October 2012 Archives

Michael Lewis at the Berkeley Public Library

Beth and I attended Michael Lewis’s lecture at the Berkeley Public Library in late October (thanks to Zoe Chafe, who let us know about the event). The talk focused on Lewis’s profile of Obama from Vanity Fair; Lewis was remarkably frank about his interactions with and around President Obama and open about how he interpreted the man and his motivations and how they were shaped by the office.

He ended with some great reflections on Obama, both as an individual and as a President. Worth the 70 minutes of your time. And if you haven’t read the piece, read it now.

On October 17, 2012, author Michael Lewis met with Linda Schacht Gage at the Berkeley Public Library to talk about his recent Vanity Fair article, “Obama’s Way.”

The evening was a program of the Berkeley Public Library, sponsored by the Berkeley Public Library Foundation and the family of Harry Weininger. With support from the East Bay Media Center, the entire program was recorded and is available for all. Enjoy! Special thank you to Michael Lewis and Linda Schacht Gage.

The YouTube videos are embedded below.

Disney to Acquire Lucasfilm, Ltd

Holy shit.

“For the past 35 years, one of my greatest pleasures has been to see Star Wars passed from one generation to the next,” said George Lucas, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Lucasfilm. “It’s now time for me to pass Star Wars on to a new generation of filmmakers. I’ve always believed that Star Wars could live beyond me, and I thought it was important to set up the transition during my lifetime. I’m confident that with Lucasfilm under the leadership of Kathleen Kennedy, and having a new home within the Disney organization, Star Wars will certainly live on and flourish for many generations to come. Disney’s reach and experience give Lucasfilm the opportunity to blaze new trails in film, television, interactive media, theme parks, live entertainment, and consumer products.”

Under the deal, Disney will acquire ownership of Lucasfilm, a leader in entertainment, innovation and technology, including its massively popular and “evergreen” Star Wars franchise and its operating businesses in live action film production, consumer products, animation, visual effects, and audio post production. Disney will also acquire the substantial portfolio of cutting-edge entertainment technologies that have kept audiences enthralled for many years. Lucasfilm, headquartered in San Francisco, operates under the names Lucasfilm Ltd., LucasArts, Industrial Light & Magic, and Skywalker Sound, and the present intent is for Lucasfilm employees to remain in their current locations.

Kathleen Kennedy, current Co-Chairman of Lucasfilm, will become President of Lucasfilm, reporting to Walt Disney Studios Chairman Alan Horn. Additionally she will serve as the brand manager for Star Wars, working directly with Disney’s global lines of business to build, further integrate, and maximize the value of this global franchise. Ms. Kennedy will serve as executive producer on new Star Wars feature films, with George Lucas serving as creative consultant. Star Wars Episode 7 is targeted for release in 2015, with more feature films expected to continue the Star Wars saga and grow the franchise well into the future.

Stormpocalypse 2012: East Coast Version

NOAA’s GOES-13 satellite captured this visible image of the massive Hurricane Sandy on Oct. 28 at 1615 UTC (12:02 p.m. EDT). The line of clouds from the Gulf of Mexico north are associated with the cold front that Sandy is merging with. Sandy’s western cloud edge is already over the Mid-Atlantic and northeastern U.S.

NYC’s public transit hubs are closed in preparation for super-Hurricane Sandy. MTA has quite a few photos posted to their flickr account of emptied subways and workers preparing for the storm. An odd sight.

The pay wall at the NYT has been breached by the potential floodwaters.

Google.org has set up a “crisis” center for Hurricane Sandy. It worked until sometime on Oct 31. Then, it switched to the embed below.

Kottke.org has interesting (and typically amusing) coverage of all things NYC right now. He links to hint.fm’s wind map, which paints a near real-time picture of wind speeds across the US. The northeast portion of that windmap should be pretty terrifying for the next few days.

Stay safe, NYC.

Yu Yamauchi's Dawn

Japanese photographer Yu Yamauchi spent five months a year for four consecutive years living on a hut near the summit of Mount Fuji. Every morning, he shot sunrise at the exact same location.

