29 August 2009

Your Daily Photo (Really Ugly Mystery Auto Edition)

Came across this vehicle parked in Santa Monica. It's Korean, it's diesel, and it's ugly. All the badging was removed, as well as the VIN, had manufacturers plates, and from a few parts could tell it was a Ssanyong Actyon.

Can't see them having much success bringing that thing here, it's possible that it's part of Phoenix Motorcars fleet of cars they're designing to turn into fully electric or plug-in hybrids.

Come across the oddest things here, sometimes.

Pills 'n' Thrills and Bellyaches...

Freakonomics points to this Wired article by Steve Silberman regarding the increasing effectiveness of placebos in drug trials.

This paragraph struck me:

Existing tests also may not be appropriate for diagnosing disorders like social anxiety and premenstrual dysphoria—the very types of chronic, fuzzily defined conditions that the drug industry started targeting in the '90s, when the placebo problem began escalating. The neurological foundation of these illnesses is still being debated, making it even harder for drug companies to come up with effective treatments.

To sum up, placebo effectiveness correlates with the nebulousness of a particular illness. The thought of doing something to get better leads to getting better. Simply being in a trial, even when being given a placebo, leads to better health.

Not mentioned in the article, but I suspect some of the blame for the increasing placebo effect has to do with increased access to medical information. If you've got a vague complaint hit WebMD, input your perceived symptoms, and out pops a cool malady from which you can fixate upon. Now the next time you feel the same vague complaint, those symptoms get magnified by your mind and senses. Once atuned to a problem it's hard not to notice it. Without a nameable syndrome attached to a set of complaints, those complaints might not occupy as large a place in a person's consciousness. Seems plausible that more folks now have psyched themselves into a perception of illness by doing a little research on the web, so it's not surprising that more folks are psyching themselves out of a perception of illness by taking some clinically administered sugar pills.

We are adept at self deception, nobody's immune from that disease. The greater the access to information, the more ways in which we can deceive ourselves. At least that makes sense to me.

And just because, here's some Happy Mondays for you, Kinky Afro, from their album Pill, Thrills, 'n' Bellyaches.

27 August 2009

Your Daily Photo (MURDER He Shot Edition)


How many crows does it take to make a murder?

If it's as few as three, then there be a murder in that tree. Or it could be a conspiracy (or if you are unkind towards the fowl, then an unkindness), as those could be Common Ravens, I'm no birder, so if it's a medium to large black bird, it's a crow to me.

26 August 2009

Your Daily Photo (Green Enough For You? Edition)


Lots of (California Sycamore, I think) leaves, mostly green.

Who says compositions need a central focus?

25 August 2009

Your Daily Photo (In Case of Tsunami, Levitate Edition)


This sign would seem to suggest the best thing to do should you find yourself in a low lying area when a tsunami approaches, would be to levitate.

Who says advice has to be practical (or possible) to be good?


OK, so this photo shows that it's instructing motorists to head for high ground, not levitate, but that's much less fun.

24 August 2009

Your Daily Photo (Where I Pretend I'm JJ Abrams and Get All Lens Flare-y Edition)


It's just an itty bitty flare, shot towards the reflected sun without a filter. It's no big huge JJ Abrams style flare like what was constantly used during Star Trek...

21 August 2009

Your Daily Photo (Mini Cactii Edition)


Can't get enough cactii.

Your Daily Photo (Somebody Must Have Wee Weed On All Those Tees, Cause Nobody's Buying Them Edition)

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Just trying to work the phrase "wee weed up" in to this corner of the blogosphere.

Boundless be the eloquence of The One.

Or not..., explain to me again, using a recent example, why folks think our current President is preternaturally well spoken?

19 August 2009

Your Daily Photo (More Fun With Photo Stitching Edition)

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Griffith Park, exterior, taken 4pm-ish Tuesday August 18th. Stitched with MS ICE.

18 August 2009

Your Daily Photo (Griffith Park Edition)


A stitched together shot of the ceiling at the Griffith Park Observatory (some of the individual shots were a bit blurry due to not holding long enough between snaps, but the composite looks decent considering the input shots.

16 August 2009

What Property Tax Assessment Can Learn From Horse Racing . . .

