Posts tagged ‘art’

Regulation Gone Mad

I am importing a fairly expensive art clock from Germany.  It hit Fedex in Memphis yesterday, then apparently hit a snag.  The US government demands that certain data on imported clocks be submitted to them before it can clear customs.  Fedex had to pay someone for about half an hour of work (to track me down, interview me on the phone, and submit the paperwork) so that this critical data could be submitted to the Feds:


I kid you not.  This would be one of the dumbest things I have seen from the government had it not been for the egg licenses I have to hold.  This data was probably critical for some program pushed through by a Senator to protect some business in his district that does not even exist any more.  I wonder if anyone in the government even remembers why this data is so vital (seriously, per question 11, how many wind-up clocks are coming through customs nowadays).  Probably part of a program to protect America's essential capacity to manufacture clock movements over 12mm in thickness.

Lock of the Week

For the betting man, here is the lock of the week:  Obama, in his Wednesday speech, will outline a plan that does one thing but describe it as something nearly opposite.  This is a common political game, so it always is a good bet with any politician, but Obama has sharpened this approach into an art form.

The more interesting bet, which is probably more like 50/50, is whether Obama will

  1. Offer only incremental changes, to make sure he gets something passed he can call health care reform, but will describe it to the radical end of his base as sweeping change, -OR-
  2. Offer nearly the exact same core plan that is in the House bill that has so many folks concerned, but via changes in wording and euphemisms describe it to a worried public as something much more moderate.

I am honestly torn as to which it will be.  How are y'all betting?

We Actually Have A Control Group

It is going to be a really, really, really long four or eight years if the Obama Administration and much of the left insists on declaring that anyone who dares to criticize a black President in racist.  The most recent example, of course, are frequent charges that critics of the health care reform are motivated by racism.

It is already clear that this Administration intends to raise the unverifiable claim to a new state of the art (3 million jobs saved or created!)  But the interesting thing about the health care - racism link is that in this particular case, we actually have a really good control group -- the first term of the Clinton administration.

In 1993, the Clinton administration embarked on a double secret effort to redesign the health care industry under government authority.  As details of the plan leaked out, many folks went nuts.  Commercials aired in key districts attacking various portions of the proposals and raising fears all around.  People were so ticked off that in the 1994 mid-term electi0ns, Democrats lost control of Congress for the first time in many decades, an election trouncing generally credited first and foremost to health care proposals.

Its not like the Obama administration is unaware of this example.  Many if Obama's approaches to the health care legislation this year are intentional changes from Clinton's approach.  Obama's rush to pass legislation that does not really start getting implemented until 2013 by the August 2009 recess was clearly an attempt to prevent opponents from gearing up campaigns against the bill as they did with Clinton's.

But here is the really interesting part.  I could have this wrong, but I could swear Clinton is a member of the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant oppressor race.  If so, the implication is that people went bonkers in 1993-1994 over health care plans for some political reason, but people who go bonkers  in 2009 over many of the same plan points are racist?  Does this pass any kind of smell test?

What is really going on is that a bunch of people who have never held a productive job, being politicians for life, and who have bought into their own "dedicated public servant" marketing are suddenly shocked to find that they and their efforts are not universally appreciated.  When someone has the bubble burst on their manufactured self-image, their reaction is seldom pretty.

Those Coca-Cola Wall Signs They Sell At Swap Meets Are For Wimps

This person is selling old billboards - the actual full sized original art, typically about 9 feet tall and 20 feet wide.  So if you have a really big wall you need to decorate...

I found the site because model railroaders use it a lot -  the pictures from the web site when printed on a color printer size about perfectly for scale billboards, and it is surprisingly difficult if one is building a period railroad to get the appropriate period commercial art to decorate it.


Cool Trompe L'oeil

My New Favorite Audio Device

About two years ago I made the time investment to rip all my CD's to digital  (this was a real death-march, at 20 CDs a night for a month).  In doing so, I actually ripped every one of them twice:  once into a small, variable bit-rate MP3 file for my iPod, and a second time into a much larger FLAC digital file  (this is an open-source lossless compression format).  All the FLAC files sit on an old computer on my network that does nothing but act as a file server for these music files.

