Archive for December, 2009

TSA and Fed trading places

December 31, 2009

I had a fantasy in which the Fed and the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) switched roles.If a bank failed at 9 a.m. one morning and shut its doors, the TSA would announce that all banks henceforth begin their business day at 10 a.m.

And, if a terrorist managed to get on board a plane between Stockholm and Washington, the Fed would increase the number of flights between the cities.

Posted by Emanuel Derman, author of My Life as a Quant, pointed out by Felix Salmon


In the news

December 31, 2009

From the LA Times blog:

Major writers will gather in New York this morning to call for the release of  Chinese writer and dissident Liu Xiaobo. On Christmas Day, Liu Xiaobo was sentenced to 11 years in prison last week for his part in creating a document calling for greater freedoms in China.

Also according to the LA Times blog, book sales “could have been worse,” with hardcover fiction sales up 3 percent, but nonfiction sales down 7 percent. I’m not sure how that works out profit-wise, with huge discounts on preorders.

Christopher Hitchins will be in Portland on Tuesday. I wish I could be there.

Quasi’s playing a set of The Who covers tonight in Portland. I wish I could be there. I’ll have to settle for their new album on KRS in February. And hopefully they’ll tape the show and put it up on

The Seattle PI blog on the original inspiration for Rain Man, who could read both pages of the book at the same time and read/remembered an estimated 12,000 books before his recent passing.

NPR has a ‘Best Of ’09’ Current Affairs books list I will actually have to check out. That is as opposed to the 50 other ‘best of’ lists I will not have to check out.

Good NYT article on Big Lebowski dissertations and books

December 30, 2009

I liked the title too: ‘Dissertations on His Dudeness’ Here

Florida guy tries to raffle off his house, learns a finance lesson

December 30, 2009

State lotteries make me sad. It makes me sad to see people buying lotto tickets every day. We all know the odds, but there’s a (supposedly) rational reason behind the impulse to purchase: low risk. $1 will not be missed either way, so lotto players say “why not.” We buy the right to dream about how many hammocks we’d buy, and more importantly how quickly we’d quit our jobs. It’s as much a social phenomenon as a personal one; every time the powerball gets big, co-workers love to talk about how quickly they’d quit their jobs and in what manner they’d announce to the boss the wise words of Johnny Paycheck: “Take this job and shove it, I ain’t workin’ here no more.” But if those lotto tickets cost, say, $30 each, I don’t think the system would function: too much is being put at risk. The Sun Sentinel reports on a Florida man learned that lesson when he tried to raffle his house.

Brannan, an investor, bought the house four years ago for $2.35 million and said because of the economic downturn, he is struggling to maintain it.

Now he’s stuck with it. “I have no idea what we’re going to do next,” he said Monday. “I just don’t know.”

Labarga said the charity started selling raffle tickets for $10 apiece. When sales slowed, to raise more money, the ticket price was raised to $30. But only about 20,000 buyers came forward — at least one from as far away as London — to buy between 63,000 and 65,000 tickets.

On Saturday the charity sent out an e-mail about extending the drawing to March. But when ticket holders protested that they didn’t want to wait, the idea was scrapped in favor of the 50/50 split, Labarga said.

“We said since the numbers were not there, let’s go to the 50/50 and get it over with,” Labarga said. “A lot of people are saying will you do a new raffle? We want the house and we want it re-raffled. People are funny.”

He needed about 300,000 tickets sold to make that work, and I’m surprised he even got the 63-65,000 tickets sold. $30 for the chance to pay property taxes on a condo that obviously couldn’t sell the normal way is not the same as $1 for the opportunity to dream about never working 9-to-5 again.

Real Good Moments in Journalism

December 29, 2009

Someone fell for it. wow.

Here’s the paper’s online edition, which apparently had the caption on it for a while as well. Need a litte more proof? Try ‘save as’ on that picture–it’s called Haywood.

