Monday, August 31, 2009

Japan elects new government in landslide

I didn't know they were voting, but Japan had a major overturn in government in recent voting. I love this quote from the NYTimes article:

“This vote is about making a system where parties that fail get kicked out,” said Yoshiyuki Kobayashi, 40, one of the white-collar corporate workers known here as salarymen. “We need to teach politicians to be nervous.”

Friday, August 28, 2009

Sci-Fi at it's best: District 9 movie review

I took today off from work and my wife and I went to the early showing of the Sci-Fi film "District 9". I thoroughly enjoyed this compelling film which is told from a limited point of view but still manages to convey the broader context of the story and world very effectively.

Like the best in sci-fi "District 9" manages to create enough distance between real world issues to create fresh perspective, while at the same time speaking directly to these very real world issues. "District 9" has alot to say about human nature, especially human tribalism, immigration, race, civil liberty, security, torture ... and to a degree speaks to human base responses to fear of the unknown. "District 9" also shows civilization to be a thin and fragile veneer on top of an ugly survivalist biology. Given the opportunity we will seemingly all-to-easily do bad things.

While there's alot of gunfighting in the second half of this film, I credit the writers for not letting this film fall into the rut of becoming a predictable shoot-em-up. Too many sci-fi films create a vivid new world in the first half only to have the second part of the film trudge into a dull blow-stuff-up-and-save-the-world absurdity (or even worse B-grade horror film schlock). "District 9" thankfully does NOT go there. All of the action - and even gore - springs naturally from the storyline. The cast of flawed characters behave appropriately throughout, and seem even at ease with the roles and ugliness inherent in them. The film is thoughtful throughout. Revealing throughout. And it is engaging throughout. The world and movie always feel believable and "real."

The special effects are also incredible. A ton of credit has to go to the actors for pulling off the scenes that have the aliens in them. The alien creatures in this film fit in seemlessly with the landscape and the actors respond appropriately - as if the aliens were actually there.

Bottom Line: I say go watch this movie. If you don't go to the theater at least put this on your Netflix queue.

Friday, August 21, 2009

New Song - rough version - and make the best

Here's a song I've had sitting on my PC for several weeks. It's really pretty rough, but I think the general idea of the song comes through. It's really just a slow strum that I just hummed along to for the longest time - and it might have not even had lyrics, but I put a reference to a verse by Marcus Aurelius near the end.

Here's the song: ...and make the best

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Message in a Bottle

I hadn't posted in a while, and thought to track down a video today I remember from high school. I couldn't find the performance of this that I was thinking of, but this shortened acoustic version of "Message in a Bottle" performed by Sting is pretty dang good, so I wanted to post.

The version I was trying to find had Sting just playing this song solo with his bass - at least that's how I remember it - but I can't find that version. This is very good though.

And here is another very good version - apparently way back from 1981.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Healthcare: A failure to communicate

I'm probably talking out of school here - but I find the national debate on heathcare to be pathetic. We've become a nation so tied up in ideology - so hardwired into pre-conceived notions of what should be, that our debates increasingly tend to start and end with the way we think things should be rather than how they are. We're increasingly becoming a nation of ideologues rather than practical thinkers.

I'm so disappointed with the national healthcare debate because I don't think even the most fundamental issue of cost is even understood at the simplest level by the voters. At it's core I think we are seeing a massive failure to communicate.

At it's core is the issue of cost I pointed to a short while back. Why do we spend twice as much as most other comparable countries on healthcare? I can't get past this graph showing national healthcare expenditure vs. life expectancy (yes, click the link and digest the graph - it's important) for countries around the world. Why is it so hard for us to admit that the system we have is the most expensive system in the world - by far - without producing a noticeably healthier outcome?

Some datapoints from just eyeballing the graph:

Healthcare - - - -
Spending - - - - -life
per/capita - - - -expectancy

$6200 - - - - - - 77.9 yrs United States
$3200 - - - - - - 79.0 yrs Canada
$3300 - - - - - - 81.0 Australia
$3400 - - - - - - 80.5 France
$3300 - - - - - - 79.0 Germany
$1500 - - - - - - 78.5 South Korea
$2300 - - - - - - 82.0 Japan

And here's the thing... I don't have a clue why I have to pay so much for my health insurance. I have no idea. Why is healthcare so much cheaper everywhere except in America? And if the care is really that much better, I need to understand what our extra $3000 per year per person is buying and why it's worth it.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Kepler space telescope - the search for another earth

I find this inspiring. If there are other earth-like planets out there the Kepler space telescope will be able to find them. Based on the type of star and orbit scientists can determine if the planet exists in what is called a habital zone - and likely to be an earth-like planet. Kepler will watch a cluster of around 100,000 stars for a period of 3.5 years to generate some statistically significant distributions.

from the article:

Boss said one day "we'll be able to stand outside ... and say 'Hey kids, look out there see that star? That one has an Earth".

What will you think if many are discovered? what if none are discovered?

I initially thought the satellite would have ability to detect analyze light for the presence of oxygen or other earth-like signature, but apparently that is not the case. The planets discovered are just good candidates. Here are Kepler FAQs.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Conspiracy theory - natural gas

I read this article on seeking alpha this morning about some pretty startling and prohibitive licensing requirements for shops that want to do gas to natural gas fuel conversions for automobiles. Apparently due due to the conversion costs conversions only appeal to large fleets that drive very high miles.

I read enough of the comments to this article to convince me that there's at least a nugget of truth in here. I don't know that conversions vs. original manufacture is the way to go for proponents (see example from AT&T fleet here), but it does seem serious economic barriers have been put in place to keep consumers on gasoline even if you wanted to change.

Some other articles:
Who even know they exist? It's a pretty good summary article that discusses some of the vehicles on the road today - and indicates there are about 150,000 on the road currently in the U.S. and about 5 million worldwide. The article indicates many feel Natural Gas could have the largest impact if treated as a premium fuel for the most polluting and heavy duty vehicles if possible. Article also indicates there's not much consumer demand for natural gas vehicles.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Cash for Clunkers

Here's an interesting perspective on the cash for clunkers program. The clunkers are just piling up on dealer lots.

It turns out the salvage folks really aren't that interested in salvaging vehicles because the program essentially requires the engine and transmission to be destroyed via chemical. That significantly lowers the salvage value to the point where they really have little incentive to bother with them. Salvage yards say they can't make much money off of things like wheels and alternators - it's the used engines/parts that have value.

Anyhow, I thought this Behind the Scenes story was pretty interesting.