You Got to Be Kidding Me!

What I’m Looking At, Jan. 15, 2009

Posted in Entertainment, Going Green, Politics by Stacy McMahon on January 15, 2009

* Six months of solar power (via Slashdot) – A nice writeup of the actual effects of a modern household solar panel system on electric bills (note that the installation cost isn’t mentioned). The past year makes a pretty good case for investing in alternative energy as a hedge against fluctuating fuel prices.

* AutoblogGreen shows us a vaguely steampunk-looking electric bicycle.

* Wired blogs about the rise of pervasive video surveillance in the US (via Instapundit). I’ve been against things like GPS or RFID tracking of children, and I’m against this for the same reason – no good can come from teaching people to live in a Big Brother world. At any rate, I guess we can’t give the Brits crap about their cameras anymore (“Remember remember the fifth of November…”)

* The new season of American Idol is starting, and as usual we’re watching the auditions. No William Hungs sofar, but bikini girl inspired this line: “She’s just clothes away from being average”

* John Kay in the Financial Times says something I’ve been thinking for years now: Telling people what they want to hear, or ‘going along to get along’ isn’t just lame, it’s dangerous and can lead people to ignore or even participate in everything from minor inefficiency to mass murder.

* Ann Althouse thinks reactions to Joe The Plumber as war correspondent in Gaza “will range from idiot to genius”. But mostly idiot.

* And speaking of teaching people to live in a Big Brother world…

* Glenn Reynolds likes to cruise Amazon.com clearances, and finds some neat stuff like the Eyeclops Bionicam. I like the concept. It’s basically a digital camera with a magnifying glass lens, that can take pictures. I can think of a lot of uses for that.

* And finally another link to Ann Althouse, this time to discuss Clint Eastwood’s character in Gran Torino, and how he is or isn’t like Archie Bunker. Interesting thoughts, if your religion doesn’t get in the way. Either way, you should definitely go see the movie!

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Did You See It Coming?

Posted in Economics by Stacy McMahon on January 3, 2009

Via Instapundit, Bruce Bartlet notes that “financial leaders” failed to foresee the housing bubble.

Thing is, they did foresee it – they just didn’t do anything about it.

At the height of the subprime mortgage boom, Citigroup’s CEO, Charles Prince described his position in an interview with the Financial Times – “As long as the music is playing, you’ve got to get up and dance. We’re still dancing.”

That guy saw the bubble – correctly – as a game of musical chairs. What he didn’t see, maybe, is that in this game, all the chairs are still there every round …until the round where they’re all gone.

For my part, I saw the bubble coming …until I stopped seeing it. I’d always known that you can identify a bubble when people with no special knowledge of the market (whatever market it happens to be) believe themselves to be experts because they (and everyone else) are making ridiculous profits. What I learned in this bubble is that the end is in sight when I begin to question that basic wisdom and start thinking maybe it really is “a new world”.

Lesson of 2008: There are no new worlds.

I’m Enjoying My New Category

Posted in Box of Hammers by Stacy McMahon on December 11, 2008

That would be “box of hammers” – as in ‘dumb as a’. Like this South Carolina car dealer’s radio commercial wherein he declares Japanese cars “rice ready, not road-ready” (via Autoblog)

We salute you, Mr. Redneck Blockhead whose solution to mass debt default is to invoke nationalism to push people to make major purchases that could really wait another year or three, so that you can get a nice commission check from one of the self-destructing domestic automakers currently begging on the street outside Congress. That’s some chutzpah right there (I’m sure it’s still OK with him to use that word, at least until Israel starts making cars…)

What I’m Looking At, and a New Category – 12/8/2008

Posted in Box of Hammers, Computers and Software, Four Wheels by Stacy McMahon on December 9, 2008

* Bailed-out mortgage holders defaulting all over again.

“The results, I confess, were somewhat surprising, and not in a good way,” said John Dugan, head of the U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, in prepared remarks for a U.S. housing forum.

You mean bailing out subprime mortgagees didn’t magically make them into responsible citizens who live within their means?

Dugan said recent data showed that after three months, nearly 36 percent of borrowers who received restructured mortgages in the first quarter re-defaulted.

I’m so proud to be an American.

Oh, the new category? “box of hammers”. Should be self-explanatory by now.

* On the other end of the spectrum, the lowly checklist is making a comeback (maybe) in hospitals, where it turns out that there are a few (hundred) too many things per patient to remember during a shift. Based on actual experience, it’s estimated that a $3m investment in creating checklists for standard ICU practices could prevent up to 28,000 deaths a year in the US.

* A guy with some wrenching talent and one hell of a rolodex has built a brand-new Jaguar E-Type from leftover factory parts (and a few aftermarket restoration bits – about 5% of the total) Cool, huh?

