Saturday, August 30, 2008

Obama rally Dublin, OH

10,000 19,000 plus people. We get waved to the head of a very long line, apparently because Dad resembles Joe Biden.

For a minor campaign stop, Obama draws a crowd three times the size of Sarah Palin's home town. Twice the size of the crowd McCain was able to muster for his VP announcement. I wonder what that tells us.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Ben Saunders provides the inspiration of the day.

The Promise of America

"We are better than these last eight years."

Barack Obama delivered a perfect speech last night. He accomplished everything he needed to do. I think we can safely say that the party is unified, and the Independents are by and large persuaded.

The Fox News guys looked snakebit, and could only describe the speech as "pedestrian, more prose than poetry." Hah. Watch it and weep.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Old School Vangelis Improv

Card Trick

For the second time in about a month, I've woken out of a dream that would make a great short story. This time, an elaborate mystery story about a pack of cards, a city-wide amateur manhunt, and a chemical peel. Ricky Jay and Keith Olberman are featured.

This sort of thing may not get you something real, but the rule is, if it was good enough to wake you up, it's good enough to write down.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

NNT Interview in Portfolio

Lloyd Grove interviews Black Swan expert and Bottlerocketscience favorite Nassim Nicholas Taleb on the mortgage meltdown, the uselessness of "experts", fistfights and why ties are stupid.
N.N.T.: One second. [Stares intensely into his BlackBerry.] Before we met, I was trying to do something...

L.G.: Are you trying to execute a trade? Are you losing money?

N.N.T.: I have receipts, I have a business. I get a lot of income from my books in Europe. I just want to make sure that I'm not bothered by that drop [in the euro]. I sell three times more in the U.K. than here. It sold 178,000 copies—115,000 in the last three months. But I've got income coming from different places, and I set up contracts where I'm paid in local currency.

L.G.: And the dollar is advancing against the pound.

N.N.T.: Not good for me. But what I do is, I allocate a portion of it, I keep it in pounds in the U.K.—I'm in London every month—and a portion of it in euros that I spend there, and then the rest I've got to hedge it...Have you read this book called The 4-Hour Workweek?

L.G.: No.

N.N.T.: It's similar to these concepts. I try to avoid drag-down work, so when I write, I don't write more than an hour in any given day. When I've done an hour, I make sure I don't write more. And I make sure I don't work hard because when you work hard, you sort of dilute yourself.

Letter from Jourdan Anderson, 1865

Jourdan Anderson, a former slave, wrote this letter to his former master, Col. P.H. Anderson on August 7, 1865, to decline an offer to return as a laborer on the Anderson farm in Tenessee:

Dayton, Ohio, August 7, 1865

To My Old Master, Colonel P.H. Anderson, Big Spring, Tennessee


I got your letter and was glad to find you had not forgotten Jourdon, and that you wanted me to come back and live with you again, promising to do better for me than anybody else can. I have often felt uneasy about you. I thought the Yankees would have hung you long before this for harboring Rebs they found at your house. I suppose they never heard about your going to Col. Martin's to kill the Union soldier that was left by his company in their stable. Although you shot at me twice before I left you, I did not want to hear of your being hurt, and am glad you are still living. It would do me good to go back to the dear old home again and see Miss mary and Miss Martha and Allen, Esther, Green, and Lee. Give my love to them all, and tell them I hope we will meet in the better world, if not in this. I would have gone back to see you all when I was working in the Nashville hospital, but one of the neighbors told
me Henry intended to shoot me if he ever got a chance.

I want to know particularly what the good chance is you propose to give me. I am doing tolerably well here; I get $25 a month, with victuals and clothing; have a comfortable home for Mandy (the folks here call her Mrs. Anderson), and the children, Milly, Jane and Grundy, go to school and are learning well; the teacher says grundy has a head for a preacher. They go to Sunday- School, and Mandy and me attend church regularly. We are kindly treated; sometimes we overhear others saying, "The colored people were slaves" down in Tennessee. The children feel hurt when they hear such remarks, but I tell them it was no disgrace in Tennessee to belong to Col. Anderson. Many darkies would have been proud, as I used to was, to call you master. Now, if you will write and say what wages you will give me, I will be better able to decide whether it would be to my advantage to move back again.

