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Archive for May, 2009

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ISBS Movie Review: Star Trek

Sunday, May 31st, 2009

I realize I’m a little late to this party, having finally acquired a babysitter and convinced my wife to go, but I just returned from seeing the Star Trek movie. My first order of business (aside from paying the babysitter) was to finally read both Ilya’s review and Jason’s pre-review, review, and post-review, all of which I’ve been saving for this moment.

We’ll start with my thoughts on the movie, and then move on to my thoughts on my friends’ thoughts. Before I even begin, though, I can see how this will take a while, so I offer a page-fold for those who don’t have the time nor the interest to go further.

And oh yes, there are spoilers. Lots and lots of ‘em. Trust me – if you haven’t seen the movie yet, just move along.

Read the rest of this entry »

Categories: Movie Talk | 17 Comments »

New York City Sights – The Hotel Pennsylvania

Saturday, May 30th, 2009

As promised last week, here’s a look at what is directly across the street from Madison Square Garden:


(Excuse me while I channel James Lileks).

It’s the Hotel Pennsylvania, who’s famous phone number is (212) 736-5000. Why is that a famous phone number? Well, until the late 1960s, phone numbers were referred to in the 2L-5D format, where the first two numbers were expressed as letters, using the letters that appear above each number on a telephone keypad (yes, kids, they served a purpose before text messaging). If you check your phones, you’ll see that “73″ translates into “PE,” making this phone number “Pennsylvania, 6-5000″ immortalized in song by the one and only, Glenn Miller, who frequently performed in the hotel’s Cafe Rouge ballroom:

It’s also, according to Wikipedia, the oldest continuing phone number in New York City.

My wife and I had occasion to stay in the fabled Hotel Pennsylvania once, when she had a two-day professional conference to attend in New York. The room was, well, what you’d expect from an old and historic hotel, I guess. It was old. Very old. And it showed it. A lot. Bottom line: you’re much better off looking at the Hotel Pennsylvania from the outside or from the lobby.

Categories: New York, New York | 2 Comments »

Hugging Epidemic?

Friday, May 29th, 2009

From the New York Times’ Style section:

There is so much hugging at Pascack Hills High School in Montvale, N.J., that students have broken down the hugs by type:

There is the basic friend hug, probably the most popular, and the bear hug, of course. But now there is also the bear claw, when a boy embraces a girl awkwardly with his elbows poking out. There is the hug that starts with a high-five, then moves into a fist bump, followed by a slap on the back and an embrace. There’s the shake and lean; the hug from behind; and, the newest addition, the triple — any combination of three girls and boys hugging at once.

“We’re not afraid, we just get in and hug,” said Danny Schneider, a junior at the school, where hallway hugging began shortly after 7 a.m. on a recent morning as students arrived. “The guy friends, we don’t care. You just get right in there and jump in.”

There are romantic hugs, too, but that is not what these teenagers are talking about.

Which is, of course, followed by this:

A measure of how rapidly the ritual is spreading is that some students complain of peer pressure to hug to fit in. And schools from Hillsdale, N.J., to Bend, Ore., wary in a litigious era about sexual harassment or improper touching — or citing hallway clogging and late arrivals to class — have banned hugging or imposed a three-second rule.

That’s right, folks. A three-second rule for hugging. I’m guessing the school has hall monitors walking around with stop watches? Or maybe all clothing now requires a pressure-sensitive timer?

All of which leads to ridiculous paragraphs like these:

Comforting as the hug may be, principals across the country have clamped down. “Touching and physical contact is very dangerous territory,” said Noreen Hajinlian, the principal of George G. White School, a junior high school in Hillsdale, N.J., who banned hugging two years ago. “It was needless hugging — they are in the hallways before they go to class. It wasn’t a greeting. It was happening all day.”

But pro-hugging students say it is not a romantic or sexual gesture, simply the “hello” of their generation. “We like to get cozy,” said Katie Dea, an eighth grader at Claire Lilienthal Alternative School in San Francisco. “The high-five is, like, boring.”

Needless hugging? Pro-hugging students?

Wasn’t there a time, not that long ago, when we were concerned about students shooting each other in school? Wasn’t the big post-Monicagate topic in schools about whether oral sex was really sex?  Less than ten years on, and now “touching . . . is very dangerous?”

It’s become like a reality show: get through twelve years of school without getting arrested or sued for something, and you get to go to college.

(Hat tip: Anthony Campisi)

Categories: The World Wide Weird | No Comments »

The four states that sank the world economy

Thursday, May 28th, 2009

A commenter over at Asymmetrical Information pointed me to some mind-blowing facts over at Scrivener.net:

From March, 2009:

  • The national foreclosure rate rocketed up 81% in 2008, to 1.8% (from 0.99% in 2007).
  • Only nine states had foreclosure rates above the average — and just four had rates seriously above the average: Nevada at 7.4%, Arizona and Florida at 4.5%, and California at 4%
  • Fully 41 states had below-average rates.
  • Subtract those four states and the median foreclosure rate in 2008 was only 0.90%.

Also:

  • Home prices increased in 28 states during the fourth quarter of 2008, according to the federal OFHEO State House Price Indexes (click on “State HPI Summary”).
  • In most other states price declines were modest.
  • Prices declined in Arizona by 2.91%, in Nevada by 2.66%, in California 2.61%, and in Florida by 5.47% — annual rates of decline from over-10% to over-20%.

Another Scrivener post has some other illuminating data which compares these four states (along with Michigan, which is almost as bad, but not quite as bad as these four) to New York (which is doing comparatively well) and the national mean.

