Thursday, December 31, 2009

Poverty and potential role of savings accounts

Nick Kristof has an interesting view reducing global poverty in today's NYTimes. Provide the people a way to save.

I'm a fan of microlender Kiva, and am often amazed at the loan shark-like market lending rates in third world countries (often 50-100%+ interest), but it turns out in many places that even with a savings account you have to pay the bank to simply hold your money!

In West Africa, money collectors called susus operate informal banks but charge an annualized rate of 40 percent on deposits. Yes, you read that right. You pay a 40 percent interest rate on your savings!

In Kenya, two economists conducted an experiment by paying the fees to open bank accounts for small peddlers. They found that the peddlers who took up the accounts, especially women, enjoyed remarkable gains. Within six months, they were investing 40 percent more in their businesses, typically by buying more goods to be resold.

Anyhow, this is an interesting market-based piece of the puzzle. Read more here.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Watched Avatar again - this time in 3D

Often I'm a grumpy dude and I have to apologize to my wife for that. Today was one of those days. As I woke up and was getting dressed I'm seeing my day going up in smoke when Trish asks me to go see Avatar again. Yeah I'm a whiner, but I don't recover well from 3-4 hour holes shot in my day.

Anyhow, watched the movie again - this time in 3D. 3D wasn't all that different from regular viewing from what I could tell. Maybe I was missing something.... Anyhow I thought it was interesting that the most interesting character upon rewatch was the craggy old military commander played by Stephen Lang - the Colonel who viewers ultimately focus on as as the "bad guy" of the film.

Upon first viewing I thought his character was overly 2 dimensional and stereotypical, but upon rewatch I see that he is just carrying out his role that his life up to that point has molded him to be. He's kindof like Vader from Star Wars. The Colonel is everything you'd want in a hero - hard-nosed, tough, cunning, sly, smart, loyal, a man of action - except he's fighting on the wrong team. He is nearly the ideal soldier - but without a conscience - without a compass for right/wrong. The kindof guy who can and does kill while sipping coffee. The company was paying him to do a job, and his job was to single-mindedly achieve objectives - no matter who he had to kill to achieve them - or how ruthless he had to become. It was truly juxtaposition in a space/alien movie to see a tough-as-nails human as the scariest thing you'd want to come up against in that dangerous world.

Here's an interesting take on his character by the LATimes.

Monday, December 28, 2009


Ever heard of the Boskops? Apparently an extinct homonid species from 30K-10K years ago that had brain sizes considerably larger than current homo sapiens, with some arguing they were probably far more intelligent as a result.

I did a few other web searches and there's confusion on just what exactly the brain size means, how it's wired, selection pressures to smaller brains even today due to child mortality... but it's interesting these megabrains were out there not long ago.

Anyhow, thought the article and speculation was interesting.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Still stuck in the 80s

I was tracking down some of my favorite songs from the 80s and found this one the other day. Please forgive the video as it is really bad - I didn't know the video was so strange as I only remember the song from a little cassette where I copied the tune off of the radio - but it really was a fun tune and makes me smile. If you remember it I hope it makes you smile too. I really miss this kind of stuff.

Slade - Run Run Away

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Day 4

It's quite a bit windier down here today. Lots of surfers out when we went to eat lunch. Much more wave action. Alot of the folks walking the beaches are bundled up pretty good. A family down on the beach has been building a castle but they came prepared with hoodies and glooves and all.

Trish and I went down there but it was just too uncomfortable to walk on the beach for long.

We've had a good break but before too much longer will be packing up to get ready to leave for home early in the morning.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Plan Day 3

Yesterday, Day 2 of the plan, was good day. Modifications to the original plan posted yesterday include going to to see Avatar and also eating a giant bowl of spaghetti. Avatar was a way cool movie. I'm sure it'll become one of those classic movies people watch over and over - but it wasn't as lastingly thought provoking as I was hoping it would be. There's a very good story there - including some good performances - but the real "wow" of this movie is the visual realism they brought to a fantasy world. I particularly appreciated the biology of the planet - including all the luminous plants and thought put into the anatomy of the animals - nostrils in neck, 6-legged horses, multiple eyes.

