Archive: OTHER

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The Future of Computing (From Apple's Perspective)

I've got a theory, and it's this: Steve Jobs believes he's gambling Apple's future — the future of a corporation with a market cap well over US $200Bn — on an all-or-nothing push into a new market. HP have woken up and smelled the forest fire, two or three years late; Microsoft are mired in a tar pit, unable to grasp that the inferno heading towards them is going to burn down the entire ecosystem in which they exist. There is the smell of panic in the air, and here's why ...

We have known since the mid-1990s that the internet was the future of computing. With increasing bandwidth, data doesn't need to be trapped in the hard drives of our desktop computers: data and interaction can follow us out into the world we live in. Modem uptake drove dot-com 1.0; broadband uptake drove dot-com 2.0. Now everyone is anticipating what you might call dot-com 3.0, driven by a combination of 4G mobile telephony (LTE or WiMax, depending on which horse you back) and wifi everywhere. Wifi and 4G protocols will shortly be delivering 50-150mbps to whatever gizmo is in your pocket, over the air. (3G is already good for 6mbps, which is where broadband was around the turn of the millennium. And there are ISPs in Tokyo who are already selling home broadband delivered via WiMax. It's about as fast as my cable modem connection was in 2005.)

A lot has been said about how expensive it is to boost the speed of fibre networks. The USA has some of the worst domestic broadband in the developed world, because it's delivered over cables that were installed early — premature infrastructure may give your economy a leg up in the early years, but handicaps you down the line — but a shift to high-bandwidth wireless will make up the gap, assuming the frequencies are available (see also: shutting down analog TV and radio to make room). It's easier to lay a single fat fibre to a radio transciever station than it is to lay lots of thin fibres to everybody's front door, after all.

Anyway, here's Steve Jobs' strategic dilemma in a nutshell: the PC industry as we have known it for a third of a century is beginning to die.

read the rest of Charles Stross' interesting take

Walken Returns Home

Christopher Walken buckled his seat belt as the Suburban with tinted windows sped up on the Queensborough Bridge. He was wearing a blue overcoat and a cashmere scarf over a black T-shirt and black pants. “When you came across this bridge, you could smell bread, twenty-four hours a day,” he said. “From the Silvercup bakery—now it’s Silvercup Studios, where they made ‘The Sopranos.’ ”

It was noon on a recent sunny Thursday, and Walken was heading to Astoria, where he was born and brought up. His hair was long and unruly for his role in Martin McDonagh’s dark comedy “A Behanding in Spokane.” As the car crossed into Queens, Walken leaned forward to speak to his driver, Alonzo Castro: “Stay to the left, under the tracks.”

Walken’s father, Paul, was a baker from a family of German bakers; his mother, Rosalie, lived in Bayside until she died, a few weeks ago, at a hundred and four. “She could never really break with Astoria,” Walken, who is sixty-seven, said. “I’m kind of the same way.”

“When I was a kid here, I’d get on the subway, and—bang—you’re in Times Square,” he said. “I was a kid in show business. In those days, the nineteen-fifties, they used a lot of kids on TV. Television was all live, and it all came from New York. All the kids in my neighborhood took dance classes. I never learned how to play baseball. I can’t really swim.

“Maybe make a left here—no, the next one,” he said. He was determined to find his old apartment building. “Our family doctor lived on this block,” he said. “He looked like Abraham Lincoln, and he smoked all the time.”

Walken asked Castro to park and wait. He was precise in his instructions, because he doesn’t have a cell phone. He got out of the car and approached a five-story building. “This is where we lived,” he said. “This fence used to have spikes on it. They really spiffed this place up.”

He peered through a first-floor window. “This was our apartment,” he said. “Look, it’s still the kitchen! You can see the icebox. The kitchen table is exactly where it was.” He paused. “Oh, there’s somebody there. I wonder if she’d let us in. Probably she’ll call the cops.”

read Peter Stevenson's full piece in The New Yorker

A Radical Conception of Agriculture

We are so accustomed to disguise ourselves to others that in the end we become disguised to ourselves.

