Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Cabbages and Kings...

Microsoft's Bill Crow: "Today, the Joint Photographic Expert's Group (JPEG) announced a new work item for the standardization of a HD Photo as a new file format called JPEG XR (XR is short for "extended range".) You can read the full details in the Microsoft press release here and the JPEG press release here. (Go ahead and check it out; we'll wait here.)"

Sven Birkerts considers the effects of blogs on literary culture: "A GRADUALLY GRAYING book reviewer with several decades in the trenches, I've been nibbling at literary web sites and blogs for some time now -- out of curiosity, to be sure, but also from a sense of vocational self-preservation. I've been trying to make my peace with the changes -- and to decide once and for all if they represent an advance, a retreat, or simply the declaration of an emerging new order against which there is no point in kicking...." more (via 3QD)

Computers beat humans at face recognition task: "The top performing system exhibited better performance than human evaluators when matching faces under varying lighting conditions in NIST large scale face recognition benchmark. See Figure 8 in this report. (via Machine Learning, etc.)

Initially, I had an interest in A.I., but it didn't seem to be going anywhere when I studied it in the late 1980s. I felt it was too heavily focused on logic (Prolog, Expert Systems, etc) and not enough on statistics. Back then, inspired by the Turing Test and Eliza, I wrote a devious little chatbot that fooled a lot of people. It was based on Markov Chains constructed from chat room convos.

Ben Stein says: The Looting of America isn't Funny.

A while back Jason Kottke posted a link to an article in New York Magazine showing how various businesses in N.Y. make a profit. Finally got around to reading it today. It is interesting. (link)

Apple's selling DRM-free tunes. (link)

If you're interested in free online Scrabble, Scrabulous is a nice site.

Monday, July 30, 2007


Sorry to anyone who doesn't like the vids. Summers are hectic.

This time it's The Church singing in Minneapolis at the old Guthrie Theater--a place where I saw many a play, a place that no longer exists.

The song, Reptile, has a prominent, unforgettable guitar riff. It's from their album Starfish which also contained the hit Under the Milky Way. Their best release, IMHO.

Artist: The Church
Song: Reptile
Disc: Starfish
Year: 1988

Friday, July 27, 2007

London in the Rain


Artist: Soul Coughing
Song: Circles
Disc: El Oso
Year: 1998

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Why do they hate us?

Mohsin Hamid in WaPo...

"So I was surprised by the extraordinary hospitality I encountered on my trip. And I still remember the politeness with which one elderly gentleman addressed me in a bookshop. He held a copy of my latest novel, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, and examined the face on its cover, comparing it to mine. Then he said, nodding once as if to dip the brim of an imaginary hat: 'So tell me, sir. Why do they hate us?'
That stopped me cold."


The Darjeeling Ltd

Wes Anderson & Co. return

Frame by Frame

I've mentioned them before, but I will again, because I think they deserve more attention... The name of the band is "The Honorary Title"...

Artist: The Honorary Title
Song: Frame by Frame
Disc: Anything Else But the Truth
Year: 2004

see also: Bridge & Tunnel

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Tinseltown in the Rain

One of my favorite groups: The Blue Nile.

Why: The impressions, the emotions, the way many of their songs are layered, the relationship between the natural and the synthetic--both in terms of the instruments employed and the evocative images created...

Artist: The Blue Nile
Song: Tinseltown in the Rain
Disc: A Walk Across the Rooftops
Year: 1985

Englishman in New York

Sting's tribute to the eccentric Quentin Crisp who is also featured in the video.

Artist: Sting
Disc: Nothing like the Sun
Song: Englishman in New York
Year: 1987

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Weekly World News, R.I.P.

Sources say the Weekly World News is kaput*, condemning us all to an eternity of wondering about the whereabouts of Bat Boy. Declining circulation was cited as the culprit, but I think we all know the real problem: for the past few years, the real news has continued to encroach on WWN territory.
*Correction for Bat Boy followers: While "The World's Only Reliable Newspaper" is discontinuing its print edition, it will continue in online form: WeeklyWorldNews.Com.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Julia Morgan

Before visiting the Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California, I knew nothing about architect Julia Morgan who was hired by William Randolph Hearst to construct the famous estate.