On to Day 3 which started off with a bang when I got up early to go sit out on the back porch to read out by the ocean. It was a little cool, but I quickly nodded off so I consider it a successful morning. The Crab Shack is in the plans for supper.

Edit: Actually it was Floyd's jumbo shrimp for supper. It's next door to The Crab Shack.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Plan

Since every worthwhile endeavor needs a plan, and since I never have a plan, I figured I'd outline a plan for this year's vacation.

Day 1 "Sunday" was a huge success. Day 1's plan centered around
- getting to the beach
- eating a bunch of shrimp
- putting spanish moss on my head at some point
- drinking a half a box of mountain berry juice
- eating fresh pineapple
- watching "Up"

Here are some of the highlights:

Day 2's plan was considerably more ambitious than the first.
- It starts with a short walk (I'm a short walker, my wife is more of a walker)
- drink some chocolate milk (chocolate milk is a must)
- watch the dolphins
- work on a song or two
- waste time blogging
- waste time on facebook
- sit on the deck
- probably take a nap

Here are some highlights of the day so far:

You might not be able to see the dolphin in this photo but trust me, they're out there... If you look very closely you can probably see them.

If you're having trouble seeing the dolphins I digitally enhanced the photo with the most modern technology to bring out all the details possible. It's still a little blurry, but you can probably see the dolphin in the enhanced photo.

thanks to here for the cool pic

Thursday, December 17, 2009


Check out this song written in gibberish to sound like English. I think he's nailed Bob Dylan, and it's actually a pretty catchy tune. Well done.

Here's a link to more info:
linked to this from the Marginal Revolution blog.

Radio Listening Data

I found this article about radio listening habits changing interesting. Instead of using the mail in diary's of daily listening behavior, the metering companies are starting to use technology to track exactly what channel your radio is on and what you're listening to (more similar to how TV ratings are calculated).

I participated in one of the radio diaries last year and agree with some of the critiques. If you're driving to work and change your channel several times - can you really remember all the channels you listened to and how long? During the survey period I'd often just turn my radio off if everything was bad (which was often) rather than keep flipping around and have to worry about trying to fill out the radio diary for channel changes

Some of the interesting findings:
- guys listen to more soft rock than they admit.
- people report listening to more classical than they really do.
- only 5 people in the country listen to smooth jazz, and one of them just died.

I am mostly a rock guy (mostly classic rock stuff), but there are definitely some soft rock music I like alot that most guys either don't like or won't admit to liking:
Sarah MacLachlan is one of my favorite musicians
Alison Krauss is awesome
Rose Reiter (unsigned) also falls into this category

I do have some mp3s in my collection that most guys wouldn't admit to that also can border on outright cheesy, but here's some I see as I scan through my mp3s:
Bonnie Tyler - Total Eclipse of the Heart
Christina Aguilera - Beautiful (I still remember the first time I heard this song thinking it was brilliant.)
Katy Perry - I Kissed a Girl
Martika - Toy Soldiers (a pop song I really liked from back in the 80s)
A couple Meatloaf tunes .... yeah they're really long
Pink - Don't Let Me Get Me
REO Speedwagon - Can't Fight this Feeling (makes my friends at work howl)
Shakira - Underneath Your Clothes
Sheriff - When I'm with you. (#1 from back in the 80s. Doesn't hold up well over time, but it was huge back in the day)
T'Pau - Heart and Soul
Bette Midler - The Rose
Frank Mills - Music Box Dancer (heard this when I was a grade school kid and found it online the other day)
John Mayer (maybe - I don't know, he's hugely talented but he seems to me to cater to the women more than most)
Mariah Carey - Vision of Love, Can't Let Go

Interested to see what ads google decides to pop up beside this post.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

3D software

I'm occasionally (usually?) go off on unproductive tangents, and this may be one of them, but I've recently gotten increasingly interested art, in particular in fantasy and sci/fi art. It seems there's a lot of powerful software out there for those interested in creating 3D models on the computer.

