U2's 4 Legged Monster

U2 is on their 360 degree tour right now, playing under a mega-chuppah in the center of packed stadia. Being that this is the middle of football season, the stage has to be in, up, played under for several shows, down, and out in about a week. Not bad for something 150 wide, long, and (nearly as) tall. That, however, doesn't begin to explain how cool this giant 4-clawed structure looks from every angle. Arced legs, a column of lights, waves of speakers, and a 360 degree jumbotron above the stage that breaks into shards and expands down to nearly touch the band.

Want to see how it was built? Check out the designer's site here.


Palin Comparison To Someone of Substance

Sarah Palin spoke to a group of investors - hedge funders and the like - in Asia yesterday. The meeting was closed to the media and the fee was rumored to be in the low six figures. She claimed to tell them what "Main Street USA" believes about the big issues of the day. Given everything we've seen from this woman for the past 2 years, what prompted these investors to think (a) that she had any expertise, (b) that her expertise could be related in a cogent manner, or (c) that the result would be worth six figures, no matter how "low"?

Cynical response 1: This is part of Palin's gearing-up for the next election. There, too, she will seek national attention not necessarily for the presidency, but for the name recognition it will bring. She will claim to be a woman of the people. Of course, the endeavor will be largely financed by 6 figure speaker fees and their attendees.

Cynical response 2: Low six figures isn't much for hedge fund managers, and getting a speaker with this much tabloid appeal is hard without drawing embarrassing amounts of attention. The Donald is, well, too smart. Paris Hilton, too flashy. So we're left with a D lister who's been quiet but can still pack a house.


Net Neutrality

Let's start a post on net neutrality a little differently: What kind of shameless econo-political whore do you have to claim with a straight face that net neutrality is a government attempt to limit internet freedom through regulation? I guess you could be a Republican, a conservative pundit, or Fox News, all of whom railed against government intrusion into the internet.

Either these people don't know a thing about net neutrality, or they don't know a thing about free markets. I am guessing it is a little both. Net neutrality is regulation of big business to ensure the free flow of information -- at its core it prohibits a telecommunications company from preferring one type of content over another. The network must be neutral to the bits flowing across its lines. Comcast could make a lot of money making sure that YouTube videos got preferred bandwidth while startup video providers were stuck in with rest of the data.

Lest you think that big companies dealing for bandwidth is a pie-in-the-sky proposition, none other than Google has tried to pen such deals - using ISP servers to cache its searches and proposing the construction of Google server farms next to ISPs with dedicated lines. There is a business logic to this: there are a lot of Google users and this would help them access Google faster. Thing is, it also gives a big player in the market an unfair advantage in the medium of communication.

This is not unlike the vertical monopoly Rockefeller created with Standard Oil. By owning every stage of production, from the oil derrick to the railroad, JDR both lowered his own cost and, more importantly, prevented others from using the same means to produce competing goods. That type of monopoly has since been heavily regulated.

The truth in a free market is that not everything is free. Rather, a free market functions most effectively when information flows freely. Any attempt to limit or alter the flow of information -- insider trading, collusion, etc. -- creates an inefficient market and represents an attempt to stifle competition. That reality gets interesting when one talks about telecoms. The lines are all run and maintained by private entities - in particular those providing the fiber that carries data signals. While we want enough competition to spur innovation in that area, we don't want these companies crossing the outer lining of their own wires and meddling with the substance of the data itself. The only thing that can come of that is to prefer one type of content over another.

Rather, these companies should put effort into making the whole system run faster for everyone. But won't that just reduce the cost of the service? Yes, and we'll use more. But what motivation will telecoms have to lay more cable if service is cheaper? Well, the federal government pitches in for that. Wait, there's federal money underlying all of this? Yes - now don't you feel a little better about ensuring that we all get equal access to the cable we helped fund?



Kanye may have been maligned, but mah boy has his own meme. Eat that Taylor Swift.


Things You Already Knew Because You're Smarter Than Me

Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo

Turns out that the sentence is grammatically correct. It means "THE buffalo FROM Buffalo WHO ARE buffaloed BY buffalo FROM Buffalo ALSO buffalo THE buffalo FROM Buffalo."

It is classic, but worth repeating.

NYC Considering A Smoking Ban in Public Parks

NYC is a small city, which means that Central Park is crowded - very crowded. Sheep's meadow at the base of the green rectangle looks more like Waikiki beach on summer weekends than it does its pastoral namesake.

In that context, I understand the proposed ban on smoking. Having someone light up 3 feet away there is not much different from having someone light up at the next table in a restaurant. It'd ruin the whole experience for me.