Wu-Tang Clan ain’t Nothin’ to Hug With

December 29, 2009

saw it on

Music reviewing 101

December 28, 2009

“I like everything! You know everything? I love it. You know books? I like all of them.” That’s paraphrased from random banter on the super-rad British music gameshow, Never Mind the Buzzcocks. I’m not  sure why I’m gunning for Yorkshire twice in one day… maybe because it’s a slow day. I originally saw a good book article I was going to link to, then decided against it once I saw all of this nonsense. I’m relatively sure there’s someone there responsible for the arts section, and he or she should consider cutting the star system and/or giving the reviewers some input on the way it’s supposed to be used. Otherwise, it’s York University Chamber Choir 1, Gary Neuman 0.

I’m not from the UK. Just wanted to get that out of the way, as maybe this is just a culture thing. But I have spent a little time in the dismal world of music journalism (the single biggest factor in my deciding to leave journalism, akshully). A four-star album or concert is a rare event. A reviewer will see a five-star show only a few times a decade, if the reviewer’s lucky. Or maybe a few more five-star reviews if the overlords say that’s what it takes to sell ad space.

But here’s how they roll in Yorkshire:

  • Review: Leeds Festival Chorus and City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Simon Wright *****
  • Review: Pascal Roge ****
  • Review: The Mars Volta *****
  • Review: Orchestra of Opera North ****
  • Review: Joe Bonamassa ****
  • Review: Yeah Yeah Yeahs *****
  • Review: Gary Numan ***
  • Review: Manchester Camerata, Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus ****
  • Review: Arctic Monkeys ***
  • Biased headlines

    December 28, 2009

    Headlines that convey bias can ruin a good article. This is unfortunate, as the headline writer is  usually not the reporter. In these two cases, tragedy is averted because the articles aren’t that good either:

    Level-headed building societies left to suffer in wake of banks’ recklessness — obviously, this problem had one cause, and one cause only. All others were blameless. No attempts appear to have been made to back up this assertion in the article.

    The Big Picture had a good catch, and I must admit I had read that story without noting the irony:

    I had to do a double-take when I saw this headline on the Bloomberg news service this morning:

    War on Wall Street as Congress Sees Returning to Glass-Steagall
    “A one-page proposal gaining traction in Congress could turn back the clock on Wall Street 10 years, forcing the breakup of banks, including Citigroup Inc.  Lawmakers in both parties, seeking to prevent future financial crises while soothing public anger over bailouts and bonuses, are turning to an approach that’s both simple and transformative: re-imposing sections of the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act that separated commercial and investment banking.”

    How exactly is this a “War on Wall Street?”

    The 1933 Glass-Steagall Act was designed to prevent a Wall Street catastrophe from spilling over into the real economy. For 65 years, it did just that. And thanks to Gram & Co., it was repealed just in time for the crisis to erupt.

    Nice work.

    Both headlines appear to me to be one-sided, opinion-based assertions. Not very good journalism.

    Today’s Anagram is Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol

    December 24, 2009

    Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol: Rich-ass chaste old crank’s miracles.

    December 24, 2009

    funny pictures of cats with captions

    Today’s Anagram is Hunter S. Thompson

    December 22, 2009

    Hunter S. Thompson: Hemp Honor Stunts

    And for those who don’t get gonzo: Nonstop “Huh?” Terms

    December 21, 2009


    Who owns electronic rights on authors’ backlogs?

    December 21, 2009

    The answer could make or break a publisher or two over the next years.

    Did the publishers acquire this right when they signed the author, though it was before electronic publishing existed? Or does the author now have a fresh medium in which to sell his or her older works? I hate to say it, but I think the publishers have a point on this one.

    The publisher and the author will not likely have contemplated this specific scenario since their agreement was written before e-books existed. But exclusivity is a part of any contract of this type. In any case, the intent was to limit the rights to sell to other book publishers, irregardless of whether those particular book publishers existed at the time of the contract’s signing or came into being during the contract’s lifetime. No court would find the contract isn’t binding merely because the book publisher is new, and thus the contract couldn’t have contemplated that particular publisher buying the rights. The intent was to bind the author from reselling publishing rights to any other publisher. It seems to me that exclusivity would flow through to new book media, especially where the new media is merely a form of book that is not on paper. While I’m rooting for the authors and their estates on this one, as I am an indie/DIY fan, I’m betting the publishers’ lawyers used broad enough language in their publishing contracts to cover any form of book.