As to my freedom, which you say I can have, there is nothing to be gained on that score, as I got my free- papers in 1864 from the Provost- Marshal- General of the Department of Nashville. Mandy says she would be afraid to go back without some proof that you are sincerely disposed to treat us justly and kindly- - and we have concluded to test your sincerity by asking you to send us our wages for the time we served you. This will make us forget and forgive old scores, and rely on your justice and friendship in the future. I served you faithfully for thirty- two years and Mandy twenty years. At $25 a month for me, and $2 a week for Mandy, our earnings would amount to $11,680. Add to this the interest for the time our wages has been kept back and deduct what you paid for our clothing and three doctor's visits to me, and pulling a tooth for Mandy, and the balance will show what we are in justice entitled to. Please send the money by Adams Express, in care of V. Winters, esq, Dayton, Ohio. If you fail to pay us for faithful labors in the past we can have little faith in your promises in the future. We trust the good Maker has opened your eyes to the wrongs which you and your fathers have done to me and my fathers, in making us toil for you for generations without recompense. Here I draw my wages every Saturday night, but in Tennessee there was never any pay day for the Negroes any more than for the horses and cows. Surely there will be a day of reckoning for those who defraud the laborer of his hire.

In answering this letter please state if there would be any safety for my Milly and Jane, who are now grown up and both good- looking girls. You know how it was with Matilda and Catherine. I would rather stay here and starve and die if it comes to that than have my girls brought to shame by the violence and wickedness of their young masters. You will also please state if there has been any schools opened for the colored children in your neighborhood, the great desire of my life now is to give my children an education, and have them form virtuous

P.S. -- Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the
pistol from you when you were shooting at me.

From your old servant,
Jourdon Anderson

Source: Cincinnati Commercial, reprinted in New York Tribune, August 22, 1865. Digitally republished at

(via The Constant Siege)

Monday, August 25, 2008

Got up and moving early this morning. Went to yoga in the building next door to the place where we almost started the telecom/ISP/ASP company, the one with the big interchange loop on 5th St. Entire class filled with highly flexible yogawomen, including one hardcase who flipped into a handstand on the kickback into the vinyasa from forward bend. I wanted to ask if she shouldn't be in Beijing this week, what with the Olympics and all. Temperatures were short of bikram levels, but were still too high for my comfort level at the pace we were moving. Then, off to my afternoon office location at Stauf's. 

Thursday, August 21, 2008

King of the Worlds

Neal Stephenson talks with Wired about his new novel, Anathem, coming out next month. I'd complain about how long it's taken him to publish after the Baroque Cycle, but this one is 960 pages, so I guess he has an excuse.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Remainder of a Life

Remainder of a Life

If I were told:
By evening you will die,
so what will you do until then?
I would look at my wristwatch,
I’d drink a glass of juice,bite an apple,
contemplate at length an ant that has found its food,
then look at my wristwatch.
There’d be time left to shave my beard
and dive in a bath, obsess:
“There must be an adornment for writing,
so let it be a blue garment.”
I’d sit until noon alive at my desk
but wouldn’t see the trace of color in the words,
white, white, white . . .
I’d prepare my last lunch,
pour wine in two glasses: one for me
and one for the one who will come without appointment,
then I’d take a nap between two dreams.
But my snoring would wake me . . .
so I’d look at my wristwatch:
and there’d be time left for reading.
I’d read a chapter in Dante and half of a mu’allaqah
and see how my life goes from me
to the others, but I wouldn’t ask who
would fill what’s missing in it.
That’s it, then?That’s it, that’s it.
Then what?
Then I’d comb my hair and throw away the poem . . .
this poem, in the trash,
and put on the latest fashion in Italian shirts,
parade myself in an entourage of Spanish violins,
and walk to the grave!

Four Eared Cat

Meet Yoda, the four-eared cat from Chicago:

Previously, two nosed dogs.

Bonus Quote: Merlin Mann on Creativity

[Being gentle in the draft stage] is not stressful for the gifted artist who knows the dirty little secret that nobody shits a masterpiece.

-from Attention & Ambiguity: The Non-Paradox of Creative Work

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


It will be Hillary Clinton, announced Friday, with a joint appearance in Springfield, IL on Saturday.

If not that, it will be Professor Plum in the Billiard Room with the Candlestick.

Update: It's Biden. Good on ya.

Strategy Snapshot: Inditex/Zara

Spanish clothing retailer Zara may be larger than the Gap as of 2008, partially due to a weak dollar, but also due to a strong strategy:
  1. Build a culture focused on hard work
  2. Control key points in the supply chain (raw cloth, pattern cutting, distribution, retailing)
  3. Manage logistics as a core competency. Reduce warehousing time and space, and understand your profit margins and per item contributions
  4. Spend lots on good geography. Build flagship stores in high-end areas to launch the brand, rather than spending lots on advertising. This shortens your time to profitability and frees you from having to scale up
  5. Brand image: safe, chic, low-stress
  6. Generate lots of products. Produce more of the successes, replace the failures
  7. Allow local managers to select product lines, sizes & quantities for their stores. Use the good geography you've purchased and the local knowledge of your managers to positively affect sales