With all the discussion of housing bubbles and credit crises, I’m amazed that I’ve never heard how localized the problem was. I also wonder if our federal government’s response would have been different if the general public knew that mortgages & housing prices in 45-46 of the states were actually doing fairly well.

Categories: Money Talk | 2 Comments »

No good (environmental) deed goes unpunished…

Thursday, May 28th, 2009

Here’s one for folks who, like me, are old enough to remember the Al Gore-like campaign to save the bald eagle:

PORTLAND, Maine — Bald eagles, bouncing back after years of decline, are swaggering forth with an appetite for great cormorant chicks that threatens to wipe out that bird population in the United States.

With more eagles around and fewer fish in the waters than in the past, young eagles are turning to other birds to satisfy their hunger. Eagles are opportunistic feeders and will go after the easiest prey they can find, bird experts say.

To quote the great Steve Urkel, “Did I do that?!?” Seems saving one species of bird is on it’s way to wiping out another. “But wait,” says John Q. Strawman, “why are there fewer fish in the water? Surely that’s due to some gross environmental injustice that we should dedicate our lives to righting! Someone alert Greenpeace!”

Well…

A growing number of killer whales caused a chain of ecological events that reduced the number of otters and amount of kelp providing habitat for fish, Robert Anthony reported in the journal Ecology. With fewer fish and baby otters to eat, eagles began raiding nests of other birds.

Save the Whales, anyone?

Funny thing about the food chain: it’s like pressing on a closed toothpaste tube. Flatten one spot, and something else pops up.

Categories: Random Acts of Blogging | No Comments »

Nerd Humor

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

Nerd Humor from TumblFrog:

Categories: Random Acts of Blogging | No Comments »

Can’t go wrong with a good mime pun…

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009

Marcel Marceau’s personal items are going up for auction tomorrow.

Word is, it will be a silent auction.

(Thank you very much, ladies & germs. I’m here all night. Don’t forget to tip your waitresses…)

Categories: Random Acts of Blogging | 1 Comment »

New York City Sights – Madison Square Garden

Monday, May 25th, 2009

Not a particularly amazing picture this week (to truly photograph MSG well, you need a helicopter), but here it is:

Madison Square Garden – the “World’s Most Famous Arena,” or so they keep telling us. Home of the New York Knicks, the New York Rangers, the New York Liberty, and a virtually uncountable number of concerts and shows, including the Ringling Bros. Circus:

It’s also built directly over New York’s Penn Station, which is the train station I take to/from work everyday. So, to say the least, this is not an uncommon view for me.

Next week: What’s across the street?

Categories: New York, New York | No Comments »

How to make Mickey blush

Saturday, May 23rd, 2009

Say what you want about the recession, but it’s bringing back nudity at Disneyland:

Disney parks stop scans for topless riders
May 5, 2009

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Disney says it will no longer scan riders on Splash Mountain and three other rides for guests who feel the need to flash their breasts for souvenir photos.

Disney confirmed Tuesday that it has reassigned employees at Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure who watched for breast-baring riders because “actual inappropriate behaviors by guests are rare.”

Disneyland spokeswoman Suzi Brown says the changes took effect Sunday at Splash Mountain, Tower of Terror, Space Mountain and California Screamin’.

Riders are photographed on the attractions and can then buy souvenir copies. Some have exposed their breasts in hopes that the picture would make it onto a photo preview screen at the ride’s exit.

The company began the screening about 10 years ago.

Categories: Random Acts of Blogging, The Disneyverse | 1 Comment »

Expert Systems

Friday, May 22nd, 2009

When I was in college, I took a CompSci course on what was then called “Expert Systems.” The idea was to build computer software that took a complex question with a large number of possible solutions (e.g., What is wrong with the patient?) and then ask a series of questions that would divide the possible solutions into two or more groups (e.g., Does the patient have a fever?). Based on the answer to the first question, one group of answers would remain possibilities, and the others would be declared wrong. Then, further questions could be asked to cull the list down even further. So, to carry on with the above example, if the patient had a fever, you could probably rule out things like gunshot or broken bone, and ask a question like “Does the patient have a rash?” If he/she did not have a fever, you might proceed with something like “Is the patient bleeding?” In the ideal world, you eventually get down to one possible solution, having ruled out all the others, and you have your answer.

The appeal of such systems at the time was that they could combine the knowledge of many experts into one repository, producing a system that was “smarter” than any one of the experts on his/her own. In other words, a given expert (a doctor, in the above example) would look at the question list, and add a question at a certain point in the “tree” that would further sub-divide the list of possible ailments vs. incorrect diagnoses. This led to discussions about artificial intelligence, which can basically be boiled down to “knowing a lot of facts doesn’t give you qualities like instinct, experimentation, or even common sense,” but I digress…

Today, systems like this aren’t necessarily curing patients’ ills, but they are quite prevalent in things like customer service centers. When you call that dreaded 800 number and finally get a human being (in India), and the person sounds like he/she is reading from a “script,” it is likely to be a system like this, hoping to get you to your answer in the minimum number of questions.

Anyway, I bring it up because someone recently pointed me to a neat little website called identifont.com. The site assumes you’re looking at a particular typeface and want to know what font it is. It asks you a series of questions, each designed to eliminate a bunch of fonts in it’s database. When it’s done asking questions, it “guesses” at the font you’re looking at (the one in the “remains possible” list with the highest calculated chance of success) and then gives you other alternatives to try if it guessed wrong (the remainder of the “remains possible” list).

In our web-filled world, I thought this was an excellent use of the Expert System approach. I’d also recommend they talk to my friend Jeff who has this freakish ability to distinguish between seemingly identical fonts using nothing but his own brain…

Categories: Tech Talk | 1 Comment »

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