Microsoft Takes a Cue from Spielberg
Monday, July 31, 2006
Friday, July 28, 2006
Good News - Things are Getting Worse!
When Wall Street analysts start focusing on inflation, you wind up with headlines like this:
STOCK PRICES RALLY ON SLOWDOWN IN GDP
The article explains itself nicely: Basically, when the economy grows at a slower rate, there's less inflation, which means the Federal Reserve doesn't have to raise interest rates. This keeps corporations' costs for borrowing money from going up, which suggests higher profits in the future, so the stock market goes up.
Still reads funny, though...
Thursday, July 27, 2006
The New York Times Gives Condi a Headache
Condi Rice met yesterday with Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora to try and mediate the armed conflict raging between Israel and Hezbollah (and, by extension, Lebanon).
Last night, Jon Stewart of the always-funny Daily Show ran this rather unflattering picture of Condi, and compared her facial expression on what he called the "Condi-meter" to determine how badly things were going with her negotiations. It was very funny and, in my opinion, entirely appropriate. He used an awkward picture of a public official to make light of a very serious situation, and a good time was had by all.
Then, this morning, I see this picture on the front page of the New York Times, alongside the headline CEASE-FIRE TALKS STALL AS FIGHTING RAGES ON 2 FRONTS. This time, it's not as funny, and certainly not as appropriate, unless Condi was making that gesture in response to a question like "How are things going?" which strikes me as highly unlikely.
A much more likely scenario is that this was just one of those unfortunate moments we all have that happened to get caught on film. When Jon Stewart takes advantage of it for comedic purposes, it's well played. When the New York Times takes advantage of it for dramatic effect, it's at best misleading.
To drive home the point, here's another picture from the same press conference that I found on the web from another news outlet covering the same story. Judging solely from the picture, things look to be in much better shape here, don't they?
Pizza Team Utah Gets Serious...
Some more updates from the bizarro world where "Who's Pizza is better - NYC or SLC?" is the top story:
-- Several folks, including some of my friends & co-workers in New York and some folks in Utah are concerned that in order for the test to be fair, the New York pizza must also be made 24 hours in advance and kept unrefrigerated, etc. just like the Utah one. I'm beginning to understand why Congress has so much trouble passing laws...
-- Dave, proprietor of Este pizza, has tested a frozen pie and says this:
It was very good but lacked some the punch of a true, fresh pie. We've ruled out the frozen option and believe it puts each contender into a position where they feel they have an inferior product.
Yes, that's right. He said "contender." He's also running test trials. I plan to begin my training by, you know, eating some pizza. It's rough, but if you're going to compete at this level, you have to be prepared.
-- The current plan is to fly Dave to New York with a "chilled" pizza, the rules being that he make as much of it as possible in Salt Lake City and then have a "bakeoff" (quite literally) somewhere in/near Rockefeller Center. This is where I start wondering what will happen when I walk into a local pizzeria and ask the manager if some guy I don't know from Utah can use his pizza oven (most likely outcome: "Get out of my store, you crazy bastard!" Throwing of pizza cutters is on the list as well, but significantly less likely, I think)
-- My suggestion was we get the local ABC affiliate to recruit someone in New York to help me out. If I walk into a pizza joint with an actual TV person, I think we stand a better chance of the store manager buying into the idea.
-- I'm also told that Dave has three top New York pizzerias that he'd love to go head-to-head with. Who knew there were rivalries among these folks? I wonder if they get up every morning and check their stats on some webpage somewhere...
-- In what I can only describe as a flourish of overconfidence, Dave has also mentioned that there's a pizzeria in Cincinnati that he wants to challenge next. Apparently, our little show is fated to become a nation-wide tour. Here's my question, though: if you prevail in New York (Hah!), what do you prove by prevailing in Cincinnati also? And if suffer the agony of defeat that most certainly awaits you in the Big Apple, how much of a consolation would it be to beat up on poor Cincy?
And, of course, the main questions: in the unlikely event that you prevail in New York and lose in Cincinnati, am I really going to go through this again with a pizza maker out there? Will ABC cover it again? At what point does this go from a segment on the local news to our very own reality show?
The mind continues to boggle...
UPDATE: Momentum fades, but hopefully only briefly. Here's the latest status.
