The Longest Now

Real Reporting [Not Much Of It]
Sunday November 23rd 2003, 5:24 am
Filed under: international

I’m not sure where I’ve seen real reporting recently.  The British article below is one of the first truly interesting articles I’ve seen this year, and it boasts two years of investigation (and the assistance of another country’s team of bloodhounds) condensed into ten or twelve newspaper inches.

The Auchi investigation, pursued by the French and (re)published by the Guardian.

Oh yes, and there was that elegant history of Clark… hopefully the bite of presidential reporting will produce another one or two before the season is out.

Awesome, flawed overview of Strouhal Number
Sunday November 23rd 2003, 5:12 am
Filed under: metrics

Lovely images (though not terribly informative), good review.

I’m not sure how serious a flaw it is to use the Strouhal number to characterize effiiciency, but at first glance it seems the wrong quantity.  A good measure of efficiency should involve the volume of liquid moved, or better yet the work done in a typical stroke (integrating the momentum imparted to the liquid over the stroke duration), not just the amplitude and frequency of strokes used.  No surprise that the Str. number range is different for large birds than for small ones.

Awesome, flawed overview of Strouhal Number …

Life, by Delmonteque
Sunday November 23rd 2003, 4:08 am
Filed under: indescribable


Some stories are too good to be true.  Such is the story of Bob Delmonteque‘s life…


He was a popular beefcake model in his youth.  Pictures from his youth are now worth a tidy bundle.  He himself was known in those days as a photographer of male nudes.  He went on to become a major national exercise trainer, and was one of the trainers for the original Apollo astronauts… Somewhere in there, he got a degree in (sports) psychology.  Some recent pictures:


Awesome studio photo published in ’99 (taken when he was in his 70s?).
One Taken in 2000 (age 81+) at a modeling shoot.
Headshot from a recent ISSA profile.


Today Delmonteque is 84, has a build most 20-year olds would kill for, and spends his time promoting his line of age-defying products and still modeling his physique for weight gyms in California.  Here’s a charming article he published recently, in which he coyly refers to himself in the third person…


If I find a good reference to one of his photo exhibits (photos by him, not of him), I’ll post it here.  Maybe I’ll even find a woman with a similar story!  [the woman who helps him market his youth potions doesn’t quite fit the bill.]


Bookmarks, et al.
Saturday November 22nd 2003, 7:57 pm
Filed under: chain-gang

This is a very short list of bookmarks… some of them still useful; no longer linked in the sidebar.

What was with that rumour that friendster was going to start charging?  Seemed like an ugly version of viral marketing for whatever the replacement service was supposed to be.  Anyhow, I find it useful for stalking old high school classmates.  Like Josef Ro bey!

Orders of Thanks
Thursday November 20th 2003, 12:32 am
Filed under: metrics

Thank you for all the feedback on the orders of magnitude piece. My mind is full of magnitudes, so you can expect more of the same. If you have topics you would like to see addressed in the same vein, let me know.

Responsibility, Authority, and Delegation
Wednesday November 19th 2003, 11:16 pm
Filed under: metrics

All important to the conservation of energy and enthusiasm. I’m sure they are no cleverly-matched triad, but only three siblings which sprang to mind as I began to write. Feel free to suggest other siblings you would add to this small list to make it more complete.

It’s funny how easy it is for a bundle of directed, productive energy to dissipate. Three different groups I am involved with, and two whose progress I have been following quite avidly, have dissipated dramatically from a nervous “we must do something this very month. what should it be?” to a confident “yes, let’s make sure everyone is on the same page, meet a few more times, and figure out what we can accomplish by the end of winter”. I am particularly intrigued by the uniform way the “this month” deadline decayed, in every case, into no deadline at all.

A key part of these dissipations was the process of meeting in the first place; in many cases, exchanges of written ideas and communication seemed to move things forward, whereas meetings brought everything to a standstill in their aftermath (“whew! we made it through that. now we can get back to all those other things we have to worry about…?”). In at least two instances, people who had cared greatly about certain points and brought them up before, felt that anything mentioned before the meeting (including their own points) had now been discussed, dealt with, and boiled down into the handful of ‘action items’ each of which it was now vaguely someone’s responsibility to act upon… even when their pet peeves/ideas had been quietly elided in the heat of the moment. So how is it that, in the coming days, they didn’t realize this and mention these points again?

Another key part of these dissipations is ambient noise. One must hypothesize a world in which there are constant random drains on energy, distractions from focus, time pressures, imagined deadlines, overlapping priorities, and no clear method for coping with all of these simultaneously. I hope you will suspend disbelief and assume, with me, that this is not an unfair approximation.

Now, if you will forgive me, I feel a quantum analogy coming on. If you’re not a fan of quantum physics, much less analogies, it’s best if you skip this part in its entirety.

This dissipation reminds me of simplistic decoherence; only the strictest avoidance of tangential measurements, or measurement of well-defined metrics along carefully planned axes, preserves this energy.

And yet it’s not quite like this, since one always acts, not in a vacuum, but in a world full of energetic standing waves, almost-standing waves, and other sources of energy; and certain kinds of impromptu interactions magnify bundles of energy, sometimes synergistically (perhaps hitting some unseen underlying resonance).

Oh, wait. The rest of the universe is probably like that too. Hmmm. Hello, 22nd-century physics.

Getting back to our subject: energy and ideas dissipate, change, incorporate and are incorporated by others; usually with a remarkable loss of their original spark and incisiveness. Most groups, ideas, projects are fairly amorphous, persisting through inertia and size as much as anything else [there is in much of life a conservation of momentum, even when momentum is something amorphous and social].

