Hurricane Politics

Gustav is bearing down on the Gulf Coast. New Orleans sees a nightmare revisited. McCain sees an opportunity for redemption. Insiders have proposed - or claim that he has proposed - turning the RNC into a service event for the Gulf Coast if the hurricane is as bad as it is predicted to be. If they get Gustav right, perhaps they can ignore that they continue to get Katrina wrong.

Obama's campaign must put in motion events now that bring it and the DNC to the Gulf Coast. It does not have to be a massive effort, just one that shows that the dems want to be on the ground filling sandbags before the storm hits, not cleaning out the Superdome a second time when it passes. And if you really want to take the political teeth out of McCain's RNC efforts, show up in Minnesota with several thousand supporters and offer to lend a hand. There's real post-partisanship for ya.

More importantly, Obama's campaign cannot let McCain run against the Republicans too. Gustav will not change Katrina. The Palin pick doesn't change the fact that the fight she waged on corruption was a fight against Republicans. McCain is not agaisnt the Republican machine. He is of the Republican machine. His campaign feeds off its coffers, it raises money from the same base, it utilizes the same operatives. This is the same party that molded W, and it is the same party that will continue to govern many levels below a president McCain. That is the fight the dems are waging and it is time to make that clear. Obama isn't courting life-long Republicans to win this election; the swing voters he needs vote against government corruption. For them, this is a winning argument. Let's make it!



(I'll catch my breath while you watch this)


I want that job.

Political Tidbit

McCain: Look, if Obama isn't using her, why don't we just name
Tool1: Despite Bill's comments, she is still a democrat.
McCain: Do we have a Hillary?
Tool1: We'll look into it.

It turns out that Palin is Sarah Palin of AK, not Michael Palin if Monty Python. A man can dream. All kidding aside, the GOP picked a woman. That is a step forward.

Why they picked her:
She is a woman (like Hillary - take that for what its worth), she's young (she's the age of Cindy McCain's 'upgrades'), and she's unknown (no baggage - hopefully).

Her liabilities:
You can't rightly argue that Obama lacks experience when you put Palin on your ticket. On the GOP side, there is a real risk that McCain could be incapacitated, even for short bits, and she would run the country. She's run Alaska - a state built on Ted Stevens' appopriations - for next to no time.


I visited a company this week where most of the employees I met had been there at least a decade, if not two or three. Many came in out of college. They worked their way through the ranks, learning by apprenticeship. There were thousands of them on this corporate campus, yet it felt collegial and inviting. I think the trade-off is that most of us big city folk would walk in and complain that nothing looked sexy or exciting, and perhaps we'd be right. But when was the last time any of us stayed anywhere for a decade?

Oh, and St. Louis either has the worst air quality in America or the haze/malaise just sets in there at 4pm every day as part of standard operating procedure. If you need a visual, think about the heavily solarized cinematography from Traffic.

Stars Wars and Robot Chicken

...were separated at birth.



Travelog St Louis

I am writing from inside Busch stadium. Impressions:

-STL is like MIL (the two clubs are duking it out right now in front
of me). The two are big, flat,and spacious. It is hard to believe that
this is the 6th biggest american city.

- the Arch. It is a beautiful line that hangs impossibly above the
city. Whelming - at the very least 'whelming.

- I just saw the tshirt girls hop onto the dugout roof. On the
jumbotron, a graphic below the college coeds is for "casino queen:
home of the loosest slots."

They know. You know they know.

read the "small thoughts" blog


TIVO - Hack

My one lament about my Tivo so far is that there is no 30-second skip feature so you can confortably jump commercials. Turns out there is such a "feature", but it is only accessible by entering a code: http://bigmarv.net/how/tivo30secondskip.html

Also - Tivo is smart enough to back up 10 seconds when you stop FF at superfast speed, assuming that you'd only stop when you had already gone too far.


New Yorker Cartoon

Jason Kottke has a perfect New Yorker cartoon idea. It is just barely funny and definitely elitist:

My Olympics-themed New Yorker cartoon idea: Two men walk down the hallway
of an office. One of the men, just laid off, carries a box with his things in it
and says to the other man, "Don't worry, I'll work my way back through the

Original here.