Tuesday, July 25, 2006
The Pizza Challenge Heats Up!
This little pizza challenge is starting to take on a life of its own. Rather than try to describe it, here's the latest e-mail from chenopup:
I met with Dave [the owner of Este pizza] today. He's very excited and is in fact brainstorming with his cooks at this time to figure out the best way to prepare the pie for shipping. He's wanting to go up against the best there is in New York so this should be a blast.
I am meeting with him again tomorrow after he's had some time to plan it out. I'm going to look at arranging a videographer there in NY to come shoot the final taste test if that is okay with you. If I can get the right price on a ticket, I'll even fly out myself. I was supposed to be in New York the last week of August anyway, I may have to try to pick up that gig again :)
I pitched it to my local ABC affiliate here and they love it and want to do a segment for their morning show. The program director will also look into contact Regis and Kelly as well since they're ABC as well.
So things in the works at this point...
- Este is a go.
-Dave wants to go up against the best NY has to offer. (He's from NY) :)
- We need to decide on a type of pie and the best way to send it / comparable pie to be cooked with it in one of the top locations in Rockefeller area.
- Blind taste test with local NY'ers as to which is the better pie.
- Sit back and wait for all the news stories to roll in... see what you started?
OK, so first of all - cooks? Plural? How many cooks does it take to make a NY style pizza? Each guy in Manhattan makes a few at a time during the lunch rush. I'm starting to wonder just how serious these Utah folks are about their pizza.
Second, Regis? Seriously? The only downside, of course, would be eating pizza for breakfast. The things we endure for our adoring public...
UPDATE: The next installment is available here.
Breaking News - Web Experts Also Good at Math
InternetWeek has published a State of the Spam article, in which they claim that 80% of all e-mail traffic during the first three months of 2006 was spam.
The article includes this stunning piece of analysis on page 3:
[Michael] Geist, the [Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-Commerce Law at the University of Ottawa], figures that if 80 percent of e-mail is spam, "then four out of five e-mail servers are there to deal with spam, not to deal with legitimate mail."
Ya know, I think the guy has a point - I mean, four out of five is right around that 80% figure quoted earlier in the article...
Friday, July 21, 2006
Pizza Challenge Update
The latest from the pizza front:
Chenopup (that would be the Defender of Utah Pizza) and I have exchanged several e-mails. The first idea was to send the pizza to my home in New Jersey, and have me bring a New York pizza home from work for a home-based taste test. An OK idea for starters, but it just doesn't have that New York feel...
Moving on to idea number two: we're going to try and have the pizza delivered to my office in Rockefeller Center, home of the Ice Rink, the Christmas Tree, the Today Show Studio, and NBC World Headquarters. I will see if I can convince a local pizza shop (there are something like twenty of them within spitting distance around here) to warm the pizza up in one of their ovens, so we can do a pie-to-pie comparison in an honest-to-goodness New York Pizzeria.
Chenopup (who, I may have neglected to mention, is a filmmaker) is pleased with the idea, and is considering getting a cameraman to join us and film the entire episode. This, as well as some film of the Utah pizza being prepared in its home state, and perhaps even some free press in Utah about the event (yeah, that's right - I called it an event. Problem?!?)
Not to be outdone, I mentioned that once the press was involved, someone should alert either Conan O'Brien (who tapes across the street every day at around 5:30) or David Letterman (who tapes about five blocks from here, also at around 5:30). This is exactly the kind of schtick those guys do professionally every day of the week...
Stay tuned. This is starting to have the potential to move from the ridiculous to the sublime...
UPDATE: Apparently, I jumped too quickly to the Late Night mode. It seems ABC considers this worthy of their morning show (yes, I'm serious. Why do you ask?) and are even considering talking to Regis & Kelly about it. Read the details here.
Wednesday, July 19, 2006
The Great Simple Tricks Pizza Challenge!
Well, this is interesting...
Jason Bennion, who blogs at Simple Tricks and Nonsense, has a friend who makes the rather ridiculous claim that a pizza place in Salt Lake City, Utah (Este) makes a pizza that "rivals or excels over the best New York has to offer." I, of course, suggested that this claim is likely based on the assumption that none of his customers will ever travel to New York and compare. Little does this pizza store owner know about the power of the internet's long tail...