Bruce Schneier has an intersting post regarding self-enforcing protocols. This paragraph caught my eye (after being pointed out in the first comment to this Freakonomics post)
Here’s a self-enforcing protocol for determining property tax: the homeowner decides the value of the property and calculates the resultant tax, and the government can either accept the tax or buy the home for that price. Sounds unrealistic, but the Greek government implemented exactly that system for the taxation of antiquities. It was the easiest way to motivate people to accurately report the value of antiquities.

This wouldn't work for property taxes cause the government really doesn't want to buy up everyone's property (at least you hope they wouldn't, though in these Hope and Change-y times...) so the disincentive to under-assess wouldn't be strong enough to counterbalance the incentive to lower your own property tax.

What's this have to do with horse racing? Simple, make property like a claiming race. In a claiming race, all the horses are available for purchase at a set price range (say $40,000-50,000). This is done to make sure that the horses in a given field are of approximately similar quality so that better horses don't try to pad their stats by challenging inferior mounts.

By combining the two, you could have a workable self-enforcing protocol for property tax assessment. First, allow property owners to assess their own property on a regular basis (say, every four years or so). Second, make a set factor of that assessment a claiming price (or 'buy it now' price for eBay fans) for that property. I think something like 1.3x the assessed value as a claiming price would work for buyers, sellers, and tax collectors. Third, make the claiming period limited, and give property owners a chance to reassess upward if their market is suddenly hot but they don't want to sell just yet. Given that these assessments would most likely be higher than the systems in place (and cheaper to administrate given that you're using the owners themselves to do the heavy lifting), communities could charge a much lower (but more fairly distributed) rate.

Your Daily Photo (Cliched Photo of a Palm Tree Edition)


This particular angle isn't cliched, but taking pictures of palms in SoCal definitely are.

14 August 2009

Your Daily Photo (I've Got Your f-stops Right Here, Buddy! Edition)


f/1.8 1/4000 sec exposure


f/8 1/500 sec exposure


f/22 1/80 sec exposure

Messing around with depth of field is fun.

12 August 2009

Your Daily Photo (And If You Stare At This for 15 Minutes a Day for a Month, You Too Will Be Famous Edition)


Noticed you can embed slideshows, so thought I'd give it a try, don't know if that will bring load times to a screeching halt, hopefully not, I haven't noticed any problems even with all the large pictures I tend to post lately. Seems to work fine on all my computers at home, even the older ones. Regarding the photo above, given the placement of the Warhol Marilyn poster, it's obviously supposed to be Warhol depicted on the left, but to me it looks more like a white haired Shemp Howard.

11 August 2009

Your Daily Photo (First Day, New Lens Edition)


Yesterday was the first day with a new lens. Picked up the DX 'prime' lens Nikon put out recently. Having wider aperture settings available makes a difference, check out the shot illuminated solely by weak sodium street lights below


Do not attempt a similar shot unless you have steady hands, that's a 1/15th of a second exposure hand held, cause that's how I roll.


The last shot above is of Dolores Restaurant. I think it shows how having a shallow depth of field (the trade off when using a wider aperture) can be utilized in creating interesting compositions. The lights are from various neon signs they have in the windows, and I had to move around quite a bit to find just the right spot where each area was lit in a different hue.

Here's the rest of the flickr set. I walked three miles uphill to take these pics, the least you could do is watch a slideshow of them.

(OK, so it was more of a saunter, and while my end point was indeed higher in elevation than my beginning point, the grade was very shallow, but still, 3 miles, uphill, through the mean streets of West LA and deep into 'Little Osaka' after night fall)

10 August 2009

Your Daily Photo (Happiness Is All Around You Edition)

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Immodest Proposals, your one stop blog for daily photos, daily affirmations, Nestle advertising, and ...

08 August 2009

It Came From the Comments . . .


In response to the Reading is Fundamental daily photo, Bill commented:
wtf is a libnany?