[NOTE: Americans have re-upped the term "repechage" in Motocross, etc., and called it the LCQ, or Last-Chance-Qualifier]

Why you have not heard more about Saba:

I am sick. I was a little sick last week and then, instead of getting better, I have gotten a little worse. Couple my DayQuil induced haze and a busy week at work and you won't get any 500-word blog posts.

More soon...


New Terms

"Chimping" - Admiring the photo you took two seconds ago on the LCD of your digital camera. (Derogatory, duh!) [Wiki]

HT: www.kottke.org


Uncanny Valley

Image Metrics would like to tell you about their new realistic imaging technology, so they hired an actress. Then they scanned her, dismissed her, and created their own "interview" that looks frighteningly real.

In robotics, the creepiness of something that is almost but not quite human is known as the "uncanny valley." (Wiki Uncanny Valley). Robots are more and more convincing and attractive to people, until they get really good at it, at which point they suddenly offend the senses. This is the first time I've experienced a similar reaction from an animation, but I guess it makes sense.

HT: Gizmodo


I am now the proud owner of a Tivo HD. It was "easy" to set up, which is to say that the TiVo itself was a cinch. The only issues I had were with signal quality - the picture on the TiVo looked terrible compared to the TV itself. I tried changing the aspect ration, the video output settings, and so. I finally settled on signal strength.

To test whether the problem was TiVo's signal processing or something else, I replaced the cable into the back of the TiVo. Our cable is split 4 ways - TV, Internet, Wireless TV for the Kitchen, and TiVo (formerly the media PC). That requires 3 splitters, each chained to the next. To up the signal strength, I cut the chain early, and ran the cable directly into the TiVo. Problem solved. Indeed, I had to go back and set the video output settings higher to let the TV really shine.

From unboxing to completion - 1 hr. Without TV trouble, 20 minutes.

Oh, and TiVo actually saves us money in replacing a media PC. The old one ran hot and slow - it wasn't long before it went. A new media PC would cost $450+. It would be able to handle DVDs, music, photos, TV, pizza, and world peace. Experience has taught me that I don't have any need for such things. Cost of TiVo $170. The $10 a month service fee replaces NetFlix - another service we don't use enough. If we want a movie, we can rent one using Amazon's download service for the TiVo box. Oh, and I needed another backup drive, which comes from the media PC and saves me about $80.


One Keg Wonder

Schools across the country have joined the Amethyst Initiative - a super-secret underground syndicate whose sole purpose is to undermine underage criminals everywhere by making the vice that dare not speak its name legal once more. I speak, of course, of drinking at 18. This is a real group - I wish I were kidding about the name - isn't it terrible?

Anyway, I'd love to see some hard data before throwing my support behind it. Of course, that kind of data is nearly impossible to come by. Sure, there are other countries where kids drink at 18, but then there are countries where they drink at 16, and the driving ages are different, and as are the cultural attitudes about drinking. The variables are so hard to control that anything more than anecdotal evidence is unlikely.

As a matter of principle, I am for this. If nothing else, it'd be nice to have a single age of majority. It is absurd to give a person a gun and a vote, but claim that he or she isn't responsible enough to drink.

Second, it isn't technically true that there is a uniform drinking age. States provide exceptions.

Finally, this initiative is cute, but it might be harder to do than it seems. I understand that the original drinking age was 18 and was upped to 21 when the federal government conditioned federal highway funds on states changing their laws in the National Underage Drinking Act of 1984. Getting states to change their laws is one thing - you can start small - but you'll have to start at the federal level because no state is going to take a hit on the highway funds for this. Getting Congress to fight MADD and the negative press on this will be nearly impossible.

Political Tidbit (and sports)

Obama hasn't chosen a veep! Obama hasn't chosen a veep! You know, McCain hasn't chosen a veep either and his ticket could really use the short term news bump and long term voter appeal more than Obama. What was that? I couldn't hear you over "Obama hasn't chosen a veep!"

You know what gets you more media attention than picking a running mate? Dragging out the process.

Speaking of dragging out the process of figuring out the man in second position, the Bears have finally relegated Grossman to backup QB. I don't know much about Orton's game, but it couldn't be worse than Grossman's. Seriously Chi-town, how long does it take to realize that you only do so much with a defensive football team?

Update -

I haven't been feeling well. While for some that means more blogging, for me it usually means less. I guess some people are smart enough to blather on even in a diminished capacity. As I get better, you get more SABA!


Perhaps in 4 Years She'll be 16 Again!