The photographs are astonishing. A few more of my favorites are below.

Via Spoon & Tamago

Assessment of effectiveness of improved cook stoves in reducing indoor air pollution and improving health in Nepal

Ashish Singh, Bhushan Tuladhar, Karuna Bajracharya, Ajay Pillarisetti, Assessment of effectiveness of improved cook stoves in reducing indoor air pollution and improving health in Nepal, Energy for Sustainable Development, Available online 24 October 2012, ISSN 0973-0826, 10.1016/j.esd.2012.09.004.

The Atlantic features the Veolia Wildlife Photographers of the Year

The announcement of the Veolia Wildlife Photographers of the Year has been floating around the internet for a few days. I’ve been wanting to link to it, but have been having a hard time finding high resolution images on their website. Thankfully, the Atlantic took care of that. Click here to see more.

90 Days, 90 Reasons

90 Days, 90 Reasons is an independent initiative unaffiliated with Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. 90 Days, 90 Reasons was conceived by two guys originally from Chicago, Dave Eggers and Jordan Kurland. In late July, they looked around and saw that many of Obama’s voters and donors from 2008 needed to be reminded of all he has accomplished, and all he will do if given another term. They asked a wide range of cultural figures to explain why they’re voting for Obama in 2012, in the hopes that this might re-inspire the grassroots army that got Obama elected in the first place. Every day, a new reason will be posted—in short, Twitter form, with a longer essay available here. Please spread the word.

Assistant Professor Henry 'Indiana' Jones, Jr: Tenure Denied

Indy’s application for tenure at Marshall College was denied (as recounted at McSweeney’s Internet Tendency). Why, you may ask?

The committee concurred that Dr. Jones does seem to possess a nearly superhuman breadth of linguistic knowledge and an uncanny familiarity with the history and material culture of the occult. However, his understanding and practice of archaeology gave the committee the greatest cause for alarm. Criticisms of Dr. Jones ranged from “possessing a perceptible methodological deficiency” to “practicing archaeology with a complete lack of, disregard for, and colossal ignorance of current methodology, theory, and ethics” to “unabashed grave-robbing.” Given such appraisals, perhaps it isn’t surprising to learn that several Central and South American countries recently assembled to enact legislation aimed at permanently prohibiting his entry.

Moreover, no one on the committee can identify who or what instilled Dr. Jones with the belief that an archaeologist’s tool kit should consist solely of a bullwhip and a revolver.

Also, don’t overlook the fact that

Several faculty members maintain that Dr. Jones informed them on multiple occasions of having discovered the Ark of the Covenant, magic diamond rocks, and the Holy Grail! When asked to provide evidence for such claims, he purportedly replied that he was “kind of immortal” and/or muttered derogatory statements about the “bureaucratic fools” running the U.S. government.

Good stuff. Via DF.

Stop-motion Video of Space Shuttle Endeavor

From Matthew Givot, who posted the video on his Vimeo account:

A very special thanks to the City of Inglewood, Chief of Police Mark Fronterotta, Lieutenant James Madia, Sergeant Dirk Dewachter, and to the Men and Women of the Inglewood Police Department. None of this would have been possible without them.

This project was only made possible by the help of a truly amazing and talented timelapse team which included; Joe Capra, Chris Pritchard, Brian Hawkins, Andrew Walker, Ryan Killackey and myself.

This truly was a once in a lifetime opportunity that we are so happy and honored to have been be a part of.

The endeavor started on Thursday night and went on until Sunday night, with very little sleep to no sleep. The only thing that kept us going was pure love of the art and adrenaline. One thing that stood out the most for me, while I was shooting, was the people of Los Angeles. It was so powerful to see the excitement on peoples faces and the pride of their home town. No matter how many times I would see the Shuttle it would never get old.

This has been an amazing experience that I will never forget. My hope is that this film will show you the amount of dedicated people and teamwork that it took to get the Endeavour to its new home. Enjoy.

