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Archive for July, 2006

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Celebrity Look-Alike

Sunday, July 16th, 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:

My reactions:

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.

Categories: The World Wide Weird | 3 Comments »

A Not-So-Innocent Man

Friday, July 14th, 2006

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…

Categories: Words about Music | 5 Comments »

Tax Cuts for the Rich Raise Taxes for the Rich

Thursday, July 13th, 2006

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…

Categories: Money Talk, Political Rantings | No Comments »

Missed me again (again)

Sunday, July 9th, 2006

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.

Categories: News and/or Media, Political Rantings | No Comments »

“Google” earns official verb status

Thursday, July 6th, 2006

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!

Categories: The World Wide Weird | No Comments »

The Internet’s in the Mail…

Monday, July 3rd, 2006

Ladies and Gentlemen, Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska):
(hat tip: Lileks)

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…

Categories: Political Rantings, Tech Talk | 1 Comment »

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