China's He won the gold in last night's women's gymnastics uneven bars competition. She tied with Liukin of the U.S., but she won because her execution score was closer to a perfect 10.0, even though her routine was not as hard. First, this is a arbitrary rule. There is an equally good argument that the gymnast that executed the harder routine a little less perfectly should win.
Second, I don't fault He for lying about her age to compete, but she and - more importantly - the juggernaut of the Chinese government did just that. China's own news agency reported last year that she was 13. Anyone who saw her would tell you that's a far more believable age. I was a gymnast - I know how small they can appear from the extreme exertion from a young age. Even on a team of underdeveloped girls, she was tiny. This will taint her medal forever, and that is unfortunate. It also robs Ms. Liukin of her chance at another gold and that is unsportsmanlike.

[ Wondering why Gymnastics restricts competitors to a minimum age of 16? Like the NFL, the sport recognizes the damage it can do. The authorities don't want coaches tossing tweens at tough tricks for Olympic hardware because of the risk to underdeveloped joints. I guess it isn't working.]


100 Most Common English Words

You know them. Can you name them in 5 minutes? I got 43.

HT to Kottke.org

Saba: Day 2: Hiking

Saturday morning, RSC and I woke up to find a perfectly normal day on Saba - sea breeze shooting through the roofed dining area, clouds socking in the peak of Mt. Scenery.

Breakfast on Saba (at least at www.ElMomo.com) is part a product of the local vegetation and part rooted in the European colonization. First, a plate of fruit - guava, mango, banana, etc., all off the local trees. Next, your choice of locally cultured yogurt and granola, eggs, or ham and cheese. Guess which we got? Some people lament the lack of diversity. I could eat this breakfast for the rest of my life. Each day, the yogurt changes in consistency, taste, and mouth-feel. The granola is crunchy. And for a change, just add local honey and papaya or banana jam.

When we checked into the Dive shop late afternoon on Friday, they handed us a piece of paper about Mt. Scenery. It's tall, it's majestic, and if you climb it after diving it might kill you. Clearly, our plans were set for the pre-dive day. We poured a big bottle of water into our hydration pack, grabbed a few granola bars and set off.

[NOTE: For those interested in understanding the dive science that makes the ascent dangerous, this caveat is for you. Diving does two things to the body - the compressed air introduces large amounts of nitrogen that is absorbed in body tissues, and diving puts a strain on the body's systems. Divers move calmly through the water both to conserve air and to avoid disturbing all the little wildlife, but even a gentle kicking after three dives between 60 and 110 feet will leave most anyone exhausted. Climbing a mountain stresses the cardiac system and requires the body to extract nutrients from its tissues. The combination could cause nitrogen to come out of solution faster than it otherwise would. Further, moving too quickly from the much higher pressure of diving to the much lower pressure at 2400 feet would also permit nitrogen stored in tissue to expand before the body can expel it as you breath out. In both instances, the milder risk would "the bends," where the nitrogen bubbles expand in the joints. The major risk would be that the bubbles travel into the blood and eventually through the heart, causing arrest. There is lot more to this, but that's the gist.]

The base of the climb to the top of Mt. Scenery is a sign and some steps. A sign tells a little of the history and explains that these steps have 1064 cousins all the way to the top. The path is windy at the bottom without yet resorting to switchbacks. It meanders past the quaint "House on the Path" guesthouse, and the EcoLodge.

Several hundred feet up, the surroundings change to a rainforest. The plants by the side of the path sport leaves the size of my chest. Higher up, there are vines hanging from ancient Mahogany trees. These old giants look like a camouflaging crab, covered on every inch in moss and flotsam to avoid being seen.

By the 1800 foot mark, I had zipped off the bottoms of my pants and stuffed them in the backpack. I had put on a bandanna and soaked through it. The steps were a foot high, sloped down the mountain, and the tops were long enough to require two strides each, so you kept using one foot to advance and the other to climb - switching legs every so often. Maybe the climb could kill me even if I wasn't diving.

It was about this time we happened upon a family of chickens. A mother was leading three chicks from one thicket, across the path, to the other. In the bushes, the 'cheep!cheep!s' grew and multiplied. There had to be more little ones scampering under the dense canopy of torso-leaves, but we couldn't see anyone.

Next there was a snake. They aren't poisonous and there are a lot of them. I don't like snakes, but when you tell me I'll see one so matter of factly, it appears to go a long way towards calming me down.

