Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Now For The Brighter Side Of Life

Was Love Connection, that great 80's late night dating game the precursor to today's reality shows? If so, the latest variants forgot that the original was actually pretty funny. Maybe the new ones just try too hard?

Back in 2 and 2.

Monday, July 21, 2008

More Lessons From History

"They came as liberators but were met by fierce resistance outside Baghdad. Humiliating treatment of prisoners and heavy-handed action in Najaf and Fallujah further alienated the local population." CNN, 2007? No, Britain, 90 years earlier!

Robert Frisk writing on the eerie parallels between the 1917 British invasion of Iraq & the situation today, originally published in The Independent. He goes on to say:

"Within six months, Britain was fighting a military insurrection in Iraq and David Lloyd George, the prime minister, was facing calls for a military withdrawal. "Is it not for the benefit of the people of that country that it should be governed so as to enable them to develop this land which has been withered and shrivelled up by oppression? What would happen if we withdrew?" Lloyd George would not abandon Iraq to "anarchy and confusion". By this stage, British officials in Baghdad were blaming the violence on "local political agitation, originated outside Iraq", suggesting that Syria might be involved.

Upon Which The Sun Shall Never Set

A partial list of countries formally occupied & administered by the British:
Sierra Leone

Now children, can you find the connection here? That's right little Johnny, those nasty brutal colonialists were replaced by...

Paying The Piper - USA Style 2008

The story is actually dates from the 13th century, made popular by the Brothers Grimm in the 19th. The villagers renege on their deal with the rat clearing piper & he exacts his revenge in a horrific manner. From this we get the phrase, "paying the piper."

In the 1940s personal savings rates were close to 25%, perhaps this had as much to do with rationing and the lack of goods to purchase, however even in the 70's & 80's they ran between 6% and 8%. By the Millennium savings rates had dropped to around 2% and actually went into negative territory (people extracting more from their savings than depositing) in 2004.

Household debt (adjusted for income) as a share of disposable income rose from around 33% in the 1940s to 86% in the late 90's. However, from 2000 until 2005 it had risen 30 points from 102% to 131%, in other words, people were spending 30% more than they earned.

The savings rate & spending rate are closely tied, the less you save, the more you spend & it was this burst of credit fueled purchasing that drove our economy into overdrive over the past decade.

We lived in a beautiful upwards spiral, ever lax banking regulation funneled more & more dollars into consumer's hands. Buoyed with this wealth they bought bigger homes forcing property prices upwards. They then borrowed against these homes' inflated values to purchase big ticket consumer goods. By now financial institutions were repackaging loans & selling them off so a borrower's ability to pay became less important than the origination fees associated with the debt. The huge sums of money flowing into the economy by unrestrained consumer spending buoyed up every sector of the market.

However, a house of cards is just that. For all the endless analysis & chatter in the media it's a very simple equation, an economy cannot be built on top of a giant Ponzi scheme. An endless party of borrowing and spending was obviously not going to have much sustainability. And here we are, acting all surprised as usual.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Let's Fix Sport Doping For Good

Pity the Tour de France, for all their posturing, they can't even reach Stage 12 without a favorite rider testing positive for drugs. Of course, cycling's not alone, baseball, the Olympics and many other sports have been similarly tainted by drug scandals. With the summer games close, I think it's time we took some ideas from the drag racers' NHRA playbook and got back to openess in athletic competition.

I propose 3 major catagories of athlete;
1) Stock - a little coffee or diet coke is fine, energy bars & recovery drinks are permitted but beyond this the athlete is pretty much operating on the goods God gave them.
2) Top Alcohol - these guys & girls are allowed some performance drugs, steroids are in however drugs must be consumed/injected prior to actual competition.
3) Top Fuel - anything goes, want a second heart implanted in your chect? No problem. Prepared to ride with an IV strapped to bike? It's all good for the Top Fuelers.

An athlete would declare the catagory that he/she wished to compete in & like bracket racing the results would be adjusted accordingly. This way both the fans & atheletes win.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

SF Held Captive

This story has legs...a disgruntled San Francisco city computer engineer is currently being held on $5M bail for refusing to divulge the password he used to lock all other administrators out of the city WAN network! Authorities claim that Terry Childs may also have an accomplice remotely accessing & deleting files. This seems a little far-fetched since obviously Childs could have engineered this instead of, or in addition to his password trick at the same time.

While this standoff continues it's interesting to muse on how much of our lives depend on data that could easily be compromised by a malicious computer administrator who may just as easily be thousands of miles away.

Link to story at SFGate

Torrent = Quality and Avant-Garde?

The video torrent traders seem to be most interested in the timeliness of their files rather than the overall quality. A handheld camera in a movie theater will often serve their purpose well. However, the audio uploaders seem to be increasingly concerned with the quality, of their offerings. 320kbs rips are very common on the torrent networks & far exceed the quality found on the commercial download sites (iTunes, Amazon etc.).