* And an interesting discussion about how lawyers (or other companies) do or don’t take advantage of technology in the office. In a nutshell, most people don’t think very far outside the box.

What I’m Seeing on Sunday, Dec. 7, 2008

Posted in The Intrawebs by Stacy McMahon on December 7, 2008

* Obama finally goes into some policy specifics, and …it actually sounds good to me. For the most part. I’ve been thinking for awhile that it makes a lot more sense to spend the downturn investing in basic infrastructure, and it doesn’t get much more basic than roads, bridges, and schools.

* A survey of studies shows that birth control pills, among other chemical pollution, are flooding mammalian species (including people) with female hormones. The article cites some crazy observations among fish and wild deer – 2/3 of a deer species in Alaska have undescended testes, male fish in the UK are producing eggs, male birds singing in a higher voice. No such documented effects in humans, but “compelling [implied] evidence” in sex ratios at birth in industrialized countries. Hilariously, the UK is arguing against proposed EU regulations meant to reduce the hormone pollution, but the EU says they should calm down because the regs have plenty of loopholes anyway.

* Nitro, a cheaper alternative to Acrobat. If a lawyer likes the editing features, it must be good.

* (via Instapundit) DPReview has ten budget-priced digital cameras. The better low-end cameras get, the easier it is to tell who is and is not a talented photographer…

* The Wall Street Journal Law Blog is unhappy about the rise in the number of pro se (self-representing) litigants. In my personal experience, it’s better to have a lawyer.

Ten Things…

Posted in Miscellaneous by Stacy McMahon on December 4, 2008

Via Ann Althouse, ten things you’re not supposed to point out (“Am I not supposed to point out this list?”)

1. The will of the people is wrong.

True, but it’s still a best-available solution, as the will of one person can be much wronger (see e.g. Hitler, Stalin, Castro, Jim Jones, etc)

2. Everything isn’t “for the best”; we only look for the best and ignore the rest.

True, if you take the saying literally, which I don’t. A better interpretation is that it’s meant to remind us that while we’re not entirely in control of our fate, it’s not completely out of our hands either. Just because the last thing that happened was bad, doesn’t mean the next thing has to be.

3. Nature is evil.

Wrong, but we begin to get the thread of this list …it’s more like “ten things you probably think if you grew up in a rich society and don’t get out much”. If your window into nature is The Lion King, I can see how you’ll think ‘evil’ the first time you find out about that whole food chain thing. Nature isn’t evil, it’s amoral.

4. Patriotism is dumb.

True, but irrelevant – as Mussolini, among others, found at the outbreak of World War I. Anachronistic as it might be, people are hard wired to feel a group identity. If you don’t think you feel one, chances are your group’s ideology includes the conviction that only the unenlightened others are susceptible to an us-vs-them mentality (see e.g. “Obamania“)

5. Christianity is polytheism.

Also irrelevant, except to those who enjoy clever mocking of Christianity. Polytheistic religions haven’t been influential since the fall of the Roman Empire, and devotees of any religion are interested in advancing their exact creed, not measuring the relative drawing power of broad religious categories.

6. Sports are homoerotic.

Obnoxiously wrong. Just because you aren’t a competitive personality (I’m not) doesn’t mean that nobody else is either and therefore people who idolize athletes are secretly gay and hot for them. I admire Bode Miller‘s skiing talent, but I don’t necessarily want to throw back a beer with him, let alone sleep with him. (I’m not hot for Picabo Street either)

7. Traditional gender roles are prostitution.

See #3. Yes, humans are herd animals. Yes, that means it’s in our nature to act like other herd animals. Yes, it’s ridiculous to call it prostitution. Unless it’s your position that apes or gazelles are also prostitutes suffering under the patriarchy.

8. Parents teach their children to lie, and are then infuriated when their children lie.

Yes, hypocrisy – and especially obliviousness to same – are the main block to social progress.

9. Most knowledge is restricted to elite experts, and even they don’t know very much.

As comforting as it is to think that nobody else is any smarter or more knowledgeable than you, it’s just not true. Accepting this fact is better than ignoring it (see #8 above) Most of the people around you have knowledge to share, and you will always be surprised – sometimes shocked – at just how much.

And finally…

10. People are convinced more by how confident someone sounds when making a point than by how correct it is.

No argument there. You tend to expect people to sound unsure if they don’t know what they’re talking about, but I’ve run across several people over the years who can converse with total confidence about things of which they are utterly ignorant. The only way you’d realize it is if you happen not to be ignorant in the same subject.

Links For 11/21/2008

Posted in Four Wheels, Miscellaneous, Politics by Stacy McMahon on November 21, 2008

* Study says some kids can learn marketable skills through social networking. I’ve also personally seen several people learn social skills online and then go out and use them in the real world.

