Sunday, November 30, 2008

Architecture - In Berkeley, Toyo Ito’s Plans for a Museum Wrapped in Honeycomb -

Latest on Berkeley Art Museum, from Nicolai Ouroussoff, the NYT architecture critic. Interesting part is on page two, where practical concerns from the client (the museum) clash with the vision of the architect. Ouroussoff sides with the architect.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Translating the analogy

Tim, writing from the second leg of his India journey:
Autorickshaws in Chennai : autorickshaws in Delhi :: Asteroids : Sinistar
For those too young to remember, or who were busy with an actual life in 1982 to have been playing Sinistar at their local Golfland, I've provided a helpful visual translation.

In Asteroids, players control their ship with short bursts of thrust in an environment approximating zero-gravity physics (in two dimensions). Motion continues in a straight line, and even slows to a stop (as if there were somehow friction in space).

The asteroids you are attempting to destroy/avoid are also moving in straight lines at constant speeds. When they disappear off the edge of the screen, they reappear at the opposite edge (180° opposite), continuing to travel in the same direction at the same speed. The challenge is that as you shoot the larger, slow moving asteroids, they break down into smaller asteroids, now moving in new trajectories at quicker speeds.

At the start of each level, it is easy to sit in one spot and rotate your ship to shoot at asteroids passing by. As the level continues, you are forced to continually adjust your position with short (or long) bursts of thrust to avoid the paths of an increasing number of asteroids traveling at varied (if constant) rates of speed. The video below is illustrative (you do not have to watch the whole thing):

YouTube link

While unrealistic, the physics of the game are extremely predictable. When your ship is eventually destroyed, there is a sense that had you only done a better job of anticipating the various trajectories, you could have escaped your fate.

Sinistar begins cosmetically the same. You pilot a triangular ship in two dimensions, attempting to break apart large asteroids.

But unlike Asteroids,there are multiple things flying at you, in variable trajectories, at variable (non-constant) speeds. Worse still, one cannot control the acceleration of the ship with controlled engine thrusts. In Sinistar, THERE IS NO STOPPING.

YouTube link

Add to that the screaming Sinistar (skip ahead to 1:30 into the video), and a game of Asteroids begins to feel like a spa day in comparison.

Which is simply to say Tim's had an exciting first day in Delhi.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The End of Wall Street

For a while I've meant to read Moneyball, the story of the Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane and his statistics-driven approach to building a winning baseball team.

What I didn't realize was that the author, Michael Lewis, was the same Michael Lewis who got famous for his book chronicling his time as a Salomon Brothers bond trader in the 1980s, Liar's Poker (which I also have yet to read).

Apparently Lewis has started to write a new book attempting to understand and explain the financial system collapse of 2008. After reading this corker of an article by Lewis in Portfolio I cannot wait for this book to come out.

Here Lewis introduces us to a handful of people in and around the industry who did see doomsday coming, and in some cases bet on it. But who themselves could not believe what, exactly, was going on.

One of these character, Steve Eisman, is a merciless character, willing to confront anyone whom he has judged as having no idea what they are doing. Here's a moment from a subprime-mortgage "trade show", at a speech by one company's CEO:
When the guy got to the part of his speech about [his company's] subprime-loan portfolio, he claimed to be expecting a modest default rate of 5 percent. Eisman raised his hand. Moses and Daniel sank into their chairs. “It wasn’t a Q&A,” says Moses. “The guy was giving a speech. He sees Steve’s hand and says, ‘Yes?’”

“Would you say that 5 percent is a probability or a possibility?” Eisman asked.

A probability, said the C.E.O., and he continued his speech.

Eisman had his hand up in the air again, waving it around. ... He had his thumb and index finger in a big circle. ...

“Yes?” the C.E.O. said, obviously irritated. “Is that another question?”

“No,” said Eisman. “It’s a zero. There is zero probability that your default rate will be 5 percent.” The losses on subprime loans would be much, much greater. Before the guy could reply, Eisman’s cell phone rang. Instead of shutting it off, Eisman reached into his pocket and answered it. “Excuse me,” he said, standing up. “But I need to take this call.” And with that, he walked out.
The article ends with Lewis sitting down for lunch with former Salomon Brothers CEO and "King of Wall Street" John Gutfreund, who has still not exactly forgiven him for Liar's Poker, what he calls "your fucking book".

It's crackerjack storytelling. I started reading it as my car's oil was being changed, and when they came to tell me my car was ready I was angry that they had interrupted me.

Seriously. Take the time to read the article. It's my favorite thing on the subject since The Giant Pool of Money.

(Via Kottke, who links to other Lewis pieces as well)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Michael Pollan's letter to the President-Elect

Back in early October, Michael Pollan wrote a piece in the NYT Sunday magazine in the form of a letter to the incoming president, calling for an overhaul of the nation's food system.
[W]ith a suddenness that has taken us all by surprise, the era of cheap and abundant food appears to be drawing to a close. What this means is that you, like so many other leaders through history, will find yourself confronting the fact — so easy to overlook these past few years — that the health of a nation’s food system is a critical issue of national security. Food is about to demand your attention.
Of course, these "open letters" are merely literary devices that allow a writer to use prescriptive (as opposed to descriptive) language. They are designed to provoke discussion among a publication's readers, and there is never an expectation that the intended (or imagined) recipient actually reads these things.

Except, of course, when he actually does.

From Joe Klein's sit-down interview with Obama:
I was just reading an article in the New York Times by Michael Pollen [sic] about food and the fact that our entire agricultural system is built on cheap oil. As a consequence, our agriculture sector actually is contributing more greenhouse gases than our transportation sector. And in the mean time, it's creating monocultures that are vulnerable to national security threats, are now vulnerable to sky-high food prices or crashes in food prices, huge swings in commodity prices, and are partly responsible for the explosion in our healthcare costs because they're contributing to type 2 diabetes, stroke and heart disease, obesity, all the things that are driving our huge explosion in healthcare costs.

I don't know what's more awesome; that we have a president-elect that has at least been introduced to Pollan's reimaginings of food or that we have a president-elect that actually reads.

As to whether Pollan's prescriptions will make an impact: we'll know if we see Michelle and the girls planting a Victory Garden in the South Lawn.

(Via Kottke.)

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Photos from the (long) campaign trail

Photographer Callie Shell collects a series of her photos of Barack Obama taken for TIME magazine over a span of two years.

Some great stuff here: resting in a back stairwell, cleaning up after himself in an ice cream shop, a couple of spontaneous pull-ups.

Take a look.

(Via Kottke.)

Saturday, November 08, 2008

I got the horse right here

I've owned the CD of the 1992 revival of "Guys and Dolls" for fifteen years and did not realize until today that it featured J.K. Simmons as Benny Southstreet.

as featured in "Fugue for Tinhorns":

YouTube link

and "The Oldest Established":

YouTube link.

Simmons was of course the best thing about Burn After Reading, despite appearing in two scenes and not interacting with any of the leading characters.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Tarvuism: It's So Easy to Join!


It is all encompassing, and it's all non-encompassing. Learn more about Tarvuism here.

via Jesse Thorn