Wednesday, February 28, 2007


A Indian colleague of mine had his first baby born yesterday. He e-mailed today to thank me for my congratulations, and said something I found very poetic: "Having a baby makes me feel incredibly complete".

He also sent out an "It's a Boy" mailing explaining how the baby will be named. Here it is:

Namkaran is the traditional Hindu Indian practice of naming the baby child. Nama literally means 'name' and karana means 'to make, to effect'.

The Namkaran is held at home or in a temple where the father of the child whispers the name in the child's right ear. The ceremony usually takes place on the twelfth day after birth. Choosing a Hindu name is a difficult process.
According to the Grihyasutras, there are 5 requisites to selecting a name for the baby. This is the name that the child is will be called. It depends on the culture, religion & education of the family, and should be auspicious.
1. The name of the baby should be easy to pronounce and sound pleasant.
2. The baby name should contain a specified number of syllables and vowels. (We’re waiting on the family priest for this)
3. The name should indicate the sex of the baby.
4. The baby's name should signify wealth, fame or power.
5. The name should be suggestive of the caste of the family.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Too Much Masstige

As my British cousin told me, products like the iPod have "masstige", meaning a combination of mass availability, and prestige. But this kind of stuff can't last forever. My daughter who is in college needs a new laptop, and she was adamant that she didn't want a MacBook. Its price is right, but apparently "everyone" on campus has a MacBook...

Basically, the MacBook is just so cool that it's not. Soon I expect she'll be on the market for a Sanyo MP3 player...

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Oscar for Best Foreign Film...

Here's the theory that I formulated this evening and then tried to prove. That the Oscar for best foreign film is highly indicative of the quality of the film. That films selected as best foreign film are truly worth watching, whereas, as we all know, films selected for best film often are not.

The idea started from the fact that The Lives of Others won this year, surpassing Pan's Labyrinth. Good choice. Then the other victor that I remember, going back to 2001 - No Man's Land won over Amelie. Both are good films, but No Man's Land was truly great. And then I remembered that The Garden of the Finzi Continis was a winner, and I thought my point was made.

Unfortunately, I felt a need to check my facts, and then found out that Tsotsi won last year. So much for this theory...

Shortest Mango Shortage Ever

The Mangoes are back at Trader Joe's. Just a few days after they disappeared from the warehouses, they magically reappeared. TJ's inventory management has obviously improved. I bought 8 packs. Just in case this is just short term relief...

Friday, February 23, 2007

Physics for Future Presidents

... that's the name of a course my daughter is taking this semester at Berkeley to fulfull her science requirements. She feels they aren't learning anything of substance. They sit around and discuss how the internal combustion engine works - she was surprised to realize that air is mixed in there to create explosions... - how a nuclear bomb works, that in Hiroshima about 100,000 people were incinerated immediately by the bomb, only about 2,000 died from the after-effects of radiation. That it's almost impossible to assess the health effects of the radiation from the Chernobyl reactor on its neighbouring population, because the effect is so small relative to the normal incidence of cancers. Useful stuff. I'm serious.


Today the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) trains were running late, and I missed my flight back to L.A. Aren't late trains a classic precursor to fascist regimes? I think so. But that's not my point. Here's my point:

When I was 16, I spent a summer month at my grandfather's home in Paris, and came to know the Paris Metro pretty well. Yet even before I knew it well, in my first few trips around La Belle Ville, I found very easy to navigate.

Fast forward to 2007, and a day spent traveling around the Bay Area on the BART. I was stunned by the number of mistakes I made getting around. Getting onto the wrong platform (4 times), getting to the right platform but the wrong train (once), getting onto the right train but staying on it too long (twice), almost staying on too long (once), almost getting onto the wrong train (once). All this within seven BART rides.

By the end of the day I, a self-identified smart, analytical, technically astute individual, who has ridden the BART on at least 10 separate ocassions, was straining all my mental faculties to make sure I arrive at Oakland airport before they shut it down for the night.

Did something happen to my aforesaid mental faculties? I don't think so. With my oh-so fashionable disdain of the French I really hate to say it, but I just wish our BART designers would go to Paris to check out the Metro and learn a few things. But in case they won't, here are a few recommendations to get them going:

1. Put signs in plain view at the entrance to each platform, indicating which trains stop at that platform.

2. Put BIG signs along the walls of each platform indicating the name of the station. Signs big enough and illuminated well enough so that they can be seen within the train, so that passengers will know when to get off.