Now, having lots of nice, high quality digital files, the trick is to play them through my home audio system.  My first solution was an iPod dock on my home audio system, but I found this awkward.  Next, I added a Squeezebox from SlimDevices, a small inexpensive box that hangs on the network that basically takes the digital files off the network and puts then in an analog or digital signal my stereo system knows what to do with.    SlimDevices has always been a favorite among audiophiles, because of their open-source approach and their willingness to continue to improve their product with user feedback.  And, they are pretty reasonably priced.

Both of these solutions suffered from one problem.  My living room is fairly large, and while each system had a remote, the menu screen I was navigating was way over there, either on the small iPod screen or on the larger squeezebox screen.  Either way, I still did not like the ergonomics.

In their new version of the Squeezebox
, Slimdevices has come out with what I consider the near perfect streaming audio device.  The product consists two pieces.  First, the audio device, which is pretty small, that hangs on the network (either by cable or wireless) and does the same job as the old boxes I had, converting digital music files to a format my music equipment can handle.  The key area of improvement is in the remote control.   The remote communicates with your wireless network, and allows one to scroll through his whole music collection right on the remote in an interface nearly identical to the iPod, including album cover art if one so chooses. (click for larger view)



I have had this new Squeezebox for over a month now, and I love it.  For those of you with a lot of CDs, like I have, it is just amazing how much more I listen to my music collection with this setup.  In the old world of shuffling through CD cases in a rack, I would tend to get the same five or six in a rotation.  Now, I listen to much more.  The remote also has a headphone jack so it can operate like a portable music player  (as long as it is in range of your wireless network).

By the way, I know there are devices like this that are all-in-one, meaning that they have their own hard drive so you don't need to network it to a computer.  I find those boxes to be a) way expensive and b) difficult to upgrade.  The cost of a cheap computer (it does not need much of a processor to just serve digital files up to the network) with a good size hard drive is cheap, and is the perfect use for an old computer you have upgraded.  The only real flaw of this device is its inability to do video, but SlimDevices has always focused on audio and will probably stay that way.

Lost Art of the Business Letter

Way back around 1985, when I was an entry-level engineer at Exxon, the company had a training session with a writing instructor.  The course, if it had a name, could be called "the art of the business memo." 

Now, I know that you 20-somethings in the world of text messaging and soon-to-be-f*cked internet companies are probably cringing at the thought of learning to write business memos the Fortune 50 way.  But there was something about this course I found compelling.  Since then, I have taken a lot of communications courses, particularly presentation courses, of varying utility.  McKinsey & Company taught me the pyramid principal for organizing persuasive letters and presentations, something that has been so useful to me that I wonder why none of the expensive schools I attended ever bothered to teach it.

To this day, I am still compelled by the perfect business letter.  I know this may seem weird, but I still remember several of my best efforts from years ago.  I sometimes go back and read them lovingly.  I have three lifetimes of projects that I would like to put together, but one fun one would be to put together a book collection of great business letters.  I fell like its an art that should better recognized.

Anyway, I was reminded of all this by this letter that has been linked around the blogosphere a bit this morning.

So That's Why

I have always wondered why the Denver airport has so much goofy modern art all over the place.  Even the subway tunnels have art on the walls (I must admit I am kind of partial to the little fans on the outbound train trip).  There are replicas of paper airplanes hanging from the ceilings, a fountain that is supposed to model the Front Range, and a fake Mayan temple in one terminal concourse.  It turns out that Colorado has a law that says that 1% of the budget for public building construction has to go for art.  Given that the airport costs overran to $4.8 billion, that was a $48 million boondoggle for every goofy public artist that could pull up to the trough.


There Goes the Killer App. for Vista

We are rapidly coming up on the first anniversary of Vista, and it has been a very rocky year for Microsoft.  New releases of an OS are always difficult, but many users have really turned up their nose on Vista.  My experience has been much the same as everyone else's:  Applications run slower in Vista (I know because I had a system set up to dual boot and A/B tested a number of applications).  Networking, particularly wireless networking, is much less stable than in XP.  Good drivers STILL don't exist for many legacy hardware devices, including may graphics cards.  I ran into any number of quirks.  The most irritating for me was that a laptop communicating with a printer via wireless network would lose connection with the printer every time the laptop was shut down in a way that could only be rectified (as confirmed by MS customer support) by reinstalling the print driver every time I wanted to use it.

