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Month: October 2008 (Page 1 of 2)

On Driving a Vespa

Jeremy Clarkson on driving a Vespa:

Recently, various newspapers ran a photograph of me on a small motorcycle. They all pointed out that I hate motorbikes and that by riding one I had exposed myself as a hypocrite who should commit suicide immediately.

Hmmm. Had I been photographed riding the local postmistress, then, yes, I’d have been shamed into making some kind of apology. But it was a motorcycle. And I don’t think it even remotely peculiar that a motoring journalist should ride such a thing. Not when there is a problem with the economy and many people are wondering if they should make a switch from four wheels to two.

Unfortunately, you cannot make this switch on a whim, because this is Britain and there are rules. Which means that before climbing on board you must go to a car park, put on a high-visibility jacket and spend the morning driving round some cones while a man called Dave — all motorcycle instructors are called Dave ((I took a motorcycle safety class many years ago in Washington, DC. My instructor’s name was…Dave.)) — explains which lever does what.

Afterwards, you will be taken on the road, where you will drive about for several hours in a state of abject fear and misery, and then you will go home and vow never to get on a motorcycle ever again.

Read the whole thing.

(Via Winterspeak.)

Must-Have T-Shirt: Re-elect Clay Davis

I love it. The Re-elect Clay Davis T-shirt. From the best TV show ever created.

(Via Kottke.)

A “Global SuperOrganism”

Kevin Kelly:

I am not the first, nor the only one, to believe a superorganism is emerging from the cloak of wires, radio waves, and electronic nodes wrapping the surface of our planet. No one can dispute the scale or reality of this vast connectivity. What’s uncertain is, what is it? Is this global web of computers, servers and trunk lines a mere mechanical circuit, a very large tool, or does it reach a threshold where something, well, different happens?

So far the proposition that a global superorganism is forming along the internet power lines has been treated as a lyrical metaphor at best, and as a mystical illusion at worst. I’ve decided to treat the idea of a global superorganism seriously, and to see if I could muster a falsifiable claim and evidence for its emergence.

My hypothesis is this: The rapidly increasing sum of all computational devices in the world connected online, including wirelessly, forms a superorganism of computation with its own emergent behaviors.

(Emphasis mine.)

(Via Deeplinking.)

CSM to cease daily print publication

Christian Science Paper to End Daily Print Edition. [NYTimes.com]

Exploring Tumblr

Tumblr is a free blogging platform that makes posting material — whether it’s images, audio, video, links, or text — extremely easy.

Because I’m interested in all things Web publishing-related, I’ve set up an experimental tumblr page — er, tumblelog — at newley.tumblr.com. I don’t know if I’ll continue to updating it or not, but I’d heard a lot about the service and wanted to give it a spin.

At the expense of sounding ridiculous to those of you who — quite understandably — could care less about the technical minutia of a typical blogging workflow, I’ll just say this: The platform offers a great way to share interesting digital snippets that aren’t quite right for Twitter‘s 140-character maximum length and yet might not justify a full-length blog post. In addition, items can be posted to tumblr extremely quickly — as in a matter of seconds.

Some disparate items I’ve posted to tumbler over the last few weeks include:

— A somewhat silly (and quite clearly impromptu), two-minute, 26-second audio recording I made in a taxi in Kolkata, India last November.

— This striking image of a daring motorcycle design. ((Motorcycling-related link worth checking out: Zen and Now: On the Trail of Robert Pirsig and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.))

— A YouTube video of a financial reporter explaining the economic meltdown (yes, I’m still fixated on how best to explain the subprime crisis).

Some people use tumblr for minimalist photo blogs, while others, such as my friend Lee, use them to aggregate their various online postings (images from Flickr, bookmarks on Delicious, etc.).

I’m unsure how — or even if — I’ll continue using tumblr, but I thought it might be of interest to some of you out there who’re looking for an ultra-simple way to share material online.

Further reading:

Lifehacker: “Geek to Live: Instant, no-overhead blog with Tumblr”

“I don’t have the time to keep it up.”

“I don’t have that much to say that often.”

