

I love the idea of the Colbert Report being filmed in the middle east. Looks like he's trying to outdo the hard-hitting week John Stewart had (which seems to be continuing past the Cramer interview).
:: David (15:55 in Arkansas, 22:55 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[1]

:: Tuesday, March 17 2009 ::

The latest version of Windows 7 is currently burning to DVD for installation on my gaming machine. I've been impressed so far by the stability of this 'beta', and while it doesn't seem to offer many new features over the old version of windows (that'd be Vista), I figure I might just as well plan on using it. Shame for people who actually bought Vista (Sasha's computer came in jsut under the XP wire, and the Vista we have is a student edition, so cost us five dollars).

In other 'my computers' news, I may be getting the newest Mac Mini, if the sale of my old one goes through. Selling things is weird, though - do I trust them, do they trust me, how do we make the exchange, etc. etc. And yet, that's how it works. I looked at some online escrow places, but that seems... overkill. And just as risky - how do I know the escrow place is legit...?
:: David (20:08 in Arkansas, 3:08 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[1]

I posted yet another video of the garden, a little walking tour. As I use these apps more, my little camera videos get less and less acceptable. Hopefully my next phone (the Pre? We'll see) will have better movies!
:: David (12:51 in Arkansas, 19:51 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[5]

I couldn't make this up if I tried - Chuck Norris says his tears do not cure cancer, and sues the people who do.
:: David (9:19 in Arkansas, 16:19 in Paris) - Comment

:: Monday, March 16 2009 ::

It's what happens when all your old friends get together and throw a party. Megatokyo meets xkcd!
:: David (13:04 in Arkansas, 20:04 in Paris) - Comment

:: Sunday, March 15 2009 ::

We did the yard today, had a little garden party to tear up the grass in the back and replace it with places to plant tomatoes. Sasha took several turns with the rototiller, as did the rest of us, and now we have a whole lot of garden space. We built a little area that, in theory, will be rabbit proof (we know how well that worked for the Aussies). The birds came before we were even finished tilling to eat the worms and such that had been brought to the surface - I think we need to eat a few more Robins, just to remind them who the predators are. Then it was time to drive the rototiller back to the rental agency (actually, to our friend Sujith's apartment, which is next door to it). Fitting a rototiller in a Yaris is something everyone should try once before they die. That's just my opinion (and maybe the opinion of the guys at Ace Hardware, who helped me load it).
:: David (21:37 in Arkansas, 4:37 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[3]

Speaking of More Beer, a couple things I saw: locally, the Little Rock brewery Diamond Bear is apparently expanding, one presumes to keep up with the economy, or rather, to keep up with people's reaction to the economy. Further afield, in the UK they are thinking of trying to curb people's reaction to the economy by creating a price floor for alcohol. Apparently, "research from the Department of Health had shown that a minimum of 50 pence per unit of alcohol would reduce consumption by almost 7 percent". Doing some research, I found a (giant, like a restaurant might serve) glass of wine has between 2 and 3 units. That would set a minimum price of roughly 2-3 dollars per glass. I would -love- to have a place that was selling glasses of wine that cheaply around here!
:: David (1:53 in Arkansas, 8:53 in Paris) - Comment

It's been a darned busy week! Thursday night we headed out to an event held by a French group in Little Rock. Turns out there's a jet manufacturing company (Dassault Falcon Jet) which brings French people over for stints ranging from a few months to a few years, and a number of them come to these events. What blows my mind, and makes living down here so challenging, is that, like everything else, the only way to know about this stuff is to talk to someone who knows. It makes me -crazy-! But the event was a lark, and I expect we'll become regulars.

Then Friday night we decided to have a night out on the town (after a quick side trip to the local hardware store to rent a rototiller for the weekend - I should have more on that tomorrow, after we use it). We headed down for $2 drinks as long as they lasted, then had a tasty dinner at one of the local mexican restaurants, which turned out to be a hangout for all the college kids (we speculate this is because the ID checking is lax). Overall it was a lark.