Most computer NOOBs probably never noticed, not having anything to compare Vista with and only using their computers for a narrow range of functionality (ie email and internet browsing).  However, many of us who are more comfortable with computers and who rely on our computers as an important tool have either avoided buying Vista computers (Dell, for example, still sells a lot of XP computers) and/or have taken the time to roll back their Vista to a dual boot system or even XP only  (which I explain here).  Which may explain why standalone XP packages are better sellers on Amazon than Vista.

For gamers, most of whom tend to be power users, Vista has been nothing but a negative, slowing games down and requiring use of buggy graphics card drivers (Microsoft crows that they get fewer customer service calls on Vista than XP, which may be, but I can gaurantee, from browsing gaming boards, that gaming companies get swamped with Vista calls from gamers who can't get the game to run on Vista). 

Looming over all of this, though, has been one word:  Crysis.  Gamers have been lusting after this game for over a year, with its promise of knock-out graphics and game-play.  To this end, Microsoft did something clever.  It updated its DirectX graphics engine in Vista to revision 10, and included in it all kinds of new capabilities that would really make a game look fantastic.  MS decided, either for technical or marketing issues, not to ever release these features on XP.  If you wanted DirectX 10 games, you had to upgrade to Vista.  Over the last year, graphics card makers have been releasing hardware to support DirectX 10.  Crysis was set to be the first game that would really take advantage of DirectX 10, and many hardcore gamers upraded to Vista solely on the promise of running Crysis maxed out with the new DirectX 10 features.

Well, Crysis was released a few weeks ago.  You may think I am building up to say it sucked, but just the opposite is true.  It is absolutely fantastic.  Easily the most visually stunning thing I have ever seen running on my PC.  First-person shooter games are not really my favorite, but I have thoroughly enjoyed the game.  (here is a trailer, but unlike most trailers, the game really looks like this in gameplay, maybe better due to limited resolution on YouTube.)  Click below for larger screenshots:


But here is the interesting part.  I keep my system state of the art.  I have close to the fastest Intel multi-core processor currently made running with two of the newest Nvidia graphics cards (8800GT's) running ganged together in SLI mode (don't worry if you don't know what all that means, just take my word for it that it is about as fast as you can get with stock components and air cooling). Crysis, like most graphics games, can have its settings changed from "low", meaning there is less graphics detail but the game runs faster, through "med" to "high" and "very high".   Only in the latter modes do the new features of DirectX10 really come into play.  So I ran the calibration procedure the game provides and it told me that I needed to set the game to "medium!"  That's not an error - apparently everyone else in my position who have a large monitor with high resolutions had about this experience.  I can set the game to higher modes, but things really slow down.  By the way, it still looks unbelievably awesome on Medium.

The designers of Crysis actually did something kind of cool.   They designed with Moore's law in mind, and designed the highest game modes for computers that don't exist today, but likely will in a few years.  So the game (and more importantly the engine, since they will likely sell the engine as a platform for other game makers to build their games atop) has some built-in obsolescence-proofing.

But lets return to Vista and Crysis being billed as a killer app.  As it turns out, none of the directX10 features are really usable, because no one can turn the graphics engine up high enough with their current hardware.  Worse, in a game where users are trying to eek out any tweek they can to improve frame rates and graphics speed, Crysis runs demonstrably slower on Vista than XP.  Finally, those who have run the game in its higher modes withe DirectX 10 features (presumably at the cost of low frame rates) have found the actual visual differences in the DirectX 10 graphics to be subtle.  The game boards are a total hoot, as folks who upgraded to Vista solely for Crysis are wailing that their experience on Vista is actually worse than on XP.

Improving My View of Ralph Nader

For much of my adult life, Ralph Nader was my least favorite living Princeton alum*.  But Eliot Spitzer may be challenging for the title.  Sure, I never really liked Spitzer when he was at Princeton, but I never really liked any of the student government types, as evidenced by the fact that I led a mass-mooning of one governing council meeting (yes, I know, you are shocked that this sophisticated commentator could have been so immature).  Besides, Spitzer was the butt of one of Princeton's great jokes and works of performance art, when he was defeated by the Antarctic Liberation Front.