A group calling themselves The Vinyl Flac Project are meticulously re-recording rare avant-garde albums that have long dropped from the label's catalogs. These are then offered on the major torrent tracking sites like Pirate Bay. Alongside a complementary operation, the Avant Garde Project, the offerings include works by John Cage, Peter Maxwell & even Stravinsky. Find their releases here & here (you'll need a torrent program to download the files, don't forget to seed after finishing).

Monday, July 14, 2008

One Of Mine

Taken with my Nokia N95, Laredo, Texas, June 2008.

Lime 37 - Hot Rod Photography

Lime 37
Originally uploaded by thebobblog
Unique photographs from a fellow fan of dereliction. Find my own fascination with the subject here.

Bring On The Lawyers

Confident after their successful action against the NSA in 2006, the ACLU has already filed suit against the FISA warrant less wiretap law. Quote from the ACLU's Christopher Dunn:

"A democratic system depends on the rule of law, and not even the president or Congress can authorize a law that violates core constitutional principles. The only thing compromised in this so-called 'compromise' law is the Constitution."

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is also rumored to be starting legal action against FISA although apparently staying quiet on the issue as not to tip their legal hand.

Interestingly, I worked with a Christian organization last week who are highly active in many of the countries considered as supporters of terrorism. Currently many of the objections to the new law revolve around journalists, however, religious & charitable organizations are bound to be caught up in the broad net cast by the act. As a former Brit, one could argue that my frequent calls to the same country that gave us a shoe, liquid & subway bombers could be subject to interception!

Thank goodness for the lawyers dedicated to upholding our freedoms in the face of ever increasing pressure. This could turn out to be an interesting fight, I am interested to see the government's case defending the act against the Constitution.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Meanwhile On The Other Side Of The Pond

Without the sanity of a Supreme Court or a codified constitution to stop them, the British authorities are waging war on the habeas corpus rights of their citizens originally enshrined in the Magna Carta over 800 years ago. Sir Bob Geldof has an excellent piece in today's Telegraph in which he writes;

What existential threat do we face greater than those of the past 800 years? What great terror exists today that not civil war, not world war, nor recent other terrorisms could make our forefathers change the fundamental basis of this state? What is so dangerous that our oldest statutes could be upended for such a ha'p'orth of momentary panic?

Wise words to heed on BOTH sides of the Atlantic.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The Eagle Has Landed (maybe for good)

Today the Senate passed Bush's bill extending the government's power to eavesdrop on it's citizens & granting immunity to the telco companies who assisted in illegal surveillance. Obviously the news & blogs are all over this with what appears to be pretty consistent condemnation of the bill & the 69 Senators who voted for it, including a certain Presumptive Candidate for President, Barack Obama.

The democrats are running on a platform of Change. But we already have a majority of Democrats in BOTH houses and yet the war continues and the trampling of the 4th Amendment alongside it. Perhaps I'm worrying needlessly, in fact Sen. Bond (R-Mo) claimed that "unless I have al Queda on speed dial I have nothing to fear" This from a government that can't even implement a functional no-fly list.

Three years ago this fall, I stood in a room with 842 others & swore an oath of allegiance to a country that I truly believed represented the highest ideals of freedom & liberty on our planet. It breaks my heart to see small minded, self-serving politicians, their lobbyists & the corporations that support them, trample on the very ideals I stood up for. To wit: “I will from this point forward grant my allegiance to the Constitution of the United States, and to its Laws, defending the Constitution and the Laws from all enemies that attack them.” Seemingly in 2008, defending the Constitution from enemies will serve only to get me wiretapped?

Monday, July 07, 2008

Squeeze-ing the $ out

Yes, these are actual concert ticket prices. Who for? Bette Midler? Streisland? The Eagles? Wrong, wrong, wrong! It's for one of my favorite all time bands, British pop icons, Squeeze playing at the House Of Blues. Big fan that I am (I saw their final show at the condemned Rainbow in London) there is no way I would pay this to see Difford & Tilbrook again. And the music industry wonders why it's going down the toilet?

iPhoto to Flickr

Nice little free application for exporting directly from iPhoto to Flickr. Neat.

My Boombox

Back when audio-to-go was anything but personal I came home with one of these. I think my parents recoiled in horror at the size & volume of the beast but I loved it. It traveled everywhere with me, complete with little pieces of tape to mark the locations of my favorite Sunday afternoon pirate radio stations in London. I remember sun-bathing on my apartment building roof with the Hitachi, Kenny Everett on Capital Radio & at least a six pack of Swan Lager. Had to be careful with the beer though, it was a long drop off the edge!

Thanks to pocketcalculatorshow for the trip down memory lane & Notcot for the inspiration.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

The 4 Grand Chopper!

Rumor has it that a custom piece from the Teutul family can set you back well over $100K. For those with less (substantially less) funds there is this alternative from JohnnyPag Motorcycles. Retailing a scad over $4K these US designed, Chinese built bikes have a 300cc engine & are good for around 75mph, which is about as fast as you'd want to go on a chopper anyway.

It's no Captain America but still a great looking machine.

via Retrothing.