Monday, August 18, 2008

To the Castle and Back

Vaclav Havel has a new memoir out about his time as President of Czechoslovakia:

When Václav Havel first entered Prague Castle after becoming president of Czechoslovakia in 1989, he and his team ("a group of friends from various branches of the arts") found wires and concealed microphones everywhere, and a map revealing secret rooms. It was "an enchanted Kafkaesque castle" and, as he reveals in this candid memoir, his time there frequently struck him as absurd...One repeated request appears to symbolise the continued presence of the former regime: "In the closet where the vacuum cleaner is kept, there also lives a bat. How to get rid of it?"

Prague Castle, home of Emperor Rudolf II, patron of alchemists and collector of wonders; the inspiration for Kafka, writer of the intrusion of the uncanny into the mundane, was turned magical and wondrous by the everyday workings of its inhabitants. But, the magic-workers aren't gods, they're the twentieth century version of tommyknockers and goblins. Little magics are made (a bat in the cupboard with the vacuum cleaners, a tape recorder hidden behind the upstairs restroom), produced by mysterious and slightly malevolent midlevel employees. I'm reminded of the stories of the East German woman who read her secret police files, only to find that the Stasi had, in fact, been letting the air out of her tires and misdelivering her mail, as she had suspected for many years. Humans pretending to be gremlins, hiders in the crannies.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Frightened Rabbit: Head Rolls Off

I've been listening to the Midnight Organ Fight album from Frightened Rabbit more or less nonstop recently. You should too.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Things That Call Us to the Things of This World

Love Calls Us to the Things of This World

The eyes open to a cry of pulleys,
And spirited from sleep, the astounded soul
Hangs for a moment bodiless and simple
As false dawn.
Outside the open window
The morning air is all awash with angels.
Some are in bed-sheets, some are in blouses,
Some are in smocks: but truly there they are.
Now they are rising together in calm swells
Of halcyon feeling, filling whatever they wear
With the deep joy of their impersonal breathing;

Now they are flying in place, conveying
The terrible speed of their omnipresence, moving
And staying like white water; and now of a sudden
They swoon down into so rapt a quiet
That nobody seems to be there.
The soul shrinks

From all that is about to remember,
From the punctual rape of every blessed day,
And cries,"Oh, let there be nothing on earth but laundry,
Nothing but rosy hands in the rising steam
And clear dances done in the sight of heaven.''

Yet, as the sun acknowledges
With a warm look the world's hunks and colors,
The soul descends once more in bitter love
To accept the waking body, saying now
In a changed voice as the man yawns and rises,

"Bring them down from their ruddy gallows;
Let there be clean linen for the backs of thieves;
Let lovers go fresh and sweet to be undone,
And the heaviest nuns walk in a pure floating
Of dark habits,keeping their difficult balance.''

-Richard Wilbur
The eyes open to a blue telephone
In the bathroom of this five-star hotel.

I wonder whom I should call? A plumber,
Proctologist, urologist, or priest?

Who is most among us and most deserves
The first call? I choose my father because

He's astounded by bathroom telephones.
I dial home. My mother answers. "Hey, Ma,"

I say, "Can I talk to Poppa?" She gasps,
And then I remember that my father

Has been dead for nearly a year. "Shit, Mom,"
I say. "I forgot he’s dead. I’m sorry—

How did I forget?" "It’s okay," she says.
"I made him a cup of instant coffee

This morning and left it on the table—
Like I have for, what, twenty-seven years—

And I didn't realize my mistake
Until this afternoon." My mother laughs

At the angels who wait for us to pause
During the most ordinary of days

And sing our praise to forgetfulness
Before they slap our souls with their cold wings.

Those angels burden and unbalance us.
Those fucking angels ride us piggyback.
-Sherman Alexie

Thursday, August 14, 2008

BIll Cunningham, OSP

(Original Street Photographer)

He is thought to have bought no new clothes in 30 years and is rumored to keep what few garments he owns on the hooks of the numerous file cabinets that line his living space - a studio apartment in Carnegie Hall that has been described as one huge filing cabinet.

When Cunningham covers the European fashion shows, he stays in the most modest lodgings in Les Halles where no one visits him, where the phone is in the lobby, and the bathroom is shared. He has the manager remove the bed from the room so he can sleep in a corner on the floor.

