Wednesday, June 26, 2002

Excuse The Disruption: So I head over to the title office in Chelsea to FINALLY pick up my re-finance settlement. There's a big semi in front of me and just as I pull into the center lane to turn left he pulls in front of me and stops dead, effectively blocking the driveway I need to get to, and puts on his flashers. Now given the current state of my car, I have sympathy for anyone with engine trouble, so I slide out from behind him, go up a ways, turn around and come back down to get to the driveway I need from the other direction. As I do I see the driver - clearly a man whose career does not require physical activity or personal grooming - get out and walk into a nearby business, presumably to call for help.

I get into the title office and I'm waiting for them to get my check. I look out and I notice that the truck is starting to cause trafic problems, what with blocking driveways and obstructing everyone's view of on-coming traffic.

So who walks into the title office but the driver. His gut is hanging over his belt. The pits of his t-shirt are soaked. He's got a baseball cap with the confederate flag on it. You just know he's got a greased up pig in the passenger seat. And he says, "Yuh ver har umsum chels lumba."

Me and the receptionist exchange confused looks.

"Lumba sto," he drawls.

The receptionist says, "Chelsea Lumber? Are you looking for Chelsea Lumber?"

"Yeh-heh," he replies with a dentally challenged grin.

She gives him directions. He waddles back into his truck and drives off.

The stupid ape stopped cold in the middle lane, turned on his flashers and started wandering around town asking directions, utterly oblivious to what a mess he was causing on the road.

It's just too easy to make a living in this country. People like that should not be able to thrive and breed. It can't be good from an evolutionary standpoint.
Rush, Bum: Sorry to rush you through this like a bum, but I'm still in over-extended (perhaps it will make me taller).

I have been reading Busniess 2.0 in between disasters (it's one of those $3.95 subscriptions I set up while back). Good stuff. The June issue has an interesting article about irrational consumer thinking, which sadly comes to the conclusion that the reason consumers are irrational is that advertising convinces them to be. That's wrong. I would expain why if I had more time. But the behavioral research discused is interesting. And then there's a decent article about blogs, something you may be familiar with. Sadly, the best article so far was in the latest issue (not on-line yet) about the high-tech methods Columbian drug dealers use to evade capture and catch moles. As soon as it's available I'll link it up.

And Wired has an interesting series on the melungeons, an obscure Appalachain tirbe that has been searching for genetic roots. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Follow-up, More Follow-up.

Happy reading. Be back in a few days.

Thursday, June 20, 2002

Hello, I Must Be Going: No let up yet. Life got more complicated when my radiator decided the hottest week of the year so far was the appropriate time to develop a leak. The car's days are numbered - as soon as I get my check from my refinancing, I'll be in a bright and shiny new car - so instead of getting it fixed I invested in a few gallons of coolant and I've resolved to top it off every morning.

Plus, I think my A/C (in my home) doesn't work. I know it didn't work last summer, although I think there were only like two days I really needed to use it, and I can't remember whether I got it fixed or not. I think not.


Anyway, my life is currently subtitled No Time For Weblogs, and will probably continue to be for another week to 10 days.

For now, let me recommend you once again to one of my favorites Forbes ASAP, where you can read a series of very insightful articles including this one, about why everyone in the know feels the need for reform to the patent and copyright system.
My own introduction to the realities of the patent system came in the 1980s, when my client, Sun Microsystems--then a small company--was accused by IBM of patent infringement. Threatening a massive lawsuit, IBM demanded a meeting to present its claims. Fourteen IBM lawyers and their assistants, all clad in the requisite dark blue suits, crowded into the largest conference room Sun had.

The chief blue suit orchestrated the presentation of the seven patents IBM claimed were infringed, the most prominent of which was IBM's notorious "fat lines" patent: To turn a thin line on a computer screen into a broad line, you go up and down an equal distance from the ends of the thin line and then connect the four points. You probably learned this technique for turning a line into a rectangle in seventh-grade geometry, and, doubtless, you believe it was devised by Euclid or some such 3,000-year-old thinker. Not according to the examiners of the USPTO, who awarded IBM a patent on the process.

After IBM's presentation, our turn came. As the Big Blue crew looked on (without a flicker of emotion), my colleagues--all of whom had both engineering and law degrees--took to the whiteboard with markers, methodically illustrating, dissecting, and demolishing IBM's claims. We used phrases like: "You must be kidding," and "You ought to be ashamed." But the IBM team showed no emotion, save outright indifference. Confidently, we proclaimed our conclusion: Only one of the seven IBM patents would be deemed valid by a court, and no rational court would find that Sun's technology infringed even that one.