Doomed To Repeat

It was George Santayana in 1924 who coined the famous phrase "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." And like deja-vous the US auto industry is fulfilling the prophecy. Back in 1973 the OPEC oil embargo hit the US, gas prices rose about 70 cents a gallon & Detroit was stuck with dealer lots stuffed with V-8 gas guzzling monsters that no one wanted. Much hand wringing followed, with claims from the Big 3 that this could never have been anticipated & they were caught without any models that could appeal to the economy conscious consumer. The door was opened to the Japanese imports & the rest is history.

Fast foward to 2008, gas prices have been steadily trending upwards since 2004 to their current high of around $4 per gallon. Once again Detroit was caught off guard, stuck with dealer lots stuffed with V-8 gas guzzling monsters and no models to sell to the economy conscious consumer. And once again the Big 3 are hand wringing with the usual "no one could have predicted this" excuses.

What are they teaching in MBA class these days anyway?

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

In Search Of The Perfect Caipirinha - Update Spy Shot

This grainy spy shot was the best our undercover agent could get (at considerable risk to himself). What we have here is the Pineapple Mint Caipirinha reputedly served at Republic in NYC's Union Square. Hmm, seems like a fact finding mission to the Big Apple may be necessary?

Cinespia - The New Drive In (sort of)

Go to this intersection on Sunday nights to be a part of cinespia screenings at the Santa Monica Cemetery. Seems like a grand idea, bring a blanket & picnic, listen to some tunes & watch a cool movie projected onto the wall of the cemetery. Movie selection is not "please the kiddies" fodder either, upcoming showings include Easy Rider and Blue Velvet.

Thanks to Lefsetz for the idea.

Hardy Herons

Not a post for David Attenborough but one about the latest Linux distribution form Ubuntu which continues with the wildlife naming structure. I have a battered corporate lease turn-in Dell on which I had tried unsuccessfully to get a completely operational installation of Windows XP. After hours of playing with WiFi settings to try & get onto my open WiFi network I gave up, went back on the Mac, downloaded Ubuntu & burned an ISO image CD, total time, less than 20 minutes.

I booted the now OS-less Dell to the ISO, followed the very simple on-screen instructions & within 15 minutes, had a fully operational Linux machine, including a large array of business, games & internet software (Firefox 3 for example). The process rivals Apple's OS X for ease & beats it hands down for speed. Upon rebooting the machine it had recognized the WiFi network and was ready to Bluetooth to my phone. It then prompted me to start a seamless upgrade procedure (again, similar to Apple's).

Ah ha I thought, what about my WiFi printer? That'll catch it out! Proved wrong again...a quick search of the Ubuntu help pages & I was printing over my network (btw, kudos to HP for supporting Linux). So less than an hour after beginning the install I had 3 user accounts set up, music playing, IM windows open & a whole host of other operations & software.

In conclusion, this was possibly the most seamless OS install I have ever done. It's nice to see an outdated laptop (P-M 1.8GHz, 512MB RAM, Ubuntu claim reasonable performance down to a 700MHz processor) brought back to fast, efficient & useful service. I think that with Hardy Heron, Linux may well be ready for the average home user!

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Defining Terrorists

Last weekend, Londoners celebrated Nelson Mandela's 90th birthday with a big concert in Hyde Park. The event coincided with attempts by some in the US Senate to have Mandela's name removed from the terrorist watch list. Growing up in the UK during the height of the IRA's campaigns (& being narrowly missed twice) I have a high level of sceptiscm for those politicians who use terror as a vote gatherer. As our news continues to blurt out scare stories it's interesting to note who was considered a terrorist but is now seen as a senior statesman and hero.

Yasser Arafat, popular visitor to the White House lawn lead Fatah and the PLO during it's reign of terror across Europe & the Middle East. His leadership were directly connected to the kipnapping and executions of the Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972.

But it isn't all rosy on the other side. Israel's founding father Ben-Gurion is still viewed as a terrorist by much of the Arab world after his violent expulsion of the Palestinians from Israel & his involvement in the Qibya massacre. British troops were often the target of his Zionist supporters as well.

Sometimes the journey from terrorist to statements takes an about turn. Robert Mugabe was seen both as the liberator of Rhodesia from white rule & as a terrorist by those fighting his Marxist rebels. He has degenerated back into being viewed as a terrorist as his violent grip continues to tighten around Zimbabwe.

So what of Mandela? As leader of the armed division of the African National Congress, he coordinated and participated in many violent attacks against government entities. Convicted & unrepentent in 1962 (he was outspoken at trial in his support for violent action) he began his now famous prison term. He was offered his freedom many times if he would renounce the use of violence but Mandela refused to negotiate with Cape Town.

What can we learn from all this? Obviously, one man's terrorist is another's freedom fighter and the term itself is not one we should use lightly or as a cheap scare tactic to acquire votes or viewers. Osama bin-Laden seems an unlikely character for a handshake amongst the White House roses but if history is anything to go by, I wouldn't bet the farm.