Category Archives: Amazing



As I said after reading his book in in 2005:

In an age of seemingly simpleminded politics and increasingly spin-oriented politicians, it is rather reassuring to know that at least one US senator has the experience of life in the less privileged lane; the perseverance and intellectual capability to analyze deeply entrenched issues and work at resolving them; and the willingness to keep the complex issues complex and […] the simple things simple.

Innosuing, not innovating

image Endnote, owned by Thomson Reuters Reuters, is suing the main creator of Zotero, Dan Cohen (Or, rather, they are suing GMU, his university.) The reason is that Zotero includes a tool that can convert Endnote styles to Zotero (much like Openoffice has functionality for converting from MS-Word or other formats).

Now, there is a brilliant market move. Endnote is primarily used by academics. I have used it since around 1991, and for a couple of years I was a beta tester (and had the T-shirt to prove it.) Aside from the T-shirt, I got zilch for my efforts (and I did find a bug or two.) Neither did the thousands of academics who have created bibliography styles for various journals and uploaded them to Endnote’s web site.

I can’t think of a better way than a law suit to make people move to Zotero. This definitely does it for me – unless Thomson Reuters pulls this stupid suit. Come to think of it, we have a number of users at the Norwegian School of Management, I am sure I can persuade quite a few of them to switch sides…..

Suing an academic for creating software for other academics which draws on work of other academics when your primary market is academics? Have they hired hired lawyers from the music industry?

Zotero is a better tool, too. Shared lists, bibliographies, support for clipping from searches, including Google Scholar. Instant saves from browsing.

Time to move, methinks. Let me see, how hard would it be to migrate my 2100+ article database….

Update two hours later: Boingboing is on the case.

Update 10 hours later: Check out the Boingboing commentsStreisand effect in the making. John Mark Ockerbloom has a thoughtful piece on the suit.

A power plan for the US

Bob Cringely proposes an upgrade to the US grid as well as a moratorium on incandescent light. Not sure about the underlying statistics, but I have always wondered about the puny 110V and ancient (often spaghetti) cabling found even in affluent neighborhoods over there. Not to mention the efficiency loss from the thin copper. 18% less power use? On the surface, this seems like a good idea to me.

You are what you eat, and we eat oil

Michael Pollan: The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, 2006

Michael Pollan is the author of In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, where he basically took on the flood of diet advice and replaced it with “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” In this book, he discusses the problem of what to eat today, which is not something most species wonder about, either because food is scarce and they will eat everything they can lay their hands on, or because they are so specialized that they can only eat one kind of food (like koalas and eucalyptus leaves, of pandas and bamboo shoots and leaves.) This choice is faced by all omnivores, such as humans.

The book tracks down the history of three meals: One industrial, one pastoral (i.e., organically grown), and one personal, where Pollan had to make everything himself, including hunting down the meat. Or, in other words, one meal from industrial society, one from the traditionally agricultural, and one from a society of foragers. The further back you go, the more he has to fudge the experience (and the same goes for the producers/foragers, I suspect.)

The industrial part of the book talks about corn, a plant that supplies the basis for most of what we eat (from corn flakes to meat (cattle now eat corn rather than grass) to sweeteners). Corn is highly productive, but cannot exist without human intervention. The rather twisted logic here is that the productivity of the farmer destroys farm life, and may destroy food as well.

The organically grown part is based on an analysis of an organic farm (“small” organic as opposed to “big” organic such as Whole Foods) which relies on local markets, crop and species rotation, and quality rather than quantity for profits. Back-breaking work and battles with a regulatory regime set up for industrialized farming (for instance, the meat processing plant needs to have a bathroom specifically for the USDA inspector).

The foraging part, of course, verges into the artificial – Pollan hunts feral pigs, but does it by SUV and with a high-powered rifle with a scope. But it is fun, and allows for some pretty interesting discussions of our relationship to food.

The book is full of interesting viewpoints and facts, and tells you things that you did not know – for instance that “free-range” chicken means that the chicken have access to grass and air. However, since they only live 8 weeks and have access to grass and air through a door that they don’t dare venture out of, having always lived inside, this does not mean the chicken has had a life that much different from the fully industrialized chicken.

Here is one quote I liked (page 293): “The adult human brain accounts for 2 percent of our body weight but consumes 18 percent of our energy, all of which must come from carbohydrates. Food faddists take note […]”

In other words, the book is the supply-side prelude to In Defense of Food. I have not read that one, but it is on my list of books to read, triggered by Omnivore’s Dilemma. In the meantime, I listen to his talk at Google, and so can you:

Homeland Security bars Rodrigo (y Gabriela) Sanchez

This is rather hard to believe, but apparently, the US Homeland Security department has decided that Rodrigo Sanchez, the melodic half of famous guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela, has the same name as someone barred from entering the United States, and therefore barred him from entering the US. Consequently, the couple has had to postpone or cancel a number of shows they were going to have in the US.

Aside from the fact that Rodrigo & Gabriela are world famous and have been on Letterman and the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, you would think that neither "Rodrigo" nor "Sanchez" are unusual names in Mexico, or for that matter in any Spanish-speaking country.

Hard to believe.

In the meantime, check out this fun interview with music:

Hanging exports

Gallows exporter?The BBC report about a UK farmer exporting gallows to Africa is making the rounds in the blogosphere. I personally find this a little hard to believe – not from the concept itself, but the pricing: Isn’t £12k a little much to pay for a few beams of oak and some metal? Especially if you are a cash-strapped African country (though the regime may have the money) with occasionally inadequate transportation? I would think that if anything could be manufactured locally, this could.

As for £100,000 portable "execution systems", I suspect a hoax here….even though this is from BBC.

(Via BoingBoing and others)