The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Kindle zeitgeist

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo wrote this evening about his own thoughts about physical books vs. Kindle:

I've always been an inveterate collector of books. Not in the sense of collectibles, but in the sense that once I buy a book, I never let it go. As I made my way through adulthood it was while dragging a tail of several hundred books along with me.

... Don't get me wrong. Book books still have some clear advantages. Kindle is a disaster with pictures and maps. But I didn't realize the book might move so rapidly into the realm of endangered modes of distributing the written word. I was thinking maybe decades more. The book is so tactile and personal and much less ephemeral than the sort of stuff we read online.

I thought about this also. I love books. I have two shelves yet to read, in fact, and it would be a lot easier to take them on trips with me if they weighed 290 grams instead of, say, 100 times that. Still not completely sold, though. Maybe next month.

Bleg: Should I get a Kindle?

Having already admitted to frequent flying, and looking at an enormous amount more in 2009 and 2010, I've started thinking about getting a Kindle.

So, I'm blegging for opinions.

I'm almost entirely sold because you can email PDF files and Word documents to a Kindle, to go along with the up to 1,500 books it can store in its 290-gram innards. Given the volume of reading I'll have in the week before each Fuqua residency, and given that much of it will be electronic anyway, it's starting to make more sense.

So, thoughts? Or, more concretely, why shouldn't I buy a Kindle?

Visa mystery resolved

Romi Tharakan at Henley & Partners AG, the Swiss firm who produced the visa-free travel list I mentioned before, sent me their master list of visa-free travel as of 24 July 2008. I was right: the lists for the U.S. and Canada are not completely orthogonal. Americans (but not Canadians) can travel visa-free to Côte d'Ivoire and Equatorial Guinea; Canadians don't need a visa to visit Bolivia (but Americans do).

Mystery solved.

Better driving through variable tolling

Now that Illinois has started the long process of removing our ex-governor's name from tollway signs, this essay from the New York Times' Freakonomics blog extolling the virtues of congestion tolling is worth a read:

[I]t can be hard to convey this because the theory behind tolling is somewhat complex and counterintuitive. This is too bad, because variable tolling is an excellent public policy. Here's why: the basic economic theory is that when you give out something valuable — in this case, road space — for less than its true value, shortages result.

Ultimately, there’s no free lunch; instead of paying with money, you pay with the effort and time needed to acquire the good. Think of Soviet shoppers spending their lives in endless queues to purchase artificially low-priced but exceedingly scarce goods. Then think of Americans who can fulfill nearly any consumerist fantasy quickly but at a monetary cost. Free but congested roads have left us shivering on the streets of Moscow.

(In an odd bit of timing, the concepts of "shortage" and "free goods" will be on my Intro to Microeconomics exam next Thursday.)

Now, living as I do only a 20-minute bus ride from the Chicago Loop, and dreading any time I have to use one of our area's expressways, I think congestion pricing makes perfect sense. Especially when you see, for example, the traffic loads on the Kennedy Expressway during the week. Check this out:

This shows the average travel times from the Circle (downtown Chicago) to O'Hare, a distance of about 27 km. The blue line shows inbound traffic, the red line, outbound. At 40 minutes, the average speed is 40 km/h; normal expressway speeds (90 km/h) get you to O'Hare in under 20 minutes.

Ah, but see this week's chart:

Yes. This week, on average, the trip from O'Hare to downtown took almost an hour during the morning rush period. (For the record, the El takes 35 minutes, you can spend the time reading, the odds of dying are much lower, and it only costs $2.25, as opposed to typical Loop parking lots which cast $28.00.)

Now imagine you had the option of paying $5 to use the reversible lanes, knowing the trip would take 20 minutes. Is 40 minutes worth $5 to you? Forty extra minutes of sleep, 40 minutes with the kids, 40 minutes doing something other than stop-and-go traffic moving slower than a bicycle?