But since his tenure as AG and now governor of New York, the guy has turned from an irritating joke to a real threat to freedom.  His abuse of the AG job for personal aggrandizement is legend, and, after having been given a free pass by the press in that job, he is finally being cornered for various ethical violations. 

So it is with great satisfaction that I read today that Spitzer was forced to back off his plan to tax out of state Internet sales, abandoning his unique view that an affiliate program created a corporate presence in-state.

Update:  A Spitzer roundup of sorts at Reason.

Ethics of Frequent Flier Programs

Am I the only one who gets ethical qualms about frequent flier programs?  If your job was to buy supplies for the company you work for, and a printer company offered to give you and your family a Hawaiian vacation if only you would have your company buy their printers instead of the competition's, could we all agree that would be a kickback or bribe?  And that it would be, if not illegal, certainly unethical?

So why don't the same rules apply to airline travel?  When buying an airline flight for business, you are acting as a purchasing agent for your company.  And the airlines, in the form of frequent flier miles, are offering you [not the company] something of value to steer your corporate purchasing decisions to their product.  Frequent flier miles are a blatant kickback.  Informal poll:  How many of you have purchased flights that are a worse deal for your company but a better deal for your frequent flier account?

A further rant: OK, if you are not turned off by that rant, here is a related one about Visa cards that give out frequent flier miles.  As mentioned earlier, these are hugely profitable for credit card companies, so much so that they create much of the value in modern airlines.  Credit card companies, perhaps the only stable monopoly I have seen in my lifetime, have perfected the art of forcing retailers to subsidize their credit card users. 

Now, a fairly rational person would expect that a cash transaction is cheaper than doing one on credit.  However, due to the very strong position of MC and Visa processors, credit card customers actually get a lower price than cash customers.  Here is why:  Credit card companies have taken to giving their users a rebate on their purchases, either in cash or frequent flier miles or some other compensation.  These rebates are funded by charging higher interchange fees to merchants (basically a percentage of credit card transactions cleared).  The magic occurs because merchants, in their processing agreements, are generally banned from giving discounts to customers for using cash.  As a result, the higher credit card interchange fees are spread among all customers, cash or credit card, equally.   The result is that credit card customers pay lower net prices than cash customers, when the rebates are factored in.

Though our trade association tries to seek government action of some sort, I am neither confident that this will help or philosophically inclined to ask for such help.  Right now, I am working within the association to try to build support for some sort of one day boycott against accepting credit cards as a starting point to trying to build up some group negotiating power vs. the credit card processors.

Widescreen Abuse

I am kind of a video snob so you can take this rant with that in mind. 

I am getting tired of looking at five thousand dollar flatscreens with the picture distorted.  As most of you will know, the new generation of TV sets are wider than the old sets, with a ratio of length to width of 16:9 rather than the old 4:3.  Unfortunately, most current broadcasting and all legacy TV shows are filmed in 4:3.  To watch these programs without distortion on a new flatscreen HDTV, you will either have black bars on the sides or you will have to zoom it such that you lose the top and bottom of the picture. 

Instead of these two options, most people have their widescreen TV's set to stretch the picture horizontally to fit the wider screen.  What this results in is a picture that is distorted and stretched by 33% in width, giving you lots of fat faces.  Yuk!  Why would someone buy a $5000 (or more) TV set with state of the art high-definition picture and then set it up so most of the programming looks like it was viewed in a fun-house mirror?  Especially when you only have to press one button usually to cycle the setup between regular and widescreen programming. 

Anyway, the teli is always on here in the breakfast room of the hotel (one of the realities of modern travel is that you can't seem to escape the blaring TV in either hotels or airports) but I have no idea what the BBC announcers look like.  The way the TV is set up, it looks like they all are fat with cheek fulls of acorns.