Today was dedicated to getting measurements taken for my tux (I'll be performing a wedding in a few weeks (!!!) and thought this a good choice of clothing), and then rounding up the supplies we'll need once the garden is tilled. We also bought a can of paint for the sunroom, which turned out to be a bit too green for our needs, so it will go into the paint shed to hang out with the other two dozen or so cans of paint until such time as we decide to paint something green.
:: David (0:56 in Arkansas, 7:56 in Paris) - Comment

:: Wednesday, March 11 2009 ::

If you ever hear me bellowing "More beer!", blame Fred Astaire. The film was about the weirdest thing ever made, but the party scene is certainly one of the best homages Hollywood has ever done for an alcoholic beverage.
:: David (20:04 in Arkansas, 3:04 in Paris) - Comment

:: Tuesday, March 10 2009 ::

I think I am now officially a homeowner. I replaced the ceiling fan in my bedroom. Now, don't get me wrong - this was not actually a very challenging endeavor. Except for the part where nothing fits like you expect, and the installation guide is full of dire warnings of death by (choose a terrible fate). But it was certainly the most advanced home repair we've done thus far. I think if the option of quitting in the middle had been available (without leaving dangling wires of doom in the middle of the ceiling) I would have quit. But, with no options except to soldier on, I chose to... soldier on. And, assuming the house doesn't burn down in the not-too-distant future due to my shoddy wiring job, I'm pretty happy with how it turned out. And it is a serious improvement over the old fan.
:: David (23:02 in Arkansas, 6:02 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[1]

:: Monday, March 9 2009 ::

A number of stories recently have got me thinking about how we deal with people who commit a crime. First off is the phenomenon of teens sending naked pics to other teens, often using their mobile phone. I will not use the swanky new word the media has created for this phenomenon, because it makes me want to stab someone, but you can learn it for yourself in this pointless sensationalist story on MSNBC. There was a story in the Times or somewhere (I can't find it now) about a boy who is now on the sex crimes registry for life because he forwarded pics of his ex girlfriend (who was underage) on. Then, today, I heard about plans in the UK for a domestic abuse registry.

I think it goes without saying that I'm not a fan of child abuse or spouse abuse, but I'll say it anyway. Nevertheless, I'm concerned by the idea that we are now creating a situation where anyone who ever does something bad will be punished for the rest of their lives. We've already done it with felons in the US, and while I am very much keen on the idea of stamping out abuse of any kind, I'm not sure stigmatizing and marginalizing people for the rest of their lives is a functional solution.
:: David (18:10 in Arkansas, 1:10 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[1]

I don't know if you have been following the situation in Zimbabwe over the past weeks, months, and years, but if you have, you know that a power sharing agreement between Robert Mugabe (whom many would call a 'crazy dictator') and Morgan Tsvangirai (who won an election a while back, but wasn't allowed to take office) was recently signed, and then, just days after Tsvangirai was sworn in as Prime Minister, a car crash which involved a truck crossing the center line and hitting the car he and his wife were travelling in occurred, injuring Tsvangirai and killing his wife. He then left the country for a bit to recuperate. Well, now he's back, and he says the accident was actually an accident, not an assassination attempt. It's all crazy crazy crazy.
:: David (17:42 in Arkansas, 0:42 in Paris) - Comment

:: Sunday, March 8 2009 ::

Today was a whole lot of shopping, yardwork, random housework, and then more shopping. We replanted some of the seedlings that had gotten out of control (you can still see the rest of them on the webcam). I finally got a ladder tall enough to change the lightbulbs in the hallway (it's about 12 feet up). And we borrowed a hedge trimmer from a friend and made our flowers all nice and rounded. I'm hoping they bloom soon - it's fast becoming a riot of color down here, and they'd be the finishing touch. I suspect Spring may be my favourite season down here, but given that it was 80 a couple days ago, it may not last long enough - the transition from winter coat to melted puddle may be too quick.
:: David (22:19 in Arkansas, 5:19 in Paris) - Comment

A local company decided yesterday to sponsor a free day at the zoo. Since Sasha and I hadn't been, we decided that, despite the crowds, we should take advantage. Thinking of our visits to Shedd aquarium, we figured so long as we went early we would beat the crowds of screaming children. That plan went sadly awry. Attendance was reportedly nearly ten times normal numbers, and traffic was backed up all the way to the exit on the highway. For all that, it was surprisingly easy to get in and get parked, and the zoo was large enough that we didn't feel crowded out in the open (we simply skipped any of the closed in areas - they were insane). We managed to see one result of the large crowds, as the two male bald eagles pictured at left decided to have a go at one another. Speaking to a zoo staff member later, it was noted that the place they were living at was intended to be temporary, because it's a little too close to the crowds, and that makes the birds (obviously) edgy. Overall, the zoo is great good fun, and I expect we'll be seeing a lot more of it in the coming months and years.
:: David (22:12 in Arkansas, 5:12 in Paris) - Comment