An awkward silence ensued. The blue suits did not even confer among themselves. They just sat there, stonelike. Finally, the chief suit responded. "OK," he said, "maybe you don't infringe these seven patents. But we have 10,000 U.S. patents. Do you really want us to go back to Armonk [IBM headquarters in New York] and find seven patents you do infringe? Or do you want to make this easy and just pay us $20 million?"

After a modest bit of negotiation, Sun cut IBM a check, and the blue suits went to the next company on their hit list.
The story (if accurate) speaks for itself.

But it's not all business over there, there are articles on Nano-Khakis, a brief rant on cell phones from P.J. O'Rourke, and the latest rendition of Best of the Web, with enough links to keep you exploring all day.

Sunday, June 16, 2002

Where I'm At: My refinancing is coming tomorrow, so that means a new car will be coming shortly afterwards. That will be a hassle. Lots of running around is on the horizon at work - that would be my day job, my one paying gig - which will also be a hassle.

I've completed A Wild Sheep Chase and have started the sequel, Dance, Dance, Dance. These are fascinating books and I plan to write an extended critique of them once I'm done.

Plus, I need to get back to hawking A Pleasure Doing Business With You and writing Misspent Youth. If I don't you will never see them, and I know you are just panting in anticipation.

So, as usual, I have to make apologies for what will likely be sporadic updating for a while.
I Am Haunted by Margaritas: Another Margarita message. Reader Virginia dropped a line from England, where she has journeyed from Texas (that's right, Virginia from Texas in England), to decry the state of the English Margarita, which she describes as lemonade with some Tequila. Let us all shed a tear for Virginia. The best I could do was offer a link to the Texas Embassy restaurant in London. If anyone has any better suggestions, send them in and I'll pass them along to Virginia (and post them here). By the way, don't weep too long for Virginia, she says England is rife with great beer.

And the very day I got Virginia's message the latest copy of Men's Journal arrived featuring a fine Margarita article (not available on-line yet) where we learn the importance of 100% blue agave tequila - vs. the cheap 51% blended you remember from college - from an experienced bartender.
For Julio [the bartender], there is simply no room in his margarita for 51 percent mixtos. "I'll keep one or two at the bar and sell them at $15 a shot - it's the penalty I charge you for being a dumbass."
Tee-hee. The author, one John Hodgman, offers his personal recipe:
  • 2 oz of you favorite 100-per-cent-blue-agave tequila, or mine: Herradura Reposado

  • 1 1/3 oz of fresh-squeezed lime juice (about two limes' worth)

  • 1/3 oz of Cointreau

  • 1/3 oz simple syrup
Shake ingredients with ice. Strain into a 10-oz goblet with ice or a chilled rocks glass. Flame an orange peel over the top of the cocktail (for directions, see Garnish with a slice of lime and save the salt for your tortilla chips.
In my estimation, that is a terrific recipe for a strongly tequila focused Margarita by minimizing the Cointreau and using simple syrup instead (and flaming an orange peel - great touch!) so that the intricacies of the tequila will come through.

Also, that site mentioned,, has a wealth of information for the quality drinker, and a lot to argue about; the guy elevates Vodka to a valid Martini-base (shudder). I may have more to say about that in the future. Check it out.
Stupid Just Is: It's been a banner couple of weeks for stupidity. Some union thugs in New Jersey decided to re-enact a scene from West Side Story after a meeting; It looks like Czech communists have hired Bill Clinton as a campaign consultant; At school, playing tag is out, but you better be up on your pimps and crack-whores; MTV pulls a stupid stunt with a fake corpse in Vegas, while here in Michigan we use real ones to keep our teenagers in line; and just down the street in Ann Arbor, womynkind considers a mere 30 toilets a form of male repression.

I got to get out of the comedy biz. There's too much competition.
Get Crazy With Your Browser: For casual browsing of the web Internet Explorer is just fine, but if you have heavy duty needs - such as researching web site content - where you have lots of pages open at once and you are often visiting pages that may ending up popping up a thousand ads, I strongly recommend Crazy Browser. Crazy Browser essentially provides an alternate and enhanced interface to Internet Explorer. It uses tabs to manage multiple pages, kills pop-ups, has a terrific search utility and the configuration options seem endless. Plus, it's free (but maybe not for long). Like I said, if you're a casual browser, you probably don't need this. But if you cruise the web with purpose, get it.

Thursday, June 13, 2002

Excuse Me Fer Dumping On Ya: What follows is dumpage from my get-around-to-it-one-of-these-days-when-I-haven't-found-anything-more-meaty-to-write-about-either-becasue-I-was-too-busy-or-because-nothing-is-going-on-or-the-weather-is-too-nice-or-I-just-want-to-watch-TV-and-drink-one-of-those-Diet-Snapples-that-I-like file.

