January 31, 2005

A Night Out

January 29, 2005

VGCats

vegaCats VG Cats - 138 - Challenging.

For those of us who don't play games here is a peak into the Gamers' world, through comics. The cultural markers and speech are very authentic. The graphics and execution are lovely too, or should I simply say: cool!

Thanks, Arthur.

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January 28, 2005

Profession: Blogger

Web logs gave voice to people, ordinary people. Youth experiencing first pangs of romantic love, dealing with generational conflicts with their parents and teachers, asserting and shaping their personalities and life paths; Family men with day jobs and house-wives burdened by mortgages striving for a sliver of self expression and fulfillment beyond their life of responsibility and obligations; Professionals of all ages desiring to break away from creatively stifling work environments, wanting to share and broadcast their knowledge, hoping for recognition. The early days of personal web logs, I realize, are over... It hasn't been that long since the early days of Pitas or Blogger. Web logs have gone pro. They have become a business model which can generate income or a communication model which facilitates feedback between companies and clients. But more importantly they became to many, myself included, a favorite format to take in information. Quick descriptive summaries one can skim through, links to sources and further reading, comments where anyone can veto and correct that which has been posted. Most prolific blogs update a couple of times daily and entries are often written by a no. of contributors which assures variety and constant fresh content. Not surprisingly, when I recently treated myself to a Pentax *ist DS, I wished for a digital photography blog. Not a mailing list, not an expert magazine, not a book, but a blog run by knowledgeable people who enjoy sharing their experience. And so I disovered digitalphotography.weblogsinc, then photoshop.weblogsinc and the rest of the weblogsinc suites. The site provides the infrastructure while inviting professionals to deliver content.
They say:
    Partnering is better than owning. Our goal is to partner with individual bloggers, letting them do what they do best (writing, creating community, researching) and support them with what we do best (upgrading the software that drives their Web site, generating revenue, running the business). We split the profits 50/50 with each of our bloggers taking out only hard costs (i.e., sales commissions, credit card fees).
Presently Weblogs Inc is wanting to enhance their blog topic pool with experts in the fields of media, technology, business and life science. If it wasn't for the fact that I am not affiliated with the aforementioned areas of knowledge - I'd consider.

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January 22, 2005

Cake for everyone

An article on Alternet takes a deeper look into GW Bush's idea of the Ownership Society (via Disinfo)
    I love the idea of people being able to own something ... People from all walks of life, all income levels are willing to take risks to start their own company. ... And I like the idea of people being able to say, I'm in charge of my own health care ... I particularly like the idea of a Social Security system that recognizes the importance and value of ownership.
    – George Bush, on his "Ownership Society" agenda, Dec. 16, 2004

The article pinpoints correctly that this rhetoric is addressed to the core of an "economic man" within each and everyone of us. "— it's a visceral appeal to our naked self-interest."... On the surface there's nothing wrong with the desire to own a home, work towards increasing one's own wealth and being responsible for one's own healthcare and retirement, if anything this kind of initiative and will to bear personal responsibility is admirable. However, further expanding the capitalist operational framework from the offices of Corporations into the backyards of families and into neighborhoods and making trade, financial exchange and competition the pervading mentality of our society is an excess. This Darwinian model of economics, encourages primitive patterns of self interest served first, that of next of kin second and that of vast society at large a distant sequent. Under the banner of the seemingly noble idea of self reliance, GW Bush wants to abolish Social Security and thus narrow to a a pinhead, the circle of collective responsibility. More so, he preys on the metacognicion deficiencies of the 51% of the population who voted for him. The overly confident investor syndrome is a common occurrence at the financial markets. It is understandable why the one single percent of the richest would not have any problem lining up behind GW Bush's social and economical reform - they already live it, able to retire early and choose healthcare providers at whim. But why is it that the middle class, of which America is largely constituted would think that they can at all benefit from Bush's malformed, elitist vision (stemming undoubtedly from his own privileged background and a narrow view of economic reality of the nation's masses)? As the Alternet article points out the majority of Americans are too indebted, or too poor to save and invest. Yet everyone wants to believe they can. Not incidentally according to a psychological study, People tend to hold overly favorable views of their abilities in many social and intellectual domains. It is also the lowest quarter of the underachievers who tend to be the most misguided about their potential and overall performance. The current administration may be malevolent and nepotistic, but we do not lack a large population of gullible, self interested masses who support it.