My lengthy reply:
According to the Obama Administration Newspeak Dictionary:

Libnany (pronounced lib-na-NEE) --- Any one of a number of different officials drawn from various governmental departments that oversee the proper education (or re-education in the case of those previously misled) of the masses to think in ways consistent with Hope and Change. Shortened from "Liberal Nanny", to become a "Libnany" is an exulted and well compensated position, one generally reserved for those who have paid their dues as a long time community organizer, or public sector union leader. Not to be confused with a "Libforcer" whose primary job is to prevent wrongthink with more physical forms of persuasion, the "Libnany" is the ears, eyes, and soothingly didactic mouthpiece for the Administration, ready to report and correct wrongthinking whenever it crops up.

I forgot to add that the term Libnany may also be applied to the place where Libnanys meet, coordinate and maintain educational literature as well as Hope and Change approved computers that are blocked from visiting non-approved websites. Most Libnany buildings were converted from existing libraries, as it was deemed inconsistent with Hope and Change to allow citizens unmonitored access to non-approved media, so it was an easy and natural transition and most librarians (now may also be referred to as libnanians) thrilled at purging the shelves of wrongthinking books.

Your Daily Photo (El Cholo Edition)


Not a bad place for Mexican food (on Wilshire at 10th).

07 August 2009

04 August 2009

Your Daily Photo (Cactii Edition)


Modest Proposals for Insuring Safer Driving From All Those That Choose to Drive

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is convening a summit to suggest sweeping federal laws addressing the dangers of distracted driving. That's a waste of money, he could have just asked me to come up with some immodest proposals to improve driver safety, and I'd have been happy to oblige free of charge.

The threat posed by operating a vehicle isn't just distractions alone, rather, with modern vehicles it's the perceived safety, ease of operation, and great comfort that even the cheapest of late model cars provide a driver that leads to so many drivers succumbing to the temptation of a variety of distractions.

So rather than banning various behaviors behind the wheel, I say change the experience of driving all together, return the driving experience to a more visceral and physical ordeal and folks will have no choice but to focus on their task.

First ban all power steering, power brakes, and automatic transmissions. I used to drive a base model 57 Chevy, and believe me when I say nothing focuses your attention like having to keep a two ton beast of a vehicle safely on the road without all those modern conveniences.

Secondly, remove all safety equipment for the driver, passengers still get seat belts, air bags, and such, but drivers no such luck, knowing that an accident at speed could be fatal will aid in focusing a driver's attention like never before. Think of it like the exact opposite of the car Kurt Russell's character drove in Death Proof. In that film, his character had a 'death proof' safety cage for himself, and a death trap for his unfortunate passenger. That's wrong, and sadistic, it seems rather obvious that the person choosing to do the driving should assume the greatest risk when driving, it's only fair. It's very rare to see a person on a motorcycle drive distractedly, and it's the very lack of a safety buffer surrounding them that keeps those folks focused on their own driving and the driving of those around them. Apply some of that same perception of danger to people in passenger vehicles, and you'll see attention levels rise dramatically.

That's all there is to it, leave everything else up to the individuals, and with these simple changes, folks will be forced to make wiser decisions behind the wheel, simply because of the altered nature of the physical reality of the activity once these changes are implemented.

Otherwise, to be fair there is a huge list of distractions as dangerous as phones that need to be eliminated.

If we follow the government's route and ban all use of phones for drivers, hands free or no, then the list of distractions that also require banning gets long, but something worth doing is worth doing right so here's the entire list:

Radios and navigation systems should also be eliminated as they take valuable focus away from the road.

Also, children cause a great deal of distractions for their parents while driving, and while banning children completely from being transported would be impractical, requiring reasonable restraints and issuance of Silence of the Lambs style face masks to children (with the addition of sedatives for longer trips) so that they can't create potentially dangerous distractions from the back seat would be prudent.

Food is another big distraction, so drive thrus need to be banned as they pose too much of a temptation for folks, and "to go" meals must be served in tightly sealed containers that can't be opened without sharp knives handy (this won't prevent someone dedicated to eating while driving from doing so, but it will prevent most people from slipping and noshing while motoring).

