Friday, September 29, 2006

Software designers should rule

The world is now so complex that it doesn’t seem safe to let lawyers and politicians run everything. Take voting. People are rushing to install voting machines. The trouble is that they don’t have an audit trail. How could you construct an election so that everyone could see that their vote was counted, and could ensure that many types of election fraud could be detected? And could you do that without using encryption? Ronald L. Rivest, a (famous) professor at MIT has a system that does this, and it is pretty clever. Maybe software designers should run things for a while.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Mastodon @ Slims 25 September 2006

a dwarf

I was glad I went to this show, but I'm glad it was at a small venue like Slims (official capacity 470). It was packed for an appearance by up and coming metal band Mastodon. Every time I have been to Slims the floor is sticky and they still don’t seem to have cleaned it. Mastodon is a four piece with twin guitarists. They played very enthusiastically. Their singer looks like he should play a dwarf when Peter Jackson eventually films The Hobbit. I kept being distracted by the merchandise stall: if I was going to wear a band tee-shirt I would choose one like this.

I was near the front and I ended up being on the edge of the mosh pit. It was full of BIG guys who hastened to pick up anyone who fell over. I’ve tried hard to like this band but when I think of modern metal bands I keep comparing them with Opeth who have such a beautiful guitar sound. Mastodon keep things simple: no acoustic guitars here (good), but somehow I wish they had more dynamics. This piece about how modern recording are too compressed mentions Mastodon as offenders. But even live they don't vary things all that much.

Use the Windows Vista tone

Microsoft has a list of Top Rules for the Windows Vista User Experience. The best one is this:

Use the Windows Vista "tone" to inspire confidence by communicating to users on a personal level by being accurate, encouraging, insightful, objective, and user focused. Don't use a distracting, condescending (for example, "Just do this..."), or arrogant tone.
I'm not sure I'm ready for my computer to communicate with me on a personal level.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Talent Spotting

Lily Allen smoking a fag

I wanted to be an astronaut when I grew up. Grace wants to be a teacher. Teaching is an honourable profession. It's low paid so it won't be outsourced to India too soon.

What's it like to be a teacher and have a talented pupil? What would it be like to have Lily Allen in your class? Or to be Dizzee Rascal's music teacher?

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Banlieue 13 (District B13)

I liked this lightweight, fun, action movie. There is this guy, David Belle who invented this French 'sport' of jumping around buildings with your shirt off.. In the film he is one of the good guys. There is lots of fighting and jumping around buildings while shirtless. Not since the A-Team have so many machine guns been fired at our heroes with so little effect. It lasts only 85 minutes (this is a good thing). It reminded me a bit of Ong-Bak, (which I also liked), another movie based around the talents of a particular guy. It is possible that action films are better in foreign languages

Quality Value Service

sherman bag

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Starting over with Cat Power

photo by

I was moved by this interview with Cat Power in the NYT. She seems very honest about her problems. I walked out of one of her concerts a few years ago, it wasn't a train wreck, it was just boring. I've had no time for her since then, but maybe now we can try again.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The sad tale of the Bhundu boys

The Grauniad has this sad tale of the Bhundu boys. I was at the Madonna stadium gig where they supported her and it was pretty weird. I think I'd seen them already that year, and they weren't a stadium band. Sadly they reflect Zimbabwe's demographics (it has a very high HIV infection rate), and three band members have died from Aids-related diseases. It's all doubly sad because at their height they made such a joyous sound.

Monday, September 18, 2006

How dangerous is terrorism?

Wired analyses the statistics of death rates.

Driving off the road: 254,419
Falling: 146,542
Accidental poisoning: 140,327
Dying from work: 59,730
Walking down the street: 52,000.
Accidentally drowning: 38,302
Killed by the flu: 19,415
Dying from a hernia: 16,742
Accidental firing of a gun: 8,536
Electrocution: 5,171
Being shot by law enforcement: 3,949
Terrorism: 3147
Carbon monoxide in products: 1,554

Friday, September 15, 2006

Please make a backup

It's 2006, can all writers please use a computer?

JK Rowling, returning from a charity book reading in New York just days after the security clampdown, was confronted with a demand that she consign the unfinished manuscript to the hold.

She disclosed that the manuscript was largely handwritten and with no back-up copy.

And don't forget to make a backup.

Another conspiracy

Next year Daylight Savings Time in the US will end on the first Sunday in November. But... but.. that is after Halloween. It will not be as dark. This is terrible.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

iTunes 7

iTunes 7 lets you view the CD covers corresponding to your music. It doesn't always find an image (hopefully they can improve this) but it is fun to flick through your virtual albums. It tries to find an image for every song, no matter where you got it.

I see more conspiracies!