Tuesday, June 11, 2002

Is This Any Way To Run An Industry?: There's a terrific article in the 6/10 Wall Street Journal about the inner machinations of the music industry. Since it's subscription only, I can't link it up, but I'll quote from it liberally.
This week, 27 pop-radio programmers from Clear Channel Communications Inc. will gather in Los Angeles -- a seemingly priceless opportunity for record labels looking to promote new albums to influential radio executives.

But access to the Clear Channel programmers actually comes with a price tag: about $40,000, the amount music companies pay to be sponsors of the event's lunch or evening cocktails. In return, they will get to showcase their music and receive feedback from the programmers.


Currently, concern about the issue is in part being fueled by the downturn in the music business. Record companies have been forced to try to contain promotional costs that they say have risen sharply. "The costs are so excessive," says Charles Goldstuck, president and chief operating officer of J Records, a joint venture with Bertelsmann AG's BMG. "With the overall industry revenue base declining, whether the industry likes it or not, something has to give."

To compete for a limited number of open slots on pop radio, labels say they typically pay independent promoters from $200,000 to $300,000 per song, and occasionally more than $1 million. Labels give promoters from $500 to $2,000, depending on the format, each time a station adds a particular song to its playlist for a given week. These costs have risen as the radio industry has consolidated, music companies say. It is getting harder for them to influence playlists, in part because fewer programmers are deciding which songs get "spins" on the air.

Radio and record companies "need to sit down and get together to find better ways to do business -- kind of like Pakistan and India need to do," says Bill Scull, president of Tri-State Promotions, of Cincinnati. His closely held company is one of the nation's most influential independent promoters, along with Jeff McClusky & Associates, a Chicago company that has locked up exclusive access to several programmers at big radio companies. "Because of the size of the radio groups, the power has shifted and record companies now feel like they're not getting full value," Mr. Scull adds.
So, as I read it, here's the set-up: Clear Channel (and lesser radio station groups) make agreements with these independent promoters to give these promoters access to their stations. A fee goes to the radio group (e.g. Clear Channel) for this. Record company comes along looking for airplay from Clear Channel, Record Company must "hire" the specific independent promoter that the radio group has designated. Basically, this is a slightly sanitized version of payola.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the practice of "payola" -- undisclosed cash payments to individuals in exchange for radio play -- became a routine part of the music business, culminating in a series of scandals followed by laws banning such illicit payments. If an individual radio employee is paid in such an illicit trade, it's payola, a criminal violation. If a station owner takes money in exchange for airplay without disclosing it on the air, it's a civil infraction that can result in a fine from the FCC.

The music industry has adapted, finding less direct methods. The labels found they could effectively lobby stations using independent promoters, who often have long-term relationships with radio executives and are supposed to have specialized knowledge of local markets that help them pitch the songs most likely to be hits.
So the practice of "hiring" independent promoters was really started by the record companies, but because of all the consolidation in the radio business (read: Clear Channel), the scarcity of free-thinking radio stations shifted the balance of power from the record companies to radio. The net result is a smaller and smaller cadre of marketing execs determining what music gets heard.

Now I don't believe that there is any evil or immoral intent or activity. It's just stupid. How can you possibly have a good understanding of current popular musical tastes with just a few people running around doing focus groups? You can't. Music choice gets narrower and narrower; audiences get smaller and smaller; losses get bigger and wider.

In the long run, technology will overcome all these shortcomings and render irrelevant the big players who can't adapt. It's just a question of how long the lobbying and lawsuits will let industry bigwigs keep their phoney-baloney jobs.
Does This Help?: I don't know if Clear Channel Sucks helps the situation along, but it is somewhat gratifying.
Leave the Gun, Take the Cannoli Borscht: This is old, but it's timely given that the Red Wings are about to win another Stanley Cup. The Wings were one of the first teams to load up on Russian players back in the day, at one point gleefully referring to themselves as Detroit's Red Army. Of course along with the Russian players came the Russian mob - or at least that's what the allegation is. This PBS Frontline documentary (from 1999 I think) has lots of good information on the Hockey-Wiseguy connection. Especially this remarkable interview with a US executive who went to Russia to help revive Russian hockey after the fall.

I anxiously await movie version directed by Scorsese.