3. Have a nice male, female, or electronic voice, announce the name of the station EVERY time the train stops at a station (not just occasionally, and not too faintly).

4. Consider running more trains even in low traffic times. There's nothing wrong with a few trains running half empty, and on the other hand, waiting half an hour for a train, and then realizing that the line doesn't even run after 7pm, is not very cool.

Luckily I had had reserved a seat on the penultimate flight to L.A. (which I have come to know means the before-last flight), the 9:30 flight. I didn't make it, but I did make the ultimate one, the 10pm, with almost 10 minutes to spare...

Monday, February 19, 2007

In Favor of Organic, Free Range Brown Eggs

I've been surprised to find, while making chocolate mousse, that organic, free range brown eggs whip much faster, and maintain their froth much better than normal eggs. There's a difference of at least a factor of two in the speed in which they achieve full white peaks, and they have dramatically better holding power.

I saw this for the first time a couple of months ago, and chalked it up to chance, but this second time around I could no longer ignore the evidence.

The only thing I don't know is whether this superior performance is due to the eggs being organic, free range, brown, or all of the above. But stay tuned, I may try to test for each variable independently (although not double blindly...).

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Frozen Mango Shortage Again

Trader Joe's is out, and they tell me the warehouses are empty and they're waiting for a new crop. Just like last year, and last year it took 6 weeks for the frozen mangoes to reappear. No fresh ones around either (obviously I guess...).

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

What Could be Worse?

The wife of a colleague of mine went in for surgery last week to remove a benign tumor on her liver. Her husband heads IT for a large company, and is almost a charicature of a computer geek - wears shorts all year round, and obsesses about the function of his computer network. She's a very nice, petit blond woman, and they have two super cute little blond girls, 3 and 5 years old. I met them all when they came to visit our sales conference. Their older girl said she wanted to grow up to be me... They're such a sweet family, and their father so obviously thinks he's the luckiest man in the world to have them.

Anyway, surgery went well, Linda was in the ICU for one day, and then last Thursday they moved her to the regular post-op ward. That evening she was able to get up and walk around with her husband's help. Then he went home to tend to the girls. At 1am he was called from the hospital. Linda had vomited during the night and aspirated her vomit. The monitors attached to her had sounded alarms, but there was no one at the nurses' station to hear them. By the time they got to her she was brain dead.

On Monday at 2pm they took her off life support. An hour later her husband sent out a companywide e-mail saying - Today I Lost the Love of My Life...

It's tough to express how shocked I was. On the one hand, Linda had obviously brought her husband so much joy. And on the other hand, her death was somehow worse than a random death in a traffic accident, or aslow death from cancer. It was sheer and utter and criminal negligence. Unspeakable negligence. At Los Robles hospital, in case you're wondering.

Saturday, February 10, 2007


I just read about an experiment that was done a few years ago: A group of monkeys was attached, for 100 minutes a day, to a device that tapped on their fingers according to a certain pattern. At the same time, they had on earphones on playing music.

The monkeys were divided into two groups, one half was rewarded with a sip of orange juice every time they detected a certain pattern in the tapping, the other was rewarded when they detected a certain musical sequence. Basically, one group was encouraged to pay attention to the tapping, and the other to the music.

After six weeks, the monkeys paying attention to the tapping showed growth in the area of their brain dedicated to sensory awareness in the fingers, with no change in the area related to auditory processing, while those paying attention to the music showed growth in the area of the brain related to auditory processing, but not in the part related to sensory awareness in the fingers.

The point the authors were making was that it was not the tapping or the music that caused the brain to increase its capacity, it was the attention to these items that caused the change.

Which is a fascinating way to put it. I've thought for a long time that part of what we refer to as "talent", or "ability", is really a reflection of a person's fascination with a subject. People who are history buffs develop an ability to remember historical facts and dates with great facility. People interested in sciences or math develop those capabilities. Kids that have a fascination with soccer tend to develop a skill in that area.