That said, Sheep's meadow is one place at one time. There are a few more select spots with this type of outdoor population density: Screen on the Green...the north (and now south) sections of the Great Lawn on Shabbat afternoon. In any other context, a smoking ban seems, well, needlessly paternalistic. Times Square is more crowded on a regular basis. Shouldn't we ban smoking there first? Same goes for most NY city streets at commuting hours and at lunch. Same deal? If the reasoning can't be applied consistently in city ordinances, I say drop it. Heck,the expense of putting up no smoking signs in all the parks is enough to sully the notion in my mind.

And Now for Something Completely Different

Thanks to D. Holmes for this jem. The translation:

I’m driving Skoda 100 to camp here on Orava.
That’s why I’m hurrying, taking a risk - going through Morava.
The monster lives there comes out of the bog.
Who eats mainly Prague citizens, his name is Jožin.

Jožin from the bog creeps through swamp,
Jožin from the bog closes in on the village.
Jožin from the bog edges it’s teeth,
Jožin from the bog bites, strangles.

To defend against Jožin from the bog, who could imagine-
Only works an aircraft to crop-dusting.
I crossed through the village of Vizovice
The village mayor greeted me, and said to me over some slivovitz
The one who brings Jožin in dead or alive
I’m going to give him my daughter as a wife as well as half of a collective farm


I said: give me a aircraft and powder, mayor,
I’ll bring you Jožin, I see no trouble about that
The mayor helped me, in the morning I went up in the sky
The powder from the aircraft prettily fell on Jožin.

Jožin from the bog is already all white
Jožin from the bog is escaping from swamp
Jožin from the bog hit the stone
Jožin from the bog it is the end of him
I caught him, I’m keeping him
Money is money, I’ll sell him to Zoo

Somehow, the translation manages to enrich the whole experience and yet add nothing at all.

Ex Libris

Stifle your murmurs of, "You keep using that [phrase]. I do not think it means what you think it means." Philadelphia's Public Libraries - every one - will be closing Oct. 2 due to budget shortfalls. I haven't been to a public library in nearly a year. I'd venture to guess that most of my yuppie friends (those without kiddies) have gone much longer without setting foot in one. That said, I fully recognize their important place in making knowledge open and free to everyone.

This kind of post usually devolves into a heady diatribe about the need for an informed electorate, and that's true. But besides that, a library is a cultural node. It is a community center - often the site of many organizations and activities. It promotes the arts to those often unlikely to encounter them. Today, it provides those who cannot afford it at home access to the internet. Turning that off is literally shutting them off from the mainstay of the new economy in which we expect them to compete.

It is, in short, a very, very bad idea.


It's Not What Wilson Said, It's How He Said It

Rep. Joe Wilson shouted "You Lie," at the President during his health care address to a joint session of Congress last week. Perhaps you heard of it.

He called to apologize to the President that night and got Rahm Emanuel instead. Oh, what I would have given to be a fly on the wall for that call.

In true House fashion though, that's not enough. The House has threatened to sanction Wilson for a breach of decorum. Actually, a fair point. Thing is, if there isn't bipartisan support for the move, I think it would serve little value. Based on what happened in the chamber at the time of the outburst, there should be support across the board. On C-Span, the faces of Republicans showed the same shock and dismay as those of Democrats.

Yet, now, a week later, the conversation is shifting. Republican King has circulated a letter to other representatives noting, among other things, that Obama called "prominent politicians" liars in his speech with regard to the charge of death panels. With all due respect to Rep. King - and I owe him some respect for this deft machination - that's not what the Wilson sanction is about. Calling the President a liar in front of Congress is bad, but the breach of decorum comes in the exclamation itself, not the content. That is, the House would sanction him for yelling at the dais. It is that action which is unacceptable. You want to call the President a liar on your own time? Call a press conference.

Can we coin a phrase? An unwelcome outburst shall henceforth be known as "Shouting liar in a crowded chamber."


Global Warming of One Kind or Another

The arctic ice near Alaska has receded so far that shippers are now starting to send cargo through the Northeast passage, something previously impossible even in the height of summer. The shippers, a German company called "Beluga", had to traverse not just detached flows (e.g. icebergs), but also the Russian permitting authority, which has never before had to issue permits for such a crossing. The Russians, seeing the opportunity to supplant the Suez canal for certain routes are making noises about reducing cost and permit paperwork. Sure, the route is eco-friendly in that it cuts 3,000 miles out of the trip from Rotterdam to Yokahama, but that seems to miss the real ecological point, doesn't it?

And on to a more direct form of global warming. One patch of sand in Utah got particularly warm at the hands of NASA's new Ares 5 first stage booster. It doesn't look like much, until you realize that the rocket is the size of a warehouse - larger than the current shuttle boosters - and packs 22 million horsepower. Hi ho NASA away!


@TWITTERHEADS Could Twitter Die?

