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Archive for October, 2007

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I Found a Vulture – Does That Count?

Wednesday, October 24th, 2007

This from one of those “public service” e-mails I got at work today:

Scavenger Hunt at the American Museum of Natural History – Saturday, Nov. 3
11:45 – 4:00

Join students from PS11M school in Chelsea for a scavenger hunt at the Museum of Natural History. Volunteers will first meet at the school, eat lunch and then go to the museum for an interactive hunt. You will also see the Mythical Creatures exhibition with the children and then escort the children back to the school.

If you’re interested, please sign up on the website. For any questions, please contact [name withheld]

So here’s my question: when the scavenger hunt takes place at the American Museum of Natural History, are you looking for small objects on a list, or are you actually looking for scavengers?!?

Categories: Random Acts of Blogging | No Comments »

The World’s Largest Conducting Baton

Wednesday, October 24th, 2007

It all started, as most things do these days, with an e-mail.

The Harvard University Marching Band has set a Guinness World Record in October, 2006 by creating a baton measuring more than twelve feet long and using it to conduct the band during their halftime show.

As a proud alumnus of the University of Pennsylvania Band, I sent an e-mail to the band’s director, R. Greer Cheeseman III and it’s Assistant Director, Dr. Kushol Gupta, suggesting we show Harvard who’s boss by shattering the record at our homecoming game the following year.

What ensued was a coordinated four month effort by more than a dozen members of the Penn Band (including several engineers) to build the baton, issue a press release, and throw a kick-ass party after the game to celebrate (complete with actual batons for the kids and other cool souvenirs!).

Here’s a photo collection from the event, and here’s the video:

Categories: University of Pennsylvania | No Comments »


Tuesday, October 23rd, 2007

Taken this past weekend in a West Philadelphia Dunkin’ Donuts:

I understand the need for security in an urban setting where a lot of cash changes hands, but something about seeing this message in that ever-so-friendly font is just unnerving, no?

Categories: Random Acts of Blogging | No Comments »

Wind Storm Rocks Seattle

Friday, October 19th, 2007

From Matthew Baldwin over at Defective Yeti, we have this:

Note three things about this picture:

1) The text of the news story: “Seattle was whipped by Thursday’s wind storm, so much that one man was forced to hold onto a tree to keep from being blown over.”

2) The tree in question is thin enough that the man seems capable of wrapping his hand entirely around it.

3) Despite the raging wind storm, the seven year-old boy in the background seems to be having no trouble walking his bike down the sidewalk.

Clearly, Seattle has a different definition of “raging wind storm” than does, say, Kansas, where a raging wind storm ends with green witches, ruby slippers and flying monkeys…

Categories: Random Acts of Blogging | 2 Comments »

One for the Record Books…

Friday, October 19th, 2007

OK, now I can finally talk about why I’ve had so little time for blogging lately.

I’ve been helping the Penn Band to break a Guinness World Record:

Penn Band Attempts to Set Guinness World Record for Oversized Conductor’s Baton
October 18, 2007

Penn Band Attempts to Set Guinness World Record for Oversized Conductor’s Baton

WHO: University of Pennsylvania marching band
WHAT: Unveiling of 15 foot, 8 inch conductors baton
WHEN: Oct. 20, 2007, around 1 p.m.
WHERE: Franklin Field
33rd and Spruce streets

Penn’s marching band will unveil the world’s largest conductor’s baton during the halftime program at the Penn football game against Yale. The band has submitted the baton for inclusion in the Guinness Book of World Records. Band Director Greer Cheeseman will lead the band using the oversized, nearly 10-pound baton. Its more than 15 times the size of an ordinary baton, which weighs several ounces and is 12 to 16 inches long.

Band members, many of whom are engineering students, and alumni crafted the baton using wood and cork, the same materials as an ordinary baton.

