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Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Tau Moe

guitar and hero

posted by roj at 7:41 pm  

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Agnes Cunningham


posted by roj at 7:36 pm  

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

they didn’t really have a specific plan

“They didn’t really have a specific plan for what to do, case by case, if we lost,” a senior Department of Defense official said on condition of anonymity. “The Justice Department didn’t have a plan. State didn’t have a plan. This wasn’t a unilateral mistake on Department of Defense’s part. It’s astounding to me that these cases have been pending for so long and nobody came up with a contingency plan.”

[an alternative source is reuters]

you’re kidding me, right? this administration – the one with the pentagon doing war planning for global warming that doesn’t exist (ahem) – didn’t even think about a “what if the court rules against us” plan?

posted by roj at 12:09 pm  

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

on the supreme court on guantanamo

yes, i should say something about the recent supreme court rulings, but i want to actually read them first. stay tuned, or poke me if you’re anxious for this perspective.

posted by roj at 11:27 am  

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

siva mourns the musigeeks

I was shocked to find that this town had no independent record stores any more. The last closed some weeks ago. The only way to get a CD was to drive out to the Interstate and visit Wal-Mart or Borders.

the experience does matter… and this saddens me as well. i just wrote about irate, which is one alternative to the discovery problem, but nothing beats a good, pointless, debate about the merits of this-band or that-band. it’s a matter of taste, and nobody’s going to win these debates, but they are part of being engaged in the music. they’re part of building those life-long relationships with the performers. no “thumbs-up/thumbs-down click” or browsing-through-reviews will ever achieve the depth and passion of someone who’s life is, literally, soaking in music.

sux, man.

i think it’s worth noting that the thing that’s dying off here is the musigeek, not the cd.

So I bought both albums from I-Tunes and burned them onto blank CDs.

posted by roj at 11:03 am  

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

no tongue-splitting in delaware

because i just did a rant on too many laws and creative prosecution, i thought it was worth noting that the delaware legislature has decided that tongue-splitting should be illegal in delaware (except when done by a doctor or dentist)…

While the practice is rare, if not nonexistent, in Delaware, lawmakers decided it would be wise to nip it in the bud.

“I had never heard of tongue splitting until I saw this bill,” said Senate sponsor James Vaughn, D-Clayton.

apparently, it’s already illegal in texas and illinois, and legislation has been proposed in tennessee, west virginia, new york, indiana and kentucky.

i guess it’s a good thing our legislators are spending their time on these important issues of our times

posted by roj at 5:48 am  

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

kurtz isn’t a terrorist, but we’ll charge him with something

[this is a follow-up to check your art supplies and, to a lesser degree, art attack]

the news today is that the grand jury did, indeed, hand down indictments against steven kurtz and an associate, robert ferrel. that means it’s time for me to go on a little rant.

first, the report….

An unconventional artist who became the target of a federal terrorism investigation — and a cause celebre in the world art community — was indicted Tuesday on charges he illegally obtained biological materials.

now, i do mean to get off on a rant here, and that basically has to do with the myraid laws we have in this society now. once you’ve attracted the interest of a prosecutor, i’m willing to bet that we can find some law you’ve broken and get at least as far as an indictment.

so, it looks to me like this is simply a case where the local police panicked a little (how ironic that i should put that up just as the news was breaking on the wires…) and called in the bioterror team. i’m not going to find fault in that at all. funky test tubes, odd things growing in laboratory glassware… sure. call in the professionals.

then the trouble starts – now we’ve gotten everyone’s attention. we’ve had the house taped off and guys in biohazard suits running around the neighborhood for a while, so something must be wrong here, and someone has to be held to account.

and then the backlash – the art community, people that know this kurtz guy pretty well, start doing what they do best – social commentary. they effectively take the patriot act provisions and terrorism laws out-of-play. it would look really bad to call this guy a terrorist with all this attention focused on him, but it would look even worse to just admit that it was a false alarm – worse for someone’s career. so we need to nail him for something. surely, there’s something we can get this guy on….

and the answer is, apparently, is that “he illegally obtained potentially harmful biological materials.” (he’s probably also jaywalked and exceeded the speed limit, but that’s not part of this investigation yet…)

harmful biological materials

i needed to emphasize that for a moment, because the ap story has some information on what these harmful biological materials are…

The organisms sent to Ferrell for Kurtz, the indictment said, were serratia marcescens, which can sicken some people under some circumstances, and bacillus atrophaeus, also known as bacillus globigii.

so, let’s do some homework…

serratia marcescens [state university of new york]

Habitat: Occurs naturally in soil and water as well as the intestines.

Pathogenicity: Important as a nocosomial infection; associated with urinary and respiratory tract infections, endocarditis, osteomyelitis, septicemia, wound infections, eye infections, meningitis.

Transmission: direct contact, droplets; has been found growing on catheters, in saline irrigation solutions, and in other supposedly sterile solutions.

Treatment: Includes cephalosporins, gentamicin, amikacin, but most strains are resistant to several antibiotics because of the presence or R-factors on plasmids.