Francois de La Rochefoucauld (1613-1680)


The most honest rejection letter I ever received for a piece of writing was from Oregon Coast Magazine, to which I had sent a piece that was half bucolic travelogue and half blistering attack on the tendencies of hamlets along the coast to seek the ugliest and most lurid neon signage for their bumper-car emporia, myrtlewood lawn-ornament shops, used-car lots, auto-wrecking concerns, terra-cotta nightmares, and sad moist flyblown restaurants.

“Thanks for your submission,” came the handwritten reply from the managing editor. “But if we published it we would be sued by half our advertisers.”

This was a straightforward remark and I admire it, partly for its honesty, a rare shout in a world of whispers, and partly because I have, in thirty years as a writer and editor, become a close student of the rejection note. The shape, the color, the prose, the tone, the subtext, the speed or lack thereof with which it arrives, even the typeface or scrawl used to stomp gently on the writer’s heart—of these things I sing.

• •

One of the very best: a rejection note sent by the writer Stefan Merken to an editor who had rejected one of his short stories. “Please forgive me for not accepting your rejection letter,” wrote Merken. “At this time I cannot accept a rejection of my short story. I accept more than 99 percent of the rejections I receive. Many I don’t agree with, but I realize that accepting a piece of fiction for publication is a very subjective judgment call. My acceptance of your rejection letter is also a subjective process and therefore I am returning your letter to you. I did read your letter. I read every letter I receive. Your letter was well-written, but due to time constraints from my own writing schedule, I am unable to make editorial comments. I do make mistakes. Don’t you, as an editor, be disheartened by this role reversal. The road of publishing is long and tedious. You need successful publications and I need for successful publications to print my stories. I will expect to see my story in your next publication. Good luck in the future.”

more from Brian Doyle

Don't Always Believe Your Eyes

See those green and blue spirals? Well, they are exactly the same color! Find out how that is possible in Discover Magazine

Heading to a Gunfight? Don't Draw First

In Western films, the gunslinger that draws first always gets shot. This seems like a standard Hollywood trope but it diverted the attention of no less a scientist that Niels Bohr, one of history's greatest physicists. Taking time off from solving the structure of the atom, Bohr suggested that it takes more time to initiate a movement than to react to the same movement. Perversely, the second gunslinger wins because they're responding to their opponent's draw.

Now, Andrew Welchman from the University of Birmingham has found that there's something to Bohr's explanation. People do indeed have a "reactive advantage", where they execute a movement about 10% more quickly if they're reacting to an opponent. Of course, ethics committees might frown on scientists duelling with the pistols in the name of discovery, even if the people in question were graduate students. So Welchman designed a laboratory gunfight, played out using buttons rather than guns.

Two opponents faced each other and had to press a series of three buttons as quickly as possible. To begin with, they held a central "home key" with their trigger fingers and they had to wait for a short spell before before starting the round. The point where they were allowed to begin varied from trial to trial and the players weren't told how long it would be. There was no starting pistol or countdown. Either player could start the race but if they went too soon, an alarm would sound to signal a false-start.

These button-mashing duels revealed that, on average, the players completed their sequence 21 milliseconds faster if they reacted than if they initiated. That's an improvement of around 9%, and most of this advantage came at the very beginning, when they pressed the first button. It's an interesting result and like all good scientists, Welchman systematically considered and ruled out several possible explanations for it.

Ed Yong explains further

Liquid Glass? Apparently So...

Spray-on liquid glass is transparent, non-toxic, and can protect virtually any surface against almost any damage from hazards such as water, UV radiation, dirt, heat, and bacterial infections. The coating is also flexible and breathable, which makes it suitable for use on an enormous array of products.

The liquid glass spray (technically termed “SiO2 ultra-thin layering”) consists of almost pure silicon dioxide (silica, the normal compound in glass) extracted from quartz sand. Water or ethanol is added, depending on the type of surface to be coated. There are no additives, and the nano-scale glass coating bonds to the surface because of the quantum forces involved. According to the manufacturers, liquid glass has a long-lasting antibacterial effect because microbes landing on the surface cannot divide or replicate easily.

Liquid glass was invented in Turkey and the patent is held by Nanopool, a family-owned German company. Research on the product was carried out at the Saarbrücken Institute for New Materials. Nanopool is already in negotiations in the UK with a number of companies and with the National Health Service, with a view to its widespread adoption.