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January 20, 2005

Romantic Poetry

    "What can I hold you with?
    I offer you lean streets, desperate sunsets, the
    moon of the jagged suburbs.
    I offer you the bitterness of a man who has looked
    long and long at the lonely moon.
    I offer you my ancestors, my dead men, the ghosts
    that living men have honoured in bronze:
    my father's father killed in the frontier of
    Buenos Aires, two bullets through his lungs,
    bearded and dead, wrapped by his soldiers in
    the hide of a cow; my mother's grandfather
    --just twentyfour-- heading a charge of
    three hundred men in Peru, now ghosts on
    vanished horses.
    I offer you whatever insight my books may hold,
    whatever manliness or humour my life.
    I offer you the loyalty of a man who has never
    been loyal.
    I offer you that kernel of myself that I have saved,
    somehow --the central heart that deals not
    in words, traffics not with dreams, and is
    untouched by time, by joy, by adversities.
    I offer you the memory of a yellow rose seen at
    sunset, years before you were born.
    I offer you explanations of yourself, theories about
    yourself, authentic and surprising news of
    yourself.
    I can give you my loneliness, my darkness, the
    hunger of my heart; I am trying to bribe you
    with uncertainty, with danger, with defeat."
- Jorge Luis Borges (1934)

Cynical and inured, yet this poem moves me. It is Love deconstructed, as I understand it.

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Not consensus or compromise

I picked up again, a book I bought, started reading and put away. It is "The Wisdom of Crowds" by a New Yorker columnist James Surowiecki. It initially caught my attention because I believe the very ideas it tries to dispel. Surowiecki brings those up right away in the very first chapter, the Introduction. He quotes philosophers and historians who uphold the notion that crowds are incapable of wise judgment. Henry David Thoreau, an American author and philosopher is quoted: " The mass never comes up to the standard of its best member, but on the contrary degrades itself to a level with the lowest."Friedriech Nietzshe is quoted: "Madness is the exception in individual but the rule in groups". But my favorite quote is by Thomas Carlyle an English author and historian of the 18th century: "I do not believe in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance". And he is right, mathematically it doesn't add up...So as James Surowiecki makes his case for the wisdom of crowds, putting forth example after example of point on, smart, collective judgments, I will place the Thomas Carlyle quote on my bookmark at the head of every page, to remind myself to read and assimilate critically. This practice is even more so necessary, because James Surowiecki is very convincing. His book is very well structured and balanced, studded with examples from a broad range of disciplines such as sociological studies, investment markets, political polls, gambling and historical anecdotes. It is easy to be swept away into a sort of religious awe at the "miracle" of average "bondedly rational" (term by Herbert Simon) folk arriving at an accurate prediction. The truth is, and James Surowiecki makes it an important point of his hypothesis, there are a few criteria which a crowd needs to meet in order to become wise. They are: "diversity, independence and particular kind of decentralization."
It makes one wonder, the democratic election process encompasses the entire population of a country. Taking the United States as an example, the voting group is definitely diverse and decentralized, but is it independent? I suspect it isn't independent of thought, due to the mass media messages and broadcasts which are sponsored by corporations with specific political agendas. The fact that GW Bush is being inaugurated tonight as President for a second term, ranks as one of the lower scores for the wisdom of crowds. However, Mr. Surowiecki emphasizes that group decisions pertaining to "matters of general interest will, Over Time, be intellectually superior to the isolated individual." So, there is hope for the Democratic process as it is sure, Over Time, to correct its course. I'll end with a quote from the book, which I firmly believe is true and can be extrapolated to encompass many areas of human interaction:
    "Diversity and independence are important because the best collective decisions are the product of disagreement and contest, not consensus or compromise."

Regardless of a problem at hand, the best way, the only way, is to fight it out.

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January 18, 2005

2020

How will the World look in the year 2020? Will it be a Davos World where the rising economies of Asia turn the Globalization barrel against it's very own masterminds of the West? Will the poor economic prospects in the Middle East within a rapidly changing world seduce the large youth populations of the Arab countries into an embrace of religious organizations offering safety and a sense of community which transcends all borders and propagate a "New Caliphate" rule? Will the United States get a grip on it's foreign policy and aspirations of world domination and become a cooperative cohabitant of the planet alongside other nations in an all inclusive Pax Americana? Or are we on a downhill spin to a reality where fear begets fear and attempts at non proliferation lead to outlandish security measures and effectively an Orwellian order? Better than a crystal ball, The National Intelligence Council provides a report outlining The 2020 Global Landscape, via Disinfo. Mapping the Global Future is the 3rd of Global Trends publications projecting onto the years 2010 and 2015 beforehand. This report differs from the previous ones, in the scope of foreign opinion sought to shape the predictions and to provide a mirror to the US image around the world.