The thing I notice most often drivers doing that seems patently unwise is applying make-up or shaving while driving, obviously any laws passed should encompass those activities, but enforcement has been difficult in the past as drivers who engage in this sort of stupidity are smart enough to not do it in front of officers. The answer is to make citizen submitted photographs and videos (taken by passengers only of course, as the act of recording someone else engaged in distracted driving is in of itself a form of distracted driving should the operator of a vehicle attempt to do so) sufficient grounds for issuing fines and citations. When capturing distracted drivers take a snap of the activity, and then the license plate, submit it anonymously, and then bask in the warm glow of knowing that you've contributed to public safety and making the streets and highways of Obama's America the safest and least distracted roads on Earth.

The other major source of distractions come from outside of the vehicle. Hot women or men dressed provocatively must not be allowed to be visible from places where cars travel. They simply present too great of a danger to public safety, a simple modest traveling cloak, not unlike the chador found in certain nations, would be a sensible precautionary measure to eliminate the deadly threat of some fleshy young woman, or well muscled and glistening shirtless young man, driving folks to distraction as they crane their necks to get an eyeful. Especially ugly folks would also need to cover up, as that can also be a major distraction, we humans are oddly compelled by extremes of both beauty and ugliness, it's in our nature, so rather than denying that nature, we must suppress the possibility of that human nature expressing itself in a dangerous manner.

Similar to the danger posed by hotties and ugly folk, unusual buildings or especially striking advertising must also be banned. Bland architecture, and boring ads are fine, but anything that demands too much attention must be hidden from view, it's a matter of life and death, it wouldn't be a case of undue government interference in to every last tiny aspect of people's lives.

So, there you have it, two separate avenues of attack to make driving safer, either make cars a beast to operate, thereby forcing drivers to be focused, or remove ALL possible distractions from inside and outside of vehicles so that folks won't be tempted to stray from their main task of operating their vehicles safely. My preference is for making cars more challenging, but it's up to the experts being convened by LaHood to decide what's best for us, cause that's how things work in Obama's America, expecting folks to exercise restraint or common sense is ridiculous. Instead the federal power of the purse must be used to cajole all the states into enacting layer upon layer of new regulations in all sorts of areas that used to not be the business of the federal government, cause that's what we chose when we chose to elect President Obama, and now we must enjoy all the Changes and Hopes he brings from on high down to the smallest detail of how we choose to live.

On This Day, 48 Years Ago...

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. . . The One chose to reveal his latest incarnation. He escaped the womb on August 4th, 1961, but His Oneness was made known even before the moment of birth. The exact point where He went from lump of cells to The Hope of Mankind Incarnate is still in dispute, and is an issue best left for theologians. Given The One's stance on reproductive rights, we have to assume He would have been comfortable with the notion that His Earthly Vessel of Birthing might have chosen a different path, and delayed his birth, but He could not afford the delay, so He made sure that His parents were prepared for His coming.

He chose a Kenyan father and Kansan mother so that He may be The One, for The One must be of The Many, and The Many can Worship The One. He chose to be a He, not because He-ness is better than She-ness, but because, unfortunately (as The Primary Opponent proved), the electorate isn't quite ready for She-ness in the House of White. He chose straightness, not because gayness would be a bad thing, but because of the Electorate again, and while The One must contain The Many, some of The Many must be contained only in His Compassion, and not in His orientation or gender.

The One chose a humble existence for His formative years, and He chose to be a traveler at His mother's side, eventually settling on The Island of The Chosen (and the Island of the Birthing, Despite what some naysayers say) to grow into a man. As all spiritual leaders must, He sinned, He struggled, He suffered, so that He may understand all that it means to be One with The Many. But to lead The Many, The One must be the best of us, so no state school would do for his education, Harvard Law beckoned, and The One answered the call.

The One also met The Wife, she would be the perfect balance to his Oneness, she would be the only one to have the audacity to not adore The One, and her lack of adoration makes The One love her all the more. The One had to work in evil law firms after graduation, but His Higher Calling lead him to that most noble of all enterprises, Community Organizing. Once The One solved all the problems faced by the citizens of His small section of Chicago (cursed are the naysayers who claim that problems remain, He gave them perfect love, and they have prospered), He embarked on his true calling, a life in politics.

His rise has been meteoric, and His rise is not at an end. He will reverse the rise of the oceans, and cool the fevered earth, He will heal Mother Gaia herself, and Mother Gaia will bless the earth for its people had the wisdom to follow The One. He understands that our prosperity is dooming Gaia, so he has worked feverishly to reverse decades of American (and yeah, even global) prosperity, and he has succeeded in that reversal beyond even the wildest imaginings of The One (and as you could imagine, the imaginings of such a blessed being could be quite wild).