New Scientist: Smart soldiers die faster

A British government study found that smarter Scottish soldiers were more likely to die than dumber ones in WWII:

The 491 Scots who died and had taken IQ tests at age 11 achieved an average IQ score of 100.8. Several thousand survivors who had taken the same test - which was administered to all Scottish children born in 1921 – averaged 97.4.

A previous study found a fall in intelligence among Scottish men after the war, and at the time Deary's team theorised that less intelligent men were more likely to be rejected for military service. The new study appears to refute that suggestion. Men who didn't serve were more intelligent than surviving veterans, and of equal intelligence to those who died.

In related news, our governor, who still hasn't resigned, has announced a press conference today at 2pm.

Efail?

Via Jeff Atwood, San Francisco-based programmer Tantek Çelik's definition of Email as "Efail:"

All forms of communication where you have to expend time and energy on communicating with a specific person (anything that has a notion of "To" in the interface that you have to fill in) are doomed to fail at some limit. If you are really good you might be able to respond to dozens (some claim hundreds) of individual emails a day but at some point you will simply be spending all your time writing email rather than actually "working" on any thing in particular (next-actions or projects, e.g. coding, authoring, drawing, enjoying your life etc.) and will thus experience a productivity failure. The obvious solution is to push as much 1:1 communication into 1:many or 1:all forms such as public blogs and wikis. ...

think two specific reasons in combination account for most of the problem. [First,] point to point communications do not scale. ...

The second reason that I think email is becoming a worse and worse problem is directly due to its higher usability barrier, that is: Emails tend to be bloated with too many details and different topics.

Paean to Lolcats

Salon has a sublime ode to the "I can haz cheezburger" crowd:

By now, even the most casual observers of the Internet are aware that lolcats have become a certifiable Internet phenomenon. Their flagship site, Icanhascheezburger.com, is one of Web 2.0's big success stories -- on track to top a billion page views this year -- and its content is entirely user-generated. Readers upload over 5,000 homegrown submissions every day, of which six or eight are posted on the site. And in October, the lolcats got their very own coffee table book, "I Can Has Cheezburger," published by Gotham Books.

What makes lolcats different from the cat porn of the past -- the motivational posters of the '70s and '80s featuring furry kittens hanging from tree limbs, covered in toilet paper or in some other kind of adorable predicament -- is that lolcats aren't trying to be cute. In the cat-based imagery of ages past, cats retain their iconic traits: curiosity, skittishness, the tendency to curl up in a ball and just lie there. Even the YouTube cats of today perform characteristically catlike actions, repeatedly flushing toilets, dragging their paws along piano keys or getting flung off the ends of treadmills.

Lolcats are different in that the characters they portray -- and yes, they are portraying characters -- don't represent cats at all. They're a completely different kind of beast, mischievous (if incompetent) rascals, scheming for cheeseburgers and stopping at nothing to get them.

Take the lolcat that started it all, created by a Hawaiian blogger named Eric Nakagawa, who posted it in January 2007. The image features a cat with a crazed look of pure animal hunger, its eyes maniacal with desire, asking, "I can has cheezburger?" Underneath is the comment: "The Internet's piece de resistance, the website's raison d'etre."

This ur-lolcat created such a sensation that Nakagawa turned it into a blog, spawning not only the eponymous Web site but also a whole mythology. The cheezburger has become the Philosopher's Stone of the lolcats mythos -- the most prized, cherished and elusive object in their universe. It is for this reason that, when a tiny kitten being sniffed by a Great Dane 20 times its size needs a quick escape, it says, "I iz not cheezburger, kthxbai." It is for this reason that when a user finds a photo of a cat sitting by the window with its paws in its lap, the caption reads, "I iz waitin for cheezburger man. Does you have a money?"

The Web is now spawning a wave of next-generation lolcats sites that take the lolcats concept and run with it. There's lolpresident, loldogs, and even lolhan, a site devoted to Lindsay Lohan that includes such classics as "I layded you an egg but I'z hidin it."

On that note, I turn in to see y'all in the morning.