A few hikers came down at us looking none too shabby. We passed a few on the way up.

Then we got to the 'scenic view' sign. It pointed left. It looked muddy. We'd been told that the "top" - where someone or a horde of semi-indentured someones who must have been bordering on crazy decided to build a radio tower out of concrete and steel - wasn't really the "top." You had to take a short path off the main path to get to the true summit. We weren't sure this was it, but a scenic view would have been nice.

By this point, rain forest had turned into cloud forest - a rain forest so regularly covered in moisture that everything was totally saturated. This included the ground. Someone before us had dropped fresh leaves to cover the Double Dare worthy slop on the ground. Twenty minutes into the muck, we'd fallen five times, slipped innumerable times, and gone from avoiding the mud to seeking out the really deep puddles where at least the muddy waters would flush out our Keen sandals. It was enough to douse me to the knees; enough that I had to hang off the end of the boat with my Keens the next day for 10 minutes, rubbing, scraping, and dunking, rubbing, scraping, and dunking. They told us we'd get a little muddy. They'd also told us the mountain was a little steep.

20 minutes after the detour we squished past the radio tower and hooked with the trail to the left for 100 feet to the end of the trail. The end was where the dirt dropped 30 feet into the forest canopy below. There was no panorama. The cloud, with visible wisps, blew by and offered a uniform gray backdrop. The cool breeze, water, and granola bars tasted fresh and uninhibited. Something about summits feels a little like heaven.

The way down took just as long as the way up. The steps now sloped away and our shoes bore the moisture of the cloud forest, so we took it slowly. We still fell a few times each. When we got back, we learned that the conventional wisdom is two falls per local per climb. As newbies, we had gotten close.

Three hours later, we were munching on fresh island banana cake after a scrubbing. One can't properly call it a shower when one is doubled over the whole time sanding one's legs and feet back down to the skin. Still, it felt good.

[Tomorrow, the diving!]

If You Ignore All of Recorded History, You Might Have a Point

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Zalmay Khalilzad* sent the following message to Russia in an emergency Security Council meeting on Sunday (Aug. 10):
Also, the days in our view, and this is what we want to make sure our Russian
colleagues understand, that the days of overthrowing leaders by military means
in Europe, those days are gone.

Really?! You'd have to ignore two big things to believe him: (1) Ossetia and Georgia are technically in Asia, no matter how pale Georgians might be, and (2) all of recorded history indicates otherwise.

The EU might arguably have changed the paradigm in Europe. While the EU has no military, its effect of intertwining economies likely prevents armed conflict by its members. Of course, the EU is only about a decade old; more importantly, Georgia isn't part of it, and the EU has neither the motive or the ability to reach out to save it. Remember NATO? That's a shell now.

Second, since when is strife in the region 'gone'? What about Bosnia? The Kurds in Turkey (which is actively applying for EU membership, thank you very much)? The Basque separatists? Chechnya? This isn't exactly the Pax Romana.

Third, the U.S. is in no position to stop the Russians. Thank you W.

Fourth, I am not sure what the U.S. stands to gain from stopping Russia. The former Bear has long shown hints of bringing the Iron Curtain out of storage, re-covering both free speech and areas of former Soviet Union. The U.S. has stayed mum on the topic for a while. The contested areas of Georgia don't seem to contain anything we want, so why make a stink?

* I guess we are making progress. When Bolton was U.S. representative in the U.N., Khalilzad was likely doing little more than going from one extra airport screening to the next.


Saba: Day 1: Arrival

I promised you a travelogue - so here we go.

Getting to Saba meant first flying to St. Maarten (the Dutch side of the little island has the airport) in a perfectly respectable 757 or something similar. The St. Maarten airport starts at the sliver of a beach and ends in shacks on an isthmus. There's just enough land for a full-size runway - big enough to accommodate the daily Airbus A350 and 747 flights from France - and an airport with 5 jetways. It's small, but it didn't take long before it felt spacious in retrospect.

The next step was to fly or ferry to the Island. The prices are nearly identical and the flight is only 12 minutes. So why wouldn't more people fly? First, there's the small aircraft - a short take-off and landing prop plane with about 20 seats known as the DeHavilland Otter II. It is as old as it sounds. There is 1 digital dial in the whole cockpit.