For full coverage, including pictures and behind the scenes commentary, watch this space on Sunday…

UPDATE: Did I say Sunday? OK, so it’s late Tuesday night. Took a while to get the video done & uploaded. So sue me. Anyway, the full report (including links to pictures and video) is here.

Categories: University of Pennsylvania | No Comments »

New Rule!

Friday, October 19th, 2007

With all apologies to Bill Maher:

New Rule: If someone’s name rhymes with “Boo,” people must find another way to cheer for him other than calling out his name.

I’m so sick and tired of watching players named Lou or Bruce or Moose or whatever succeed in a big game, and then have the fans jeer loudly. Then the announcer is forced to say, “They’re not booing, they’re saying “Looooooouuuuuu.”

Well, you know what? If you need to tell me that, then they shouldn’t be yelling that. I mean, if for no other reason, what happens if this guy screws up later in the game? How are they going to boo him? If they yell “Booooooo,” isn’t he just going to think they’re shouting his name? As far as I’m concerned, it takes away options and provides no upside.

That is all…

Categories: Sports Talk | No Comments »

Random Acts of Blogging II

Friday, October 19th, 2007

Once again, the things I want to blog about have exceeded the time I have available to blog. Hence, we move into “quick hit” mode.

First up: Violent crime has increased for the first time in more than a decade. What is to blame for this distressing news? The Bush Administration? The Democratic Congress? A weakening economy causing increased pressure on low-income youth? No. Apparently, it’s the iPod:

In the first three months of 2005, major felonies rose 18.3% on the New York City subway — however, if cell phone and iPod thefts are excluded, felonies actually declined by 3%.

Thus far, in Washington, D.C., in 2007, robberies of iPods on the Metro alone account for approximately 4% of all robberies in the city, compared with well less than 1% of robberies in 2005. Likewise, in San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system, there were 4 reported iPod robberies in 2004, 102 in 2005, and 193 in 2006. The increase in iPod robberies on the BART between 2004 and 2006 accounts for a 23% of the increase in robbery in the entire city over that time.”

You see, it seems that iPods are criminogenic, which means they “create crime.”

iPods [are] “criminogenic (creating crime)” because they lack antitheft protection, because they are not tied to a subscription service and can thus be used after they’re stolen, because they’re “high-status items and may be stolen for their status,” because they make the owner less aware of his or her surroundings, and because they’re easy to identify, thanks to the visible white headphone cord and ear buds.

It sounds crazy at first, but when I look at that list, it starts to make some sense…

Next, we have Apple’s new OS X Leopard Operating System, due to ship on October 26. Apple touts more than 300 new features of the OS, although many of those are features of the applications that ship with it (like Address Book, Dictionary, DVD Player, iCal, iChat, etc.). Hey – remember when bundling applications inside your OS was considered anti-competitive, monopolistic behavior? But I digress…

What I found absolutely fascinating about this list of features was how many of them already exist in Windows Vista. There are semi-transparent window title bars, dynamically populated folders, live icons that show a preview of the application rather than just a static icon, improved Spotlight searching (including Boolean operators), e-mail stationary, group calendar scheduling, etc. In all, I counted roughly fifty of the three hundred changes as things that Vista already has up and running.

I’m not complaining, of course. These features are useful in Vista, and I’m glad they’re in Leopard now. I’m just surprised, because an Apple OS release typically includes innovative interface ideas, which are then implemented by Microsoft in the next Windows release, sparking cries of “Foul!” from Mac Zealots who claim Microsoft is just parroting what Apple has done. It seems we’ve achieved more of a “leapfrog” model now, which is just awesome news for PC consumers…

Moving from technology to politics, the month of October was a big one for high-profile, liberal documentaries. First there was this report about Canadian, Belinda Stronach, formerly a Member of Parliament (MP) from the Conservative Party, who switched to the Liberal Party in 2005.

In 2004, she gave an interview with the CBC defending the Canada Health Act and arguing against a two-tier health system, in which those who could afford to pay more would receive speedier access to health care (the system touted as far superior to the United States’ system in Michael Moore’s Sicko).