Cunningham, who photographs style on the street for the NYT and others has a show going up at Bergdorf Goodman on September 5.
Bezoar stones and other remedies for poison.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Alan Moore: The Craft

Mega-interview with Alan Moore by Daniel Whiston, about the mechanics of information;why Brian Eno was right (as always); the secret lives of Alice in Wonderland, Wendy Darling and Dorothy Gale; and what you must do if you forget you're real.
So you're dealing with dangerous stuff, you're in dangerous territory. It can…you can start to forget, for example…there's a great thing in a Jack Trevor Storey book, and he's a brilliant writer, Jack Trevor Storey, he was, just before he died. There's one bit where he's talking to this woman, and she's telling him about events that have happened, and she says: “Wait a minute, did that happen, or did that happen in my story?” And she suddenly starts to look terrified, and he's a writer himself so he knows what to do: he walks up, slaps her round the face and says: “What's your name?” And she sort of, so he slaps her again and says: “What's your name?” and she gives him a name, and he says: “Right, what's just happened to you is that you have for the first time confused your real life with your fiction. Don't worry about this – this is going to happen quite a lot. It's just important that you remember that you're a real person, this is your name, that other stuff was stuff that you wrote. Keep the
line there”.
(via Linkmachinego)

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Price of Risk

Jared Bernstein on Risk:

Seems to me when you get right down to it, a lot of what's gone wrong in the economy, if not the country, stems from the failure of the market to accurately price risk. It sounds obscure, but if we don't get this right, we're looking at a shampoo
-- bubble, bust, repeat -- for years to come. Not to mention environmental degradation and war.


Types of mispricing:

  • Systematic underpricing: alpha

  • Beta underestimation

  • Model Misspecification

  • Skewness

  • Fat Tail/Power Law

Men's 4x100m Swim

The most thrilling sporting event to watch since the Nadal/Federer match of the century at Wimbledon. Jason Lezak swam an unbelievable anchor leg to beat Alain Bernard, the world-record holder, who led him by 6/10ths of a second at the outset, gaining the gold for the US men's team. Just watching it, you couldn't tell why he was moving faster, just that he was; also impressive, the last reach for the finish, where his arm seemed to stretch impossibly far. From SI:

"I just happened to have the swim of my life at the right time," Lezak said.

"The whole thing was remarkable," said Orjan Madsen, the German head coach. "It was one of those moments where you just sit back and say, 'Jesus Christ.' If I wouldn't have seen [Lezak overtaking Bernard] with my own eyes, I wouldn't have believed it."

"There's never been [an anchor swim like that] in my memory," American head coach Eddie Reese said. "Not running down somebody who holds the world record, who's on their game. That was incredible. ... It has to be in the unbelievable category. That's the biggest word I know."

Half the Zappin'

Last week's freakishly strong thunderstorm produced over 10,000 lightning strikes in the Chicago area, or about 50% of the average annual total.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Life's Second Acts

Cloned Dog Owner Manacled Mormon For Sex may be my favorite headline since the Sun-Times': Trucks Drop Off Large Bags Of Money At City Hall: Business As Usual.

(via Neil)

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Edgar Oliver

Neil Gaiman has been on a bit of a roll on his blog lately, what with the Who Killed Amanda Palmer photo/story project, and so forth. On one of his endless trips he participated in the Moth live storytelling event, where he told a funny story about being left at the train station like Paddington Bear.

Also speaking that night was Edgar Oliver, who told remarkable stories about a visit to Savannah to bury his mother: "I am glad that my mother raised us to be proud that we were strange." Both stories can be accessed here. Oliver has what Gaiman refers to as a "magical and strange" voice and accent. Here's Oliver telling another story about his family:

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Doug Coupland on Aging

Douglas Coupland on aging:

We've all bumped into friends who look like hell. Our first thought is always divorce, booze, or one of those other wicked speed bumps on the road of life. What's really happening, of course, is that your friend is in the middle of a progerial plunge. Time passes, and more time passes, and then you see that friend in the checkout line of a Safeway one afternoon, and you realize he's not drinking or having troubles. He's just aging. The kicker: So I must be too. That's when you head to the produce department and check yourself out in the mirrors above the lettuce and celery.

I have this theory about men and aging. We have two ages: the age we really are, and the age we are in our heads. Most men are almost always about 31 or 32 in their heads — just ask them. Even Mr. Burns from “The Simpsons” is 31 in his head. One of the most universal adult male experiences is of standing before a mirror and saying, "I'm sorry, but there's been a horrible mistake. You see, that's not really me in the mirror there. The real me is tanned, throws Frisbees, and kayaks the Columbia River estuary without cracking a sweat."
My father is 80 this year and still works as a doctor, a GP. His practice is largely older, and his specialty is keeping them not only alive but also alive and chugging. He has a belief that aging can be slowed by careful monitoring of the thyroid, by keeping folic-acid levels high, and by monitoring cholesterol a certain way. All of this is good advice in any event, but I bump into his patients all the time, and man, these people are vibrating. His waiting room is like the pool scene in Cocoon. These people still attend their high school reunions. It's the weird new circle of life.

