Have a great Christ­mas, every­one!

December 25, 2009 December 25, 2009 misc by Scott 1 Comment

I had to buy some­thing at Yup­pie Mall yesterday—you know, the one that counts Neiman Mar­cus as an anchor ten­ant. I try to avoid malls at this time of year, not so much as a rejec­tion of the com­mer­cial­iza­tion of Christ­mas, but most­ly on account of my extreme dis­dain for sax­o­phone-based Christ­mas med­leys. You know, those “jazzy,” Ken­ny G-style impro­vi­sa­tions on “Sil­ver Bells” issu­ing from hid­den speak­ers so numer­ous that the rever­ber­at­ing sounds have no locat­able source oth­er than inside your head? The kind of tunes that make you want to go on a mur­der­ous ram­page? Right.

Well, as I was leav­ing Yup­pie Mall, to my incred­i­ble sur­prise, my favorite Christ­mas car­ol ever came on the PA: John Gardner’s adap­ta­tion of Tomor­row Shall Be My Danc­ing Day. I stopped in my tracks. Since when did shop­ping mall PA pro­gram­mers devel­op such good taste? (And an appre­ci­a­tion for com­plete­ly indis­cern­able time sig­na­tures?)

Could this be a come­back for choral music? Last month, I was a lit­tle star­tled to hear the open­ing mea­sures of Vivaldi’s Glo­ria in the bath­room at Hong Kong Inter­na­tion­al Air­port.

December 13, 2009 December 13, 2009 observations by Scott 1 Comment

Thumbs Up Chi­nese food in Chi­na. Even with such fail­ures as chick­en feet and fish heads float­ing in the soup, it’s con­sid­er­ably tasti­er over there.
Thumbs Up Hong Kong’s giant dis­plays of Christ­mas lights. Campy but spir­it­ed!
Thumbs Up Thanks­giv­ing. Excel­lent.
Thumbs Down Media cov­er­age of Tiger Woods. Seri­ous­ly, who cares?
Indifferent Christ­mas: com­ing too soon?
Indifferent Blog­ging. Who has time?

December 6, 2009 December 6, 2009 ww by Scott No Comments

Hong Kong, April 2007

Hong Kong Island as seen from Tsim Sha Tsui, April 2007.

I’m trav­el­ing to Hong Kong and Chi­na this week, so I won’t be reach­able by tele­phone.

November 16, 2009 November 16, 2009 travel by Scott 5 Comments

Run speed

For my run­ning pro­gram, this has been a year of firsts: In Jan­u­ary, I bought my first MP3 play­er since 1999 and start­ed run­ning with music. Music! But music doesn’t make you faster. My inner engi­neer decid­ed that more data was need­ed. A few months ago, Garmin released the FR60, the first prod­uct that cor­re­lates foot-pod accelerom­e­ter and heart rate data in an agree­able-look­ing dig­i­tal watch. I know sev­er­al peo­ple who are fans of the sim­i­lar Nike+ sys­tem, and I’ve often won­dered about these foot pods—are they at all accu­rate? Garmin’s lit­er­a­ture promised “98% accu­ra­cy,” which is good enough for me, so I bought one.

Turns out, Garmin lies. My first run with the watch was a huge let­down: the instan­ta­neous pace read­out, the main fea­ture that led me to pur­chase the prod­uct, was indi­cat­ing more than 1 minute slow­er (per mile) than I believed I was run­ning based on old-fash­ioned esti­ma­tion. That would rep­re­sent an error of more than 12%. To check my san­i­ty, I bor­rowed a fanci­er watch that uses GPS, not accelerom­e­ter data, to cal­cu­late speed. I did a quick jog/walk with both prod­ucts and cor­re­lat­ed the data shown here: GPS speed (Fore­run­ner 305) in blue, foot-pod speed (FR60) in red. Sure enough, my speed esti­mates were more accu­rate than the watch read­out! But I was sur­prised to see the cor­re­la­tion improve dra­mat­i­cal­ly dur­ing walk­ing.

While Garmin makes no effort to call out its neces­si­ty, the FR60 offers a cal­i­bra­tion pro­ce­dure to improve the foot-pod accu­ra­cy. Will cal­i­bra­tion improve run­ning-speed accu­ra­cy at the expense of walk­ing? We’ll find out in part two.

November 15, 2009 November 15, 2009 reviews by Scott 10 Comments

Look what I found on that half-fin­ished roll of film that’s been sit­ting in my Leica since August!