We used to think that this bacteria was non-pathogenic, and because of the pigment it produces, it was used widely to trace bacterial transmission. In 1951 and 1952 the US Army conducted a study called “Operation Sea-Spray” to study wind currents that might carry biological weapons. They filled balloons with S. marcescens and burst them over San Francisco. Shortly thereafter, doctors noted a drastic increase in pneumonia and urinary tract infections.

Definition of Bacillus globigii [webster’s dictionary]

a species of Bacillus found in soil and decomposing organic matter; some strains produce antibiotics

yeah. technically, i guess these could be harmful biological materials, but then again, check your medicine cabinet for this stuff… Antibacterial Household Products: Cause for Concern

having failed at the grand jury stage, now i guess we have to rely on the wisdom of a jury, and steven kurtz has to waste a decent chunk of his life for his art. oh, and the lawyers get paid, of course.

for more on this story before the indictment, there’s Genetic art crosses line, says FBI from the boston globe. i suspect this is going to get plenty of attention once people in america wake up…

other important links: Email from artist suspected by FBI of bioterrorism, cae defense fund

posted by roj at 4:50 am  

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

iPanic – terror by design

since it’s all about design, really. and i haven’t seen it yet, i present iPanic – the aesthetically cool (for now) terror alert.


iPanic. uPanic.

do you feel safer now?

(we’ll be using these on the meta-roj blog on various political posts)

posted by roj at 4:07 am  

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

forgetting to build the future

i’ve spent a considerable amount of my blog-space commenting on how things should not be done, and i guess that trend will continue today… of course, i have all the answers, that’s part of the geek paradigm, but what’s the fun in letting it all out of the box at once?

this began with a speech given by carly fiorina at the university of maryland (you can skip the rah-rah bits about the company).

carly fiorina, cio forum / inforum 2003, robert h. smith school of business, university of maryland, october 10, 2003

It was a great company. But in many ways, it had fallen so in love with its legacy and its past that it had forgotten to build its future.

as i started making notes, i ran into a piece on the “15% delusion” by carol loomis. it appeared in fortune magazine back in february of 2001, with the wounds of the burst bubble still fresh in many minds and mutual fund accounts. unfortunately, fortune only leaves the first few paragraphs of their archives available, so there’s no real point in linking to that.

the gist of the article, if i may be so bold as to boil it down to a sentence or two is this: don’t make predictions you know you can’t keep. and if you do, don’t keep doing it.

the context is the business environment – the big huge public companies, the big huge brokerage firms, and the constant barrage of data and news and opinions that drive the markets (that is, stock markets) up and down and sideways from second to second. it’s about the pressure to perform… no, actually, it’s about the pressure to out-perform, and it’s the same thing we see in so many interesting places in this society these days. it’s not good enough to be good enough anymore – you have to be better. you have set high (that is, unreasonable) expectations and then you have to exceed them (that is, impossible) or you are punished.

loomis mentions the 15% growth target, but her article is buried. fortunately (ahem), the guys over at the fool picked up on it and ran in their own direction with the 15% fallacy. that one’s linkable, so let’s go there for this adventure. i’ll leave the math homework to the fools. their perspective (investor perspective) is useful to explain the pressures on management, which is where i really want to go with this. investors want growth stocks, growth stocks grow at 15% per year, and that’s five times the historical average economic growth in the united states.

the problem is that not every company can outperform the average (i leave the math to back up that assertion to the reader). even if you’re in the company that is growing way beyond average, and for a good reason (perhaps a new company, or a new product, or something else meaningful), eventually with 15% compounded returns, that one company would suck up the entire market for everything, and that’s not a good thing. but in order to keep the stock price up, you have to promise those better-than-average returns, until the rug gets ripped out from under you and you either lower expectations or miss expectations, and the bottom falls out of your stock. and there’s the damage at the highest level – between the company and its investors.

so there’s a massive incentive to take the short-term gain at the expense of long-term results and to cheat – to fudge the numbers as much as possible for as long as possible and get out while the getting is good. hit those 15% targets long enough, and the stock price will grow even faster than 15% – for a while. then pile all the damage into one quarter (if possible) suck it up, run it through bankruptcy (if it’s that bad) and who really cares what comes out on the other side? there’s the real damage – the company rots from within as decisions accumulate that “work for now” but eventually expand like a cancer.

a favorite whipping-boy industry for this has got to be telecommunications. the problem is that once you’ve got a chunk of wire in the ground, there are only so many ways you can earn money with it, and several of those ways are disappearing with new technologies. there used to be a pretty solid bet that you could hook someone up to the wire, and keep them (or someone that moved into that house) hooked up to that wire indefinitely. all things being equal, just raise the price at 15% a year and you’re golden without even hiring enron’s accounting team. but all things are not equal, and now your wire has to compete with cell service and satellites and voip that’s going through the air, or down someone else’s chunk of wire. and the consumer is demanding things that your wire can’t physically deliver.