:: Thursday, March 5 2009 ::

You know, as much as I want LED lighting in my house, $175 to replace the 5 bulbs in my downstairs bathroom seems like a bit too much. They're really pretty bulbs though...
:: David (22:34 in Arkansas, 5:34 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[1]

Well, it remains to be seen if we can actually coax any fruit out of the little buggers, but it seems we haven't killed them yet! I looked out the back window yesterday and noticed that our peach trees had something on them. Upon closer inspection, I discovered the 'something' was in fact flowers. So now if the insects do their part (the 'pollination' part, not the 'tree killing' part) we should at least see the start of some fruits this year. Frankly, I'm not sure how many peaches the little guys could hold up, but with any luck I'll have the chance to find out!
:: David (7:39 in Arkansas, 14:39 in Paris) - Comment

:: Wednesday, March 4 2009 ::

We finally decided recently that with me going to work every day, and Sasha doing the same, that the house probably wouldn't get cleaned. Ever. So we decided to hire someone to come over once a month and dig us out. Today was the first day said cleaning has actually occurred, and I have to admit, I feel slightly like I'm in a hotel. It's too clean. I think the cat was freaked out as well - or perhaps it was the vacuum. Either way, I suggest if you plan to visit us, schedule your arrival for shortly after we have the place cleaned.
:: David (18:17 in Arkansas, 1:17 in Paris) - Comment

:: Tuesday, March 3 2009 ::

There is an underutilized resource in Arkansas, and it's living in my attic.

The AGFC's Squirrel Management Team said, "Once a hunter makes it to camp, he ought to have the latitude to stay a while and hunt, particularly if it won't significantly affect the resource. Raising the lag and possession limit should have little or no effect on a resource that is under-utilized at present."
Read more in the Log Cabin Democrat, and while you're at it try to come up with words to that lesser known classic, 'the second week of squirrel camp'.
:: David (7:31 in Arkansas, 14:31 in Paris) - Comment

:: Monday, March 2 2009 ::

Admit it - you want to know how my starter plants are doing. Well, thanks to the magic of the internets, you can see for yourself, in realtime. I've repurposed the kitty kam (for the moment), which had been pointing at the disco ball from our party, so now we can check in anytime and see if Mina has knocked all the starter plants down and eaten them.
:: David (7:21 in Arkansas, 14:21 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[5]

:: Sunday, March 1 2009 ::

Things you probably never want to see on your phone may include: a spiderweb crack on the LCD screen. Fortunately, my relatively expensive phone was covered by insurance (an insurance which, quite recently, I had considered dropping because I'd had it nearly two years and hadn't used it). So next week I'll get a replacement, and all will be right with the world. And until then, I'll keep using this one, which mostly works, as long as you don't try to use the touch screen, which is hosed.
:: David (12:03 in Arkansas, 19:03 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[2]

The New York Times has an article on Warren Buffett's letter to investors. Since I found myself wanting to quote pretty much the whole article (or more accurately, the whole letter the article is about), I'll just link to it. If you read the article and want more, here's a link to the letter itself (PDF). Some choice bits include "By yearend, investors of all stripes were bloodied and confused, much as if they were small birds that had strayed into a badminton game." A more sobering commentary comes later in the letter, when Buffett comments

I know of no reporting mechanism that would come close to describing and measuring the risks in a huge and complex portfolio of derivatives. Auditors canít audit these contracts, and regulators canít regulate them. When I read the pages of 'disclosure' in 10-Ks of companies that are entangled with these instruments, all I end up knowing is that I donít know what is going on in their portfolios (and then I reach for some aspirin).
Making me feel slightly better about some of my purchases last year, Buffett apparently lost over 90 percent of his investment in an Irish bank. That said, he still ends the day with more money than I do....
:: David (11:34 in Arkansas, 18:34 in Paris) - Comment

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