* Google isn’t the only game in town for web searching, but it’s one of the recommended ways to search for more specialized search engines.

* Don’t let people get away with being jerks in public. I’m of two minds on this. I’m all for taking hateful snobs down a peg, but I don’t see any value in having people get in each other’s faces over politics. Anecdotally, that’s what preceded the civil wars in Bosnia and various other places in the last 20 years.

* What financial crisis? Small banks that hold deposits and make loans the old-fashioned way are doing just fine, thanks. Imagine that.

* The electric Mini-E has impressive specs for a pure electric car, plus a long-ass press release. Though, at $850/mo to lease the car, it’s not for everyone. Or anyone.

* Lung cancer patient’s own stem cells used to grow a new section of windpipe! This is Star Trek stuff ; replacement body parts with no anti-rejection drugs. The future is now.

What’s On My Mind, Nov. 17, 2008

Posted in Miscellaneous by Stacy McMahon on November 17, 2008

Trying to make this more of a “what I’m reading and thinking about” versus just fun “links” of the day…

* The Financial Times has an insider perspective on the financial crisis in Iceland, where apparently a dozen or so banker who worship at the altar of Nick Leeson managed to literally bankrupt the entire country several times over. For comparison, the article mentions that the $700bn bailout allocation in the US is about 5% of GDP; Iceland’s banking liabilities are several multiples of its entire GDP.

* Autoblog has engine porn — the Callaway Cyclone V-16. Though it recently abandoned the architecture, Yamaha is famous in the sportbike world for its 5-valve-per-cylinder heads, which Callaway (primarily known for its Corvette-based supercars) apparently helped develop. The Cyclone has four 5-valve cylinder heads from the late 1990s 1,000cc Yamaha R1, arranged around a common crankshaft in an aluminum block claimed to have a dry weight under 400 lbs. It’s good for 550 bhp at 10,000 rpm. Me being me, I’m picturing it with a two-speed supercharger and installed in a Thunder Mustang

* Autoblog also has a great regular feature called “Sunday Drive”. This week’s route takes us through Malibu Canyon and is – I’m sure – great on two wheels or four. Too bad I live on the east coast, but then maybe there are other readers out here who might like a Sunday Drive on 33/250 in WV.

* And YouTube comes through with the original music from the Canon Rebel XSi commercial (“Life is a journey…”). You know, the one with the nostalgic piano solo playing under a montage of family photos.

Links For 11/16/2008

Posted in Miscellaneous, Politics by Stacy McMahon on November 16, 2008

* So you put wheels on your treadmill and drive it down the street, Fred Flintstone style. It is “The Most Pointless Exercise Machine Of All Time“, or just an epic fail waiting to happen?

* And speaking of fail, how about this picture from the California wildfires!

* UAW boss Ron Gettelfinger wants us to know it’s the economy, not the 40% higher cost of union labor at the Big Three, that has Detroit swirling down the drain. Yeah.

* The New Scientist has a roundup of myths and reality about going green at home. A couple of the answers are a little off, like the claim that laptop batteries should be completely drained and then recharged, but overall it’s topical and up to date.

* I am shocked, shocked! to learn that redlight-camera industry insiders get out of paying their tickets.

* ” ” ” ” ” ” that Democrats in Washington want to use the Federal bailout to reprioritize Detroit from building gas guzzlers most people don’t want, to building CAFE-designed cars most people won’t want.

Links For 11/14/2008

Posted in Miscellaneous, Politics by Stacy McMahon on November 14, 2008

* John McWhorter on how Obama’s election will affect black attitudes (via Instapundit). I especially hope he’s right about Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton being put in perspective. Their outlook has been obsolete for years, but they were still the only game in town. Now they’re not.

* Robert Farago reminds us that bailing out “domestic” automakers is an elusive goal when GM, Ford and Chrysler all import major subassemblies or entire vehicles from overseas, and Toyota, Honda, Mitsubishi and BMW make vehicles in the US for sale here and abroad.

* A Chicagoland high school student demonstrates that provoking the followers of a personality cult gets the same results today as it always has (via Snowflakes In Hell). Well, she’s still alive so maybe there’s been some progress.

* Former county treasurer Grandpa Simpson Carol Elliott of Ventura County, NH, blamed those damn kids for replacing her with a college student on election day. No, really. And she’s a Republican. Sigh.

* And an analysis of Prop 8’s success in allegedly liberal California. I read elsewhere that almost all the newly registered voters in this election were minorities who registered as, and presumably voted Democrat. I suspect a lot of these people helped vote down gay marriage even while they were helping vote up Barack Obama. The black community – at least where I live – is no friend of gays, and I have the impression that the hispanic community is quite socially conservative too.

* And finally, some good old-fashioned FAIL! from our friends at the Fail Blog.