Why hasn't Martin Amis's essay on Islamicism been published in a US newspaper? Is it because it criticises religion?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Photography under sodium lights

At the waste water plant I took photos inside the plant. I was running out of battery so I minimized my use of flash. The photos came out very yellow:

muck spreading (sodium)

Fortunately Amy's major in college was photography. She told me that Sodium lights have a very narrow spectrum and that I should try flattening the images to grayscale. So now instead of a bad interior shot I have a cool black and white picture.

muck spreading (b/w)

Monday, September 11, 2006

Hotel Bed Jumping

Hotel Bed Jumping

A blog entirely devoted to photos of people jumping on hotel beds.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Oceanside Water Pollution Control Plant

We went on a family outing to the Oceanside Water Pollution Control Plant in San Francisco. This was great, I felt like I was on vacation. After the water is treated it goes into the Pacific. The egg shaped things in the picture are digesters, where anaerobic bacteria are eating solids from the water. Enough methane is produced by this to power 20% of the plant.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Japanese New Music Festival tour

found on flickr

Last night I went to the Bottom of the Hill to see this show. The venue place is a wonderful 300 capacity dive in a San Francisco neighborhood where it is easy to park. There were three musicians:

  • Kawabata Makoto: guitarist and main man of Japanese psychedelic band Acid Mothers Temple
  • Yoshida Tatsuya: drummer and main man of progressive rock duo Ruins
  • Tsuyama Atsushi. player of “monster bass” in the Acid Mothers Temple

These all played in different combinations. Each section was announced carefully in cod Japanese accents: “Wercome to Jarpanese Muzik Frestival”. I laughed a lot during the shows. This is one of the best gigs I have been to in a long time. There were seven combinations:

SEIKAZOKU (Kawabata/Tsuyama/Yoshida). Kawabata played violin and guitar simulteously while Tsuyama played his pink toy guitar.

ZOFFY (Tsuyama/Kawabata) played a drone song (showing off Tsuyama’s throat singing) but mostly played covers of various classics: Smoke on the Water in the style of Captain Beefheart and Bob Dylan. They did three Miles Davis electric numbers where Kawabata played funky guitar for a minute, then Tsuyama (as Miles) plays a single note, and that’s the end. This was the only section I thought went on too long.

RUINS ALONE (Yoshida) was a fantastic experience. Yoshida is such a great drummer, he has the skill of a jazz drummer with the power of a metal drummer. Basically Ruins sounds like all the twiddly bits off every prog rock record ever made, accompanied by live drumming from Yoshida.

ACID MOTHERS TEMPLE SWR (Tsuyama/Yoshida/Kawabata). There were no roadies or guitar techs and so equipment problems forced Kawabata to play Tsuyama’s “toy” electric guitar for some of the time. On record I find AMT a bit samey but live they make complete sense.

AKATEN (Tsuyama/Yoshida). These two improvised by manipulating everyday items using some sort of amplification that I couldn’t see. They did a duet with scissors and a piece involving brushing teeth and grating a radish. This sounds silly, and it was, but it was musical too.

ZUBI ZUVA X (Yoshida/Tsuyama/Kawabata) All three playing a cappella, there was a lot of difficulty trying to keep a straight face here.

SHRINP WARK (Kawabata/Yoshida) This actually sounded like Ruins, except with Kawabata provoding the twiddly bits.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Please Don’t Make Me Read Your Blog

My wife's teacher's journal contains this poem. My favourite bit:

To see you smile I’d drink
30-day old egg nog.
But, please,
Don’t make me read your blog.


visions of the future

Promises for the future were made; some sadly broken and some unfortunately honored. While we didn't get household jetpacks and personal serving-drinks-by-the-pool robots, or even our orgasmatrons, we did get things like the super-fantastic building materials of the future-asbestos, lead, and foam.

My first ever political donation

I donated to the campaign of Hydra Mendoza for Board of Education. I met Hydra when she was a parent at Miraloma co-op preschool. After Miraloma she went to Fairmont Elementary School where she had a huge impact. This woman is dynamite. Now she is running for the school board. In recent years the school board has been seen by some political animals (hello Green Party!) as a stepping stone to higher office and a chance to grandstand on issues that don't help kids. Vote for Hydra!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Cows vs. Humans

Music magazines are always producing ranks of the best songs and albums, ever. Other magazines like to create tables of how different countries are doing. This Foreign Policy article ranks countries according to their commitment to development. The usual stuff. But this scary table compares how much rich countries subsidize farm animals compared to how much they spend on aid.

Subsidies per Head per Year (in U.S. $)
Country Cattle Chickens Pigs Sheep Aid per poor person in developing world
EU 15 $179.28 $9.24 $28.93 $16.11
Australia $17.12 39¢ $6.49 94¢ 54¢
Canada $68.59 15¢ $18.99 95¢
Japan $163.23 21¢ $3.92 $2.38
New Zealand $2.66 13¢ $2.14 19¢
Norway $965.72 $1.48 $39.98 $94.06 83¢
Switzerland $987.58 $7.63 $139.62 $16.11 61¢
United States $29.06 58¢ $9.03 $4.12 $7.67
All $92.59 38¢ $10.58 $12.85 $29.17

Friday, September 01, 2006


Sometimes a band looks so cool you know they must be good. This is OOIOO

A very rare record

P. Simon Headgear and the Family Slaad