Long story short, Jason's friend has agreed to reach out to the pizza store owner (Dave) and have him send me a pizza. He even plans to create a short film about it. My role is to eat said pizza, and blog about the relative similarities/differences to a genuine New York pie.
As Jasons says on his blog:
I, of course, am planning to blog the whole process and am simply thrilled that my little corner of cyberspace has finally given rise to one of those ridiculous stunts that the Internet seems to have been invented for...
As am I, Jason. As am I.
Gentlemen, start your ovens...
UPDATE: More info here.
Tuesday, July 18, 2006
President Bush - Founding Member - Upsilon Sigma Alpha?
During the G8 Summit, President Bush and Tony Blair had a brief conversation during which, unbeknownst to them, the microphone in front of them was on. Bush said to Blair, "See the irony is what they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit and it's over." The media and the blogosphere jumped all over the comment, not based on the implications to Syria or Hezbollah, but based on the fact that the President used the word "shit." Interestingly, the British press basically ignored the profanity, but got all bent out of shape over the way the Bush caught Blair's attention: "Yo, Blair!"
Detractors of the President saw a golden opportunity to paint him as an immature frat-boy, but the general reaction of most people was lukewarm. If anything, people seemed refreshed by this rarely seen, unrehearsed reaction of a politician to troubling world events.
Daily Kos took the meme one step further, by pulling some screen captures from another meeting, in which President Bush walked into the room, put his hands on (German Chancellor) Angela Merkel's shoulders and gave her a faux-massage. Kos called it a "frat-boy prank" and said that Merkel was "not amused." Many of his commentors called it groping, a violation of her space, sexual harassment, etc.
Ironically enough, the LA Times reported on the incident as well, and said this:
Entering the meeting room, as relayed by a Russian television camera, Bush headed directly behind the chancellor, reached out and, placing both hands on the collar of her gold jacket, gave her a short massage just below the neck.
Kos responded with:
I don't know about you, but it does not look to me like she is smiling."
The video is here. If this kind of story offends you, I urge you to watch the video. Chancellor Merkel puts her hands up in the air, as if Bush caught her by surprise and then, right at the end of the video, turns and smiles at the President as he walks out of the room. Here's the screen capture that Kos didn't include (apologies for the quality, I don't have access to Photoshop right now. Watch the video itself for a better look):
In my opinion, the two are obviously friends, and both had a good laugh at a meaningless incident that neither would remember unless they saw the video. Your mileage, of course, may vary.
Some More Face Recognition Fun
I decided to test the Celebrity Face Recognition program that I blogged about yesterday, so here's what I did: I went to the Forbes.com Celebrity 100 list and pulled off a bunch of celebrities from the top of the list. Then I went and found a good picture (full frontal face shot) on Google Images and fed it to the Face Recognition software. Ideally, it would match the celebrity with him/herself given that it's, well you know, the same person and all.
So here are the results. These are in the format of:
Picture I Uploaded - Highest Percentage Match (Percentage) (if not a match, whether the match occurred in any of the suggested celebrities - and if so the percentage of the actual match).
I sampled 25 celebrities. First, the matches:
David Letterman - David Letterman (100%)
Paul McCartney - Paul McCartney (100%)
Tom Hanks - Tom Hanks (100%)
Steven Spielberg - Steven Spielberg (99%)
Oprah Winfrey - Oprah Winfrey (90%)
50 Cent - 50 Cent (76%)
Brad Pitt - Brad Pitt (76%)
Johnny Depp - Johnny Depp (76%)
Donald Trump - Donald Trump (76%)
Celine Dion - Celine Dion (75%)
George Lucas - George Lucas (74%)
Jerry Seinfeld - Jerry Seinfeld (75%)
Tiger Woods - Tiger Woods (67%)
Peter Jackson - Peter Jackson (64%)
14 out of 25, or 56%. Not too shabby, although only three were perfect, 100% matches (with Spielberg at a very close 99%). Then there were two that mismatched, but eventually got it right at lower percentages:
Tom Cruise - Dean R. Koontz (73%) (Y - 64%)
Jay Leno - Wesley Clark (64%) (Y - 51%)
And the remaining nine, with some rather entertaining wrong guesses:
Muhammad Ali - Billy Zane (61%) (N)
Bruce Springsteen - Emma Watson (64%) (N)
Dr. Phil - Daniel Day Lewis (70%) (N)
Elton John - Bill Gates (71%) (N)
Howard Stern - Brian May (58%) (N)
Kobe Bryant - Andriy Shevchenko (66%) (N)
Michael Jordan - John Coltrane (72%) (N)
Phil Mickelson - Rudolf Steiner (64%) (N)
Simon Cowell - Mel Gibson (70%) (N)
I particularly like Bill Gates for Elton John, Mel Gibson for Simon Cowell, and Emma Watson (?) for Bruce Springsteen.