The Source of Wealth

I was stuck in the airport at Salt Lake City on Sunday for a bit due to a large snowstorm** and I was trapped watching the CNN airport channel (which certain airports make unavoidable -- you can't get away from the TV's in a way reminiscent of a variety of distopian novels).  Anyway, I heard some discussion about differences between poor and rich nations, and all the usual easy-to-prove-false memes came out to explain the differences.  Natural Resources:  So why do resource-rich Russia and sub-Saharan Africa do so poorly?   Colonialism:  How do you explain Hong Kong, Australia, and Canada?  Exploiting labor:  So why aren't the most populous countries the richest?  Luck:  How do countries like Haiti have so consistently bad luck for over 200 years?

So here is Coyote's First Theorem of Wealth Creation, first expounded in this post on the zero-sum economics fallacy:

Groups of people create wealth faster in direct proportion to the degree that:

  1. Their philosophical and intellectual
    culture values ordinary men (not just "the elite", however defined) questioning established beliefs and social patterns.  This is as opposed to having a rigid orthodoxy which treats independent thinking as heresy.
  2. Individuals, again not just the elite, have the ability through scholarship or entrepreneurship to pursue the implications of their ideas and retain the monetary and other rewards for themselves.  This is as opposed to being locked into a rigid social and economic hierarchy that would prevent an individual from acting on a good idea.   

China, for example, just by cracking open the spigot on #2, however inadequately, has gone from a country with mass starvation in three or four decades to one where the worry-warts of the world are scared of juvenile obesity.  To a large extent, this theorem is really just a poor restatement of Julian Simon's work.  Simon's key point was that the only relevant resource was the human mind, from which all wealth flows.  All I have done is break this into two parts, saying that to create wealth a society has to value the individual's use of his mind and has to allow that individual free reign to pursue the products of his thinking.

One of the applications where I think this is useful is to explain the great millennial hockey-stick curve.  No, not the temperature hockey stick, which purports to show acceleration of global warming, but the wealth curve.  The world's growth of per capita wealth was virtually flat for a thousand plus years, and then took off in the 19th and 20th centuries.  I previously explained this hockey stick using my wealth creation theorem:

Since 1700, the GDP per capita in places like the US has
risen, in real
terms, over 40 fold.  This is a real increase in total wealth, created
by the human mind.  And it was unleashed because the world began to
change in some fundamental ways around 1700 that allowed the human mind
to truly flourish.  Among these changes, I will focus on two:

  1. There was a philosophical and intellectual
    change where questioning established beliefs and social patterns went
    from being heresy and unthinkable to being acceptable, and even in
    vogue.  In other words, men, at first just the elite but soon everyone,
    were urged to use their mind rather than just relying on established
  2. There were social and political changes that greatly increased
    the number of people capable of entrepreneurship.  Before this time,
    the vast vast majority of people were locked into social positions that
    allowed them no flexibility to act on a good idea, even if they had
    one.  By starting to create a large and free middle class, first in the
    Netherlands and England and then in the US, more people had the ability
    to use their mind to create new wealth.  Whereas before, perhaps 1% or
    less of any population really had the freedom to truly act on their
    ideas, after 1700 many more people began to have this freedom. 

So today's wealth, and everything that goes with it (from shorter
work hours to longer life spans) is the result of more people using
their minds more freely.

The problem (and the ultimate potential) comes from the fact that in
many, many nations of the world, these two changes have not yet been
allowed to occur.  Look around the world - for any country, ask
yourself if the average
person in that country has the open intellectual climate that
encourages people to think for themselves, and the open political and
economic climate that allows people to act on the insights their minds
provide and to keep the fruits of their effort.  Where you can answer
yes to both, you will find wealth and growth.  Where you answer no to
both, you will find poverty and misery.

Update:  This article from Frank Moss, linked at Instapundit, takes these same concepts forward into the future.

What role will startups play in the future?

I see tremendous economic growth from startups from 10 years ago.
Entrepreneurs will go from the 1,000 startup ventures funded in the
last 10 to 20 years to ideas coming from people working together in
network-based environments, using computers to dream up innovations in
a way they never did before. It could be people in developing countries
with low-cost computers.

