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:: Friday, May 29 2009 ::

A nice start to my day - a person from a company I'm working with emailed me this morning, and I immediately thought it was spam. Given that this person had the first initial 'S' and the last name 'Panky', I think I was well defended in thinking it was junk mail. Personally, I would have requested a different address.
:: David (8:19 in Arkansas, 15:19 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[5]

:: Thursday, May 28 2009 ::

If the web doesn't already make your head explode, what with IM, email, wikis, blogs, and all that, then get ready for google to try harder. Google Wave wants to shove everything you've already seen together in a real-time communication package designed to confuse digital immigrants in as many ways as possible.
:: David (13:35 in Arkansas, 20:35 in Paris) - Comment

:: Tuesday, May 26 2009 ::

Why my cell phone plan must include unlimited data:

  • 450 Minutes Included - 125 Minutes used
  • Unlimited Night & Weekend Included - 28 Night & Weekend Minutes used
  • Unlimited KB included - 523,505 KB used
Yup - half a gig of data used. Note this phone has not been tethered to a computer at all - this is my data for podcasts, emailing, and surfing the web.
:: David (22:42 in Arkansas, 5:42 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[3]

High praise for Tim Geitner:

His speeches are boring, but they're supposed to be boring. He’s the secretary of the treasury.
Yahoo has a quick article up about how the Treasury secretary has got his groove back.
:: David (9:15 in Arkansas, 16:15 in Paris) - Comment

:: Monday, May 25 2009 ::

Painting a room may seem like a good idea... the first day. By the evening of the second one wonders why you didn't just pay someone to do it. But now the evil pumpkin color is gone from the sunroom, and it is all bright yellow. Sadly, it is a yellow that doesn't go at all with the rest of the house, but we like it, so there. It turns out that taping off and detailing takes at least as long as filling the walls, which came as something of a surprise. And on top of all that, it is apparently exhausting, which was also a surprise. But now it's (mostly) done, barring surprises when we go down to breakfast tomorrow, and so it makes us happy.
:: David (22:12 in Arkansas, 5:12 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[1]

The NY Times is reporting that North Korea has detonated a nuclear weapon, their second test detonation (the first was in 2006). If Obama wasn't having fun before, he certainly is now! According to the BBC, "The US Geological Survey said the 4.7-magnitude quake [created by the test] was detected at 0054 GMT. It happened 10km (six miles) below the surface." and that "Both South Korea's and the US geological agencies said the tremor on Monday morning indicated a nuclear explosion."
:: David (0:31 in Arkansas, 7:31 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[1]

There was a fun little story on NPR's 'This American Life', all about why, even though everyone loses when you foreclose on a house, and everyone wins when you adjust a loan to allow people to stay in their house, banks aren't adjusting more loans. The answer: software. It seems the banks never had to make those calculations when everyone was doing fine, so they didn't buy software with the capability. And now, of course, it's too late. It's a nice reminder of the importance of deploying the right system. You can listen to the show here - it's at minute nine, but the story which precedes it is worth a listen too.
:: David (0:15 in Arkansas, 7:15 in Paris) - Comment

:: Sunday, May 24 2009 ::

We just got back from riverfest, a big music festival in Little Rock and North Little Rock (which is a separate town, across the river). Lots of smaller acts, and then headlining this evening, Buddy Guy. Our friends were worn out earlier in the day and so left, and all I can do is feel pity for them, that they missed such an amazing show. I hadn't been completely sure I wanted to wait around for the show, especially after it started raining, but it was worth the wait - maybe the best concert I've seen. The mind blowing thing was that the concert was on the smallest of the three stages (Heart had the big stage). It looks as though he's on tour now, and I cannot say enough how much you should go if you have the chance.
:: David (0:01 in Arkansas, 7:01 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[1]

:: Wednesday, May 20 2009 ::

Well, for all of you living in the states who actually bothered to watch television, the adventure (or is that 'the pain'?) is over. For us here in Conway, Arkansas, it's just beginning: Kris Allen won American Idol. To say people went nuts around here would be to understate considerably. There were screaming crowds. There were fireworks. People streamed out of their houses (I am not kidding here) to see the fireworks being set off downtown. It was amazing. To give you some idea of how gushingly excited the local broadcaster's evening newscast was after the event, I captured the front page of their website. Notice any themes? They, and again, I am not joking, tracked down his kindergarten teacher to do an interview, as well as his high school music teacher.

I've never really followed this stuff before, so I don't really know what Allen's victory means for the town (other than free cheese). I imagine he's off for a year of breakneck promotions, concerts, and whatever, and then either he's a star, or he comes home and returns to life as usual (I honestly doubt that will happen). Either way it's been an interesting ride, and I look forward to seeing what happens next.