eventually, you get worldcom. to meet growth expectations, it had to suck up every company it could possibly leverage to buy, and when the bottom fell out, it found itself not only missing expectations, but leveraged so far out over the cliff that there was nothing to do but wait for the coyote to look down. depending on how you do the accounting (and that’s another issue), worldcom just made up something like $12 billion along the way – which promptly vanished, and then some.

the problem with this (and i’m sure i’ll catch some dissent on this point) is that it builds companies on these elaborate, diligent, fully-developed and amazing frameworks of vapor. it works (in as much as it does work) for a while because everyone who is in the game sucks up the same vapors. but with these goals, targets and short-term plans, these companies with all the accumulated resources spend so much energy planning to get bigger that they miss the opportunities to actually do something about it. the opportunities happen, randomly, but if they don’t fit the company plans or the division plans, or the preconceptions of the person who’s promised 15% growth in something, then they just slip right by. worse, the oppotunities are cannibalized for short-term returns to meet the next reporting period promises, rather than focusing the available resources on longer-term prospects.

a couple years after the fool picked up on this subject, jack trout came up with another version of the same story, which can be found in the economic times of india. he’s even got a nod in there back to loomis’ article, and a small bit of it got picked up by a blogger:

Why big brands fail [ryan’s hope]

I agree that growth (through innovation) often happens in spite of goals and forecasts, not because of them.

i hope i have the wisdom to assemble brilliant people that won’t forget to build the future with me. in the meantime, please don’t forget to put a cover sheet on those tps reports.

posted by roj at 2:04 pm  

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

irate rated

this has been sitting around gathering dust for months (september!), and i never got around to writing about it, so i thought i’d take a fresh peek and see what was going on….

way back in the distant past, i stumbled into an interview over at kuro5hin with irate geek anthony jones by this idiot programmer.

this, of course, not to be confused with the other irate, which apparently comes from this guy, who is not anthony jones. nor should you confuse this or this anthony jones. this is turning into something as complex as the paris hilton problem. but that’s a different subject. back to the irate of interest….

what we have here is a sort of peer-reviewed search engine – an aggregator, of sorts. it’s centralized, managed, and precisely limited in its scope (apparently no plans to include p2p integration or payment mechanisms) – it’s simply about finding decent music. that’s important as a potential solution to the problem of the missing musigeeks.

on the downside, this solution is based on a widely distributed review model, so rather than finding a musigeek that’s deeply into something and that you can trust to tell you what you like (hey dj), you’re relying on thousands of one-click reviews. as a discovery tool, it’s not a bad thing, as long as you’re willing to be active enough to twist it to your taste.

new in development is a mechanism to normalize volume, which is a huge deal for me, since there’s a race to be louder with a lot of tracks, and the chances of getting thousands of bands to stick to a concept of recording standards is about zero. even with just a few major labels, they ended up in a race for volume at the expense of the music. anyway, this problem is pretty much completely unpossible to fix – if musicians put crappy recordings out there, you can’t blame anyone but the musicians. i think you really have two options when it come to recording – make it sound good, or make it mean something and give it context. if you’re smart, you’ll score a little bit of both. someone remind me to come back to that subject someday.

also new is some good news from the people at creative commons – support for the cc licenses and integration with magnatune. important developments, because this means musicians can engage irate and a path to revenue at the same time and on the terms they think work best.

the can of worms this does open is the whole active vs. passive media experience question – rating music is an active mode, and even a one-click vote (is that patented yet?) means being engaged in the listening experience. that shows up in the comment here:

I’ve been surprised by how few people actually use the rating facility on iTunes. I thought it was normal to use it continually, but so few people I know share that compulsion.

long time meta-roj music business co-conspirator barry ritholtz has his review of irate from back in october. in his follow-up there, he brings up an interesting, constant problem in the business of music – which bin do you get stuck in?

The lack of genre distinction colors the rating process. Example: I tend to be pretty forgiving of alt.rock, as long as there’s a melody and tasty guitar licks. So my overall rating on songs from that genre are probably on average higher then lets say pop or hip hop, where I tend to be much more critical (as I like the genre less). iRate has been feeding me more alt.rock songs; Good for listening, perhaps less good for musical discovery.

ever since we started slapping labels on music, there’s been some difficulty with how well they stick, and who gets to pick the label. is she a folk singer because she doesn’t have a drum kit behind her, or is she an acoustic rock goddess? and the finer the grain gets, the more problem you have with discovery – spend all your time in the folk category and you missed some great music you really would enjoy over in the world music (what?) bin.

i’ll throw the freebie at anthony on that subject. i’m a big fan of a simple, elegant user interface, but… maybe there’s some room for the musigeekier irate users to collaboratively tag genres while they’re tagging ratings. since the data is centralized, maybe there’s some potential in following them by individual – point me in the direction of barry’s idea of “good” “alt.rock.”

for a [very] little more on irate…. i drop the following suggestions:


there you have it – because irate is still around, and the web is timeless.

posted by roj at 10:57 am  
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