You talk about education and the bottom-up effect that millions
more people will play in societal advances. How do you see this

We will undergo another revolution when we give 100 million kids a
smart cell phone or a low-cost laptop, and bootstrap the way they learn
outside of school. We think of games as a way to kill time, but in the
future I think it will be a major vehicle for learning.

Creative expression (is another area). No longer will just a few
write or create music. We will see 100 million people creating the
content and art shared among them. Easy-to-use programs allow kids to
compose everything form ringtones to full-fledged operas. It will
change the meaning of creative art in our society.

We are already seeing early signs of it in blogs. The source of
creative content is coming from the world. That revolution will go well
outside of the written word to all forms of visual and performing arts.


** Kudos by the way to the SLC airport - when I drove in, I couldn't see 10 feet in front of me on the road due to the snow, and I was sure that I would be trapped for the day.  Living in Phoenix, where air traffic is backed up if someone sneezes on the runway, I didn't think any planes would be landing and taking off for hours.  In fact, operations continued right through the blizzard, and my flight was delayed less than an hour, including de-icing time.  Amazing.  Now if only the SLC airport could increase their security capacity - its only been, what, 4.5 years since 9/11 and most airports seem to have licked this problem.

Shortcomings of Powerpoint Presentations

For nearly six years I was a consultant at McKinsey and for another six I held corporate staff roles and marketing leadership roles.  In these twelve years, I did a lot of presenting.  By the end of those 12 years, I felt like I knew about functionality in PowerPoint that the guys in Redmond didn't know about.  But by the end of those 12 years, I had nearly abandoned Powerpoint as a medium and I avoid it like the plague today. 

The main reason is that I don't like to be a slave to my slides.  So many presenters become trapped by their slides, redefining the presentation as getting through the slides in a given amount of time rather than getting their message across.  Today, I like to present to people, looking them in the eye, without any other visual effects to take their attention away from me or my message.  I will use a flip chart or a computer projector from time to time - there is always a need to punctuate your points with data and charts and pictures, but I don't leave them up there after they have had their impact.  The projector goes off and focus is back on me and my message. 

At one company we made presentations using 2 or even 3 projectors
simultaneously, projecting multiple slides all at one time.  I remember
several key strategy presentations I gave using a hundred or more
slides.  Today, I know I could give those presentations better with
just 5 slides showing the key market research and cost data that drove
the decision, and then explaining the logic of our plan without any distractions behind me.

There is nothing I hate more than bulleted text slide after bulleted text slide.  There are only two possibilities from these slides:  Either they are easy to read, but then their message is so generic as to be meaningless; or they contain real content, making them hard to read in a presentation.  I prefer the latter, but save them for a leave behind that people can flip through after I am done.

Anyway, so much for my patented 20 minute semi-off-topic introduction to the real point of this post.  Via comes this interesting analysis of how the use of PowerPoint might be affecting the quality of scientific presentations, and specifically looks at how PowerPoint may have impeded quality understanding of the risks that led to the Columbia accident.

Postscript: I must give credit where credit is due.  McKinsey takes the art of presentation very seriously, and did more for me than anyone in making me a good presenter of complex information, either in verbal or written form.  Their pyramid principal for writing was more useful to me than anything I learned in six years at Princeton and Harvard about the subject of communication.

What Happened to Prior Art?

I wrote below that I am not an economist, but I am really, really not a patent lawyer.  However, I find this story totally mystifying:

Apple Computer may be forced to pay royalties to Microsoft for every iPod it
sells after it emerged that Bill Gates's software giant beat Steve Jobs' firm in
the race to file a crucial patent on technology used in the popular portable
music players. The total bill could run into hundreds of millions of dollars.

Although Apple introduced the iPod in November 2001, it did not file a
provisional patent application until July 2002, and a full application was filed
only in October that year.

In the meantime, Microsoft submitted an application in May 2002 to patent
some key elements of music players, including song menu software.

I have already become suspicious that the patent process as applied to software and online concepts (e.g. the Amazon "1-click" purchase patent) is broken.  For me, this is more evidence.  How can a Microsoft patent filed in May 2002 have any validity if it attempts to patent concepts already embodied in a competitive product on the market in 2001?