    We’ll find out soon enough, as the fight has begun, with the NYTimes saying Random House sent letters out claiming all e-rights in its authors’ works. From that article, the other e-publisher’s response was weak: “Mr. Sharp, president of Open Road, said in an e-mailed statement: ‘We are confident in our agreements and only make deals with parties who represent to us that they own the rights.'” That doesn’t mean much; if I walk in and say I own the rights to a book, does that mean Open Road has legal standing against Random House because I was full of crap? No it doesn’t.

    Random House has gone to court over this before:

    There is some precedent for arguments over e-book versions of backlist titles. In 2001, Random House sued RosettaBooks, an e-book publisher, for copyright infringement when Rosetta signed contracts with authors — including Mr. Styron — to release digital versions of previously published novels.

    In its suit, Random House relied on wording in its contracts that granted it all rights to publish the works “in book form.” In its letter to agents on Friday, Random House invoked the same wording to defend its right to publish e-books of backlist titles.

    In 2001, a federal judge in Manhattan denied Random House’s request for a preliminary injunction against RosettaBooks, ruling that “in book form” did not automatically include e-books. An appellate court similarly denied Random House’s request.

    The case never went to trial. In a settlement, Random House granted Rosetta a license to release e-book versions of 51 titles. Under a different agreement with Mr. Styron, Rosetta also published two of his books, though its license to do so has since expired.

    The fact that the preliminary injunction was denied is not, in my opinion, evidence that Random House will lose the next round. It looks like there will have to be a precedence-setting, to-the-end court fight before this one’s decided. Books such as Catch-22 and Sophie’s Choice are the battleground in this fight, per the article, and that makes sense. The books we all have to read for college have an annually changing captive audience, and that captive audience will be reading mostly electronically in just a couple of years. I’m all for the author getting the profit for books, and as a begrudging Kindle Convert I think e-books are going to take over. If those authors can prove an e-book is something entirely different from a book, then the rights old publishers hold soon won’t be worth the paper they were printed on.

    I had to go to China, but I finally found a happier Christmas story

    December 21, 2009

    sustainable design, green design, recycled materials, green christmas tree, china beer bottle xmas tree, nanjing road, shanghai, repurposed beer bottle christmas tree

    [Seen on, et al.]

    Detective pulls gun on snowball-throwing crowd

    December 21, 2009

    Santa statues as murder weapons? Carolers punching cops? And now, fighting snowballs with guns? A DC crowd in the hundreds was having fun in a snowball fight when a few of them decided to hurl snowballs at a passing Hummer. BAD IDEA. The off-duty detective got out and, just to show he was serious, pulled his piece.

    ‘It was pretty fun,’ one unidentified participant told reporters. ‘But when the gun came out, it just changed the tone of the thing a little bit.’

    Ya think?

    Christmas caroling ends with police officer punched in face

    December 21, 2009

    The Sidney Morning Herald just posted a story. This is turning into a violent Christmas.

    At least they didn’t have a nativity scene…

    December 21, 2009

    A man was apparently beaten to death with a santa statue outside of his estranged wife’s home.

    Today’s Anagram is Ernest Hemingway

    December 21, 2009

    I picked two for Ernest Hemingway:

    Whiny Gets Meaner


    Me Hairy News Gent

    NPR features DIY bamboo bikes

    December 21, 2009

    Bamboo Bike

    WANT. And the fact that it’s got that DIY fishing pole look makes it all the better.

    On speedreading literature

    December 18, 2009

    A blogger looks at literature through the speedreader’s eyes.

    Compare this classic Dickensian opening line with the skimmed version that follows, and ask yourself, is it really worth tearing through great prose like Gordon Gecko tearing through the assets of a newly acquired company?

    It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.
    – Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859)

    Best times/worst times, age wisdom/foolishness, epoch belief/incredulity, season Light/Darkness, spring hope, winter despair.

    -Charles Dickens, the skimmed version.

    Always wondered why I was the only one who thought there was a bit of Ginsberg in Dickens’ writing style. jk. I’m not afraid to say that I am a s.l.o.w. reader.