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January 15, 2005

Mass Quality

A few years back a friend of mine was receiving dating advice from his close friend who was sharing his secrets of successful dating strategies. Sharing the office, I listened in on the conversation. To this day, I remember not the exact words, but the spirit of what was said. My friend was interested in a relationship, not a lay, and so the advice was to attend one of the Border's single's nights which were organized at that time on friday nights. The spoken assumption was that bookstores are where "quality" women are found. Quality women, quality content, and quantity over quality have been occupying my thoughts ever since I stopped at Acorn bookstore on Polk street in San Francisco earlier today...The store specializes in used and rare books. I admittedly have an old publication fetish, and so immediately I reached for a small volume, about palm size, compact, nicely leather bound. There were five of those single tomes, the earliest I leafed through was published in 1829. To my delight they turned out to be a 19th century version of yesteryear's Women's magazine. Ladies' Magazine which was edited by Sarah Josepha Hale, published by her husband, was later purchased by Louis A. Godey a publisher and editor, and became known as the Godey's Lady's Book. Mrs. Hale remained the editor of the new form of the magazine and aimed to educate women while steering away from religion, politics and social issues.
    "Gradually the periodical matured into an important literary magazine and contained extensive book reviews and works by Harriet Beecher Stowe, Edgar Allen Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and many other celebrated 19th century authors who regularly furnished the magazine with essays, poetry and short stories. The Lady`s Book was also a vast reservoir of handsome illustrations, which included hand-colored fashion plates, mezzotints, engravings, woodcuts, and ultimately chromolithographs. (...) In addition to extensive fashion descriptions and plates, the early issues included biographical sketches, articles about mineralogy, handcrafts, female costume, the dance, equestrienne procedures, health & hygiene, recipes & remedies, etc. Each issue also contained two pages of sheet music, written essentially for the piano forte."
It was a thrill to see poetry, literature and historical informative articles along side more practical advice on laundry recipes and needle point patterns. Mrs. Hale stated: "The greatest triumph of this progression is redeeming woman from her inferior position and placing her side by side with man, a help-mate for him in all his pursuits." Sadly yet, understandably within the historical perspective, she was trying to accomplish the goal through reinforcing Home as a women's sphere opposite and complementary the men's domain of work outside of the home. Despite it's dated bias, I wish this was the format of current day Women's magazines. Instead, news stands today, carry large, flashy, glossy magazines with headlines such as: "Guys tell what's sexy in bed - Love Your Hair - Free Stuff, lucky breaks - Sex and Amnesia - Shine and Sparkle"... Need I say more... Mass literacy brought on the demise of quality content. More women can read than ever before. If only we cared to be informed and not merely entertained, educated and not merely pretty, smart and not merely "hot in bed", there'd be Masses of Quality Women for men to live up to.

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January 09, 2005

A Maverick Communist

Who doesn't like to receive free "stuff"? Free consultations, free samples, free tickets...Sadly I am thinking of free strolls in the woods with No signs of mad dogs unleashed upon private property trespassing, and picking of free berries, as I did as a kid in the public properties of Socialist Poland. Soon, thanks to American Capitalism extreme, a free ride on a public freeway will be a distant nostalgic memory as well. The Lexus Lanes or the toll lanes for the affluent, are gaining massive support. Instead of focusing on global solutions to highway congestion problems which would benefit everyone, users are simply happy to pay their individualist way to "get ahead" in traffic. The oxymoron of toll Free-ways aside, this post is about Hospitality Club...of which I am a member since September 2004. I stumbled upon the club while reading Kuro5hin. In todays news, the Hospitality Club states:
    We are 36032 members in 167 countries all over the world! Welcome our first members in Ethiopia and on Burundi!
The premise, you guessed it, is generosity of spirit and old fashioned hospitality. Sure, I could rent my spare guest room for 30$ a night and stuff my closet with designer shoes or Louis Vuitton collection of travel accessories, handbags and wallets, to announce to the world: I can afford it - I matter. Instead I had my first hosting experience in December. Two young women from Germany on their Around the World Trip, or what I like to refer to as: A Personal Discovery or Life Experience Excursion, stayed with me. Initial week turned into 3 weeks, we agreed they would dog-sit my puppy as I enjoyed my holiday in London. The arrangement was beneficial to all: my visitors, myself and my dog, the currency was: exchange of favors. A WTO of Free Market of Mutual Help, no caveats, no profit, yet everyone wins - what a concept. Having accomplished my second feat of generosity, first being openly sharing my wireless connection with my neighbors or anyone within 300 feet radius of my router (inspired by Juan, who else..) I therefore knight myself - a Maverick Communist. I will gladly share the title with anyone who matches me with 2 acts of generosity of heart and a desire to keep it up. To those still shy of the "communist" label stigma, here is some fascinating reading from my favorite site Etymonline.