I once found myself in the middle of one of these patent battles several years ago.  I was on the management team at Mercata, an online shopping site who's bit of uniqueness was that it had three or four day purchase windows for various products, and the price of the product would fall as more people signed up to purchase it.  Kind of a fun, with some interesting viral marketing potential if it had caught on, but patentable?  I mean, doesn't Adam Smith have prior art on this?

Hat tip to Prof. Bainbridge.

Random Impressions of Paris

After a couple of days here, some impressions:

  • The airline flights that dump you off in Europe at 7am which seemed so convivial when I was consulting are less so when I am a tourist.  We had the experience of arriving at our hotel about 8am, which of course did not yet have a room anywhere near ready.  We had a nice day walking around, but we sure were exhausted by the time we got to our room and had a nap.  Note:  American Airlines 767's have very very uncomfortable business class seats - really a disgrace nowadays.
  • The Louvre is magnificent, but is ridiculously big.  It is impossible to digest.  You really have to find a branch of art, like the Flemish painters, and stay in that area.  The Musee d'Orsay, which focuses on 19th century French art, is much more digestible.  Also, it has a cool location in a train station, which was a very important part of 19th century life.
  • The French smoking thing has been joked about so much it is almost a caricature, but it is still a shock the first time in a restaurant.  We observed many American smokers reveling in their smoking freedom.  I wonder if there is a business opportunity to sponsor smoking trips to Paris, much like those Asia sex trips to Thailand.
  • Wow, the food is expensive!  $50-80 entrees in some places, and for that you can get two slices of tenderloin.  It was good though, and we have yet to have a bad, or even so-so, meal.
  • I would feel safer in a golf cart than some of the cars here.  You can really see the trade-offs with fuel economy we make in the US by having crash test standards.  Over here with no crash tests and $6.00 gas, you get lots of tiny cars.  Mini-coopers look average to large-sized here.
  • The Champs d'elysees was amazing on Sunday afternoon - a sea of people going up the hill.  It looked like those pictures of the start of the NY marathon, but it went as far as the eye can see.  Amazingly, with all this foot traffic past the door, half the businesses were closed that day (welcome to Europe, I guess)
  • There are more shoe stores here than fast food restaurants in Phoenix.  And my wife has stopped in every one of them

Nice Bunny

A few weeks ago, I was admiring some of the recent art of my 8-year-old daughter (art being one of her passions).  Some time in the last year, her art ability crossed an imaginary line where her drawings are better than what I am able to produce (don't worry, I do bring this back to blogging before the end of the post).

I was telling her that the art was beautiful, and expressing what a relief it is to critique her art nowadays vs. when she was much smaller.  I told the story from when she was four or so of looking at a drawing she brought home from school with pride and my saying "nice bunny".  Of course, every parent knows what happened next - she responded "dad, that's a fire engine".  And my saying, "oh, yea, I see, there's the ladder" and her saying "dad, those are the wheels", and, well, you get the idea.

So about a week after I told her this story, she was telling me about something that happened that day at school.  As sometimes happens to her, she got excited and that made her story kind of disjointed and hard to parse.  At the end of it, I said something like "that's great".  She looked at me for a second in the eye and said "nice bunny".

The more I think about it, the more proud I am of her.  She was telling me, in two words, that she was self-aware enough to know that she had done a poor job telling her story.  She was also telling me that she realized that I was patronizing her and she didn't like it.  I am a little sad that she might be this cynical at such a young age, but really I am happy to move our relationship to a more grown-up level.

Today, "nice bunny" has become our family in-joke, and we all use it now (ex:  my wife comes home with a new haircut, that I of course totally miss.  She says "do you like my haircut" and I of course say "it looks great".  She now responds "nice bunny")

Last time I hosted Carnival of the Vanities, about 5 of the submitted posts made absolutely no sense to me, no matter how I hard I read them, but I dutifully included them with some kind of neutral introduction.  Next time I will be tempted just to say "nice bunny", but I am not sure anyone would know what the hell I was talking about.

MC Escher Meets Hieronymus Bosch

This is a little trippy, but is a pretty cool illusion.  This is interesting because it is an art form that is really unique to computers - you really could not do exactly this, with the self navigation, in any other medium.