Saturday, June 08, 2002

Nobody's Rockin': I ranted a bit about Clear Channel a few days back. I really think the implosion of the music industry is one of the more remarkable on-going business stories of recent times. It's not just the radio meltdown. CDs aren't selling. The various factions are suing everyone in sight, trying to make it impossible to copy anything when they should be addressing the reason their CUSTOMERS want to copy stuff to begin with (i.e. too expensive, too many filler songs on CDs when you only want the one, need for a centralized availability, etc.), lobbying to price internet radio out of the picture. You see, they've lost track of their CUSTOMERS. They think they know the formula to make money; judging from their financial results, the market disagrees. So they sue to protect their paradigm. This article sums it up. Note how the industry fears that there is no new Big Thing on the horizon, meanwhile they put all their effort into homogenizing everything so that the next Big Thing won't get a chance to interfere with their failing formulas. Another article says it well, quoting Blazing Saddles: "Gentlemen, we have got to protect our phoney, baloney jobs!"

I can't imagine a more misguided industry. Remarkable.

But also note there are high hopes for the latest release from poser-rapper Eminem. His new song is getting a lot of airplay. It's got a nice, peppy beat. And of course, Eminem is always challenging society with his subject matter. If you're wondering what his new song is about, well, let's just say there are in excess of 60 uses of the words me/I/I'm/I've in what can't be much more than a 3 minute song.

It still feels so empty...
Nano Steps: It looks like we're getting close to having the first nanotech based products reach the market. Molecular machines inserted in your body to keep you free from disease? Nope. Micro-bugs to monitor terrorist cells invisibly? Nope. Tiny robots to scurry about and clean you house while you sleep? Nope.
One of the first nanotech-related breakthroughs consumers will see, for example, is a new type of sunscreen -- expected to start showing up on store shelves within the next year or so -- being perfected by a German company...
I hereby copyright the name "Nanoblock." The Germans can see me if they would like to purchase the rights.

Actually, it does look like there are some cool medical uses coming soon: battery recharging for pacemakers and a more effective treatment for breast cancer. Check it out. You are looking at the iceberg's tip off in the distance.
B3: Be Bim Bop is Korean comfort food. Rice, veggies, a little bit of beef, are combined in a bowl and a fried egg is placed on top. Mix it all up with some Soy Sauce or something more spicy if you're adventurous, and you got yourself a truly tasty treat. It may sound a little heavy, but it's not, it's stick to your ribs home cookin' from the Far East. I mention this because this afternoon I went into Ann Arbor and had dinner at Steve's Lunch - a genuine 10x20 diner, no tables, just a counter and a grill, where you would expect greasy spoon style fare but in fact you get exceptional Be Bim Bop. It's not just me - this blogger loves it too, and this guy hasn't found a substitute even in ethnic restaurant heaven, San Francisco. A certain character in Apple Pie also had a penchant for Steve's B3. The Be Bim Bop at Steve's Lunch is a little bit of Ann Arbor colloquialism that you should sample if you're in town. But get yourself hungry first.

Wednesday, June 05, 2002

Starving for Life: If you keep up on matters of health, fitness, and longevity - like I do - you will have the sense that the Next Big Thing is going to involve a concept called Caloric Restriction. Caloric Restriction posits that a severe reduction in caloric intake is directly correlated with increased longevity.

Now, before you take that to mean you'll live longer if you watch your weight and give it a big fat DUH!, just listen.

Caloric restriction has nothing to do with weight and in fact, has nothing to do with fitness. Caloric Restriction is based on research done in animals of all sorts, from microscopic all the way up to dogs and monkeys. Oversimplified, it involves taking large numbers of the creatures feeding group A a controlled healthy low-fat diet of X calories and feeding group B exactly the same food but maybe only 60% of group A's portions and then adding non-caloric supplements (vitamins) for added nutrition. In all these species the result is that the calorie restricted group lived significantly longer and exhibited less sign of age related diseases. Extrapolating from this to human life spans, we would be looking at 140 years or so.

A couple of news reports on the research can be found here and here.

This will be extremely difficult research to duplicate in humans, since our behavioral differences are virtually uncontrollable from individual to individual. But, as I read it, the supposition is this:

Joe Schmoe is man of average height (5'9") and weight (say 160-ish) and leading a sedentary life he would by all estimates expend about 2000 calories a day. Now if instead of 2000 calories, Joe Schmoe cut his intake to 1300 calories a day (and took the need supplements so as not to be malnourished) his weight would undoubtedly drop significantly (probably to around 120 or so - bone skinny) but it would stabilize at some point, i.e. he wouldn't starve to death. The result of this would be that his expected life-span would increase dramatically and he would be less likely to suffer from caner and arthritis and many other age-related maladies.