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January 06, 2005

Wrapping up Llyn Din

flyOut flyIn
Before Roman Londinium, the local lakeside forests (lLyn Din) along the banks of the Thames are believed to have given the original Celtic name to the settlements of the area. The Queen to this day has to request permission to enter the city from the Lord Mayor of London, a right which the dwellers of early London have earned through vocal and influential participation in deciding who the next regent elect should be. They, for example, favored King Stephen (1135-54) and King John (1199-1216) and opposed Matilda, the daughter of Henry I. The right to elect their own leader (Lord Mayor) was enshrined in Magna Charta. After the death of Queen Elizabeth, the struggle for power between the Monarchs and the Parliament intensified culminating in the execution of Charles I and a brief period of rule by General Oliver Cromwell in the mid 17th century. An effective constitutional monarchy in England runs many centuries back...The areas around Piccadilly, Strand and Soho developed around 1660-1690, through the Great Plague (1665) and the Great Fire (1666). The Greek Street in Soho was taken over by the Huguenot refugees in 1690 and gave the neighborhood it's early french flavor. I passed by Maison Bertaux and regretted not being able to come in for a glass of champagne or a cup of chocolat religieuse which the place is famous for apart for being run by an eccentric actress Michele Wade who stages tableau vivante of the French revolution every 14th of July. I also missed Kettners, Oscar Wilde's favorite restaurant. I only took a peek at the French House where Charles de Gaulle's subordinates ate and drank and he was running the French Resistance effort of the 2nd WW from a house in Hampstead. I missed seeing the Royal Opera House. I would have loved to visit the Cabinet War Rooms. I did see and enjoy a walk through the Inns of Court and saw the Middle Temple, the only building surviving from Shakespeare's time, where The Twelfth Night opened in 1602. The speakers corner in Hyde Park is all I imagined it would be and more. An amazing event of free speech in its purest. Anyone, just grab a box and speak your mind! Brits come across very outgoing and inherently revising and challenging any presented idea. I wish such exercise in critical thinking was more prevalent here on the American continent. I did remark however, that this speaking forum was especially popular among the religious fanatics of all sorts. At times it seemed Jews, Christians and Muslims were comparing scriptures and arguing their merits over all others. Nevertheless, very entertaining. The Jerusalem Tavern is one of the secret places of London I ended up having a pint of Strong Ale at. It seems unchanged since it's date of building, with rustic tables and wooden benches. I was told by a friendly local that St. Peter's brewery originated sometime in the 8th century on the east coast of England in a monks' convent. The tavern seems to be the only place in London serving up those Ales which recipes are so ancient.
I am barely into the 18th century London, and already enamored. So much more remains to be seen and discovered.
Maybe returns are possible, sometimes...

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January 01, 2005

Au Revoire, London I

More precisely: A revoire. I have not been to The National Gallery at Trafalgar Square, missed seeing Caravaggio's "Supper at Emmaus" and Jan Van Eyck's "The Arnolfini Wedding", I didn't sip a Spanish Sherry at Gordon's (47 Villiers Street), London's oldest wine bar. City Secrets London is my guide of choice and in it, Author and Journalist Victoria Glendinning describes it in an image forming manner: "I love this place for its triumphant seediness, among so much that is brash and new and smart. The facade is so unassuming that you can pass it without seeing it. Downstairs, half the tables are in candlelit darkness, under black, damp arches." While David Hughes a writer, describes his experience there: "A basement entered by neck-breakingly narrow stairs, this fine and squalid place also debauches a few awkward steps onto a shadowy alley where I loll, tumbler of fino in hand, with my back to gardens of Thames embankment." With descriptions of the sort, it is no wonder I feel melancholy, having to depart leaving all the unexplored and un-experienced behind. My next few entries will be a list of the "un-had" of London.

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