The liquid glass spray produces a water-resistant coating only around 100 nanometers (15-30 molecules) thick. On this nanoscale the glass is highly flexible and breathable. The coating is environmentally harmless and non-toxic, and easy to clean using only water or a simple wipe with a damp cloth. It repels bacteria, water and dirt, and resists heat, UV light and even acids. UK project manager with Nanopool, Neil McClelland, said soon almost every product you purchase will be coated with liquid glass.

more from

Kasparov on the Influence of Computers on Chess

There have been many unintended consequences, both positive and negative, of the rapid proliferation of powerful chess software. Kids love computers and take to them naturally, so it's no surprise that the same is true of the combination of chess and computers. With the introduction of super-powerful software it became possible for a youngster to have a top- level opponent at home instead of need ing a professional trainer from an early age. Countries with little by way of chess tradition and few available coaches can now produce prodigies. I am in fact coaching one of them this year, nineteen-year-old Magnus Carlsen, from Norway, where relatively little chess is played.

The heavy use of computer analysis has pushed the game itself in new directions. The machine doesn't care about style or patterns or hundreds of years of established theory. It counts up the values of the chess pieces, analyzes a few billion moves, and counts them up again. (A computer translates each piece and each positional factor into a value in order to reduce the game to numbers it can crunch.) It is entirely free of prejudice and doctrine and this has contributed to the development of players who are almost as free of dogma as the machines with which they train. Increasingly, a move isn't good or bad because it looks that way or because it hasn't been done that way before. It's simply good if it works and bad if it doesn't. Although we still require a strong measure of intuition and logic to play well, humans today are starting to play more like computers.

more from Kasparov in the NYT Review of Books

Mr. Barbera, Milano

I'm hardly a close follower of fashion, but The Sartorialist is a really fine fashion blog

The Second Wave of Mortgage Defaults

via George Washington's blog

the excellent insights above were expressed by Hayman Capital founder Kyle Bass

What a Surprise (Not)

Scientists have proved for the first time that a cheap form of sugar used in thousands of food products and soft drinks can damage human metabolism and is fuelling the obesity crisis.

Fructose, a sweetener derived from corn, can cause dangerous growths of fat cells around vital organs and is able to trigger the early stages of diabetes and heart disease.

It has increasingly been used as a substitute for more expensive types of sugar in yoghurts, cakes, salad dressing and cereals. Even some fruit drinks that sound healthy contain fructose.

Experts believe that the sweetener — which is found naturally in small quantities in fruit — could be a factor in the emergence of diabetes among children. This week, a new report is expected to claim that about one in 10 children in England will be obese by 2015.

Previous studies of the potentially adverse impact of fructose have focused on rats, but the first experiment involving humans has now revealed serious health concerns.

Over 10 weeks, 16 volunteers on a strictly controlled diet, including high levels of fructose, produced new fat cells around their heart, liver and other digestive organs. They also showed signs of food-processing abnormalities linked to diabetes and heart disease. Another group of volunteers on the same diet, but with glucose sugar replacing fructose, did not have these problems.

People in both groups put on a similar amount of weight. However, researchers at the University of California who conducted the trial, said the levels of weight gain among the fructose consumers would be greater over the long term.

Fructose bypasses the digestive process that breaks down other forms of sugar. It arrives intact in the liver where it causes a variety of abnormal reactions, including the disruption of mechanisms that instruct the body whether to burn or store fat.

“This is the first evidence we have that fructose increases diabetes and heart disease independently from causing simple weight gain,” said Kimber Stanhope, a molecular biologist who led the study. “We didn’t see any of these changes in the people eating glucose.”

more from The Times (U.K.)

mmm! Lemon tart from Cafe Falai, via my favorite food blog Lunch Studio

Confessions of an Opium Seeker

You see, I needed to go to hell. I was, you might say, homesick. But first, by way of explanation, the onion.

A friend of mine owns a restaurant that is considered to be one of the best Italian restaurants in New York. As is the case at most other Italian restaurants in Manhattan, the food is prepared by Dominicans or sundry other fellows of more exotic and indiscernible ethnic origin. This particular Third World truffle joint where I take my lunch possesses the added ca-chet of “cucina toscana,” invoking the all-American theme park, Florence, where today one would be hard-pressed to find a vero fiorentino amid the overcrowding herd of estivating tourists that is Dante’s revenge.