These are the reasons most people abandon their personal weblog or never start one. But we all come across interesting tidbits online every day that we want to remember and share – links, photos, videos, even that side-splitting IM session you had with your co-worker. A new blog format, called a “tumblelog,” is a no-hassle, no-writing-required way to share those bits and maintain a personal site with the least possible commitment.

Webmonkey: “Get Started with Tumblr”

Do you miss the days when blogging seemed simple and exciting? Have you ever stared at the blank text input field in WordPress until you began to fill with dread?

While WordPress, Movable Type and similar blogging engines certainly make it easy to set up a blog with a robust content management system, sometimes the software itself is overkill. Sometimes you just want to post a picture or a quick snippet of text and be done with it.

That’s more or less the thinking that inspired Tumblr, a dead simple blogging system that makes it easy to post a quick note, an image, a link or a YouTube video and then get on with your real life.

2008 Forbes Traveler 400

I have five reviews in the recently published 2008 Forbes Traveler 400, a compendium of the world’s best hotels.

You can see my contributions here:

Grand Hyatt Erawan Bangkok

Shangri-La Hotel (Bangkok)

Sofitel Metropole Hanoi

The Oberoi, New Delhi

The Oberoi Grand Kolkata

And here’s the entire 2008 FT 400.

Gone Fishin’

I won’t be posting anything here until Mon., Oct. 27.

See you then, mis amigos.

Conflict on Thailand-Cambodia Border

AFP: “Fighting erupts along Thai-Cambodia border: officials”

Fighting erupted on the Thai-Cambodia border, military officials from both sides said on Wednesday, as a row over a disputed patch of land near the ancient Preah Vihear temple boiled over.

Brigadier Bun Thean said the two sides had exchanged gunfire, after reports that 500 Thai soldiers were massing on their side of the border.

“Cambodian and Thai troops are opening fire at each other now,” he told AFP from the scene, accusing Thailand of firing the first shot.

“Thai troops entered our territory … It is heavy gunfire.”

A senior Thai military official who did not wish to be named confirmed that fighting had broken out near the border, but insisted that it was isolated.

“It’s small-scale fighting and the Thai authorities are trying to contain the incident,” he told AFP in Bangkok.

CNN.com: “Fighting erupts on Thai-Cambodia border”

Thai and Cambodian soldiers clashed Wednesday in a disputed border region where the two countries lay claim to an ancient temple, the Thai military told CNN.

Thai soldiers set-up artillery guns on the Thai-Cambodian border on October 15.

No casualties were reported in the fighting near the Preah Vihear temple, the military said.

Thai military officials are now trying to arrange emergency talks with their Cambodian counterparts, the military said.

Both countries posted troops in the area after the United Nations in July approved Cambodia’s application to have the 11th-century temple listed as a World Heritage Site.

The Nation: “Sound of gunshots heard along Thai-Cambodia border”

Sound of several gunshots were heard near the disputed area near the ancient Preah Vihear temple on the ThaiCambodia border in Si Sa Ket province at about 2.45pm.

The area is in the heart of border tension between Thailand and Cambodia which was flared up after Cambodia’s premier Hun Sen threatened to open war if Thai troops were not withdrawn from the area.

It is still unclear who fired first shot but Thai officials said that the shots were fired from the Khmer side.

Both Thai and Cambodian troops were deployed along the border in Si Sa Ket following Hun Sen’s threats. The Thai army vowed to retaliate if attacked.

Meanwhile Army Commander in Chief Gen Anupong Paochinda has instructed Thai troops along the border with Cambodia to be on high alert and to retaliate if attacked.

Second Army Region Commander Lt Gen Wibunsak Neeparn said Anupong telephoned to him and ordered Thai troops along the border to be ready if attacked.

Here’s more info on the disputed temple:

Preah Vihear temple on Wikipedia

Reuters: “FACTBOX: Preah Vihear, a source of Thai-Cambodian tension”

CSM: “Why Thai-Cambodian temple dispute lingers”

Update (via A): for some good analysis of the situation, look no further than this Reuters story: “Thailand and Cambodia face off again — for what?” It includes answers to questions like:

1) If war broke out, would Thailand easily defeat Cambodia?
2) Apart from national pride, is there any reason to go to war over this scrubland?
3) Are domestic politics to blame for the rise in tension?
4) Are border disputes common in this bit of Southeast Asia?
5) Surely the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) will step in and solve the problem?