Kanye Wes

What happens when you add Kanye lyrics to frames from Wes Anderson films? Hilarity and madness.

See more here.

Via kottke.org

The Internet, a series of tubes.

Google’s data center doors flung open earlier this week. And, somehow, it looks remarkably like Ted Stevens’ often-teased quotation about the internet being nothing but “a series of tubes.”

click here to see many more photos from Google’s data centers

Obviously, that’s not the whole of it. The tubes, the languages, the infrastructure all come together, a weird amalgamation of technologies that gives rise to our internet, a sum that transcends the somewhat mundane parts. Andrew Blum, author of Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet, said the following in an interview with Terry Gross:

The Internet is absolutely made of tubes. What else could it be made of? It’s many other things — these protocols and languages and machines and a whole set of fantastically complex layers and layers of computing power that feeds the Internet every day. But if you think of the world in physical terms, and you’re trying to be as reductive as possible and try to understand what this is, there’s no way around it — these are tubes. And from the very first moment, from the basement of a building in Milwaukee to Facebook’s high-tech, brand-new data center, and along the ceiling and the walls, are these steel conduits. But I know a tube when I see one.

A couple of days ago, Wired published a piece by Steven Levy about Google’s data centers. Levy was one of the first non-essential Google staff to visit the center, and his report is pretty astonishing. Google’s built a lot of their own infrastructure in an attempt to meet two important standards — speed and energy efficiency.

All of these innovations helped Google achieve unprecedented energy savings. The standard measurement of data center efficiency is called power usage effectiveness, or PUE. A perfect number is 1.0, meaning all the power drawn by the facility is put to use. Experts considered 2.0—indicating half the power is wasted—to be a reasonable number for a data center. Google was getting an unprecedented 1.2.

For years Google didn’t share what it was up to. “Our core advantage really was a massive computer network, more massive than probably anyone else’s in the world,” says Jim Reese, who helped set up the company’s servers. “We realized that it might not be in our best interest to let our competitors know.”

Make no mistake, though: The green that motivates Google involves presidential portraiture. “Of course we love to save energy,” Hölzle says. “But take something like Gmail. We would lose a fair amount of money on Gmail if we did our data centers and servers the conventional way. Because of our efficiency, we can make the cost small enough that we can give it away for free.”

thanks to Charlotte K. for sharing Levy’s article + the photos

Guess which state has the most medal winners from the Great American Beer Festival?

Subtitle: Mapping the 2012 GABF Winners Using R

The Great American Beer Festival (GABF) announced its winners on October 13. Lots of amazing beers from all over the US. They have a nifty search feature which lets you (1) find beers from specific states, (2) search by year of competition, (3) search by award - gold, silver, or bronze, and (4) search by keyword.

Like a true beer-loving nerd, I was curious to see which state won the most awards and to look at the geographic distribution of winners. I also needed to learn how to make simple maps using R for some work related stuff. The confluence of curiosity and need got me giddy… and set me to work. Turns out that making simple maps in R is… simple.

More on the details of the process in a few days (along with a table outlining the above data). In the meantime, revel in the beer mecca that is California.

Romney's once-sensible energy politics & presidential ambitions

A long excerpt from an interesting NYT piece:

Decades later, when he was governor, Mr. Romney remarked to an adviser, Rob Gray, that “we’d be a lot better off in this country if we had European gas prices” because Americans would buy more energy-efficient cars. He also invited Amory B. Lovins, the head of the Rocky Mountain Institute, a nonprofit research organization devoted to energy efficiency, to meet with him in Boston. While Mr. Lovins “shared his vision of a 75 m.p.g. hybrid automobile built with high strength steel and composites,” Mr. Romney wrote, “I shared my own dream for a super-efficient commuter vehicle.”

When Mr. Romney ran for governor in 2002, he fashioned himself “in the tradition of New England Yankee Republicans,” Mr. Clarke said — a tradition in which “the environment is a nonpartisan issue.”