Sunday, July 16, 2006
This is the coolest site I've seen in a long time. You upload a photo of yourself (or anyone else), it runs some basic face recognition software, and then compares it against a celebrity database, and tells you what celebrities it think you look like.
This is the image I submitted for myself, and here are the celebrities it came up with:
Claude Lelouch (61%): French Film Director. According to the algorithm, the closest match they have. Sorry - I just don't see it.
Benito Mussolini (61%): Fascist Italian Dictator. Thanks a lot, folks. I never really knew what Mussolini looked like. Now that I get a look, I guess I can see a slight resemblence, but it's a really big stretch...
Jake Gyllenhaal (57%): The Brokeback Mountain guy. As far as I'm concerned, we're 0 for 3. I don't see the slightest resemblence...
Emmy Rossum (54%): The Phantom of the Opera movie, Poseiden, various others. All I can say here is, "Huh?"
Helen Clark (51%): The Prime Minister of New Zealand. Makes the Emmy Rossum comparison a downright perfect match...
David Hasselhoff (51%): Baywatch, German rock star, etc., etc. Now we're talking, huh? I still think they're crazy, but at least this time, it's a compliment of sorts...
Jim Carrey (50%): Pet Detective, Cable Guy, all around funny guy. Just to be clear, here: I don't think I look like Jim Carrey. That said, I can see how this picture of Jim Carrey looks a little like that picture of me. Especially the forehead, the nose, and the chin. Other pictures of Jim Carrey don't even come close, though, so it's probably more about the vagaries of this one picture...
Kareem Abdul-Jabaar (50%): Basketball star. We're back to crazy, random algorithm here. Unless you want to say we have similar foreheads (like with Carrey), but this is taking it to the extreme, no?
Dan Rather (49%): Disgraced former news anchor. Again, no real resemblance, but I can see how this picture looks a little like my picture.
Kareena Kapoor (48%): Major film actress in Bollywood, the Hindi language film industry in Mumbai, India. As with most Indian people, she and I have similar skin coloring. And if I really stretch it, I can see similarities in some facial features (cheekbones, smile). But again, I'm stretching it...
So all in all, the idea is intriguing, but the selections are, shall we say, fascinating.
My wife's was a little better. Here's the picture of Sherry I submitted, and the results it produced:
They all have Sherry's smile (which is, IMHO, one of her best features), except for Salma Hayek. Beautiful woman, terrible picture. Don't know what they were thinking there. Interestingly, I can even see how they picked LL Cool J (after the smile, though, it's another sign of randomness).
The best matches here are Madonna, Mischa Barton and Katherine Hepburn. In all three cases, I think it's a "this picture only" thing, especially in Madonna's case of course. But that's three pretty close matches, as opposed to one for me. So we're improving, right?
Anyway, I don't exactly have the readership to start a real blog meme, but for what it's worth: Go to the site, submit your picture, and report back in the comments (or in your own blog) who it picked, OK? Should be an interesting exercise.
Friday, July 14, 2006
A Not-So-Innocent Man
So I'm listening to Billy Joel's New Album - "Billy Joel - 12 Gardens Live," which is a pretty good album, in that it's a high quality recording of a bunch of live performances, some songs in which Billy Joel rarely, if ever, performs live. As a collector, it's a must.
As a fan, it's good, but could have been much better. Very little audience banter is here, which after all is what makes a live performance unique. Also, they seem to have intentionally removed the crowd noise, except for obvious moments (like those idiots who still cheer in Miami 2017 when he sings "and picked the Yankees up for free," as if he's talking about the New York Yankees...) Without the crowd noise, it's like a studio recording on crack - high energy, good sound, etc. Having seen the show live, though, some more of the impromptu stuff would have been nice to have forever. The Piano Man track is the exception to this criticism, of course, and I'm glad I've got a non-bootleg version of that live.