In 2007, she was diagnosed with Ductal Carcinoma in Situ (a common form of breast cancer), which required a mastectomy and breast reconstruction. On the advice of her doctor, she flew to California and paid out of pocket to have the surgery done there (something Canadians can’t do in Canada under the Canada Health Act she so stauchly defended).

And of course, if we’re going to mention Moore, then we have to mention Gore. Al Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth (review here) has been distributed to 3,500 London schools, along with four other short films about the environment.

A lorry driver and father of two children, 11 and 14, sued to have the film declared unfit for schools because, he said, it was “politically biased and contains serious scientific inaccuracies and ‘sentimental mush’.” The British judge agreed that the film promoted “partisan political views,” but did not ban it from schools, instead requiring that teachers “warn pupils that there are other opinions on global warming and they should not necessarily accept the views of the film.”

Later in the month, Gore went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize, although his opponent got more votes (kidding…)

Sticking with politics, a quick mention is warranted on the Iraq war:

A congressional study and several news stories in September questioned reports by the U.S. military that casualties were down. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), challenging the testimony of Gen. David H. Petraeus, asserted that “civilian deaths have risen” during this year’s surge of American forces.

A month later, there isn’t much room for such debate, at least about the latest figures. In September, Iraqi civilian deaths were down 52 percent from August and 77 percent from September 2006, according to the Web site icasualties.org. The Iraqi Health Ministry and the Associated Press reported similar results. U.S. soldiers killed in action numbered 43 — down 43 percent from August and 64 percent from May, which had the highest monthly figure so far this year. The American combat death total was the lowest since July 2006 and was one of the five lowest monthly counts since the insurgency in Iraq took off in April 2004.

During the first 12 days of October the death rates of Iraqis and Americans fell still further. So far during the Muslim month of Ramadan, which began Sept. 13 and ends this weekend, 36 U.S. soldiers have been reported as killed in hostile actions. That is remarkable given that the surge has deployed more American troops in more dangerous places and that in the past al-Qaeda has staged major offensives during Ramadan. Last year, at least 97 American troops died in combat during Ramadan. Al-Qaeda tried to step up attacks this year, U.S. commanders say — so far, with stunningly little success.

Things are still not going well enough over there, of course. And one large bomb can reverse all of these statistical trends. But regardless of what party you belong to, this has got to be good news…

And finally, it’s been a while since a newspaper sent undercover reporters through airport security in order to embarrass the TSA, right?

WASHINGTON – Security screeners at two of the nation’s busiest airports failed to find fake bombs hidden on undercover agents posing as passengers in more than 60% of tests last year, according to a classified report obtained by USA TODAY.

Screeners at Los Angeles International Airport missed about 75% of simulated explosives and bomb parts that Transportation Security Administration testers hid under their clothes or in carry-on bags at checkpoints, the TSA report shows.

At Chicago O’Hare International Airport, screeners missed about 60% of hidden bomb materials that were packed in everyday carry-ons – including toiletry kits, briefcases and CD players. San Francisco International Airport screeners, who work for a private company instead of the TSA, missed about 20% of the bombs, the report shows.

These studies, while making for great headlines, continue to miss the point. The goal of airport security is not to find every bomb. The goal is to make people who would consider bringing an actual bomb on the plane think twice about doing it because of the high likelihood that they will be caught. In other words, security works when it prevents people from trying to bring bombs on planes, not only when it catches someone in the act of doing so.

That number, of course, is impossible to measure…

Categories: Political Rantings, Random Acts of Blogging, Tech Talk | No Comments »


Thursday, October 11th, 2007

Someone at work just pointed me to Hopstop.com. For those who live in & around the New York metropolitan area, this is a very cool site. It’s like Mapquest or Google Maps, but it includes the New York buses, commuter rail lines, and subways.