She had a long and interesting career, designing over seven hundred buildings in the San Francisco area. And it sounds like she had quite a heroic and indefatigable spirit:

"Upon the advice of one of her instructors, architect Bernard Maybeck, Morgan traveled to Paris to study at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. Though she arrived in Paris to begin her studies in 1896, Morgan was refused admission for two years because the administration had never conceived of allowing women to study there. So she entered every prestigious architecture competition in Europe, and won most of them, forcing the hand of the administration. Morgan was eventually admitted in the field of architecture."


Sunday, July 22, 2007

Waltz #2 (XO)

Artist: Elliott Smith (1969-2003)
Song: Waltz #2 (XO)
Disc: XO
Year: 1998 (Key Arena)


Saturday, July 21, 2007

Confirming Bias

Recently, I mentioned Bruce Bartlett's change of focus from writing articles to writing books due to the effect of blogs on columnists.

Bartlett writes: "Those who wanted more biting opinion gravitated to the Internet, where vast numbers of people offer commentary along every single point on the political spectrum. It became very easy to find writers expressing exactly one's own personal opinion about everything."

From what I've seen, Barlett is right, and I think this may be a significant factor in the increased polarization of America politics.

The extent to which people pursue and consume vigorous helpings of concurring opinions has long troubled me. Any scientifically-minded person recognizes this as one of the worst possible means of searching for truth, but it seems to be, nonetheless, one the commonest.

Is the problem getting worse? Is so, is there a way to turn the tide?

Miniature Car?

Avenue of the Giants

Avenue of the Giants. Northern California.

Another trip photo. This is a shot that's hard to capture without more dynamic range. A good HDR candidate. It's also difficult to convey the size of the redwoods without a frame of reference. The car is an attempt.

Living in a Box


Artist: Living in a Box
Disc: Living in a Box
Song: Living in a Box
Year: 1987


Although summer cooking amounts mostly to grilling, I am devoting time towards mastering pizza. So many factors contribute to the final result that there's a combinatorial explosion of experimental possibilities. Thoughts and observations ensue.

The first question is dough. I start with the standard cup of warm water, a teaspoon of sugar and a packet of yeast, giving the yeast ten minutes to get their little sugar fix.

Tweakable factors multiply rapidly. How much flour? How much salt? How much olive oil? My current answer is 3 cups of flour, a half a tsp of salt, and 3-4 tbsp of olive oil. I knead it together with my Artisan mixer dough hook for 5 to 10 minutes.

Corn meal? I've been experimenting with cornmeal. Last time, my "customers" were quite pleased with the addition of 1/3 cup of cornmeal (and another tablespoon of oil to compensate). It doesn't take much meal to change the texture dramatically. In my experience, it's pretty hard to screw up pizza dough. If it's too wet, add more water. If it's too dry, add more flour. Be not afraid.

There are a number of variations on dough--New York Style, Chicago Style, etc. Check out Pizza: More than 60 Recipes... by Diane Morgan and Tony Gemignani for a number of options.

Another question: How long should the dough rise? I've found the fudge factor here surprising. I shoot for 45 minutes, but I've found that in a pinch you can even get away with 10. Sometimes I make dough the night before and leave it in the refrigerator overnight, tightly covered with cling wrap (exposed dough gets crusty).

Getting the crust cooked right is a challenge. And if you get that right, there's the challenge of getting both the crust and the cheese cooked right. I recommend a decent oven thermometer. There's a pretty wide gap between the claims offered by my oven knobs and the actual resulting temperatures.

Lately, I've been using a pizza stone and setting the oven temperature at 475 F. Most books recommend an hour of preheating to get the stone hot. I found a great deal on a pizza making kit that included a cutter, a stone and a peel for $15, but the 4" OXO cutter is still my weapon of choice.

For rolling I use this OXO roller and a big and heavy white poly cutting board. Once the dough is rolled out flat, you can eliminate annoying dough bubbles by running a good docker over it. After docking the dough, I tend to flip it and sauce the flipped side.