Wedding #3

Wedding #0

Wedding #5

Wedding #7

Wedding #11

October 12, 2009 October 12, 2009 photos by Scott 1 Comment

I am read­ing anoth­er biog­ra­phy of Theodore Roo­sevelt. It is 1902, and the Amer­i­can peo­ple are out­raged over secret reports of atroc­i­ties com­mit­ted by Amer­i­can sol­diers against the insur­rec­tos in the Philip­pines (under Amer­i­can con­trol since the Span­ish-Amer­i­can war). Par­tic­u­lar­ly revolt­ing is the use of the so-called “water cure,” which inflicts a suf­fer­ing which “must be that of a man who is drown­ing, but can­not drown.” Furi­ous, Pres­i­dent Roo­sevelt orders Sec­re­tary of War Eli­hu Root to send a cable to the Com­man­der of the Philip­pines Army:

THE PRESIDENT DESIRES TO KNOW IN THE FULLEST AND MOST CIRCUMSTANTIAL MANNER ALL THE FACTS… FOR THE VERY REASON THAT THE PRESIDENT INTENDS TO BACK UP THE ARMY IN THE HEARTIEST FASHION IN EVERY LAWFUL AND LEGITIMATE METHOD OF DOING ITS WORK, HE ALSO INTENDS TO SEE THAT THE MOST VIGOROUS CARE IS EXERCISED TO DETECT AND PREVENT ANY CRUELTY OR BRUTALITY, AND THAT MEN WHO ARE GUILTY THEREOF ARE PUNISHED. GREAT AS THE PROVOCATION HAS BEEN IN DEALING WITH FOES WHO HABITUALLY RESORT TO TREACHERY MURDER AND TORTURE AGAINST OUR MEN, NOTHING CAN JUSTIFY OR WILL BE HELD TO JUSTIFY THE USE OF TORTURE OR INHUMAN CONDUCT OF ANY KIND ON THE PART OF THE AMERICAN ARMY.

The book was writ­ten in 2001, years before the phrase “enhanced inter­ro­ga­tion tech­niques” would enter the pub­lic con­science. Fast for­ward to 2009. For­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Dick Cheney explains Amer­i­can pol­i­cy on FOX News Sun­day:

I knew about the water­board­ing. Not specif­i­cal­ly in any one par­tic­u­lar case, but as a gen­er­al pol­i­cy that we had approved… It was a good pol­i­cy. It was prop­er­ly car­ried out. It worked very, very well.

What a dif­fer­ence 107 years makes.

October 3, 2009 October 3, 2009 observations by Scott No Comments

Washington’s var­i­ous schemes for “health care reform” have dom­i­nat­ed the news for months now. Every­one seems to think that health care could be done bet­ter, but the indus­try is so com­plex and so full of out­spo­ken stake­hold­ers that the sig­nal-to-noise ratio of pub­lic dis­course has become unbear­ably low. Rather than seek out the facts, I tune out. Just fig­ure some­thing out, okay?

David Goldhill’s Sep­tem­ber cov­er sto­ry in The Atlantic pro­vid­ed an invig­o­rat­ing­ly fresh per­spec­tive on the prob­lem. He pro­pos­es some real­ly great ideas, but most impor­tant­ly, he rede­fines the prob­lem. Here I sum­ma­rize (some­times with direct quotes) some of the most salient points from the first half of the arti­cle:

Health care does not equal health. With the best of inten­tions, we acci­den­tal­ly cre­at­ed a “heav­i­ly reg­u­lat­ed, mas­sive­ly sub­si­dized” health-care sys­tem lined with all the wrong eco­nom­ic incen­tives. “Incen­tives that empha­size health care over any oth­er aspect of health or well-being. That empha­size treat­ment over pre­ven­tion. That dis­guise true costs. That favor com­plex­i­ty…” Fed­er­al spend­ing on health care out­strips edu­ca­tion by a fac­tor of 8. How, he asks, does a soci­ety deter­mine that $100 bil­lion for health care will make us health­i­er than, say, $25 bil­lion for bet­ter nutri­tion?

Health insur­ance is not health care. “How often have you heard a politi­cian say that mil­lions of Amer­i­cans ‘have no health care,’ when he or she meant they have no health insur­ance? How has a method of financ­ing health care become syn­ony­mous with care itself?” Most forms of insur­ance are designed to pro­tect the cus­tomer from the costs of rare, unan­tic­i­pat­ed events—like a car crash. But we have become strange­ly com­fort­able with the bizarre idea of using health insur­ance to pay for every­day med­ical expens­es, even when expect­ed long in advance.

Gov­ern­ment is not good at man­ag­ing cost reduc­tion and fos­ter­ing com­pe­ti­tion. Exist­ing gov­ern­ment plans, such as Medicare, have failed to con­trol costs because they equate costs with prices. “Cost con­trol is a fea­ture of decen­tral­ized, com­pet­i­tive mar­kets, not of cen­tral­ized bureaucracy—a mat­ter of incen­tives, not man­dates.” Ad-hoc price con­trol cre­ates unforseen incen­tives on the types of ser­vices hos­pi­tals and clin­ics want to offer and the fields of prac­tice cho­sen by young doc­tors. Fur­ther­more, the strange rela­tion­ship between insur­ers and health-care providers cre­ates a mud­dled sys­tem of pric­ing and dis­counts which does not work in favor of reduc­ing costs for the patient—because the patient, in our sys­tem, is not the con­sumer.

Amer­i­cans my age have nev­er known a dif­fer­ent sys­tem. It’s good to ques­tion your assump­tions.

October 3, 2009 October 3, 2009 in-the-news by Scott No Comments