I first got interested with the video game Spore that lets you create your own animated creatures or design buildings or spaceships. It got me at least interested enough to see what real artists use to create some similar type scenes.

Anyhow, there's a free program out the call DAZ 3D that is one of these programs, and part of the user agreement is that I tell 2 people about it - so since I don't really have any friends into art, this is my effort to satisfy that agreement.

some other software that might be worth investigating. I've downloaded alot of free versions, but don't know much about using them yet.

General 3D
Blender - open source free 3D app
Carrerra - not free, but integrates with DAZ
Hexagon - integrates with DAZ, the sample video here is very similar to building creatures in Spore - but gives the user considerably more control of the minute shaping of the creature.

3D Landscapes
Bryce - Not free, but it integrates with Daz3D and I'm probably going to buy it and play around with it over the holidays.
Terragen - I've played around with the free classic version, but the newer version is alot more powerful. I
Vue Pioneer - looks pretty powerful and there is a free version with limitations. For only $49 though it has some versions with more functions and has alot of plants, something that seems lacking in some of the 3D landscaping tools.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Guitar Tab Tablature for "Got To Be Real" by Cheryl Lynn

Got to be Real
By Cheryl Lynn

My best guess at transcription by Shane Milburn

There’s bass transcriptions and chord charts out there for this, but haven’t seen this funky part transcribed anywhere. Wanted to post as it gave me some trouble to figure out. It’s kindof buried in the mix in the recording and none of the sheet music I’ve found seems to show what’s going on.

Move it up 2 frets when song goes up a full step key change halfway through. I’m not much of a funk guitar player, but this seems to me close to what’s going on w/ the guitar. It may make more sense to somebody who’s more familiar with the genre.

Ebmaj9....D7........... Gm7
................................What you feel…

Here’s how I think I’m going to voice the chords when/if I play those. Again, move up a full step when song changes key halfway through

Ebmaj9....... D7........ Gm7

Playing the (6) note on the D7 chords above with the pinky just kindof sounds cool when chording, but I don’t think it has anything to do with anything in the recording.

Phobos and Deimos

Here's a cool photo of Mars' two small moons Phobos and Deimos in the same frame. Reading the article I also found that Phobos's orbit is slowly falling in to the planet and in about 50 million years will crash into Mars. That'd be something to see.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Early Universe pic

Check out this deep image taken of galaxy formation from the early universe.

I find it interesting that the galaxies seem to form along planes or tendrils - almost swirling looking in places. Wonder what it says about the underlying structure of things - Not really a random looking distribution at all.

This image made me think of a comment by Brian Greene in one of his string theory books where he says the structure of the early universe is painted all across the sky in the distribution of the stars/galaxies - only its spread out and much larger now than it was back then.

Monday, December 7, 2009

A good case to ignore stock picking advice

Check this article checking out the performance of Fortune's prediction for the best stocks for the coming decade written about 9 years ago back in August of 2000.

It turns out 9 of Fortune's top predictions for the decade are still down, and 2 of them (Nortel and Enron) have completely evaporated. See this list for full details.

Just food for thought as you read your next list of top stocks for the coming decade.

By the way - the article shows the real top stocks of the decade vs. Fortune's top pics.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

More Friedman

Yet another insightful piece by Thomas Friedman.

Many big bad things happen in the world without America, but not a lot of big good things. If we become weak and enfeebled by economic decline and debt, as we slowly are, America may not be able to play its historic stabilizing role in the world. If you didn’t like a world of too-strong-America, you will really not like a world of too-weak-America — where China, Russia and Iran set more of the rules.