Anyway, there I sit, and I cannot help but see and hear what surrounds me, as modish men raise glasses of wine and discuss balance, body, bouquet. My friend the proprietor is not a stupid man when it comes to business. He encourages them, engages them in the subtler points of their delusory expertise. The smile on his face—he has sold them for several hundred dollars what cost him far less—is to their purblind eyes both gratification and benediction, an acceptance of their expertise and knowing.

And I sit, and I sit, and I ponder the onion that has been placed before me. For this particular onion bespeaks more than the whole of the Uffizi the true nature of Italian creativity, more than the whole of Machiavelli the true nature of Tuscan cunning.

It is, to be precise, not even an onion, merely half an onion. Ah, but it is half a Walla Walla onion—this fact is flaunted—roasted and topped with a smidgen of caviar. The price is $35. As the cost of a single, one-pound Walla Walla onion is about a dollar, and the cost of beluga caviar well under $25 an ounce, this half an onion and its smidgen must be worth about five or six bucks. Mysticized into a rare and precious delicacy by my friend, it is a very popular item: whenever the caviar runs out, the 50-cent half-onion is served at a price of $10.

As I ponder the onion, my memory wanders back, a quarter of a century ago and more, to this place before my friend took it over and made it into one of the great chichi joints of Manhattan. It was in those days a small semi-private eating establishment, a joint whose patrons were mostly gentlemen of a darkly taciturn sort. I can just imagine the gent by whose name the place was known setting before one of them half an American onion as if it were a treasure, and then suggesting not only that he pay for it but that he pay 20-fold for it. It would have been the owner’s end. For his truly were customers of worldly discernment. It is my friend’s fortune that they are a dying breed, replaced by the neo-cafoni of today.

Anyway, let’s get to what Kant called the ever elusive point. It has something to do with the halved onion, yes, but it has to do, too, with the balance, body, and bouquet of the wine.

Ours, increasingly, is the age of pseudo-connoisseurship, the means by which we seek fatuously to distinguish ourselves from the main of mediocrity. To sit around a bottle of rancid grape juice, speaking of delicate hints of black currant, oaken smoke, truffle, or whatever other dainty nonsense with which nature is fancied to have enlaced its taste, is to be a cafone of the first order. For if there is the delicate hint of anything to be sensed in any wine, it is likely that of pesticide and manure. Of a 1978 Château Margaux, one “connoisseur” pronounces: “With an hour’s air, this wine unfolded to reveal scents of sweet cassis, chocolate, violets, tobacco, and sweet vanillin oak. With another ten years or so, this wine may evolve into the classic Margaux mélange of cassis, black truffles, violets, and vanilla.” As if this were not absurdity enough, there is “a note of bell pepper lurking in the cassis.”

How could so sophisticated a nose fail to detect the cow shit with which this most celebrated estate in Bordeaux fertilizes its vines? A true wine connoisseur, if there were such a thing, would taste the pesticide and manure above all else: he would be not a goûteur de vin but rather a goûteur de merde. But there is no true connoisseurship of wine outside of those who know that the true soul of wine, l’âme du vin, is vinegar. It is in sipping straight those rare aged vinegars designated da bere that one truly tastes wonders: the real thing, an ichor far beyond the jive-juice of that industry of adjectives and pretense which was once the artless and noble drink of artless and noble peasants—peasants nobler and of greater connoissance than the moneyed suckers of today who have been conned into believing that the tasting of wine calls for words other than “good,” “bad,” or “just shut up and drink.”

But, yes, the ever elusive point.

I’m sitting there, and I remember the old days, and I remember the taste of that vinegar, and I remember a thousand other things, and I remember the rarest taste of all: the taste of the breath of illimitableness.

Fuck this world of $35 onions and those who eat them. Fuck this world of pseudo-sophisticated rubes who could not recognize the finer things in life—from a shot of that vinegar to the first wisp of fall through a tree—let alone appreciate them, these rubes who turned New York into a PG-rated mall and who oh so loved it thus.

