December 26, 2007


Sweeney Todd is a pretty good filmed musical; Johnny Depp is particularly awesome.

I was surprised to find out that I knew two of the songs from the musical, having never seen it before. Both "Pretty Women" and "Not While I'm Around" appear on Barbra Streisand's Broadway Album ... which I listened to approximately 423 times between ages nine and eleven.

Not While I'm Around was something of a lullabye in my memory. As sung by Barbra, it's a maternal promise to protect and love. Somewhat surprising then to find out the original is sung by a young boy to his adoptive, malevolent mother. She later reprises the song in an attempt to lure the boy out of hiding and to his doom.

Life was more innocent with Babs.

December 25, 2007

Christmas 2007

Christmas Flight

I'm hanging about the house this Christmas bitching about having a cold. Meanwhile, Cpt. Exnicios has been deployed to Afghanistan and arrived there early this morning (by way of Maine, Ireland and Kuwait).

Exnicios has an amazing blog where he's shared stories of what it's like to be recalled from civilian life as part of the Individual Ready Reserve program. I highly recommend it.

December 20, 2007

Debate Circuit

Intelligence Squared US is an unfortunately-named program of live, Oxford-style debates.

I heard a piece of the debate on affirmative action on NPR the other night. I was electrified by how good it was as an example of truly solid debate. Great analysis, awesome speakers, real clash.

There have been a ton of presidential debates this year and none of them really worth watching. Rhetoric doesn't work best in 90 second chunks or even 3 minute chunks. Debate works when there is clash and time to evolve that clash over successive rounds of argument.

I highly recommend Tim Wise's opening argument against the resolution. It made me fondly remember college debate god John Oleske who railed as righteously on behalf of affirmative action in the North American Debate Championships of 1997.

December 14, 2007

Argumentum ad Verecundiam

Knol is what will be referred to as Google's Wikipedia-killer. As usual, Anil has already written the really smart, thought-out critique that I was never gonna be able to produce in the first place. So go read that.

The screenshot that accompanied the announcement is a very telling illustration of Anil's central point. Specifically that "An awareness of the fact that Google has never displayed an ability to create the best tools for sharing knowledge would reveal that it is hubris for Google to think they should be a definitive source for hosting that knowledge."

Turns out Google's really good at hubris.

The screenshot shows something kinda like a Wikipedia article except it has ads by Google, peer reviews and prominent author attribution.

On the first point, a big reason this is happening is because of the amount of unmonetizable traffic Google sends to Wikipedia. Guess what the "I'm feeling Lucky" hit is for the title of this post. And Wikipedia won't accept advertising. Let's build Knol.

The further justification for Knol is "Who can trust all that crap on Wikipeda?" Google is fundamentally an academic institution and part of that ethos is that things aren't really "good" unless peer reviewed. The concept of peer review is central to how work is done inside Google and that basically works as far as it goes. Unfortunately, that ethos has extended to the way Google views content on the web. Sergey once asked the Blogger team how Blogger was going to compete with the New York Times. Even though our pageviews exceeded those of the NYT, the point I think he was making was "When are you gonna produce something authoritative that lots of people will accept as good." Blogger's answer was "Huh?" Knol's answer is peer review.

Well, part of the answer is peer review. The other part is "get the smart people to write the articles." The fact that the article in the released screenshot was authored by a Stanford University academic is basically all you need to know about how Google views content on the web. It doesn't count as knowledge until it's given to you by an expert. Preferably an expert who went to Stanford (who misspells 'United States' - zing!).

In conclusion of his post, Anil refers back to a post he made in 2003 titled Google's First Mistake. I didn't understand that older post at the time it was written, but it kinda made me mad. Today, the announcement of Knol reminds me that I'm still a little mad. But for different reasons.

December 06, 2007


When I was born, some of my relatives gave me a bunch of US savings Bonds. Now that I'm 31, it's time to redeem them.

Actually, it was time last year, but I'm just getting around to now. It turns out redeeming paper saving bonds is an amazingly complicated process. It's fairly simple if you're near a branch of your local bank that will do this for you ... unfortunately, my closest branch is in Berkeley (the only bad thing about the credit union I so dearly love).

So I decided to take them back to the US Treasury Department whence they came. Here are the steps:

  1. go to
  2. provide the following information
    • social security number
    • driver's license number
    • bank routing number and account number
    • email address
  3. create a password that obeys some crazy contraints about capitals, special characters and length such that you will never remember it
  4. create security questions and answers for retrieving said confusing password
  5. get emailed an alpha-numeric account number that is not of your choosing, and that you will need to fish out of your email every time you log in
  6. wait to be mailed a special cipher card that you need to physically obtain before you can proceed
  7. once you've received your cipher card, get the account number out of your email inbox and use the security questions to remember your password
  8. enter your account number and password on the site using a click-to-enter javascript keyboard designed to prevent keystroke sniffing. note that the position of the keys on the keyboard will change every time you login
  9. select the serial number shown on your cipher card, look up and enter the letters that corresponds to the requested grid locations on the card
  10. find out that you need to convert your account to a conversion account in order to redeem paper bonds
  11. search for 2 hours on how to convert your account
  12. find out that to convert your account you need to send an "in-system" email to the treasury to have them enable this feature.

That's as far as I've gotten. I'm pretty sure I'm going to need to take a picture of myself with the bonds once my account has been enabled.

It's funny cause we've been talking a lot at work about how to simplify and streamline web-based sign-up. This is so far the opposite that I couldn't even have guessed how bad it could be.