Selecting the right amount of dough is important. When I err, I tend to error on the thin side with too little dough rolled too thin. The current ideal is a 13" circle rolled a thicker than 1/8" but less than 1/4". To get the crust edges right, fold the outer 1" of rolled dough underneath around the complete perimeter and press it down.

The next big question is the question of sauce. For quite some time I've been engineering my own sauce. I like a tangy sauce with a zing to it. Beyond that there's fennel. I think I first noticed fennel on a frozen Tombstone pizza. Good call.

Here's a RecipeZaar link to my pizza sauce recipe. I'm slowly bumping up the fennel, but the problem is that fresh fennel tends to be much more potent than fennel that's a few months old. Too much fennel might turn the creation into licorice sauce--and, of course, it all depends on one's liking of fennel. Googling [fennel pizza sauce recipe] will be fruitful.

Once the sauce questions are answered, there's the issue of ingredients. This is simply a matter of taste ranging from pepperoni to anchovy to pineapple or, as they do in Japan, even squid or corn. All I'll say about ingredients is that I think chopped fresh basil improves any pie.

Next, we come to cheese. The fundamental issue I've found with cheese is oven temperature. Some cheeses work fine at 400F, but turn into a plastic crust at 500F. And there's the question of how much cheese one prefers. How much cheese you use factors into how it responds to heat.

I've tried a number of cheeses and so far I've been happiest with Kraft's Pizza! cheese. It seems to melt and respond to heat better than anything else tried. I've also found Monterey Jack holding up well in higher heat, but I haven't experimented enough to make a recommendation. A Monterey Jack / Mozzerella blend might be what I'm looking for.

The final question is how to cook a pizza. I've cooked pies at variety of temperatures on all sorts of surfaces, and I'll relay the best results I've found.

First, there's the question of temperature. I've had reasonable success cooking pizzas at 400F on a cookie sheet / pizza pan, but at this relatively low temperature, I recommend pre-baking the crust for 5-8 minutes. After that, remove it, let it cool, top it and let it cook at the same temperature for about 10 minutes or until it seems to be done.

My preferred method is at a temperature high enough that I don't need to pre-bake the crust to get decent results. This brings us to the question of how to get the uncooked pizza on the stone without creating a big mess.

You can use a pizza screen, which is a thin woven metal screen, but I prefer baking parchment. The trouble with parchment is that most of the regular parchment you find in stores tends to be recommended for "up to 400F" and ideal pizza temperatures are higher than that. Commercial pizza ovens tend to operate in the 500F to 600F range.

Professional baking parchment designed for higher temperatures is available online. The trouble with professional baking parchment is that it tends to be sold in large quantities (1000 sheets a crack). Fortunately, enough people find themselves faced with the same predicament, so you can find smaller quantities on eBay (sold by amateur cooks in the same boat as you).

As a final note, if you cook at higher heat, be forewarned that things cook much faster and you gotta keep your eye on things. Depending on toppings, my cooking times range from 8 to 12 minutes. At higher temperatures a pizza can go from not done to overdone in a couple of minutes.

Friday, July 20, 2007


He called her "Sugar."
She called him "Honey."
Their children were diabetic,
But it was just a coincidence.

Thursday, July 19, 2007


Live in the present
and the past
and the future
as much as possible.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


NYT: How Costco Became the Anti-Wal-Mart

"Costco's average pay, for example, is $17 an hour, 42 percent higher than its fiercest rival, Sam's Club. And Costco's health plan makes those at many other retailers look Scroogish. One analyst, Bill Dreher of Deutsche Bank, complained last year that at Costco "it's better to be an employee or a customer than a shareholder."

Mr. Sinegal begs to differ. He rejects Wall Street's assumption that to succeed in discount retailing, companies must pay poorly and skimp on benefits, or must ratchet up prices to meet Wall Street's profit demands."