The coolest thing about the album was a secret it revealed to me, which I missed during the live performance. As I said in my review of the concert:
He also sang all the high notes on Innocent Man himself, something he hasn't done in years (my wife pointed out that his new-found sobriety might have been the enabler there).
Well, now that I listen to it on headphones, and without the excited rush that comes from a live concert, I can think of another reason he hit the notes: He transposed it down a whole step. The original track is recorded in C Major, and the performance is done in B Flat. Don't get me wrong: he's still a 58 year-old man singing a high B flat (and a high G in full-voice, as opposed to falsetto), but he obviously put in a bit of a comfort zone for himself on stage. I guess that's the benefit of singing a song that was written & recorded twenty-three years ago - who remembers the original key?
Anyway, yet another of life's mysteries solved...
Thursday, July 13, 2006
Tax Cuts for the Rich Raise Taxes for the Rich
More evidence that every prediction you hear about taxes is intended solely to confuse you, nothing more. This, from the New York Times (free for now...)
An unexpectedly steep rise in tax revenues from corporations and the wealthy is driving down the projected budget deficit this year, even though spending has climbed sharply because of the war in Iraq and the cost of hurricane relief.
Unexpectedly steep rise in tax revenues from the wealthy? But I thought W's sinister tax cuts were just fancy ways of cutting taxes for his rich cronies while taxing the lower middle class into poverty? I guess not...
The rest of the article quotes various partisans that bicker back and forth with the numbers: numbers are up, but haven't reached the 2000 levels yet (right - 2000 was the peak of the largest peacetime expansion ever), numbers are up, but not as a percentage of GDP (why would you measure taxes against production? We tax income, not production, right?), etc., etc.
Here's the key quote as regards taxes:
One reason for the increased volatility may be that, contrary to a popular assumption, a disproportionate share of income taxes is paid by wealthy households, and their incomes are based much more on the swings of the stock market than on wages and salaries. About one-third of all income taxes are paid by households in the top 1 percent of income earners, who make more than about $300,000 a year. Because those households also earn the overwhelming share of taxable investment income and executive bonuses, both their incomes and their tax liabilities swing sharply in bull and bear markets.
That's mostly right, except for the bull & bear markets part. You pay capital gain taxes when you sell a stock. There's more selling in a bear market, but in a bull market, sales occur at higher prices - causing larger capital gains & higher tax revenue, even though the tax rate is the same. You also pay taxes on dividends (one of the rates the Bush plan cut). Dividends come in bull and bear markets, although corporations tend to raise their dividends when things are going well, so bull markets will see higher taxes, but it's very rare that a company lowers its dividend once it's been raised, so I don't expect this number declines much in a bear market.
Bottom line: both parties are obfuscating here.
The Democrats spent years telling us that Bush's tax cuts were only for the rich, quoting us bogus statistics about how someone making over $200,000 per year would receive tens of thousands in tax cuts, while someone making $75,000 per year would receive a few hundred bucks. Now that it turns out the rich are paying significantly more in taxes, their gripe is that it's not growing fast enough. I assume they'd be against further "cuts for the rich" to make it grower faster, though, huh?
The Republicans are spinning this good news into a claim that the deficit will be smaller than originally predicted. Someone needs to slap them in the face and tell them that increased revenue is not a valid excuse for unbelievable excesses in spending, and that faster than expected revenue increases are a golden opportunity to run budget surpluses, as opposed to smaller-than-expected deficits (cf. Bill Clinton's last two years in office). While they are correctly touting this as a reason to make the tax cuts permanent, they are also using it as a matador's cape to distract us from the runaway spending problem they've created.
Spinners, one and all. But, the policy itself seems to have been sound, so it's good to know that at least it could have been worse...
Sunday, July 09, 2006
Missed me again (again)
So I'm back from Chicago, and now the target du jour is the PATH Trains, or possibly the Holland Tunnel. As per usual, we count on the terrorists to be just a little bit dumb:
New York Police Department Commissioner Ray Kelly said the men believed that bombing the train tunnels under the Hudson River would unleash massive flooding in lower Manhattan, home to Wall Street and the World Trade Center site.