I have made clear that I don't tweet. Given that I full-blown blog, I don't see the need to micro-blog. In Twitter, that last sentence would have been the last sentence. Makes it hard to make a point.

Twitter has two problems, perhaps three that make me think it might be the technological equivalent of pogs. First, the service has no natural revenue model. Where can you put in an ad in 140 characters? I suppose you can add them to feed pages, but tweets are already freely syndicated. Reining that back in would be really hard. It is reported that Twitter has a revenue model in place. Interestingly, the company is tossing around whether to get bought first based on others' pie in the sky assumptions about the service or turn on the revenue stream and risk having to be judged on actual performance. The waves that revenue will likely send through the Twitter stream are inevitably going to (a) turn off some and (b) cause enough turmoil to make potential suitors wring their hands.

Second, Twitter is the "League of Extraordinary Gentleman" of technologies. The superhero flick starred Sean Connery who, when asked why signed on to the colossal bomb, said that superhero films were really in and he wanted to get in on it. The movie picked superheros nobody cared about, was made by people who didn't understand the comic/superhero culture that attracted young audiences, and thus failed with the only demographic that mattered.

Blogging and social networking technologies have generally been bottom-up endeavors. MySpace and FaceBook had a young, committed base of early adopters and then grew into corporate behemoths. Blogs ran the same route in the publishing space. Twitter bypassed that as media outlets like CNN and ESPN, desperate not to miss the next big thing, dove headlong into Twitter. The result is that Twitter's user base is predominantly 34+. More importantly, I think it is made up of people who feel they need to Tweet to keep up, not because they like it. Consequently, if popular opinion turns against tweets, I would expect usage to crash.

Third, Twitter is a technology that doesn't work as intended. The platform was created to broadcast tweets from one phone to many. Now the whole thing is online, where the space and text-only constraints of SMS make little sense. Even those using twitter on mobile devices are using it in apps or browsers, not in SMS. Why are we shoe-horning the SMS experience on the web, or vice versa.

I have been looking around for that thing in the first decade of 2000 that we'll look back on in 10 years and think, "What were we thinking?" More and more I think Twitter is that thing.


Placebos Gaining Market Share

Wired has a great feature on the placebo effect. Pharma is paying more attention as more and more drugs are losing to the placebo. And it isn't because the drugs are less effective. They have the expected positive effect. Thing is, the placebo has recently started to have an increased positive effect to rival that of the drugs.

If that's the case, could doctors just make the judgment call to prescribe a placebo in some cases and see what happens? You have a tough-to-place pain in your arm. Doc tries a few things and then decides to prescribe Panaceanol(tm), a new Merck placebo that is just sugar. A week later, you feel fine. You've triggered your own body's ability to deal with the injury/illness, introduced fewer chemicals, and done so more cheaply. The cost was, in part, having to fool you into doing it. Is it worth it?

Most importantly, is there any way to permit Drs. to do while mitigating any chance for abuse?

POTUS Addresses Our Kids

I don't know why there isn't more disbelief and outrage from every thinking American at the reaction of conservatives urged on by a Florida crackpot. Seriously, keeping your kids at home so they won't hear the president speak? What if it was president H. Clinton? or president Biden? Or basically anyone else who was possibly considered for the job this past go-around? Liberals didn't keep their kids at home when Bush spoke even though they had ample evidence that his ideals were truly repugnant to them, ranging from torture to the dismantling of health care to the unbridling of big business.

He was the president, first and foremost. Kids should be able to look up to the office - they are likely too young to truly grasp the politics of the man. Second, how controversial could a speech urging kids to work hard possibly be? Reason won out and liberal kids stayed in school. There was no story because there was no question in our minds.

Look, I won't call the conservatives over-reacting to this a bunch of cowardly racists. I'll leave that to Michael Daly of the Daily News. I'll just say this - this is jingoistic politics at its best. It panders to fear and to prejudice and any conservative who respects his or her ideals and the party that supports those ideals should stand up and state clearly, "I am an American, and I show due respect to our democratic process and to the office of the president. Anyone who does not should be ashamed."


Giant Jumping Shark! Do I have your attention yet?

This is the photo the NY Daily News ran to accompany a story about Chatham (Cape Cod) beach closing due to recent sitings of 3-4 Great Whites. The article describes the sharks "Great White Sharks, like this one off the coast of South Africa, have been spotted off the coast of Cape Cod." Not really.

Sure, it is unusual to find Great Whites in the Atlantic, but the researchers certainly didn't find them leaping 10 feet out of the ocean. That behavior is reserved for particular feeding frenzies and has only been observed a limited number of times by people. Also, that shark looks quite a bit bigger than the 8-10 feet noted in the article (I am going by wave/ripple size), so the shark is both bigger and badder than anything close to what we're seeing off the coast of MA. Oh, and did I mention that Great Whites aren't among those sharks generally considered dangerous to humans? If these were hammerheads, black tipped reef sharks (I have scuba'd with these - they are more scared of us, yadda yadda yadda), etc., get out of the water.