Of course you could say that the fascination with a subject is in itself a talent. And I'd agree with that statement. Which really says that the ability to develop a fascination with a subject is one of the most important, and perhaps the essential precursor of what we perceive as talent, ability, and genius.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Down on the ACLU

I instinctively support the ACLU, but an NPR program yesterday put that support in doubt. In Warren Olney's To the Point, an ACLU representative talked against mandatory DNA testing for people indicted by the police. Imagine the level of private information the government will have, she said, they will now know your genetic profile, the diseases you had or may have, your mental health record... Private information...

Then along came a forensic expert, and explained that DNA testing doesn't do any of that. It comes up with a unique 26 digit number that characterizes your genetic markers just like a fingerprint can uniquely identify you. The number doesn't say anything about diseases, hair color, personality, etc. It's just a uniquely identifying number.

And here was the rub. The ACLU representative essentially acknowledged that she knew that. Of course she did. Anyone looking into the subject for more than 15 minutes would know that. She was just hyperbolizing. Or on another work, using demagogy to scare people.

I have no problem with someone objecting to DNA testing. I personally think it should be done, it's the 21st century equivalent of fingerprinting, and I don't object to fingerprinting, but I can accept a difference of opinion. What really irked me is the outright lying. No further ACLU donations from me...

Sunday, February 04, 2007

The Hazards of Being a Racehorse

This factoid in from the NYTimes: Apparently, in U.S. thoroughbred horse racing, 1.5 out of 1,000 starts result in a fatality, meaning that the horse injures himself or herself so badly that they need to be euthanized. Last year in Arlington Park, over a 3.5 month period, 21 horses died. 16 died in Del Mar.

It's a pretty stunning number, and per the same article, is three times higher (in fatalities per 1,000 starts) than in Europe. Supposedly this discrepency is because in the U.S. the emphasis is so heavily on speed in short races, as opposed to the European emphasis on stamina over longer distances and more varied terrain.

Bad Engineering

A friend of mine, a former computer geek turned attorney, goes around with the following bumper sticker on his truck (he didn't want to mess up his
Lamborghini): Friends Don't Let Friends do Windows. He's referring to
Windows of the Microsoft variety...

Most computer geeks have a visceral disdain for Windows, and for good reason (IMHO). But the issue is defining what exactly gets them all riled up.
Well, I now have a great example. It all revolves around my beloved new
Samsung phone
. I call it Beloved, but what I love is the phone itself, the
fly in the ointment is the software that it runs - Windows Mobile. When I
got the phone I decided to overlook that flaw. Because along with the flaw comes the fact that there's a lot of software out there for Windows Mobile
phones. So, I thought, maybe I can overlook the flaw...

Ok, but here's what's happening. I got Missing Sync for my Mac, which
enabled my Mac to sync my Microsoft Entourage (Apple name for Office)
contacts with my cell phone.

I should say that I have a lot of contacts. Business, pleasure, U.S.,
international, etc., etc... Several thousand contacts. Ok. But of all
these contacts, only one is named Errol.

So I try looking up Errol's phone number. Well, I get back Carol, Carol,
Carol, Harold, Carol, Barolli, Carol....Errol, Harold... About 50 responses
to my simple request for Errol.

I spent days, many internet searches, and many engineering man hours trying
to figure out what this Windows Mobile Contacts program was doing. I
enlisted some very senior engineers to look into it. I was sure there was
some option that allowed me to set this Contacts program to work the way I
wanted it to work; to only come up with the name Errol.

Finally I gave in and called Samsung customer support. I was pleasantly
surprised to actually get a live voice on the other side, and (after a
consultion with the "supervisor") to actually get the correct response.

In case you want the full details, you can find them here. But the short of
it is that some clever Microsoft engineer decided that when you key in an E
or an R in your Contact search, it will treat is as a "wildcard". Meaning
that it will assume that it can substitute E or R for ANY letter in the
alphabet. So the Err in Errol, could be anything (!!!). BTW, this makes
searching for much more common names, like Peter, quite a challenge too.

Who was this genius? And how did Microsoft let him/her get away with it?
It's this kind of jaw dropping stupidity that makes people like me and my
truck driving, Lamborghini owning friend despise Windows...

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Mind Boggling

Google's revenue for the recent quarter (the past three months) was $3.21 billion, and its net income was $1.03 billion. In that period it spent $367 million on computer hardware to run its computing operations... Google was founded less then 10 years ago.