Interesting tidbit: reportedly there were one hundred million votes cast in the final showdown. Thirty-eight million of them were from Arkansas (a state with a population of less than three million people). We take our Idol seriously down here!
:: David (23:36 in Arkansas, 6:36 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[1]

Photo: Barron
A friend pointed me to a New York Times story on sriracha, the sauce you know is asian, but you're not sure where it's from (as it turns out, it might as accurately be called an American condiment as anything else). It's an interesting read, in a sort of bizarre way, and if nothing else I was happy to find out what 'rooster sauce' was really called!
:: David (10:37 in Arkansas, 17:37 in Paris) - Comment

:: Tuesday, May 19 2009 ::

I think it goes without saying that we watched American Idol this evening. The evening news was quite a laugh, after - talk about a hometown favourite! Tomorrow, evidently, we're going to go to watch the results with a group. I'm scared.
:: David (23:16 in Arkansas, 6:16 in Paris) - Comment

:: Monday, May 18 2009 ::

Slashdot pointed me to an article in Esquire, in which the author volunteered to have his brain scanned (what is called an fMRI, or 'functional MRI') to examine where and what in the brain causes (or responds to) 'love'. Specifically, they compared his wife to Angelina Jolie.

When I told friends and family I was trying to scientifically assess my love for [my wife], they all had the same response: "No good can come of this."
It's an amusing article, which contains more than a few unnerving tidbits:
If love is simply chemicals, doesn't that change its meaning? And how soon before we create a scientifically valid love potion? (Already under study, by the way.) What about a love vaccine to help us from falling for the wrong person? And if you have to rely on chemical enhancements, do you get an asterisk next to your name in the book of love, like Barry Bonds?
It's a fun read, if you have any interest in the state of brain science these days (or if you just want to know who wins - his wife, or Angelina).
:: David (10:34 in Arkansas, 17:34 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[2]

Some stuff just transcends. Stuff like Kris Allen gets free cheese dip for life. Apparently Stoby's, a local food institution, was mentioned on American Idol, and is now catching the edge of the media frenzy. And capitalizing on it - apparently when he was in town Kris had lunch there, and they now have a giant Kris Allen section on their site.
:: David (9:57 in Arkansas, 16:57 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[1]

:: Sunday, May 17 2009 ::

A busy weekend - dinner out with a colleague Friday, then a big Master Gardener event Saturday morning (we arrived just in time for them to tell us to take whatever we wanted for free, which was nice) and then random socializing Saturday afternoon (we managed to miss our second horse race this year, arriving just in time for folks to tell us what happened). Today we did some much needed gardening, getting several plants in the ground (and mowing, so the darned lawn service people will stop coming round asking if we need someone to do it for us (I hope)). I also played with my new eee PC 900A, trying to get it set up as the home phone. So far, no luck.

We're also in the process of refinancing. Yes, the house we bought like eight months ago? We're buying it again. Fun. The problem is, over the course of ten years with our current mortgage we would pay seventeen thousand dollars more than if we refinance. So we go through the pain of refinancing now, and in four years we start making money (because, of course, we get to pay all the fees again), and each year after that we come out further and further ahead. As you can see at right, I was tracking the rate prices fairly closely before I finally decided to do it (click the pic to embiggen). But now we have weeks and weeks of annoying hoops to jump through.
:: David (22:25 in Arkansas, 5:25 in Paris) - Comment

:: Thursday, May 14 2009 ::

I don't know what it is about this article - maybe it's the banality that the subprime mortgage crisis has become, but the confessional style of a New York Times writer telling how he (sort of) lost his house to the bubble, or his own shortsightedness, really grabbed me.
:: David (15:40 in Arkansas, 22:40 in Paris) - Comment

We watched our first episode of American Idol this week, due to a friend who has what might be termed a mild addiction dragging us to the television (we weren't, to be fair, that hard to drag). We only watched the song part, and we left convinced that the hometown hero was headed home. But we were wrong.
:: David (13:52 in Arkansas, 20:52 in Paris) - Comment

Our kitten has a name. After two days of voting, and slightly more than 50 recorded votes, 'Moses' has carried the day. Already the nickname shuffling has begun, as 'Moe' takes an early lead, but 'Moze' has potential. And of course, there's 'little kitten' (as opposed to 'big kitten'). For all the numbers and names proposed, click through to the comments.
:: David (8:37 in Arkansas, 15:37 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[2]

:: Wednesday, May 13 2009 ::

Hm. I talked at a city council meeting last night which was looking for ways to spend a half million dollars of government money, intended to, basically, do nice green things while stimulating the economy. The definitions of 'green' and 'stimulate the economy' were a bit quirky/murky, but as with all things so far it seems like the basic idea at the federal level is to say 'here's a bucket of money - spend it as quickly as you can'. The story in the LCD seems a bit more optimistic about the chances the money will be spent on sidewalks than I am, but we'll see.
:: David (11:09 in Arkansas, 18:09 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[1]

:: Tuesday, May 12 2009 ::

I've posted a survey to determine what we should call our cute little kitten. You can vote here.
:: David (13:20 in Arkansas, 20:20 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[2]