"Good wages and benefits are why Costco has extremely low rates of turnover and theft by employees, he said. And Costco's customers, who are more affluent than other warehouse store shoppers, stay loyal because they like that low prices do not come at the workers' expense. "This is not altruistic," he said. "This is good business."


(3 cheers for Sinegal and Costco! ht: Brad DeLong)

Freeman Dyson: Biotech Future

Freeman Dyson in NYRB:

"It has become part of the accepted wisdom to say that the twentieth century was the century of physics and the twenty-first century will be the century of biology. Two facts about the coming century are agreed on by almost everyone. Biology is now bigger than physics, as measured by the size of budgets, by the size of the workforce, or by the output of major discoveries; and biology is likely to remain the biggest part of science through the twenty-first century. Biology is also more important than physics, as measured by its economic consequences, by its ethical implications, or by its effects on human welfare.

These facts raise an interesting question. Will the domestication of high technology, which we have seen marching from triumph to triumph with the advent of personal computers and GPS receivers and digital cameras, soon be extended from physical technology to biotechnology? I believe that the answer to this question is yes. Here I am bold enough to make a definite prediction. I predict that the domestication of biotechnology will dominate our lives during the next fifty years at least as much as the domestication of computers has dominated our lives during the previous fifty years."


Tuesday, July 17, 2007


Artist: Jamiroquai
Disc: Traveling without Moving
Song: Virtual Insanity
Year: 1996

blogroll += ...

I've added two more blogs to the roll...
I've been reading them for quite a long time...
My thanks and appreciation to the authors for their fine work.

Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference and Social Science by Andrew Gelman, Aleks Jakulin and Samantha Cook.

Raw Thought by Aaron Schwartz

Finally, I'd like to throw in an extra thank you and kudo for Mark Chu-Carroll and all the excellent writing he's done on Good Math, Bad Math.

Cheers to all of you!

Sun may explode tomorrow

Is anyone else getting thoroughly tired of fear mongering headlines telling us what MAY happen? They seem to proliferate whenever the current "administration" happens going through another extreme bout of scandalitis.


Some believe periodontitis can be cured with a daily bowl of clam chowder. In spite of vaunted claims of prosthetic benefits made by the shellfish industry, there's no supporting evidence. While there is some truth to the "natural feel" assertions, failing to floss will only exacerbate gum problems.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

I Lived on the Moon

Interesting animation (ht: Drawn!)

Artist: Kwoon
Disc: Tales & Dreams
Song: I Loved on the Moon
Year: 2007

Animation: Yannick Puig. More information at the official website for the video of I lived on the Moon.

The Effect of Blogs

In a question of blogs vs newspapers, I don't favor one over another. I think there's a time and place for both, but I am fascinated by the effect blogs have had, which is much more powerful than I would have guessed.

While catching up on Brad DeLong, I sadly discovered columnist Bruce Barlett is quitting his column and citing blogs as a major reason for doing so. Excerpts from his last column follow. It's interesting reading that reinforces a personal belief that the MSM is losing readership due to a slavish adherence to a controversy-avoiding status quo:

"This is the last of those columns. The world has changed a lot since 1995 and I've decided that there are better ways for me to express myself. The Internet, in particular, has enormously changed the ability to get a message out; one is no longer dependent on the traditional media, such as newspapers, for that purpose. Today, anyone with a computer and a modem can start a blog and, for all intents and purposes, be a columnist.

In the not-too-distant past, this was impossible. If you didn't write for a newspaper, it was very hard to get out timely commentary on topical subjects. But if you were any good, it wasn't too difficult to make a pretty good living as a columnist because there were many newspapers and competition raised the value of those columnists that readers would follow from one paper to another."


Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Loose Salute

Artist: The Loose Salute
Disc: Turned to Love
Song: The Mutineer (free mp3 link)
Year: 2007

(ht: LunaPark6)

A Girl Called Johnny

Early Waterboys...

Artist: The Waterboys
Song: A Girl Called Johnny
Year: 1983

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Court of Kane

Desert Tennis

Hearst Castle. San Simeon, California.