The One knows that perfection frightens the masses, so The One makes sure to have bad weeks, and even months, he stumbles and mumbles, and hires incompetent cronies, not because he is imperfect, but because these flaws are necessary to prevent His Awesomeness from scaring the populous. He is wise in his compassion, and His willingness to seem so fallible, feeble, and forelorn during his first half year in office is all part of a larger plan to Be the Change That You Believe In.

So on this day, Day One, of Year 48 (the calendar does not yet reflect today as Day One, or this year as Year 48, but give it time, give it time), The One celebrated, and The Many celebrated with Him.

And as the future is not yet written, there are still forces that work against The One, and The Oneness He Will Bring. If our electorate is not wise, and rejects The One for his second term, Mother Gaia will punish the planet, for her wrath is great, but she will single out The United States for the greatest wrath, for they will have deserved it, and she will inflict her worst on The Flyover States, for those shall be the people that thwarted The Great Healing that The One was put on this planet to accomplish.

Do not let this darkness happen, do not fail The One, do not doom the planet, and celebrate The One who shall Unite The Many, for today is His Birthday.

[largely a repost of last year's birthday ode to The One, with a few lines added to reflect events that have passed since then, didn't see that whole destruction of the economy thing coming back in last August, or that the 'birther' nonsense would continue, that's for sure...]

03 August 2009

Preparing to Delve Into the Naughty Naughts, Musically Speaking...

Bill Simmons, over at his BS Report has mentioned that it's getting time to start doing end of decade retrospectives. He's one of those poor beknighted folks who think decades start in the zero year and end in the nine. That's how he's come up with Almost Famous as his tentative choice for best film of the Aughts. I prefer Naughts, personally, but neither caught on for the decade with no name.

So, thinking about these things, I've decided to delve into the music released since the end of 1999 and see what's held up, what I've been listening to ever since it came out, what was great then but unlistenable now, and what gems did I miss the first time around.

I've been using my ZunePass, coupled with Wikipedia's list of album releases to augment my collection so I can make a better appraisal of the music that came out each year after 1999.

Here's my preliminary favorites for each year from 2000 to 2009, each year will get its own post, and each year will get at least five albums with some in depth commentary, but for now, just the highlights of my thought process of the moment:

2000: PJ Harvey, Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea. I think this is PJ Harvey's best work, and the best album that year, it's the one that's stuck on my various devices with the most tenacity since it came out. The only other CDs from that year that I've always made certain to have available at all times have been Stankonia by Outkast and Lovers Rock by Sade. Reviewing the wiki list of releases, I've downloaded a bunch of albums to review.

2001: Nikka Costa, Everybody's Got Their Something. Love that album, great bit of funky soulfulness and soulful funkiness. Other essential albums released that year are White Blood Cells by The White Stripes, Vespertine by Bjork, Songs in A Minor by Alicia Keys, Simple Things by Zero 7, and Discovery by Daft Punk. 2001 was a very solid year, musically.

2002: Beth Orton, Daybreaker. I like me some Beth Orton, haven't gone through the 2002 (or later) releases to see what I'm missing yet, but from the stuff that's already on my hard drive, that's my favorite.

2003: Kylie Minogue, Body Language. I will never apologize for loving that album, dammit. Lot of strong titles this year, too, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below from OutKast, Elephant from The White Stripes, High Dive by Maria McKee, Bare by Annie Lennox, Fever to Tell by Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and any one of those would be less embarrassing to claim as a favorite, but Kylie's album is popdance-perfection. It's the best produced album of the past ten years, and music is more and more a producers medium, so this is an album that demands respect.

2004: Sia, Colour the Small One. By this time, I wasn't buying CDs as much as in the past, I think I may have already been a Rhapsody user by then, so I was already in the habit of 'renting' music. So, until I go over the wiki of releases, I won't really know what I'm missing, but Sia's first album is great, and worthy, and other solid releases that year were Musicology from Prince, Uh Huh Her from PJ Harvey and Contraband by Velvet Revolver.