The underlying theory is that the actual intake of food and processing of calories by your body affects aging. One human believer in this process is quoted in a 6/3 Wall Street Journal article (I can't link it, it subscribers only) as saying "Every calorie you eat is a second off your life." Of course, the guy is six feet tall and 115 pounds.

I don't want to make this out as a crackpot theory, there is an awful lot of evidence and good solid scientific research going into this. It's not Junk Science, but there are a lot of unaddressed concerns.

For example, a diet so restricted in calories pretty much prevents any sort of strenuous regular physical activity; the fuel just isn't available for your body to do anything. That leads to this question. Does our sedentary, 1300 calorie/day Joe Schmoe have a longer life expectancy than a 2000 calorie a day Joe Schmoe who exercises to expend an extra 700 calories a day to net out to the same 1300 calories? Is Joe better off sitting and starving or eating and being fit?

Anyway, it's not like I'm going to give up eating and drinking. A) I'm not convinced that there aren't other forces at work here besides caloric intake and B) I don't have the willpower even if I was convinced.

But keep on eye on this. The research done here may pay off in making existing foods healthier or understanding the aging process better.
Six Feet Deeper: A while back, I raised a red flag about this year's season of Six Feet Under. I was very impressed with last year's season in my essay, but this year was looking to be a step down. Some of the story lines got a little maudlin, and some of the episodes turned out a bit tawdry. It didn't finish any better. Some plot lines closed, others opened, and we were left with a cliff-hanger as to whether Nate (one of the two male leads) would survive brain surgery.

I don't mean to say it was a bad season, it was certainly worth watching and better than most other TV, but it was definitely a step down. The remarkable thing about the first season was the portrayal of the complicated emotions and motivations of a fairly mundane group of characters. There was a single plot-line about a psychotic brother that was a bit over the top, but beyond that your attention was held by the subtle portrayal of the complexities of the normal events of life.

In contrast, this season we had story-lines involving pseudo-religious cults, the Russian Mafia, sexual "addiction" and perversion, and the soap-opera worthy cliff-hanger.

My advice: Stop now. Don't make anymore. Alternatively, take the time to develop superior scripts, like the first year. Even if it takes more time to come up with them. We will have waited a year and a half since the last Sopranos season for new episodes, just so we can have some high quality material. Do the same or stop now.
Handmade Hooch: This exacting Margarita recipe, sent in by reader Richard H., looks to be about as close to a handmade Margarita as you can get without growing the Agave yourself.
2 limes - take the zest from them and the juice from them add 10 Tablespoons Water and 1/4 cup Sugar + 1 teaspoon sugar

Let this sit for at least 2 to 3 hours tightly covered and refrigerated in a glass or non-reactive container, but not more than 24 hours.

Strain to filter out the bits of zest and add to it the following:

3/4 cup (6 oz) Tequila - I prefer Cuervo Especial or something similar, but use a higher quality of you like.

1 Tablespoon + 1 Teaspoon Grand mariner

1 Tablespoon + 1 Teaspoon Cointreau

Serve over rock (with or without salt)

These proportions give excellent results!
I guarantee!!!!!!!!
I'd love to try this, but I'd have to find the patience to wait 2 or 3 hours. Note: this was prompted by my essay on Magaritas.

Sunday, June 02, 2002

Are You Still Here?: I don't have much to offer at the moment, as I have kind of lost myself in a non-writing, non-web-update frame of mind - mostly because the weather has been beyond gorgeous and I've been chillin' on my terrace. Kind of nice not to fret over writing (or not writing) or have to browse the web with a sort of search-and-destroy mentality.

I've been listening to Loud by Timo Maas. Most techno and it's sub-genres are repetitive and annoying. This is techno based, lots of power and energy, but still comes across as songs and music, rather than extended excercises in synthetic drum-machine programming. (The website is a marvel of cool design, too.)

And I've been completely sucked into Haruki Murakami's novel, Wild Sheep Chase. I've really only scrathced the surface, but I'm hooked.
It begins simply enough: A twenty-something advertising executive receives a postcard from a friend, and casually appropriates the image for an insurance company’s advertisement. What he doesn’t realize is that included in the pastoral scene is a mutant sheep with a star on its back, and in using this photo he has unwittingly captured the attention of a man in black who offers a menacing ultimatum: find the sheep or face dire consequences.
That makes it sound like a pot-boiler, which it is decidedly not. It is remarkably literate. It borders on impressionistic in parts, which I generally don't like, but it's done with a bit of tongue-in-cheekiness and no pretension. I'll probably write more about it when I'm done. Reviews here.

So that's why I have nothing to post. Good weather, good distractions. But rain is coming so I should be back with a vengence in a couple of days.