They were dead. The neighborhood was dead. The city was dead. Even the goddamn century was dead.

My limousine pulled up outside. It looked like a hearse. I decided to live. That is the ever elusive point: the point that eludes us all too often unto the grave.

I was born to smoke opium.Don’t get me wrong: I am against drugs, having long ago forsworn their use and embraced the spiritual path as set forth by The Celestine Prophecy and that guy with the big, shiny forehead. Drugs kill.

Nonetheless, I was born to smoke opium. More precisely, I was born to smoke opium in an opium den.

Why opium? Thomas De Quincey’s description of it as “the celestial drug” is not far from perfect: “Here,” said he, “was a panacea, a φ?ρμ ακον νηπενθ?ς, for all human woes; here was the secret of happiness about which the philosophers had disputed for so many ages, at once discovered.” This celestial drug, this panacea, “communicates serenity and equipoise to all the faculties, active or passive,” and “introduces amongst them the most exquisite order, legislation, and harmony.” No one, “having once tasted the divine luxuries of opium, will afterwards descend to the gross and mortal enjoyments of alcohol.”

read Nick Tosches' full piece in Vanity Fair

The path to wisdom begins by calling things by their correct names.

– Ancient Chinese Proverb

10 Interesting Facts about Ferrari

5. Origin of Prancing Horse Logo

The black prancing horse in the famous Ferrari logo was originally the symbol of Count Francesco Baracca, a flying ace in the Italian air force during World War I.

In 1923, Enzo Ferrari met Baracca's mother, Countess Paolina, who asked that he use the horse on his cars for good luck. It must've worked for Ferrari though Baracca didn't fare so well: his plane was shot down and he was killed in action at the age of 30.

the other nine can be viewed at Neatorama

Once intelligent beings achieve technology and the capacity for self-destruction of their species, the selective advantage of intelligences becomes more uncertain.

– Carl Sagan

Kale ChIps

Described as "shatteringly crisp and nutty" on the excellent food blog Nourish Me

If you can, and do, talk for hours and hours about your love of elderflower kombucha, refuse to eat anything containing wheat, endlessly refer to your travels to India at dinner parties, correct other people’s pronunciation at every opportunity and insist on naming your children (all four of them, born in rapid succession) after members of the Bloomsbury Set, are 46, cold and sexually hostile, you’re either my PhD supervisor or my ex-wife. Good day to you both. The rest of you can try saying something nice to:

box no. 19/02

London Review of Books classifieds

If you are in a gas station convenience mart at 1:00 in the afternoon, and a woman enters wearing a terrycloth bathrobe and slippers, having left a 1989 Chevy Blazer idling five feet from the front doors, it’s best not to position yourself between her and the cigarettes.

– Matthew Baldwin

Defective Yeti

Creative Advertising

As regular readers know, I'm certainly not inclined to spend time on the topic of advertising. However, this Johnnie Walker effort is really quite good, and entertaining.

(thanks Sandy!)


JD's girlfriend wasn't a good listener.

via how it happened

Dead at 92.

via This isn't happiness

and be sure to read this poignant post by Glenn Greenwald

Disturbing Recall

The New York Times reports that found out that the publisher of Kindle versions of George Orwell's books 1984 and Animal Farm decided that it didn't want to give the rights to a Kindle version. So used its wireless connection to each Kindle to delete copies on various owners' Kindles and refunded their money. You see, because of the wireless connection, knows what books are on your Kindle and it can delete them or modify them at will.

Apparently, the irony of deleting a book about Big Brother watching you was lost on both the publisher and

This story is a perfect example of Jonathan Zittrain's analysis of "tethered appliances," that is, appliances like the Kindle and the iPhone that feature a combination of hardware and software services connected by a network. The manufacturer of the tethered appliance can easily discover what consumers are doing with the product, can restrict what end-users do with the hardware, and can alert the features of the product by remote control. It simultaneously offers the possibility of privacy invasions and retroactive alterations of features. The Kindle story shows that it also offers the possibility of private censorship.

In a sense, this story is too good to be true. It is a vivid demonstration of the possible dangers of new forms of closed or tethered network services, and the way they allow companies to exercise control over end-users at a distance, without the knowledge of end users.

more from Jack Balkin

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