When you buy something from one of the big box pet chains here in town, the credit card processor at the check out lane always asks if you want to give one dollar to help homeless animals. I no longer need to think about the question, after yesterday's visit to the vet to help our little (formerly) homeless animal. We had quite the (expensive) little adventure, which included getting weighed, having blood drawn (to verify he's not putting Mina in danger of disease), lots of pills and solutions, and treatment for fleas, ear mites, and three (count 'em) ticks embedded in various locations. Kitten did not enjoy the experience, but I expect when his ears stop itching from the creepy-crawlies he'll be happier. We then went to get kitten food, and I swear I think the people at the pet store recognized me, perhaps because this is my third visit since Thursday.
:: David (7:19 in Arkansas, 14:19 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[1]

We spent the weekend up in Michigan, Sasha working and me visiting my folks. I had the bright idea to simply fly to Chicago and drive over to Michigan, so as not to suffer through another O'Hare scheduling failure. I think in future I shall simply fly to Kalamazoo - the combined 'drive (to Little Rock) - fly (to Chicago)- drive (to Michigan)' was a little too much like an endurance contest. My favourite part was on the return trip, when it took me as long to drive across Chicago as it had to drive the entire route from Kalamazoo to Chicago.
:: David (6:33 in Arkansas, 13:33 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[1]

:: Thursday, May 7 2009 ::

I posted a couple videos to youtube of the kitten we found along the road.
:: David (23:29 in Arkansas, 6:29 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[1]

A friendly reminder that modern technology is way the heck more advanced than you think: a display maker just demonstrated a working model of a 12 foot/4 metre display that is 1mm thick and weighs 16 pounds/7 kilos. The wallscreen is probably closer than we think.
:: David (7:10 in Arkansas, 14:10 in Paris) - Comment

Walking home from drinks out with some of Sasha's colleagues, we noticed alongside of a busy road near our house a little ball of fluff, which resolved itself into a terrified kitten. Whether abandoned by its mother or some crazy person we couldn't really ascertain, but we really couldn't leave it there, so we brought it back to the house and set it up in the spare bathroom (because of the tile floor. yum for baby animals). I ran to the store and grabbed some kitten food, and we got everything arranged to care for it until we figure out what to do with it. Of course, we're going away this weekend, as are most of the folks we know, so it will fall on some unsuspecting victim to care for it while we're away. Having never cared for a kitten before I don't know its chances of survival, but it seems to be doing just fine right now.
:: David (6:26 in Arkansas, 13:26 in Paris) - Comment

:: Wednesday, May 6 2009 ::

Slashdot also pointed me to another person stepping forward to claim responsibility for the banking crisis - this one one of the people who wrote the software that allowed quick and easy slicing and dicing of mortgages.

As the government lowered interest rates to stimulate the economy, bonds increased in price. With a drop in rates, more people refinanced. There was more product for the securitization process, more meat for the grinder. Our software was rolled out to ride the latest wave. Traders loved it. What had taken days before now took minutes. They could design bonds out of bonds, to provide the precise rate of return that an investor wanted. I used to go to the trading floor and watch my software in use amid the sea of screens. A programmer doesn’t admire his creation so much for what it does but for how it does it. This stuff was beautiful and elegant.
Which was, I believe, a common attitude toward the process, right up until it rose up and smote us all. As the author of the article notes: "Some things could go bad, but not everything at once. It never has, except during the Depression, and we’re so much smarter now. That could never happen again."
:: David (8:43 in Arkansas, 15:43 in Paris) - Comment

:: Tuesday, May 5 2009 ::

Slashdot is chock full of interesting stories today. One that caught my eye was a reference to an article in Archaeology magazine, on how the proliferation of fake antiquities on ebay has led to a collapse in the grave robbing industry. It seems it's far easier to make a profit selling fakes, and, like all competitive markets, some manufacturers have chosen to go upmarket, making fakes so good the pros can't tell. Some of the methods are simply genius:

I know, for instance, of one fellow who makes grass-tempered reproductions of a 2,000-year-old pottery style. Having worked on archaeological projects for years, he learned to get the grass for his fakes from ancient middens near his house. If fired properly, and if the organic residue in one of his pots were carbon dated, it would appear to be a very old piece indeed. Looters on the north coast of Peru have discovered not only the famous 12th-15th-century A.D. Chancay anthropomorphic vessels, but also the original molds used to make the vessels. Thanks to publicly available archaeological reports, they also now use the original clay sources and minerals to make and paint the pottery. They can create virtually perfect reproductions.
It's a really interesting article by a very well informed author, and is an excellent example of why I love economics - you never know where the market is going to lead you.
:: David (20:04 in Arkansas, 3:04 in Paris) - Comment

:: Monday, May 4 2009 ::

Since I know you're all dying to know, Stuck on a Truck has entered what is probably its final day. Saturday was not a good day to be standing around hanging on a truck, and Sunday wasn't a great deal better. Now we're apparently down to the final three, and after more than 80 hours folks are probably more than a little punch drunk (there may be a plan to head over at lunch to see how out of it they are). I just discovered they also have a twitter feed, which has some interesting insights into what happens to sleep deprived people ("The contestants are getting crazy. One thinks there are things flying under the tent. One thought the officials had put him in time out.")
:: David (8:26 in Arkansas, 15:26 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[2]

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