Now, I'm no engineer, but correct me if I'm wrong here: both of the above mentioned tunnels are built under the bedrock beneath the Hudson river. If a bomb were to explode in either of them, the odds are pretty good we wouldn't even have water in the tunnel. But even if the bomb were powerful enough to penetrate the bedrock and flood the tunnel, how exactly does the water rise above its current level to flood lower Manhattan? If I'm thinking about this correctly, the only water Manhattan gets on it is from the (considerable) splash.
Not to make light of this, of course. Thousands could be killed (depending on the time of day, etc.) As for disruption, knocking out the PATH trains would just make the NJTransit commuter trains more crowded (as was the case in the weeks just after 9/11). Knocking out the Holland tunnel would be worse - the commuter trains would be more crowded, the ferries would come back into use (as was also the case after 9/11), but traffic through the Lincoln tunnel (the other tunnel going from NJ to Manhattan) would be prohibitive. They'd probably reinstitute the "two or more people per car in the tunnel" rules they had after 9/11 as well. This is just whining at this point, but man - am I glad those days were over...
Some other thoughts:
-- The FBI seems to be on a roll, no?
A sudden rash of plot foilings right before the midterm elections? The cynical mind would suggest that these are minor incidents that are being trumped up as major threats to make the administration look good. I take a slightly different view (but only slightly different). My guess is these are serious threats, but the FBI and/or the administration is getting just a little sick of hearing that all of their warnings are nothing more than fear mongering, so they decided to publicize a few of their successes.
-- Both this plot and the Sears Tower plot were "aspirational" but not "operational."
This makes them less of a threat, but also harder to find. I also think it's important to note that while neither had access to weapons, both believed they were in contact with Al Qaeda about procuring the necessary funding/weapons. One wonders how efficient Al Qaeda is about finding these people, and if they're more efficient than our network of informants are...
-- You'll notice that no one is complaining about our pre-emptive actions against folks who were not (yet) a national security threat.
-- The Tunnels plot was foiled by decoding messages found in Internet Chat Rooms.
This isn't one of those data mining programs we've been reading about, but it does highlight the importance of electronic surveillance.
-- You'll also notice that no one is complaining about the government secretly lurking in those chat rooms and listening in on the conversations of people who haven't done enough to justify a search warrant.
-- If someone bombs the PATH tunnels tomorrow, will they accuse Bush of knowing about it & doing nothing? Probably. The administration would point to the arrests reported yesterday, the critics would point to the fact that security is not being beefed up in these areas, the NYPD would point to all the efforts already under way (plainclothes cops, the toll-free "TIPS" line for commuters to call, additional security cameras, national guard in the major stations, etc.). I forget who said it, but I think it's true: if there is another attack, we won't have the several month "grace period" of nationalism before the political bickering starts like we did last time. Just goes to show, absolutely anything can become normal.
Thursday, July 06, 2006
"Google" earns official verb status
The latest edition of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines the word "google" as a verb. It also contains other words and phrases I figured were already in there, such as "drama queen," "biodiesel" and "bling." And then there are those I wouldn't have guessed, like "mouse potato," "soul patch" and "himbo."
I understand the need to keep the language current, so that future generations can look up the words they use regularly. The real question, though, is this: who uses a dictionary anymore? If you need to know how to spell a word these days, you'd just..er...what's the word? Oh yeah, you'd just google it!
Monday, July 03, 2006
The Internet's in the Mail...
I just the other day got, an internet was sent by my staff at 10 o'clock in the morning on Friday and I just got it yesterday. Why?
Because it got tangled up with all these things going on the internet commercially.
[...]They want to deliver vast amounts of information over the internet. And again, the internet is not something you just dump something on. It's not a truck.
It's a series of tubes.
And if you don't understand those tubes can be filled and if they are filled, when you put your message in, it gets in line and its going to be delayed by anyone that puts into that tube enormous amounts of material...
[...]The whole concept is that we should not go into this until someone shows that there is something that has been done that really is a violation of net neutraliity that hits you and me.
Can you believe....What is he....How could anyone .... BBLLLAAAARRRRGGGHHH!!!
Sorry. The mind boggles. There is nothing left to say, except that it's a pretty safe bet that no net neutrality legislation is going to affect this guy.
A series of tubes? Wow...