Personally, I always feel like I'm about 24. Last year, when I went to a college reunion planning meeting, the biggest thing I noticed was that everyone reverted to acting like they were somewhere in their mid-to-late 20's within minutes of the party starting. When you're really 24, you feel old, because you're only used to relating to people in the 18-23 range. At some point, though, you start feeling young and vigorous again when you cultivate friendships with people in their 50's and 60's who are vivid and active.

Flat Earth 2

As previously noted here, there's a small but vocal group of people who want to teach the controversy: the world is flat. And now, they've got computer renderings and FAQs. Apparently, the entire visible universe is rising at a steady rate of acceleration, and there is no gravity. For undisclosed reasons, large numbers of people are involved in an elaborate conspiracy, perhaps because "they're control freaks".

Ms Garwood says it is an "historic fallacy" that everyone from ancient times to the Dark Ages believed the earth to be flat, and were only disabused of this "mad idea" once Christopher Columbus successfully sailed to America without "falling off the edge of the world".
In fact, people have known since at least the 4th century BC that the earth is round, and the pseudo-scientific conviction that we actually live on a disc didn't emerge until Victorian times. Theories about the earth being flat really came to the fore in 19th Century England. With the rise and rise of scientific rationalism, which seemed to undermine Biblical authority, some Christian thinkers decided to launch an attack on established science.

(via Kottke)

Monday, August 04, 2008

Lollapalooza Day 3

The Nine Inch Nails concert was easily worth the price of admission all by itself. They've made big advances with the lightshow, which was not only in some kind of 3-d arrangement, but also interacted with the music onstage:

Imaging this coupled with a crowd dancing and singing at the top of their lungs, and you have a pretty good idea of the energy level. State of the frickin' art.

Lollapalooza, Day 2

High points of the day included seeing the shirtless drunk or stoned guy trying to give his money to passerby and then collapsing unconscious on the concrete stairs. He rose 5 minutes later only to knock over a section of hurricane fence, and then repeat the money-giving attempts. No one seemed to want the slightly bloodstained bills, however, and some friends bore him away to wherever it is that drunk or stoned shirtless guys go on such occasions when they have not optioned for the evening-ending drunk or stoned brawl with officers of the law.

Then, one of the guys standing next to me says, "hey, look, there's an American flag at a Rage Against the Machine concert--you know that'll be going up in flames before the nigh is through."

Get with the program. Burning flags are so Battle in Seattle.


Until There's No More "Them"

"It is going to end with the full inclusion of all God's people in God's Church. I don't know when. It doesn't matter when. But I know it is going to be. None of us is on the selection committee. God is on a committee of one...It is time for us to stop worrying so much about the Church. The Church is not ours to win or lose; the Church is God's. What a dangerous thing it is to put the Bible into the hands of repressed people. They might read it and believe it. They gave it to black slaves to make them docile, but they read it and became educated. They have given it to disabled people … gay and bisexual people. Who knows who they'll give it to next? But God will keep giving it to people too, until there's no more 'them', only 'us'."

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Vampire Weekend

Eli once pointed out that you could easily tell when my life was in the woodchipper when I started reading vampire novels. This time around: Twilight by Stephenie Meyer.

Lollapalooza, Day 1 continued

Buckingham Fountain, the hub, by day...
...and by night.
South Venue, Radiohead concert. Radiohead featured a split screen effect that looked like a webcam/chatroom effect on the big monitors, coupled with a cool-ass 3-d lightshow embedded in the stage.

Lollapalooza, Day 1: Glorious

After a morning cloudburst, the weather turned nice and sunny for opening day. In fact, a little too sunny. Like last year, you were well advised to spend the maximum amount of time in the shade, which was detectably cooler than out in the sun.

High points: Gogol Bordello's ripping set, Radiohead as closing act.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Greenwald on the Anthrax Case

The main suspect in the anthrax mailings post-9/11 committed suicide this past week, and there are a number of mysteries still surrounding the case. For example, it appears that a number of people were told to take Cipro in advance of the mailings. Also, ABC News claimed that four separate sources told them that the anthrax had bentonite included; this statement suggested that Iraq was the source of the agent. The whole thing is spooky, in multiple senses of the word. Glenn Greenwald has the details.

Friday, August 01, 2008


The Hudson river is being--not gentrified--rusticated? As a result, lots of tours are taking place. Nice picture of Bannerman's Isle included.