Archive for July, 2009
Last week’s Wall Street Journal had a great article entitled Baseball Research Veers Into Left Field. Among the so-called “conclusions:”
- Major-league players who have nicknames live 2½ years longer, on average, than those without them.
- Players whose first or last name begins with “K” strike out more than those without “K” initials.
- Democrats support the designated-hitter rule more than Republicans
The whole thing is an excellent vehicle for teaching the “correlation does not equal causality” axiom.
Says one of the cited study’s co-authors, Prof. Leif Nelson of the University of California-Berkeley, “It remains entirely possible that [our study is] incorrect.”
Time Magazine Poll: Now that Walter Cronkite has passed on, who is America’s most trusted newscaster?
From which we learn: The most trustworthy man is the man who tells us upfront that he’s lying to us.
Two things in the news today that I fully expected to happen, but not as early as mid-July.
First, the Yankees have past the Red Sox in the American League East:
This usually doesn’t happen until some time in mid-September. And before anyone jumps all over me, yes, I know – it ain’t over until it’s over. I’m not declaring victory; I’m just saying it’s rare that the Red Sox
choke relinquish first place so early in the year.
Second, President Obama has gone from “The One” to “The One Half”:
On inauguration day, 65% of the country approved of President Obama (44% of whom strongly approved) and only 35% disapproved (only 16% strongly disapproved). Today, those numbers are quite different. Only half of Americans approve of the President’s performance (51% approve, 47% disapprove), and among those who feel strongly, the numbers have passed the 50/50 tipping point, with just 29% strongly approving and 35% strongly disapproving.
This is, of course, the “campaign in poetry, govern in prose” phenomenon at work. On January 21, all President Obama had done was win an historic election and give a good inauguration speech. Today, we have auto bailouts, stimulus packages, healthcare proposals and more to consider – much more meat on the bones, so to speak. No one expected him to carry a 65% approval rating through his first term, but his aggressive approach to his first six months in office is certainly eating away at that “rock star” popularity he once enjoyed. It will be interesting to see if these numbers stabilize, or if the trend continues through to the midterm elections.
A few interesting stories today from the world of technology…
One of the features the Palm Pre boasted upon launch was the ability to synch with Apple’s popular iTunes software, so that songs purchased at iTunes would appear and play automatically on the Pre. Yesterday, Apple release iTunes, version 8.2.1 which addressed “an issue with verification of Apple devices.” In other words, they modified their software to prevent it from synching with the Palm Pre.
This is both disheartening and ineffective. Disheartening because Apple has long been after firms like Microsoft to publish open, standards-based specs in order to allow all software, devices, etc. to make use of all technology infrastructure. Seems we don’t “think different” so much when the monopoly shoe is on the other foot, huh? Furthermore, it’s ineffective because Palm Pre users can simply choose not to upgrade iTunes, and continue to enjoy automatic music synching. That is, until Apple adds a feature to iTunes that they really want. Oh, and by the way – according to the above-linked article, Palm sold about 55,000 Pre’s during it’s launch weekend, compared with Apple’s one million units sold when the iPhone 3GS debuted.
It seems someone correctly guessed the answer to a Twitter employee’s password security question, then changed the employee’s password, then logged into his/her account, giving the hacker access to the entire suite of Google apps – documents, spreadsheets, calendar entries, e-mail, etc.. Twitter’s co-founder and creative director, Biz Stone, was quick to point out that this was not a security flaw in Google’s applications, but a broader issue of security for the cloud computing model. In response, thousands of Google app users around the world said, “what’s the difference, exactly?” At least the incident led to a priceless quote like this one: “Just putting a pet’s name on a Facebook page could allow hackers to obtain your password.”
While it’s interesting in itself that Michael Jackson’s music is topping the charts now that he’s dead (I thought that only worked for painters?), the fascinating technical angle here is the sales channel choice. It seems that in the hours after his death, online sales of his music spiked dramatically. Now, three weeks later, online sales have stabilized, and fans are rushing to music stores to buy CD’s. I have two theories here: first, that online sales are more immediate, so the group of people that wanted his music immediately upon his death grabbed it online, and the people who weren’t in as much of a rush waited until they were in stores. Second, the physical CD probably contains pictures, liner notes, etc. related to Jackson, and the fans saw these as more valuable now that he’s gone. In any case, I’m sure music retailers everywhere are learning from this interesting trend.
Forty years ago, they went there to begin a “giant leap for mankind.” Seven months ago, my family and I went there to begin a “guided tour for a couple of hours.” Launchpad 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center, roughly forty years apart:
Watching the launch today, I can’t help but marvel at what we accomplished, but also at how positively primitive the technology was at the time. I also marvel at how, now that we have people living and working in outer space for months at a time, a similar launch is nothing more than a brief story on the evening news.
One giant leap, indeed…
Yes, I know – it’s never funny when someone dies.
Except maybe this guy from two years ago.
And then there’s these two from this week:
Oh, I wish I was an Oscar Meyer Wiener;
That is what he really used to be…
Oompa Loompa doompadee doo;
I’ve got a perfect puzzle for you.
Oompa Loompa doompadah dee;
If you are wise you’ll listen to me.
What do you do when your worker falls flat?
Tumbling into a chocolate vat?
Why didn’t he stay away from the side?
Then he would not have slipped and died!
(All covered with chocolate)
Oompa Loompa Doompadee Dah;
If you’ve good balance, you will go far.