So, for instance, I need to go from midtown (Rockefeller Plaza) to the Upper East Side tonight for a charity function. The map it generated is to teh right. Notice the break in the trip where you get on the subway and then get off at a new location? With the more common mapping tools, it would assume you were driving/walking, and take you across the streets for that distance.

The site also specifies the estimated time the trip will take (including estimated timings for each stop on the subway), so you can leave the right amount of travel time ahead of your trip.

I know this only useful for a specific niche of people/purposes, but it does what it sets out to do very well.

Categories: New York, New York | No Comments »

ISBS Concert Review: Bruce Springsteen at Continental Airlines Arena, October 9, 2007

Wednesday, October 10th, 2007

Watching Bruce Springsteen perform is like watching a freight train run at full speed. While standing on the track. In front of the train. Without earplugs.

At 58 years old, Bruce is still the hardest working man in rock & roll. He hit the stage with a hard rocking Radio Nowhere, and basically played straight through for more than two hours. And when I say played straight through, in most cases I mean he actually played straight through. A song would end, “Mighty Max” Weinberg would rattle the drums over the last chord, the crowd would go wild, and then Bruce would run to the back of the stage, grab a new guitar from a roadie, run back to the microphone and yell, “1, 2, 3, 4!” and off they’d go into the next song. The energy required to maintain this pace showed in Bruce’s perspiration, but not in his music. Every hard rocking tune was loud and electrifying. Bruce’s emotions ran from exhilaration (Candy’s Room) to anger (Livin’ in the Future) to fun (Dancing in the Dark) to unadulterated soul (American Land).

The E Street Band did its part, to be sure, and while the sound was amazing, I’d say their body language ranged from “keep up with him if you can!” to “man, I’m getting too old for this…” Of course, I can’t say I blame them. The only true weakness in the band is Bruce’s wife, Patti Scialfa, who’s voice is really not strong enough to be doing duets with her husband on slower songs. But who am I to deny Bruce a little nepotism? After all, it’s his show…

As to the setlist, I was once again impressed with Bruce’s abilities as an artist and as an entertainer. Here’s a man who released his Greatest Hits disc in 1995, and now, twelve years later, he can put on a 23-song show that uses only four of those greatest hits, and with nary a complaint from the crowd. It also speaks to his confidence in his new disc, Magic, from which he played eight of the eleven tracks. Bruce Springsteen has clearly never heard the term “filler.”

Some other reviews of the show that I’ve read this morning called out the crowd as being more subdued than previous crowds. And while it’s true that Bruce did say, “Philly was louder than you guys” at one point, I think it’s relevant to note that the average age at the show probably pushed into the high thirties. Philadelphia was probably louder because it’s more of a college town, and so Bruce probably draws a younger and more energetic audience. Ironically, here in New Jersey, where Springsteen exists somewhere between “Icon” and “Supreme Being” status, his shows are as much about nostalgia as they are about the music.

Whatever your agenda, though, you come away from this show fully satisfied, vicariously exhausted, and with a not-so-insignificant degree of hearing loss. And that, as they say, is rock & roll.

Categories: ISBS Reviews, Words about Music | No Comments »

Celebrity Sighting

Thursday, October 4th, 2007

I’m on a 6:35AM flight from Newark, NJ to Charlotte, NC. It’s one of those ExpressJet flights with about 50 seats on the whole plane. One of those seats is occupied by Dr. Cornell West, formerly of Harvard University, now at Princeton University, and frequent guest on various TV talk shows, including Real Time with Bill Maher.

At this moment, the passengers that know who he is are busily explaining him to those who don’t. As for me, a 6:35AM flight means the alarm goes off at 4AM. Dr. West is one of those guys it would be fascinating to talk to for a couple of hours, but at this hour, the priority is getting back to sleep, only to be awakened by the plane landing in Charlotte. I’m guessing Dr. West feels the same way. So chock this up to opportunity lost.

As a wise man once said, “I should be sleeping.”

Categories: Random Acts of Blogging | 1 Comment »

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