Did anyone in the editorial department stop to think that this photo might be inappropriate fear-mongering, or is that a legitimate editorial aim at the NY Daily News?


iPod Touch and Skype = Awesome

I recently acquired a Skype Account + unlimited US calls for $2.95 a minute for work. I also have Apple's iPHONE headphones for my iPOD. The microphone laden headgear was acquired when my prior pair had an unfortunate incident with a treadmill. The microphone is the only phone hardware the iPod lacks, and Apple was nice enough to permit a line-in mic. The result = Skype on my iPod.

Just tried it and the sound is magnifique. Color me converted.


People of Walmart - legal.

www.PeopleOfWalmart.com is the latest addition to the embarrassing reflections of modern life segment of the blogosphere already populated by www.cakewrecks.com, www.thisiswhyyourefat.com, and, most famously, www.failblog.org. Indeed, it appears that the authors have decided that instead of focusing on the product of our ineptitude, they'd point the camera at the inept themselves.

Why is this here? Because the upsurge in interest has caused people to ask whether the site is legal. Specifically, they ask if including these people's photos is defamatory. First, truth is a complete defense to a claim of defamation. Done. That said, the question was not asked by a lawyer, so lets look at "defamation" claims in the vernacular sense, including portrayal in a false light, public disclosure of private facts, and privacy. These photos are not flattering, but they don't seem to take anything out of context. Scratch false light. To be liable for outing private facts those facts need to be private. I imagine the decision to wear some of these outfits in public does away with the expectation of privacy. Finally, there is the right to privacy. Generally, it was created for public figures, not regular people. It is meant to defend against reporting of fact that is nonetheless private. It doesn't really apply to the average person. Moreover, it generally doesn't apply to photos taken in public - you were out in public. You can't expect that to remain private.

Let's get one thing straight - the law protects you from embarrassment from that which is untrue or which you make an attempt to conceal. If you're embarrassed by seeing what you do in public reflected on the screen and it makes you unhappy, isn't that why we humans developed the emotion in the first place? The law has done nothing to change that.

Travel Much?

Duracell Instant Power - $20 to provide backup to any USB device you own. It is certainly the right price for backup power. HT: Gizmodo.

National Singles Cougar Convention

I find the concept of Cougars interesting from a 'moral equivalence' standpoint. Let me provide you two inverse scenarios. An older woman with a younger man is a cougar, prized for her voracious, youthful spirit. An older man with a younger woman is dirty gent plying a young thing with his money. The young thing isn't helpless. Worse, she's a gold-digger - the non-fat term for whore.

Then there's the student/teacher relationship. A male student gets props for nailing Ms. Johnson the science teacher. A young woman nailing Mr. Johnson the math teacher? She was raped.

We have really inconsistent stances on these relationships. I don't claim to know if of how to solve this, but I will admit that it makes them eerily fascinating.


Dive Pirates

Cayman Brac is second in size to Grand Cayman in the trio of Caribbean islands. RSC and I dove with Reef Divers on Little Cayman a few years ago. This video is of their sister resort on Cayman Brac. First off, yes, it is always this nice.

Second, Dive Pirates provides scuba experiences to the disabled. I didn't believe it could be done until I saw this video. How awesome.


eBay Sells Skype Stake For Wash

Ebay bought 100% of Skype a ways back for $3.1B. Today, it sold 65% of the company to a group of investors for $1.9B. For those keeping score at home, that means ~0% gain on sale. Query: Given the current state of affairs, is that a huge coup for the faltering auction giant or a loss in disguise?

On the one hand, the service has grown to produce revenues of $550M/year. That means the purchase price represents a 6x valuation multiple (i.e. the whole company is worth 6 times yearly revenues) - not particularly high. Most analysts expect Skype's revenue to rise.

On the other hand, this is a very down economy. Despite Skype's allure, cash is hard to come by and risk is unsavory, making buyers wary and, therefore, cheap. More importantly, the company is being sued by a UK company for violation of a technology license. The technology, called Global Index, is essential to Skype's architecture and function. If they lose the license, they shut down. eBay has said as much in its filings. The two sides are scrambling to settle, and you can bet it won't be for a paltry sum. With these risks and the economy, is it impressive that eBay got even that much for the Company?

On the other, other hand, eBay will retain a 1/3 share of Skype - also a mixed signal. Is it that eBay still believes in Skype and wants the upside or is it a requirement of the new investors so that eBay retains some skin in the game in case it all goes south?

Hard to tell.