Regarding a New Humanism

Salvador Pániker at

In 1959, C. P. Snow gave a famous lecture at Cambridge entitled "The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution", lamenting the academic and professional scission between the field of science and that of letters. In 1991, the literary agent John Brockman popularized the concept of the third culture, to refer to the dawning of the scientist-writer, and hence, the birth of a new humanism. A humanism no longer bound to the classical sense of the term, but instead a new hybridization between the sciences and the humanities.

As far as philosophy is concerned, this new humanism should be aware of not only the latest in sciences, but also to as many tendencies of contemporary thought as is possible. Meaning that philosophy should not remain shut up in a professional academic department, but instead participate in an interdisciplinary intersection, "in conversation"—as the recently disappeared Richard Rorty would say—with all the other sciences. Philosophy needs to trace the maps of reality. The philosopher is, in the words of Plato, "he who possesses a vision of the whole (synoptikos)," in such, he who organizes that which is most relevant of the "stored information" (culture) and sketches out the new world views (provisional, but coherent). Moreover, the initial intuition of the analytic philosophers—who were the first to point out the importance of avoiding the traps set by language—should not be thrown out altogether.


(ht: 3QD)

Moyers & E.O. Wilson

There's a long list of people of whom I'm a fan. E.O. Wilson's on the list. During vacation I stumbled onto a Moyers interview and couldn't get to sleep until I'd seen it through.

"Every kid has a bug period...I never grew out of mine."

Edward Osborne Wilson grew up off the gulf coast of Alabama and Florida, becoming fascinated at a very early age by the diversity of the natural world surrounding him. After blinding himself in one eye while fishing at the age of 7, Wilson explains that he no longer was very good at bird-watching, so decided to "turn towards the little things in life," namely ants.

At 13, he discovered the first U.S. colony of fire ants near the docks of Mobile, Alabama, well on his way to becoming one of the country's foremost myrmecologists (ant biologists), discovering the ways intricate chemical signals affect colony behavior.

While a professor at Harvard, Wilson used his insect expertise as the basis for larger study into animal and human behavior, releasing in 1975, SOCIOBIOLOGY: THE NEW SYNTHESIS, advancing Darwin's study of evolution into the realm of behavior:

"In a Darwinian sense, the organism does not live for itself. Its primary function is not even to reproduce other organisms; it reproduces genes, and it serves as their temporary carrier."


(ht: 3QD)

Thursday, July 12, 2007

North Coast

Summer vacation: We drove from Seattle to San Francisco and then some--hit the ground running and just kept going. 1600 miles of coastal driving, some of it nearly as hair-raising as Amalfi.

Best things: Lunch in Kirkland, spotting a zillion Fried Egg Jellyfish while on the Seattle-to-Bremerton ferry. Climbing The Column in Astoria. Cannon Beach and Haystack Rock. Cruising over the Oregon Dunes . A four course breakfast at the Edwin K B&B in Florence, Oregon. The Sea Lion Caves. The beach at Bandon, Oregon. Willy Wonka could live in the Carson House in Eureka. (Cool town. I'll stay there if I ever do this again.) Redwoods surrounding Avenue of the Giants. One crazy and twisty road into Mendocino. Excellent food at The Mendocino Cafe. The fine folks at the Golden Gate Hotel. San Francisco (except for dinner at a place where the waiter seemed have a better idea of my wants than I do and enjoyed repeatedly second guessing me). Watching Daryl Hannah and John Schneider filming. Monterey Bay Aquarium. Cannery Row. Carmel. Addicting wanton chips. Excellent tiramisu. Big Sur. Hearst Castle. (Finally, I'd forgotten what a whacked labyrinth SFO is. Up, tram, down, tunnel, up--huh, where's ticketing?) Call it "traveling," we kept ourselves busy.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007



Bandon, Oregon



Monterey Bay Aquarium. Monterey, California.

Friday, July 06, 2007



Ferndale, California.


I'm currently adventuring on the Pacific Coast.

Heceta Head Lighthouse
Yachats, Oregon

My photo doesn't do the scene justice by any means. In real life, the view of this lighthouse is truly magical.