It is my current hallucination that certain modern social concepts are useful for identifying ways to avoid this broadening of purpose and utility, dissipation of vibrancy and energy.

Responsibility : When responsibility is clear and clearly broadcast, so that people responsible and those observing them all understand wherein it lies, it does a great deal for maintaining the focus and energy of those who bear its burden.

Authority : Authority directs the focus given by responsibility, and allows it to find productive and not merely bureaucratic outlets. Responsibility without authority lends itself to joyless days spent passing the buck, documenting that one has done so, and reporting on how it was passed. Similarly, authority without responsibility lends itself to abuse of power, and the direction of personal creative energies in directions quite orthogonal to a group’s stated goals.

Delegation : Organizations of more than one or two people develop formal and informal heirarchies and spheres of influence. Without explicit delegation of authority and responsibility for individual projects, even the smallest project can be held up indefinitely in the backwash of conflicting priorities. Nevertheless, it is a natural impulse for those with influence to be wary of delegating it, particularly when they have only part of their attention to devote to exercising said influence and are more concerned with usurpation than with organizational success. Those who make influence their life often discover how delegation can be used to increase influence, rather than diminishing it.

As to my point… if any relevant changes are made to some of the five groups I mentioned, perhaps I will have positive results to report in a few months’ time. Until then, this is just more food for thought.

Getting the word out
Sunday November 16th 2003, 6:18 pm
Filed under: metrics

Broadcasting timely / breaking information to those who care about it should be easy

The absolute cost of broadcasting from one computer to another is under $1/GB, even after amortizing the cost of the sending machine/hardware and assuming moderate economies of scale.  This is on the order of a millicent per memo(sorry, Millicent)

Clustering on each end of this process can further reduce cost by another few orders of magnitude.  Making use of something simple like a public electronic bulletin-board would allow each such titbit to be broadcast to thousands; similarly, gathering together similar sources of information to reduce {time, topic, audience flag} redundancy would allow a five-fold reduction in the number of broadcast titbits. 

Now, however, you must pay for hardware; half of your $60 bulletin board is replaced with a ten thousand dollar screen.  If a hundred clustered titbits are broadcast a day, a hundred thousand over 3 years, this means an extra twenty cents per tb, or an extra centicent per memo[= 5 tb] if two thousand people pause long enough during the day to scan the board.

Oops.  Looks like we’ve actually upped the cost of transmission by a magnitude.  But now we’ve also taken care of contextualizing (clustering increases relevance, helps recipients compare similar events/happenings/announcements), dissemination (how did you get your list of interested parties in the first place?  were they able to tell they shouldn’t filter it into the trash? [this happens to me with a few messages a day that I honestly care about] etc…), and have left the vagaries of displaying information in the central hands of experts.  Before, you were limited to the lowest common denominator of the display terminals of your recipients; but now you can access just about any high-resolution display format, if the display boards are well-designed (which extras you have on the order of $1k per display to pay for).

Good displays can provide another half magnitude of information density; good use of familiar logos can greatly increase scanning[reading] speed; more subtle interleaving and refreshing can improve on the transmission rate of 100 tb a day.  Each of these improvements makes the use of the system enjoyable, a more rewarding daily ritual — and we’re also back down to the microcent memo.  This means that reminding five hundred people twenty times each about a timely bit of information costs you around $1… after paying off middle-men, and accounting for the many people who won’t care about it in the first place. 

[of course the sources are now spending a bit more time dealing with clustering, but they will  welcome the excuse to stop padding one-fact messages.  When we have a true information-glut problem, our world will already have become a much richer place.]

That’s about as much as it costs to have your secretary spend five minutes proofreading it and sending it off.  As for acquiring timely information and splitting it up into useful bits… I’m not yet sure how that works  I’d have to ask a news channel, calendar maintainer, news librarian, or maybe even a high-speed current events commentator

Once I do, have no fear, you’ll be the first to hear about it. 

Bizarre US-Russia parallels
Tuesday November 11th 2003, 3:01 pm
Filed under: chain-gang

In both countries, the wealthiest citizens are suddenly deeply involved in national politics.  What is it about this season?  In Russia, the two wealthiest citizens are in jail and in exile, with assets suddenly frozen or confiscated.

And in the US, three of our wealthiest countrymen [all in the top 10, I think] are taking on the politicians currently in office – either striving to replace them as governor of our wealthiest state, advising the same, or pledging their billions to unseat the sitting president

The Aga Khan of the West
Tuesday November 11th 2003, 2:38 pm
Filed under: fly-by-wire

The quotes from Soros in this Wash.Post article about his recent $5M pledge to are remarkable.  And I love what the RNC [irked that Soros has vocally singled out Bush as a danger to the world] has to say about it :

“It’s incredibly ironic that George Soros is trying to create a more open society by using an unregulated, under-the-radar-screen, shadowy, soft-money group to do it,” Republican National Committee spokeswoman Christine Iverson said. “George Soros has purchased the Democratic Party.”

Now that Soros has pledged to give more in the months to come, one imagines other worthy organizations will step up to the plate.

How to Scathe: An Object Lesson
Tuesday November 11th 2003, 1:47 pm
Filed under: poetic justice

In order to well and truly scathe somone, one must lead off with a compliment, and be polite, unemotional, and incisive in language.  Consider this masterful article on Clark, which at first glance merely describes key events in his past, with quotes from Clark and his colleagues thrown in for added color.  The best example of a scathing I’ve seen this season.

In contrast, the emotional content on, say, KickingAss, about GWB, bounces right off the old shell without much lasting effect.

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