2005: The White Stripes, Get Behind Me Satan. I think this album holds up well, it's my favorite of theirs. Other great stuff from that year, Brazilian Girls by Brazilian Girls, Pedlin' Dreams by Maria McKee, Can'tneverdidnothin' from Nikka Costa, All Rise by Inara George, CeU by CeU, Demon Days by Gorrilaz, and Naturally by Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings.

2006: Bat for Lashes, Fur and Gold. This album holds up really well to repeated listening. I'd be surprised once I go over the list of releases that this remains my favorite, though. Other albums that I enjoy from that year are Jenny Lewis' Rabbit Fur Coat, DJ Shadow's The Outsider, and Goldfrapp's Supernature.

2007: Maria McKee, Late December. By 2007, she'd been in the business 25 years (Lone Justice formed in 1982, but their first big label album didn't hit till 1985), and she brings all that experience to this album. Her voice is an amazing instrument, one which she wields with both power and delicacy, by this time she's left the rootsy country inflected rock behind and has headed into a more theatrical almost Sondheimian direction, and it's brilliant stuff. Lots of good stuff that year that I still enjoy listening to, including Charlotte Gainsbourg's 5:55, Lily Allen's Alright, Still, Mark Ronson's Version, Sharon Jones' 100 Days, 100 Nights, The Bird and The Bee's The Bird and The Bee, and Rilo Kiley's Under the Blacklight (even if the critics didn't like that one).

2008: Lady Gaga, The Fame. She's ridiculous, she's a fame-whore, but she's also put out the definitive dancepop album of the latter part of this decade, and to come from nowhere to be ubiquitous is quite an accomplishment. Stuff like this doesn't happen any more, yet she managed to do it, so strictly for marketing alone, she garners respect. Since 2008 seems like only yesterday (or at least last year), lots of solid stuff still getting lots of play, like Duffy's Rockferry, The Dresden Dolls' No, Virginia, Nikka Costa's Pebble to a Peach, Sia's Some People Have Real Problems, Lykke Li's Youth Novels, Goldfrapp's Seventh Tree, and Jenny Lewis' Acid Tongue.

2009: Ida Maria, Fortress 'round My Heart. We're only just beginning the eighth month, so picking a favorite is decidedly premature, but this is a fantastic album that has great energy and just doesn't stop from start to finish. Have to sort out the UK v USA release date conundrum in determining which year to place these albums, however. Much of the music I like right now gets released there first. The Dead Weather's Horehound may supplant Ida Maria, but haven't made up my mind on whether or not it's dead brilliant, or kind of predictable, or predictably brilliant. Regina Spektor deserves plenty of respect for Far, Prince's triple album has plenty to offer, Lily Allen came out with another solid effort, as did Bat For Lashes and The Bird and The Bee.

The interesting thing about this list is that nothing from the last few years would sound out of place in '00 or '01, and the stuff I liked from '00 and '01 sounds fine when put next to the stuff today. That wasn't the case with what the biggest hits were, with Spice Girls, Britneys, and Boy Bands still moving lots of units.

And obviously, from this list, I'm a sucker for a female lead singer, the only act topping a year that doesn't feature a female lead exclusively is The White Stripes.

Also, I'm ignoring the various best of lists that are put out after each year in determining which music to re-listen to, I know what I like, and what I liked, and music criticism is such a fractured and tribal thing that no one reviewer, or even one editorial staff encompasses what I enjoy in music, so there's really no guide out there but my own ear.

Your Daily Photo (Hey, Look, It's a Picture I Snapped Today! Edition)


I actually took some pictures today, nothing special, just a few snaps while strolling up Montana Ave. Seeing if taking shots as jpgs would be good enough in quality. Seem fine, day was a bit overcast, and I was slightly out of focus on a few shots, but after a bit of tweaking the shots I've chosen to upload look OK.

Noticed a bunch of FOR LEASE signs on Montana Ave. I guess paying some of the highest rents in the nation to sell over-priced superflous goods and services may not be the best business model during a serious economic downturn.


Babalu is not one of those shops, it's a tasty restaurant with an eclectic menu (the desserts, especially, get rave reviews, which I've yet to sample, not a big dessert eater, personally).