Gladwell on Late Bloomers

Malcolm Gladwell in the New Yorker: “Late Bloomers: Why do we equate genius with precocity?”

Genius, in the popular conception, is inextricably tied up with precocity—doing something truly creative, we’re inclined to think, requires the freshness and exuberance and energy of youth. Orson Welles made his masterpiece, “Citizen Kane,” at twenty-five. Herman Melville wrote a book a year through his late twenties, culminating, at age thirty-two, with “Moby-Dick.” Mozart wrote his breakthrough Piano Concerto No. 9 in E-Flat-Major at the age of twenty-one. In some creative forms, like lyric poetry, the importance of precocity has hardened into an iron law. How old was T. S. Eliot when he wrote “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (“I grow old . . . I grow old”)? Twenty-three. “Poets peak young,” the creativity researcher James Kaufman maintains. Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, the author of “Flow,” agrees: “The most creative lyric verse is believed to be that written by the young.” According to the Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner, a leading authority on creativity, “Lyric poetry is a domain where talent is discovered early, burns brightly, and then peters out at an early age.”

A few years ago, an economist at the University of Chicago named David Galenson decided to find out whether this assumption about creativity was true.

(Emphasis mine.)

Understanding the Subprime Crisis

A few days back, I asked some of my Twitter friends to share some good resources for understanding the subprime crisis and global credit crunch.

  • Wise Kwai suggested The Subprime Primer, a 45-slide presentation using (profanity-spewing) stick figures to illustrate the meltdown. I suggest giving it a read (but be mindful that it’s — obviously — simplified).

    Understanding the subcprime crisis

  • Jay Dedman recommended the helpful This American Life episode called The Giant Pool of Money, which I’ve mentioned before. It remains an excellent resource, and one that I plan to listen to again.**

    Here are some other links that have caught my eye:

  • TheMoneyMeltdown.com: “Everything you need to know about the global money crisis of 2007-?.”
  • WSJ: Yes, Dow’s Record Was Year Ago Today, which contains this illustrative infographic. (Click the image for a larger version, or go to the article.)

    WSJ Infographic

  • I’ve read Zimran Ahmed’s blog, Winterspeak, since 2001, and he’s been posting some interesting thoughts on the credit crisis. Here was his take on things last week:

    My prediction: deflation will continue through 2008 and 2009. The economy will continue to contract as consumers reduce consumption (and increase saving, which they must do) and businesses scale back operations so they fit the new, lower personal consumption environment. This will be a slow process, though, as the Fed and Treasury have worked mightily to obfuscate prices, and drag out the bubble deflation. Eventually, Helicopter Ben will say enough is enough and start to (finally) mail freshly printed greenbacks to households. Now we will switch from a deflationary environment to an inflationary environment, China will complete it’s transition out of the dollar, and we will get real, honest-to-God 70s style stagflation. And then we will wait for the next Volker.

    I suggest reading the whole post.

  • RealClearMarkets.com is a good source for ongoing news. Thanks to Lan Anh N. for the tip.
  • The New Yorker‘s James Surowiecki has a piece called “Public Humiliation,” in which he concludes:

    Considering that Wall Street firms spend all day dealing with the market, they have been slow to understand just how vulnerable they were to it. Companies like Lehman and, earlier, Bear Stearns saw going public as an excuse to take on more risk and act more recklessly, when in fact becoming a public company makes caution more important, since the margin for error is smaller, and the punishment for failure swifter. Now that the government has acted, Wall Street (or what remains of it) may yet be able to regain investors’ confidence. But long-term survival really depends on remembering the fundamental truth about playing with other people’s money: it’s a lot of fun until they suddenly decide to ask for it back.

    (Emphasis mine.)

    **And on a related note, thanks to newley.com reader Paul D. for pointing out a NY Times article providing the backstory on how “The Giant Pool of Money” came to be.

    –> What about you? Got some good links to share? Leave them in the comments or email me (newley AT gmail.com)

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