You will live in happiness too
Like the Oompa Loompa doompadee do…
Here’s Jon Bon Jovi and Iranian singer Andy Madadian collaborating on “Stand by Me,” sung in both Farsi and English, and meant to be distributed around the world, but especially around Iran.
It’s the brainchild of American record producer (and bassist on the recording), Don Was. The site also has the MP3 available for free download.
(Hat tip: Jason Bennion)
Like many Americans, I was confused about Alaska Governor Sarah Palin’s sudden resignation last week. Turning to the Internet, my usually dependable series of newsfeeds did little to clarify my confusion. Almost no one linked to the actual statement that she made, choosing instead to quote portions of it, and then use some decidedly subjective terms to describe it. CNN called it “rambling [and ] often-disjointed.” US News & World Report called it “rambling, quirky and quixotic.” And the New York Times went with “breathless.” These are not the kinds of words I’m used to reading in news articles (as opposed to Op-Ed pieces or blog entries).
In any case, I Googled around and finally found the text of her remarks. Now, I think we’ve established a long time ago that Sarah Palin is not a good public speaker. Her statement is 2,546 words long, and“rambling” and “disjointed,” while subjective, are not bad descriptors after all. That said, those who claim to be confused about why she is stepping down either haven’t read it or are intentionally drumming up controversy that just isn’t there. Allow me to strip away as much of the fluff as I can and present her message in just 432 (of her own) words:
Read the rest of this entry »
My friend Ilya turned me on to a blog called The Speculist, which I glance at periodically. Most of the time, it’s mildly interesting but nothing to blog home about. But this past weekend, it ran four stories that really caught my eye, so I figure I’ll
force them upon share them with you.
Not so much interesting (or even practical), just really cool. The robots not only lure the creatures and “digest” them, but they use the energy from the digestion process to power the robot for capturing more pests:
Stephen Hawking believes we’ve developed the ability to evolve as a species based on more than just genetics:
But we are now entering a new phase, of what Hawking calls “self designed evolution,” in which we will be able to change and improve our DNA. “At first,” he continues “these changes will be confined to the repair of genetic defects, like cystic fibrosis, and muscular dystrophy. These are controlled by single genes, and so are fairly easy to identify, and correct. Other qualities, such as intelligence, are probably controlled by a large number of genes. It will be much more difficult to find them, and work out the relations between them. Nevertheless, I am sure that during the next century, people will discover how to modify both intelligence, and instincts like aggression.”
Anyone want to tell Dr. Hawking he’s wrong? And remember, if this makes you angry, Dr. Hawking can rewire your brain to help with that…
Just a little something to make Jeff Porten’s head spin off…
The 55 mice used in the University of South Florida study had been bred to develop symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. First the researchers used behavioural tests to confirm the mice were exhibiting signs of memory impairment when they were aged 18 to 19 months, the equivalent to humans being about 70.
Then they gave half the mice caffeine in their drinking water. The rest were given plain water. The mice were given the equivalent of five 8 oz (227 grams) cups of coffee a day – about 500 milligrams of caffeine.
When the mice were tested again after two months, those who were given the caffeine performed much better on tests measuring their memory and thinking skills and performed as well as mice of the same age without dementia. Those drinking plain water continued to do poorly on the tests.
In addition, the brains of the mice given caffeine showed nearly a 50% reduction in levels of the beta amyloid protein, which forms destructive clumps in the brains of dementia patients.
(emphasis is mine)
Now how’s that for great news? Next up – the Starbucks Center for Memory Enhancement.
I hope everyone had a wonderful Fourth of July. My family and I spent a wonderful day out & about with friends, and then came home and watched three great fireworks shows in High Definition & Surround Sound. A quick review:
- Washington, DC: Best pre-fireworks show by far – Aretha Franklin (who looked like she was battling a cold), Barry Manilow (who looks more like 46 than his actual 66 years of age), the Sesame Street Muppets (the gang is 40 this year – just like me! Their premiered on November 10, 1969 – exactly eight days before I, er…premiered), Natasha Bedingfield, the cast of The Jersey Boys, Michael Feinstein & Andrew von Oeyen doing Rhapsody in Blue, and of course, the National Symphony Orchestra. Top it all off with the President of the United States wishing his daughter a happy birthday and then introducing Elmo. Top notch. The fireworks, though? Meh…
- New York: Best fireworks show. Macy’s is always the biggest in the country and despite the recession and talk of cancelled fireworks shows, this year’s edition was the biggest Macy’s has ever done. The pre-fireworks show? Meh. Jewel did a stirring rendition of America the Beautiful and Rob Thomas sounded OK, but the cast of West Side Story looked foolish. “America” is not a patriotic song – it’s a song that makes (somewhat racist) fun of Puerto Ricans. If they had to have a Broadway Cast perform, they should have picked someone else…
- Boston, MA: Most hip fireworks show. “Fireworks on the Clamshell” combined the standard Sousa and patriotic fare with some Kenny Chesney, some Rodney Atkins and even some John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. It’s not often your toe starts tapping while watching fireworks. The pre-fireworks show? Meh. Neil Diamond looks every bit of his 68 years old, and talked through his two songs as much as he sang. And I swear he injured his back attempting to point to the sky for that classic pose at the end of “They’re Coming to America.”
Anyway, I hope your Fourth was a much fun as mine. I leave you with a video from the JibJab boys, in which various Presidents of the United States come together to sing(?) our National Anthem. Enjoy…