He was animated by ideas like smart growth and sustainable development, former aides say. He wanted high-density housing clustered near public transportation, pedestrian-friendly urban areas and parks. To carry out his vision, he created an Office for Commonwealth Development, headed by an über-secretary who would integrate policy in housing, transportation, energy and the environment.

The man Mr. Romney installed in that job was Doug Foy, who had spent 25 years at the helm of the Conservation Law Foundation, an advocacy group that had sued Massachusetts numerous times on matters ranging from air pollution to cleaning up Boston Harbor. Mr. Foy says he found Mr. Romney “intellectually struck” by environmental concerns, though he filtered them through a business-friendly lens.

One of the first issues Mr. Romney and Mr. Foy tackled involved an aging coal plant in Salem that was spewing dirty particulates and was required by state regulations to clean up by 2004. The plant’s owner wanted extra time. The governor said no; three weeks into his administration, he denounced the company at a news conference.

“He strongly wanted to clean up the air,” said Eric Kriss, who founded the private equity firm Bain Capital with Mr. Romney and followed him to the Statehouse to become finance secretary. The governor and his entourage drove to Salem, where Mr. Romney confronted angry pickets — coal workers who said he was costing them their jobs.

“I will not create jobs or hold jobs that kill people,” Mr. Romney thundered. “And that plant, that plant kills people.”

Granted, a state is not a nation and a governorship is not the presidency. That said, it would be great to hear this kind of rhetoric or see a hint of this kind of flexibility (and let’s not conflate mental nimbleness with political switcheroos) on any policy front. The article goes on to discuss the regional carbon trading market that Romney almost agreed to and some of the political ambitions that may have played a role in his decision to instead choose less green approaches.

On Dec. 12, 2005, in an interview on national television, Mr. Romney embraced drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge — a position that, like his withdrawal from the cap-and-trade negotiations, aligned him more closely with the right wing of his party.

A few days later, the governor informed the people of Massachusetts that he would not be seeking re-election — a sign, many residents believed, that he had set his sights on the presidency.

Of course, these issues - the environment and climate change - aren’t coming up. They haven’t been mentioned in the debates or the campaigns beyond some perfunctory sneers by one party and reaffirmations by the other during the conventions.

Polyhedral Panoramic Projects by Rorik Smith

Rorik Smith, “an Artist and Draughtsman based in North Wales,” has created some amazing, disorienting drawings somewhat reminiscent of M.C. Escher.​

Library, Corporation St. Wolff’s carbon pencil, conte and paraloid B67 on hardwood ply, 702 x 1221 x 9mm, Rorik Smith, 2012

The composition, executed on site, prior to the relocation of the town library, is calculated to disorient, to convey a sense of uncertainty, while retaining a sense of sublime and overwhelming awe felt when faced with the sheer volume of information which libraries contain. Aiming to encapsulate the opportunity, absurdity and ultimate futility of attempting to make sense of it all. With reference to Borges;​ “The Universe (which others call the Library) is composed of an indefinite, perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries… from any hexagon one can see the floors above and below” Borges, the Library of Babel, 2000, from Collected fictions, translated by Andrew Hurley, 1998

Nailed it, I’d say.

(via colossal)

Nature, Nurture, Medication, Arrogance

A pretty terrifying article from the NYT about prescriptions of psychotropics - regardless of ADHD diagnosis - in school age children. I couldn’t read the article in any light but one of utter disbelief; I’m not sure if that’s me imposing my bias on it or if its actual paints the practice as problematic.

Some excerpts below, but read the whole thing.

Although A.D.H.D is the diagnosis Dr. Anderson makes, he calls the disorder “made up” and “an excuse” to prescribe the pills to treat what he considers the children’s true ill — poor academic performance in inadequate schools.

“I don’t have a whole lot of choice,” said Dr. Anderson, a pediatrician for many poor families in Cherokee County, north of Atlanta. “We’ve decided as a society that it’s too expensive to modify the kid’s environment. So we have to modify the kid.”