And as cramped as it sounds. We took the front two seats and had a view almost as good as pilots'; no surprise there, given that a quick step on the breaks would land me in their laps.

These airframes aren't pressurized and Islands are hot, so the pilots have $5 plastic fans above each seat. The rest of us squirmed and sweated a little in the padded folding seats until we got off the ground, when vents directed a tad of the outside air in.

It didn't take long for Saba to appear in the windscreen. They just pointed the plane at the rock, ascended to around 1500 feet and ride on in. Even from this far out, you can already see that Saba is long-dormant volcano. The nutrient-rich lava flows are now covered in rainforest green. Even thousands of years later, the sloping mountainside don't meet the water as much as dive beneath it.

We got closer and made a tight left turn. The view started me sweating again.

Saba's is the shortest commercial runway in the world. There has never been accident there in 50 years it has had an airport for the same reason you don't hear about many people falling off of 2,000 foot shear cliffs that have no guardrails.

That's 1300 feet of runway - less than a quarter of the usual length, and even this short landing vehicle has to creep up, hit it's stall point just where the asphalt starts, and slam the propellers into full reverse. The ballet was well choreographed out front, I assume; the pilots' arms were a flurry of activity close in, and my eyes were fixed past the nose to the fast-approaching edge of the runway. We stopped right where were were supposed to - 15-20 feet from the edge.

The airport is a room and 2 patios. One patio is the departure "lounge." The other is a bar. We had to wait until the flight left before we could collect our bags, so we skipped outside to see a takeoff. You'll have to wait to hear that description in a few days.

From there, it was into a cab. A cabbie we'd come to learn was named Garvis guided his Nissan minibus up 20 or so concrete switchbacks. Past "Hell's Gate" - maybe 100 people - and through Windwardside - perhaps 300 more. In 5 minutes we were at 1000 feet. In another 10, we were at El Momo cottages (http://www.elmomo.com/) on the diametric opposite of the island.

Iguana cottage at El Momo is 1 room. No air, no fan. There is a separate hut for the shower. Water comes from a rain-fed cistern, so you're advised not to drink it and to conserve it as much as possible. There is a boat-style head instead of a toilet. Ah, but if only I could transport you there, you'd think it was heaven. The Island is usually cool and has a cool breeze floating through owing to its isolation and structure, so air conditioning is just needless. Here's the view from the windows in our shower:

And up to Mt. Scenery: (you can see the shower window on the far right).

We took Saturday off and climbed it - 1064 steps from forest, to rain forest, to cloud forest. More on that, El Momo, and diving tomorrow!

Is the Segway market really big enough to need competition?

Let alone from the venerable Toyota Motor Company? Regardless, here's TMC's new "Winglet" - available (as you'll see in the video) in a Segway-esque handlebar version, as well as sportier versions requiring just leg controls. Lower the price and I'll consider it.


How Batmobiles Work

Awesome account of how the new 'mobile (mobiles actually) were built, driven, and filmed, courtesy of HowStuffWorks.com: http://entertainment.howstuffworks.com/batmobile.htm/printable

A long day's journey into night (completed).

When last we left our hero, he was sitting on the runway at BWI, readying to leave for PHL for a DCA connection. Well, that DCA connection never happened because the four hour flight to PHL had now taken 7.5 hours, ending at 10:30 - and DCA won't let flights land that late. Flights to alternate DC airport yesterday night, full. Flights today: available if you can wait until 8:30 p.m.

I can only begin to praise D & A, great friends who were willing to open their home to us on short notice (and what a gorgeous new pad it is!) near midnight. We caught up, caught "Z"s, and caught the Chinatown bus this morning.

And even with all of that, I can only say, "What an absolutely unbelievable trip." I'll be filling in the jaw-dropping details in an after-the-fact travelogue all this week. Hope you enjoy!


A long day's jouirney into night.

A long flight home from a great and restful vacation can wipe out a
lot of the recuperation as you step back into real life. That's what
I'm thinking writing from inside a long metal tube whose wings are
getting pumped full of fuel on the tarmac at BWI.

BWI seems like the furthest place from the El Momo cottages in the
Netherlands Antilles. Sonorous tree frogs have been replaced by a baby
pulled way past her bed time. A big blue panorama has been replaced by
... Oop fueled and ready to head back to philly yo head right back to
dc...more soon!

read the "small thoughts" blog