The Drug Enforcement Administration classifies these medications as Schedule II Controlled Substances because they are particularly addictive. Long-term effects of extended use are not well understood, said many medical experts. Some of them worry that children can become dependent on the medication well into adulthood, long after any A.D.H.D. symptoms can dissipate.

According to guidelines published last year by the American Academy of Pediatrics, physicians should use one of several behavior rating scales, some of which feature dozens of categories, to make sure that a child not only fits criteria for A.D.H.D., but also has no related condition like dyslexia or oppositional defiant disorder, in which intense anger is directed toward authority figures. However, a 2010 study in the Journal of Attention Disorders suggested that at least 20 percent of doctors said they did not follow this protocol when making their A.D.H.D. diagnoses, with many of them following personal instinct.

You can argue either way about this — that helping struggling students perform is a good thing; that riddling younger kids with drugs that we know are addictive AND for which we don’t know the long-term side effects of is insane. I tend toward two seemingly sensical principles here — 1) the precautionary principle, something largely eschewed in this country and 2) finding better ways to engage students in school beyond medication. Medication is appropriate when the prescription is made with a valid medical diagnosis. In some of the cases described, however, the diagnosis is flimsy, the ethics questionable, and the end-result hardly what we want, as a society, for our youth. I can’t help but think there must be another way.

Scotch: A Pronunciation Guide (with Brian Cox & video)

How do you pronounce this?

image from the UK Whisky Tasting Club

It’s a fair point that many names of Scotches are very, very difficult to pronounce. Esquire and actor Brian Cox (not to be confused with physicist Brian Cox) have a hilarious set of short videos in which Cox pronounces Scotch names.

(via kottke.org)

"If we would know life, we must cherish it" - Barry Commoner (1917 - 2012)

Barry Commoner, public intellectual, scientist, hero, died September 30th at 95. Historian Michael Egan summarized his accolades nicely in a 2007 interview with Science Blogs:

Over his career, Commoner worked on nuclear fallout, pesticides, water contamination, air pollution, toxic metals, the petrochemical industry, population, energy and nuclear power, urban waste disposal, dioxin, recycling, and all manner of other environmental issues. To Commoner, these were not individual problems but rather parts of the same problem: American production choices were flawed. We developed synthetic chemicals because they were cheap without thinking about their health and environmental consequences. As a result, big petrochemical companies got rich by externalizing the real costs of their products. We pick up the tab for the dirty skies and waters, not the polluters. Commoner pointed this out and worked with a number of community and labor groups on community and occupational health problems. I think he understood-much earlier than most-that environmental problems were really social problems and needed to be recognized as such.

Commoner codified a simple philosophy at the end of his book The Closing Circle .

  • Everything Is Connected to Everything Else.

  • Everything Must Go Somewhere.

  • Nature Knows Best.

  • There Is No Such Thing as a Free Lunch.

Four simple ideas (that aren’t so simple) and that, as a scientific and intellectual ethos, require thought, thoughtfulness, and a willingness of science to reach across the aisle into public realms biased by emotion. That the four tenets can’t be reduced and simplified enhances the power of their message.

Egan, again, this time in a piece called “Commoner in Context”:

My instinct is that we will hear the same references over and over again in the coming days and weeks: Commoner introduced the Four Laws of Ecology, he ran for President in 1980, and he was called (by TIME magazine in 1970) “the Paul Revere of Ecology.” All true, but I should like to stress a much more fundamental point: Commoner invented the science information movement, a method of communicating technical information so that the public could better participate in complex social, political, and environmental debate. Commoner was a staunch believer in the public making the right decisions if armed with the necessary scientific information. Indeed, the better tagline followed “the Paul Revere of Ecology” on TIME read: “the scientist with a classroom of millions.” That’s really important. And I would argue that the science information movement has played a far more significant role in twentieth-century history that I think we fully appreciate.

Tributes across the web NYTimes - Barry Commoner Dies at 95 NYTimes - Barry Commoner, Last Word (video) History for a Sustainable Future - Commoner in Context The Nation - Remembering Barry Commoner

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